SAN DIEGO – Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News published his annual NFL special-teams rankings this week.
And as you might suspect, the San Diego Chargers did not fare well. The Chargers were No. 32 -- that’s right, last among all NFL teams in this year’s rankings.
The Chargers finished last in the NFL in return yards, averaging 4.2 yards per return. San Diego was tied for worst in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in punts inside the 20-yard line with 15. And the Chargers allowed 27.5 yards a return in kickoff coverage, also worst in the NFL.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco acknowledged he made a mistake in signing returner Jacoby Jones in free agency last season.
An explosive playmaker for most of his pro career, Jones signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal to add juice to San Diego’s return game.
But Jones suffered a high-ankle sprain in the team’s opener against the Detroit Lions, which forced him to miss three games. When healthy, Jones struggled, averaging just 21.4 yards per kick return and finishing with minus-4 punt return yards in 2015. The Chargers released Jones midway through the year.
“Obviously, I missed on that, and I missed pretty badly,” Telesco said. “That affected all of special teams. That affected our whole team, because this is as field -position game. Our hidden yardage was just killing us.”
Because of the team’s struggles in the all-important third phase of the game, the Chargers also fired special-teams coordinator Kevin Spencer midway through the year.
San Diego has a lot of work to do in order to improve special teams in 2016. The Chargers promoted assistant special-teams coach Craig Aukerman to special-teams coordinator during the offseason. Aukerman served in the interim role during the second half of the 2015 season when Spencer was let go.
And while Telesco likes Aukerman’s enthusiasm and believes in his ability to handle the job, it’s still his first time holding the title of special-teams coordinator, so there will be bumps in the road.
Javontee Herndon showed good progress as a kick and punt returner with Jones gone. But the Chargers would be wise to bring in some competition through the draft or free agency.
There also will be competition at punter for veteran Mike Scifres, who’s scheduled to make a little over $3.5 million in base salary in the final year of his contract if he chooses not to retire.
The Chargers signed punter Kasey Redfern to a reserves/futures contract. Redfern spent the final two weeks of the 2015 season on San Diego’s practice squad.
Undrafted rookie Josh Lambo was solid in his first year as a pro and should improve more in his second season.
But more than anything, the Chargers need more consistency overall from special teams to improve from the team’s 4-12 record in 2015.