Brant Boyer provides an update on Chris Naggar, Matt Ammendola, and the NY Jets' kicking battle.
Brant Boyer, NY Jets, Getty Images

Brant Boyer, Jets looking for a solution at kicker

New York City has been a hotbed for three-point tallies in 2021. The Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks tied for second in three-point conversion rate during the most recent NBA season while the New York Liberty’s ongoing endeavors place them at the top of the WNBA’s leaderboard in successful attempts per game.

The New York Jets could take a lesson.

The Jets’ turnover in the kicker’s spot makes their endless search for a franchise quarterback seem blissful in comparison. Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers signed with Seattle following his 2018 Pro Bowl campaign, the Jets have been through six different kickers (that tally includes 2019 preseason legs like Chandler Catanzaro and Taylor Bertolet).

Even without an exhibition quartet, they went through three alone in last year’s abnormal season (Sam Ficken, Sergio Castillo, Caleb McLaughlin).

Since 2019, the Jets have converted only 71 percent of their field goal attempts, ranking second-worst in the NFL ahead of only the Tennessee Titans (61 percent). That is a downright damning figure for a team already cursed with a developing offense that has struggled to merely reach opposing territory.

The special teams process has started all over again for the Jets, who are now auditioning two rookies for the kicker’s role. A seventh man will emerge in the post-Myers era as Southern Methodist’s Chris Naggar goes leg-to-leg with Oklahoma State’s Matt Ammendola. The battle was arranged through the release of veteran Sam Ficken, who was quickly scooped up by the Titans.

Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer thanked Ficken for his service in his first public comments of training camp on Thursday. Ficken almost granted the Jets that long-sought consistency, but a groin injury derailed a strong start to the 2020 season, where he made each of his first nine triple attempts (five alone coming in an October loss to Denver).

“I think Sam did a great job for us, he really did,” Boyer said, per notes from the Jets. “He came in a year or two ago and got us out of a pinch and that’s exactly what we needed. I think the whole building just thought it was time to get a guy in here, another young leg to compete for the job. That’s what it all comes down to, to be honest with you.”

Boyer perhaps stands as the most indestructible force in New York football. The special teams boss has now survived the purging of both Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s staffs, granted a sixth season at the helm with newcomer Robert Saleh in tow.

The former Jacksonville Jaguars expansion draftee provided an update on the Jets’ battle between Ammendola and Naggar, labeling it “good.” He said that one of the biggest factors in his eventual decision will be how the pair performs in the Jets’ upcoming exhibition slate, which begins on August 14 against the New York Giants.

Boyer also wants to see how the pair responds to adversity and gels with their potential future teammates.

“We’ll see how they kick in competition,” Boyer said. “They’re both very talented kids, both with big legs and we’ll see what happens when it counts when we put the pads on for real in the games.”

“I think you like to see how they respond. If they miss a kick and can they rebound and make four in a row. If the guy in front of them bangs a long kick, can they match that kick?” he continued.

“I also like to see how they interact with the guys and their rapport with the other fellas because they got to fit in,” Boyer added. “That’s a big thing in our room. We got a bunch of good young guys that are really good people. Both these guys, they’re on point and they’re competing and that’s all I can ask them to do.”

Boyer comments on the other aspects of the special teams unit

Granted a chance with a third staff, Boyer was welcomed back with numerous special teams upgrades. Joe Douglas and the front office previously sent goodwill Boyer’s way by using the final pick of the 2020 draft on punter and Ray Guy Award winner Braden Mann but sent further reinforcements over the most recent transaction periods.

The team hired former special teams highlight reel Leon Washington as an assistant coach and signed former New Orleans Saints defender Justin Hardee in free agency. Listed as a cornerback, Hardee has made a name for himself as one of the league’s most illustrious gunners. That should help a punt coverage unit that let up nearly a dozen yards a return last season, good for 27th in the NFL.

“The thing is about him is that you can put on any practice, any rep and even though I ask him to cover 20, he’s going full speed all the way down the returner,” Boyer said of Hardee.

“He’s taken a leadership role. He practices like that, not because he’s trying to show who he is or anything like that, that’s why he’s made it and that’s why he’s gotten so good is because he practices like he plays every time.”

Boyer noted that this time around, he’s working with a younger group, a group whose inexperience (and potential) is further amplified by the additions of draft picks Elijah Moore and Michael Carter, skill player threats who are being trained to potentially take over return duties.

The trainees have been subjected to new challenges, the first of which comes in the form of Washington using a broom to distract them while fielding their punts, an obstacle made to simulate the pressure they’ll face on returns.

Together with Washington’s record-breaking knowledge, Boyer is confident that the challenges created today will help the newcomers succeed tomorrow.

“It’s always a challenge every year, but specifically when you have a ton of young guys and everything. They just haven’t been in the double teams. They haven’t been in the single blocks. They haven’t done the things that I’m going to ask them to do,” Boyer said.

“The only thing that gets you better in this league is repetition. The more they do it, the more they get out there, the more I can put them in those situations, just like we’re trying to do with punts, just like we’re trying to do with punt returns, all that stuff,” Boyer added.

Boyer says it all comes down to work ethic for the youngsters.

“The more they learn, they want to learn what works, what doesn’t work, instead of me just showing them on film. I think they’re all making strides. It’s a great rookie class. All these young kids are working hard.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email:
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