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Quality players on special teams


The excitement in the voice was clear.

Because as General Manager Gene Smith sees it, when it comes to the Jaguars&39; special teams, there&39;s little reason to not be excited.

That&39;s because wherever you look there&39;s talent – with a lot of it being experienced, proven talent.

Josh Scobee. Adam Podlesh.

Montell Owens. Kassim Osgood. Scotty McGee. Deji Karim.

That&39;s not only a talented, decorated group, Smith said it&39;s a group with a very real chance to make a significant contribution on a regular basis.

"We should win this phase every week," Smith said recently while being interviewed for this story, the final installment of a position-by-position series on the Jaguars&39; roster that has run on in recent weeks.

Often in 2010, that&39;s just what the Jaguars did, with the presence of two of the league&39;s top special teams specialist a huge reason.

Osgood, a wide receiver, made three Pro Bowls for the San Diego Chargers as a special teams specialist from 2007-09 before signing with the Jaguars as a free agent before last off-season. Owens represented the AFC in that role this past season after being the AFC&39;s Pro Bowl alternate in &39;09.

The duo combined for 34 tackles this past season, with Owens registering 20 and Osgood registering 14. The pair combined for seven special teams tackles in a critical December victory over the Oakland Raiders, and in that game, they combined for one of the game&39;s key plays.

On the play, Osgood stripped the ball from Raiders returner Jacoby Ford at the Raiders 21. Owens recovered to set up the go-ahead touchdown for a 28-21 Jaguars lead.

Owens, after setting a franchise record in 2009 with 30 special teams tackles, led the team in tackles for a second consecutive season in 2010. He is the Jaguars&39; all-time special teams tackler with 95, one ahead of Brant Boyer.

Scobee, the team&39;s kicking specialist since 2003, played solidly and reliably much of the season, and Podlesh – the team&39;s four-year punter – had the most productive season of his career.

Podlesh is expected to return to the team following the lockout. The team and Podlesh couldn&39;t extend his contract prior to the lockout because of the so-called "30 percent" rule, which governs contracts that extend from a capped year until the final year of a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The rule states that such contracts can not have an annual increase of more than 30 percent, but Smith said he expects the team will re-sign Podlesh.

Podlesh averaged 39.2 yards on 57 punts, the highest net punt average in franchise history.

"We couldn&39;t do a deal before the lockout, but hopefully, we can get something done in a timely manner," Smith said.

Scobee has converted 144 of his 167 career NFL field-goal attempts, and he has missed just three of 233 career extra points. He started this past season converting 14 of 14 field goal attempts, then finished 22 of 28 in the area.

He is the second all-time leading scorer in Jaguars history, with his 662 points, 102 behind Mike Hollis. His 14 field goals to start the season is the third-longest such streak in team history, and his 77 percent field-goal percentage is a little more than three percentage points behind Hollis.

Smith said he actually sees special teams in terms of four core players – punter, long snapper, field-goal kicker and return specialist.

"There is so much field position and momentum that can be gained with having a quality returner," Smith said. "You&39;ve got to have a legitimate punt returner, a kick return guy, and if you have that, you have home-run capability to score anywhere on the field, not just on offense."

Smith said the presence of McGee – entering his second season – along with Karim on kickoff returns gives the Jaguars a rare duo of players with 4.3-40-yard-dash speed in the area. McGee also could play a role in the return game, as could rookie Cecil Shorts.

Karim missed the first four games of the 2010 season, and in 11 games he returned 50 kickoffs for a 25-yard average. He also had a 65-yard return against Oakland late in the game to set up the Jaguars&39; game-winning touchdown.

Mike Thomas, who developed by season&39;s end into one of the team&39;s top wide receivers, averaged 10.5 yards on 34 punt returns, and his 78-yard return for a touchdown in Indianapolis was the second-longest such play in Jaguars history. Thomas&39; 99 yards on four punt returns that day was the second-most yardage on returns in a game this season.

Smith said the presence of such front-line special teams players is no coincidence. Rather, a core part of his philosophy when building a roster is having enough quality players to have a consistent advantage on special teams.

"That&39;s a phase you can win," Smith said. "I look at what Maurice Jones-Drew does to our offense, Montell Owens does to our special teams. What Daryl Smith does to our defense, Kassim Osgood does to our special teams."

The Jaguars this past season were one of just three teams along with Cleveland and Tampa Bay to rank in the Top 10 in opponents&39; punt return (6.5 yards) and opponents&39; kickoff return (21.5).

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