The special teams unit for the Cleveland Browns had a less-than-inspiring start to the regular season.
During the club’s Week 1 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the special teams had a game-winning field goal blocked in overtime, struggled to control Pittsburgh’s return men on kicks, had a bad punt after a blocker was driven back into punter Britton Colquitt, and committed three penalties.
While it didn’t result in a penalty, a fair catch in overtime by punt returner Jabrill Peppers when he had an open field in front of him did cost the Browns some valuable field position.
Special teams coordinator Amos Jones looked to rectify that problem this week with a plan to replace Peppers with Antonio Callaway as the primary punt returner, but was overruled by head coach Hue Jackson, as Jones told clevelandbrowns.com:
“Coach made that decision. Obviously, we are going to stick behind it as coaches. We are going to do what the hell we are told. The biggest thing is it is just going to be a learning curve. You are talking about a guy (Callaway) that is still a year out of football, and the nuances of the game and particularly this league.”
Normally it might raise a few eyebrows if a head coach, even one in the “CEO” role like Jackson, contradicts the wishes of his coordinators. After all, the coordinators work with the players directly and presumably have an idea of the best fits for their units.
But in the case of Jones, it might be such a bad idea to have someone looking over his shoulder.
Jones spent the previous five years as the special teams coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals, who decided not to renew his contract after the 2017 season. During his time in Arizona, the special teams units were near the bottom of the league’s rankings on an annual basis.
How bad was it? ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss detailed a few “highlights” near the end of last season:
(In 2017), they’re ranked in the bottom five in the NFL in eight special-teams categories: expected points added by special teams (31st), field goal percentage (29th), opponent field goal percentage (32nd), net yards per punt 28th), opponent net yards per punt (30th), opponent yards per kick return (28th), average starting field position on kickoff returns (30th) and opponent field goal blocks (30th).
They were ranked 30th in expected points added by special teams the past two seasons. They’ve were ranked 32nd in net yards per punt in 2016 and 2015, and 30th in 2014. They were in the bottom three in the NFL in opponent net yards per punt in three of the past five years, including this season.
It was so bad that there is a website - fireamosjones.com - dedicated to detailing the transgressions.
It has only been one game, and as has often been the case with the Browns in recent years there is “nowhere to go but up” for the special teams.
And it is good that Jackson is paying attention to what Jones is up to with the special teams.
But that also raises a big unanswered question.
Why the heck did Jackson hire Jones in the first place?