Punter Steve Weatherford, left, and placekicker Lawrence Tynes, right, were part of an improved special teams group for the Giants last season. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Special teams remains an often overlooked part of an any NFL team. The Super Bowl championship won last season by the New York Giants should, however, be an example of the important role special teams play in winning football games.
The Giants don't get to the post-season at all last season without a blocked field goal by Jason Pierre-Paul that won them a game against the Dallas Cowboys. And they don't advance past the NFC Championship Game if Devin Thomas does not recover a pair of fumbles on punt returns by Kyle Williams of the San Francisco 49ers.
With that in mind, let's look at the key components of the Giants' special teams.
The Giants signed Weatherford a year ago as a free agent after the New York Jets let him go simply hoping the veteran would provide some consistency after the team suffered through watching Matt Dodge suffer with horrible inconsistency the prior season. Weatherford did more -- much more -- than that. The six-year veteran averaged a career-best 45.5 yards per punt, dropped 27 of his 82 punts inside the 20-yard line and helped the Giants to a net average of 39.4 yards per punt.
Weatherford, already punting for his fifth organization, earned himself a five-year, $12.75 million contract that included a $3.25 million signing bonus.
Lawrence Tynes has been with the Giants since 2007, and fans seem to have a love-hate relationship with the placekicker. Tynes can drive fans crazy with an occasional miss on a seemingly easy field goal or with some awful kickoffs, but he has always come through for the Giants in the clutch. He is entering the final year of a five-year, $7 million contract.
The Giants seemingly always struggle to find return men, for both kickoffs and punts. Let's look quickly at the candidates for both jobs.
Kickoffs -- Da'Rel Scott averaged 24.4 yards on 14 kickoff returns last season, and Jerrel Jernigan returned eight kickoffs for a 23.3-yard average. Domenik Hixon has a career average of 24.6 yards on 80 returns, with a touchdown and four returns longer than 60 yards. Hixon, though, has missed almost all of the past two seasons with knee injuries. There are questions about his explosiveness and about whether or not the Giants want to expose him to returning, yet if he is the same player he was before the injuries he might be their best option.
Punts -- The Giants find themselves in the same situation here as they are with kickoffs, where Hixon might be the best option if his knee can withstand the rigors of the job. Both of last season's primary returners, Aaron Ross and Will Blackmon, are no longer with the team. Hixon has a career average of 11 yards per return on 51 opportunities. He returned three punts for 3 yards last season (10.3 yards per return) before missing the last 14 games due to his latest knee injury. Jernigan could be an option here if he proves trustworthy in securing punts, which was an issue for him a season ago. Rookie third-round pick Jayron Hosley, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound cornerback, averaged 12.9 yards on 64 returns while at Virginia Tech and will get a long look for this role.