JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When Corey Grant gets the fake punt order from Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Marrone, there’s only one thing on his mind.
Don’t tip it off.
Not, “I hope it works,” or, “what a great call,” or, “let me review exactly what I’m supposed to do.” Just: Don’t give it away.
“You want to just go through your normal, casual demeanor,” Grant said. “Not do anything different, but yeah, it is hard. The nerves spike up and you’re thinking, ‘Make sure I don’t do anything I don’t usually do. Don’t go too fast.'”
That’s one of the many small, unnoticed details that go into successfully converting a fake punt. So far, the Jaguars are a perfect 3-for-3 in pulling them off, which puts them in pretty elite company in the NFL. Only three teams in the past decade have had more success with fake punts than the Jaguars this season.
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Per ESPN Stats & Information, only three teams attempted more than three fake punts in a single season since 2007: The 2009 New York Jets, the 2012 Jets, and the 2015 St. Louis (now Los Angeles) Rams. They all attempted four but only the 2009 Jets converted four; the 2012 Jets converted three and the Rams just one.
“I think it says that we’re prepared,” punter Brad Nortman said of the Jaguars’ 1.000 batting average. “I think that it says that our coaches do a really good job scheming. I think it says that they’re confident in us being able to execute. I just think that it shows that we’re a team that is able and willing to run fakes and try to put our offense and defense in good spots.”
Nortman pulled off the latest fake when he completed a 29-yard pass to tight end James O’Shaughnessy from the Jaguars’ 49-yard line against Indianapolis last Sunday. That came on their first possession of the game and the Jaguars eventually ended the drive with a touchdown.
That’s another unique aspect of the fakes: They’ve all either resulted in or continued drives that led to touchdowns.
Grant ran 58 yards to the Baltimore Ravens’ 7-yard line on the final play of the third quarter of the Jaguars’ 44-7 victory in London. Leonard Fournette scored on the next play. Grant scored on a 56-yard fake punt return in the Jaguars’ 20-17 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
“It (a successful fake punt) gets the game going,” Grant said. “It motivates us. For that to happen as soon as it happened [last Sunday] it just sparked everybody because most of the time when we call that nobody knows except the guys on the field and coach. So you have defense over there thinking they’re about to go back on the field and you see a fake and we convert a first down, it just gets everyone going.”
Fake punts aren’t called on a whim. It’s the result of film study throughout the week. Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis is looking for weakness the Jaguars can exploit, a certain formation or the way a player handles his assignment, for example. If DeCamillis finds a weakness they’ll put the fake punt call in the game plan but it’s up to Marrone to decide if he wants to try it.
That depends on flow of the game, whether the team needs a boost, how confident he is in the call. The fact that the Jaguars’ defense is one of the best in the league is a factor, too — if the call doesn’t work the defense is good enough to make up for it and keep the opponent out of the end zone.
The decision is way more than just a gut feeling.
“I wish I could say, ‘Yes, it is a feel,'” Marrone said. “I think it is a little bit of that. I think it’s strategic. What are the percentages of us being able to make this play and all of the other stuff that goes into it?
“Everything plays a role. Weather, the way your offense is playing, [the way your] defense is playing. I think all of that stuff goes into it and that’s probably what people tend to what that ‘feel’ is.”
Grant is a key piece of the fake punts, and not only because he’s carried the ball twice. He’s the personal protector (lined up several yards behind the line of scrimmage) and is the only player that can call off a fake if the Jaguars don’t get the look from the opposing team they are expecting. If he’s not on the field then it’s fullback Tommy Bohanon lining up in the same spot and making the call.
Grant says opponents are going to be hyper-aware now whenever the Jaguars line up to punt so it may be time to retire the fake in which he takes the direct snap, or at least put it in storage for a while. The Jaguars may have to find something different if they want to go 4 for 4 or better.
“Coach Joe D., he’s doing a great job scheming teams up and finding their weakness,” Grant said. “We just try to take advantage of it at times that we really needed it. It’s just been working out for us.”