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Michael Ghobrial 'evolving' with special teams rule changes


Getting accustomed to East Rutherford weather can take time. It's a good thing new special teams coordinator Michael Ghobrial, who spent the past three seasons with the Jets, has already been through the wringer.

"Without getting too much into the advantage we can gain with it, number one, you're in the Northeast and the weather is something that will consistently test you," Ghobrial, a Los Angeles native, said in a new episode of "On the Drive" with Shaun O'Hara on "One of the things that I didn't necessarily realize until I got out here was how many wet games we have and how often it is raining. That obviously plays a factor in the kicking game, and then you combine that with the wind, the ball trajectory, the types of drops you do, what you're asking your specialists to do and even how you can tie your scheme into that, it's all important."

Ghobrial was a special teams coordinator on the collegiate level for five seasons before joining the Jets in 2021. That season, while coaching under coordinator Brant Boyer and fellow assistant Leon Washington, Ghobrial helped the Jets become the only team in the league that season to finish in the top five in both kickoff and punt return average.

The following year, Justin Hardee became just the sixth Jets special teamer to be selected to the Pro Bowl since 1970 and the only core special teamer. In 2023, the Jets' kickoff coverage led the league by allowing an average of just 15.3 yards a return. Their opponents' 40.4-yard net punting average ranked seventh in the NFL. Additionally, rookie Xavier Gipson was second in the league with a 23.2-yard kickoff return average and tied for 12th with a 9.7-yard punt return average, including a game-winning 65-yard touchdown in the season opener vs. Buffalo.

"With all my units, the one thing you're going to see is that we're going to be so fundamental based that we're going to win with technique, effort, and violence," Ghobrial said. "When you center your scheme around that and you get guys to play at their greatest level, they're the ones that ultimately bring the scheme to life. I don't cross that white line. They do. When there is a genuine care for their teammates and a style that they can uphold, you'll end up having a good product out there and be highly ranked."

Prior to the NFL, Ghobrial served as the special teams coordinator at Washington State (2020), Hawai'i (2018-19) and Tarleton State (2016-17). A former defensive end in college, Ghobrial began his coaching career at his alma mater, UCLA, before stints at Syracuse (2014) and Colorado Mesa (2015).

"I think when you talk about special teams, it's the purest form of football," Ghobrial said. "Block destruction, block ability, ability to rush, ability to make tackles in space, how you approach a ball carrier's speed, change of direction – all those things are attributes of any good football player, whether it be defensive or offensive players. And to me, that experience is invaluable [from] playing the game."

As a coach now, Ghobrial knows he needs to stay on top of the constant rule changes, which seemingly upend his phase of the game on an annual basis. NFL clubs last month approved a new form of the kickoff designed to resemble a typical scrimmage play by aligning players on both teams closer together and restricting movement to reduce space and speed. In theory, it will promote more returns.

"To me, that's one of the most fun parts about the game," Ghobrial said of rule changes. "It's evolving, and [I have] tremendous respect for the how the NFL is trying to make this game safer for the players, for longevity, and obviously still want to put a good product out there. To be honest, it keeps you hungry to find the new details that you can take advantage of. The rule changes are something you always have to educate your players on and not just once. I think you have to stay connected to it. I think the second you deviate from emphasizing rules, that's when the bottom falls out and you see guys struggle in moments of truth. It's no fault to the player. I truly believe you get what you emphasize."

Coach Brian Daboll saw Ghobrial's work in action this past October when the Giants and Jets met for their quadrennial meeting. Graham Gano, in his final game before being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury that required surgery, uncharacteristically missed a 35-yard field goal attempt with 24 seconds remaining in regulation. It opened the door for the Jets to drive the length of the field and kick a game-tying field goal as time expired. Greg Zuerlein then won it for the Jets in overtime on a 33-yard field goal.

Now Ghobrial will see the other side of the rivalry.

"When I first got the opportunity to talk to Dabs, it was gosh dang, this is the New York Football Giants," Ghobrial said. "Pretty dang cool to be able to say that, and [I just have] a tremendous respect for the organization, for the owners, everybody that's affiliated with this building. You can tell they treat the game of football the right way and the expectations are high, as they should be. But the resources are here to win."

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