The Giants believe they potentially have the most talented and explosive group of punt and kickoff returners in many years. But they were painfully reminded in their preseason opener that speed and elusiveness mean nothing if you can't catch the ball.
Two of the most important plays of the game were muffed punt returns by Jayron Hosley in the second quarter and Jerrel Jernigan in the fourth. The Jaguars recovered both balls and turned them into 10 points, helping them overcome a 17-point deficit on their way to a 32-31 defeat of the Giants in EverBank Field.
"The number one thing is ball security as a punt returner," coach Tom Coughlin said. "The first thing you have to do is catch the ball."
Hosley and Jernigan failed to do that at critical moments.
The Giants led, 24-7, when Jacksonville's Bryan Anger punted in the final minute of the second quarter. The ball hit Hosley in the shoulder, bounced to the ground and was recovered by Antwon Blake at the two-yard line. Two players later, Chad Henne threw a touchdown pass with just 24 seconds remaining, cutting the Giants' halftime lead to 10 points.
"I didn't set myself up in a good position," Hosley said. "I took a couple steps back and didn't look it in. It kind of drifted on me, but you have to be aware of what's around you and who's coming, so I felt I could have been more focused on it."
The Giants owned another 10-point advantage midway through the fourth quarter when Jernigan trotted out to field another Anger punt. He couldn't control the ball and Blake again recovered it, this time at the Giants' nine. The defense kept Jacksonville out of the end zone, but Josh Scobee's 29-yard field goal made it 31-24 and put the Jaguars in position to win the game.
"I looked down for a little it to see where the defender was," Jernigan said. "I thought he was further away than what he was. I should have just fair caught it. I took a chance there and it went bad."
"It looked like he took his eyes off the ball," Coughlin said. "I give credit to the punter. He puts it very, very high. All you have to do is signal fair catch and concentrate totally on catching the ball."
Hosley did average 11.3 yards on three returns, including a 20-yarder, and Jernigan had a 10-yard return. But if they don't heed Coughlin's demand to catch the ball, they likely will get few opportunities to return punts.