Over the course of today and tomorrow, we'll be breaking down the performance of every player that took the field in the Jets' preseason game against the Bucs. We'll start today with the special teams and cover the offense and defense tomorrow.
Greg Zuerlein has been lights out throughout preseason but he had a blip here when he hooked a 40-yard field goal wide in the fourth quarter with the Jets down by seven. It's hardly a cause for concern for Zuerlein, who made two shorter field goals in the first half, but disappointing nevertheless.
On kickoffs, Zuerlein had one touchback, one kick that was returned from a yard deep and a kick that was returned from inside the five-yard line. There was a long return on the latter but it was negated by a penalty.
Punter Thomas Morstead was called into action three times and had three solid punts without any significant returns. One of his punts had excellent hang time and another was muffed and almost led to a touchdown.
Undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson hasn't made much of an impact as a return man so far but in this game he fired up the sideline by cutting back across the field for a nice 31-yard punt return. Jamien Sherwood, Dane Cruikshank and Brandin Echols all made good blocks to seal their man off after Gipson cut back.
Alex Erickson got a chance at a return late and made a good cut upfield to make 10 yards after Marquis Waters and Trey Dean combined to pick up the gunner well.
Interestingly, the Jets gave kickoff return duties to Bam Knight, who fielded two touchbacks and then attempted an ill-advised runback that was stopped at the 17. Samuel Eguavoen badly overran his block on the play and Kenny Yeboah's man made the stop.
Gipson got to return one in the second half and got it out to the 30 after a shorter kick. Irvin Charles, Vigil and Eguavoen all made good blocks.
On the opening kickoff, the Bucs broke a long return to midfield with Bryce Hall making a touchdown-saving tackle after a Zuerlein missed tackle. However, that only came about because Justin Hardee, in position to make the stop near the 20, was dragged down from behind by the jersey and Vigil was blocked in the back. Both penalties were called.
On the other kickoff, undrafted rookie Claudin Cherelus pursued across the field for a big open field hit near the 20-yard line.
Morstead's first punt saw Hardee and Charles both get downfield well from the gunner positions. The return man ran to Charles' side and he missed a diving tackle attempt but Sherwood got credit for the stop as the return man stepped out of bounds after a short return.
On his next punt, Malik Taylor got downfield against a double team and almost blew the return up for no gain. After his missed tackle, Dean cleaned up with Taylor, to his credit, getting back to his feet to get in on the stop.
The final punt produced a controversial moment when Cruikshank was originally ruled to have scored a touchdown on a fumble return but ultimately the replay booth correctly overturned this, as Eguavoen's hit to dislodge the ball after the return man had muffed it and picked it back up clearly came while his knee was down.
With Echols suspended in week one, could Charles or Taylor be carried on the roster to handle that important primary gunner role, or could Cruikshank land these duties and a backup safety role?