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2018 Position Preview: Special Teams


We continue our summer position series with an important yet often overlooked group – the specialists. 

The Giants have three new coordinators under Pat Shurmur, including Thomas McGaughey running the special teams. It was a homecoming for McGaughey, who recently completed his second season as Carolina's special teams coordinator. In McGaughey's first stint with the Giants as the assistant special teams coach, the team won Super Bowl XLII in 2007, and the following year had a special teams Pro Bowl battery in kicker John Carney, punter Jeff Feagles and long snapper Zak DeOssie. 

McGaughey was also the special teams coordinator of the Jets (2014) and San Francisco 49ers (2015). From 2011-13, he was the special teams coordinator/defensive assistant at LSU, where he coached wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was also an All-American kick returner. 

McGaughey's assistant is Anthony Blevins, who spent the previous five seasons as a coaching assistant/special teams with the Cardinals. Blevins helped special teamer Justin Bethel get selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls (2013-15) after leading the Cards in special teams tackles each season.

Here is a look at players they are coaching: 

LS Zak DeOssie: One of only two holdovers left from the Super Bowl XLII champion Giants (Eli Manning is the other), DeOssie has played in 172 regular-season games, the 11th-highest total in franchise history. Last year, he finished third on the team with four solo special teams tackles. It was also DeOssie's seventh consecutive season as the special teams captain.

K Aldrick Rosas: Appearing in regular-season action for the first time in his career last season, Rosas made 18 of 25 field goal attempts, and 20 of 23 extra point tries. Rosas made all three of his attempts from 50 or more yards, succeeding from 50, 51, and 52 yards. His three field goals of at least 50 yards put him in a five-way for the most by a Giants kicker in a single season. However, he missed a field goal attempt in three consecutive games from Oct. 15-Nov. 5. It was the first time the Giants missed three-point tries in three consecutive games since Lawrence Tynes in 2012. 

The coaching staff simulated some extra pressure on their kickers this spring by gathering the entire team around them as they attempted field goals. After one early June practice, Shurmur gave the rookie a do-over to end the day.  

"I just wanted to see him make one and he had made every kick until the last one," Shurmur said, "and it's just like shooting baskets, you don't want to leave the court on a miss. That's all."

K Marshall Koehn: Competing with Rosas is Koehn, who spent time in Minnesota last year along with Shurmur before being released and having a stint in Cincinnati. Koehn has appeared in one career game – for the Bengals in 2017 – and converted one extra point attempt. In four preseason games for the Vikings last year, he made two of three attempts with a long of 58 yards.

P Riley Dixon: For the second time in four years, the Giants traded for a punter. Shortly before the draft, they acquired Riley Dixon in a trade with the Denver Broncos, who received a conditional 2019 seventh-round draft choice. Dixon is competing to replace Brad Wing, the team's punter for the previous three seasons. Wing, who was released on March 10, was also acquired in a trade for a seventh-round draft choice, with Pittsburgh in 2015.

P Taylor Symmank: The Giants added a fifth member to their kicking game when they signed first-year punter Taylor Symmank on June 5. The 6-2, 195-pound punter has never kicked in an NFL regular-season game. He was with the Minnesota Vikings from Jan. 3-Sept. 2, 2017 and averaged 42.9 yards – gross and net – on nine punts in the preseason. Symmank had a long kick of 60 yards and placed five balls inside the 20-yard line. He participated in the Vikings rookie minicamp in 2016.Symmank finished his career at Texas Tech as the career record-holder in gross punting average (43.6 yards).

Returners: As the Giants work out their pecking order this summer, they will adjust to the league's modifications to the kickoff play. The new rules adopted include:

• Kickoff team must have five players on each side of the ball. 

• Kickoff team cannot line up more than one yard from restraining line (34-yard line for kickoff at 35). Effect: players will not have a running start to run downfield after kick.

• At least two players must be lined up outside the yard-line number and two players between the inbounds line and the yard-line number.

• At least eight players must be in 15-yard "setup zone" prior to the kickoff; only three players can remain outside of the setup zone. Effect: moves more players on kickoff return closer to where ball is kicked to reduce speed and space on the play.

• No wedge blocks are permitted. Only players who were initially lined up in the setup zone may come together in a double-team block. Effect: Limits the blocking schemes permitted by personnel on the kickoff return team.

• Until the ball is touched or the ball hits the ground, no player on the receiving team may cross its restraining line, or initiate a block against the kicking team in the 15-yard area from the kicking team's restraining line. Effect: Eliminates the "jump-set/attack" block.

• The ball is dead if it is not touched by the receiving team and touches the ground in the end zone (touchback). Effect: no requirement for kickoff returner to "down" the ball in end zone.

The changes were made in consultation with special teams coaches and members of the league's Competition Committee during a player safety summit at league headquarters in New York earlier this year.