Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell has admitted he put an extra strain on the coaching staff last season in an effort to rebuild the poor roster he inherited.


Caldwell added eight players to the roster after Aug. 27 last season prior to the regular-season opener.

That strain put each coach in a bind, but perhaps no one more than special teams coordinator Mike Mallory.

“Outside the two kickers, the 10 coverage guys were waiver-wire pickups and rookies,” Caldwell said.

However, Mallory was able to mold the special teams into a largely productive unit.

As expected, kicker Josh Scobee and punter Bryan Anger delivered solid seasons and will be counted on to do so again. Scobee has a quadriceps injury but has a solid chance to be healed in time for Sunday’s opener at Philadelphia. Long snapper Carson Tinker held his own as a rookie.

The surprise was how effective the Jaguars were at covering kicks and in kickoff return.

“On special teams, we went from towards bottom of the league to top 10,” Caldwell said.

Jaguars coach Gus Bradley hired Mallory away from the New Orleans Saints when he took the job in 2013. In his first season, Mallory turned the Jaguars around in many areas.

The numbers speak for themselves.

■ The Jaguars went from 27th in the league in kickoff return average in 2012 to third (25.9 yards). Running back Jordan Todman averaged 27.4 yards a return, good for second-best in franchise history. The return team had the highest percentage of 20-plus-yard returns in the NFL at 85.4 percent.

■ The Jaguars were second in the NFL in opponents’ starting field position at 19.6. They were 20th the previous season.

■ The kickoff coverage team jumped from 27th in 2012 to ninth, with opponents’ average starting field position after a kickoff being 22.5. The Jaguars allowed the fewest returns of 20-plus yards at 12.

■ The special teams also produced two blocked kicks and forced a fumble.

Now Mallory is hoping for even more with a stabilized roster. The coverage teams should continue to shine as the top six leading tacklers on special teams from last season remain on the roster. Safety Chris Prosinski led the Jaguars with nine tackles on special teams.

“With this being our second year into it, that should really help,” Mallory said. “It’s the same drills, same techniques and coaching and that’s only going to help us. I’ve been really pleased with our work to date.”

Bradley knows what he’s looking for in special teams players. The addition of rookie linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive end Chris Smith could benefit the special teams as well. Both players were selected in the fifth round of the draft.

They fit the description Bradley desires.

“We’re looking for guys on special teams that are disruptive,” Bradley said.

There is one area the Jaguars are desperate to improve. The punt return unit finished last in the league with an average of 4.7 yards a return.

Caldwell drafted receiver Ace Sanders in 2013, hoping that would spark the return game. Sanders averaged 15.3 yards a punt return with two touchdowns during his final season at South Carolina.

Sanders returned 25 punts last season, averaging 5.6 yards. He did have an 88-yard touchdown return called back against St. Louis.

The Jaguars will be without Sanders for the first four games. He is suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Caldwell made sure to sign an impressive insurance policy in receiver Tandon Doss, but an ankle injury suffered in the preseason finale forced him to injured reserve. Doss led the NFL in punt return average (15.6 yards) last season in Baltimore.

With Sanders and Doss sidelined, cornerback Will Blackmon has provided reliable depth at punt returner. He’s returned 71 punts in his seven-year career, returning three for scores. The 29-year-old Blackmon is one of the most versatile players on the roster, establishing himself as the top nickel corner.

“We always talk to our guys about having value,” Mallory said. “Do as much as you can do. Not only the position that you major in, but fill the role at another spot if someone goes down. Certainly, Will has that capability. We’re really excited to have him. I feel very good about his ability and that he can handle that role.”