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Giants hoping for a special effort from kicking units

Punt and kick returners are young, learning and near the bottom of the league in getting the team off to a good start on offense.

Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey on the

Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey on the sidelines during the preseason opener against the Browns at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 9, 2018. Photo Credit: Daniel De Mato

One of the reasons the Giants' offense can’t seem to get started might just be where they are starting.

Their return game, on both punts and kickoffs, has been virtually nonexistent. Their average starting field position through four weeks is the 24.4-yard line, which ranks 27th in the NFL. They rank 27th in kick returns, averaging 17.2 yards. They average a league-low 3.0 yards per punt return on eight attempts; they and the Falcons are the only teams in the NFL without a punt return of at least 10 yards.

“We’re not executing,” special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey said this past week. “It starts with me and how we’re coaching it and now we have to get better at it. That’s point-blank. Period. We’ve got to get better.”

While McGaughey put the majority of the blame on the 10 people who are not handling the ball on the returns, saying that he sees too many “clogged lanes” for the returners to find space to run, one of the handicaps in the return game has to be the inconsistency of the personnel sent deep to field the kicks. The Giants haven’t had a punt returner for two full games in a row this season. Their veteran kickoff returner, Cody Latimer, missed last week’s game with an injury.

Latimer should return this week. So should rookie Jawill Davis, who handled both kickoffs and punts against the Saints. Davis, an undrafted rookie, will be given another opportunity to return punts.

“He has to,” McGaughey said. “You’re not going to learn by sitting on the bench. You’ve got to play and that’s the only way you’re going to ascend in this league. You’ve got to have game reps. It’s one thing to do it out here on the practice fields. It’s a whole other different thing to do it on game day during the regular season. Preseason, yeah, that’s great, but the speed of the game during the regular season, that’s something you’ve got to have for a young guy if you want to see him get better.”

Davis followed Stacy Coley, who followed Kaelin Clay as the primary punt returner. None of the three was with the Giants when the preseason ended.

Davis said he thinks he will improve. Quickly.

“It’s just a matter of time, and this week, it’s going to happen,” he said.

If it doesn’t, the Giants have yet another option waiting for his opportunity. This week they added return specialist Quadree Henderson to the practice squad. While playing for Pittsburgh in college, Henderson had seven special-teams touchdowns — four on kickoffs, three on punts.

“He’s a sure-handed guy,” McGaughey said. “He obviously had a lot of production in college and we like what we saw on tape and his pro day, like we saw there, so he has a lot of potential like any young guy that had a lot of production in college. We’d like to see what he does at the next level.”

Of course, none of it will matter without the blocking in front.

“We have to get our blocks and be with the right-side leverage and not try to force it,” special teams captain Michael Thomas said. “If it’s not a returnable kick, don’t return it. That will help it. And when we do have those returnable kicks, you have to execute your blocks and hit it.”

Do the Giants have the talent necessary to fix this problem?

“The ability is there, the talent is there,” Thomas said, “but guys have to do it because if you continue to not have success, they’ll find other guys who will.”

With Neil Best

New York Sports