In the house-cleaning that followed the firing of Bruce Allen, almost every vestige of the Jay Gruden coaching staff was swept away, but one of the few coaches to survive the purge was Special Teams Coordinator, Nate Kaczor. Having arrived in DC only in 2019, fresh from a three-year stint in Tampa Bay, Kaczor seemed to have the Allen-Gruden stamps all over him, making him an unlikely candidate to survive the burning desire for change in Ashburn.
Kaczor’s tenure began with a bit of a rocky pre-season, but the regular season saw a solid performance for the ST Coordinator.
3 Jan 2020: Ron Rivera has picked his ST Coordinator
Sports’ Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin ranked all 32 special teams units at the end of the season, and the Redskins ended up 4th overall, behind just the Saints, Bengals, and Patriots. Gosselin rated special teams performance in 22 different categories, and the Redskins finished among the best several on them, including 4th in net kickoff return yards, 2nd in net punt return yards, and 1st in yards per punt.
As we continue to wander in the desert of the internet-based 2020 off-season, Nate Kaczor took some time on Tuesday to meet with the media. As we’ve seen so commonly of late, the session featured a coach who was relaxed and ready to talk at length, with the entire session lasting over 25 minutes, instead of the usual 10-15 minute that is typical when coaches are at the podium.
CLICK HERE to watch the entire media Q&A with Nate Kaczor
Let’s look at some of his more interesting quotes.
Like nearly everyone who I’ve seen interviewed in the past month or so, the first questions Kaczor faced were about the challenges of the Zoom-based off-season.
I believe that this is going to, once it’s all said and done, this is going to help all of us become better teachers because you have to develop plans: what if the video is dragging really badly today, can I go back to PowerPoint? Oh, how good is my PowerPoint slide? Is that descriptive enough for them? Is it visually captivating enough for them?
As we know, all of us, let alone the players, all of us in this society are around the best graphics all the time and the higher leve... and the NFL has a lot of resources as well; we don’t see bad graphics.
So challenging yourself to have plan A, plan B, plan C, and have it all be as visually stimulating as it can be, that is definitely a challenge. I can already tell that it really pushes your limits as a teacher. I don’t think anybody is going to go through this and just fall back into be a coach that can’t check his emails, so to speak.
Asked about how he can evaluate the rookies, his answer was initially an extension of his earlier comments about the challenges of the virtual off-season.
Well we do so much work evaluating the video, putting that together with an in-person contact at the Combine if they are there.
At the direction of our personnel department and [Head] Coach [Ron] Rivera,...we really put the pieces of the puzzle together on these players — and it’s not just lip service. We’re really reliant on that right now because you see the video at the Combine through the workout, through the interviews come to life.
Then whether it’s virtually like this or on the field, I probably know less about their mental capacity. I tested it a little bit at the Combine. I know more about what they can do physically because I’ve been watching that tape a long, long time.
Asked about his input to the process of identifying the types of players and skillsets he wants on special teams, Coach Kaczor echoed much of what we’ve heard previously about the approach of Ron Rivera.
Every year [you want] alignment as a building — and when I say building, I mean football personnel, coaching, strength and conditioning, training room, media, everyone.
So, when Coach Rivera got here and I was asked to be a part of the new staff, I looked forward; I don’t look back and I don’t compare, but immediately we were in alignment. There was no question who was in charge and the chain of command.
That being said, when we met as a building, [there was] more emphasis on the coaching and personnel department and this is being well documented by you in the media.
We all got to talk. Obviously, Kyle [Smith] is a part of this. We are all in the room.
You may say that you really like the fastest linebackers we can get. It may get to a point where [we focus on LB] Khaleke Hudson — wow this guy is fast! He is not a big imposing linebacker in terms of positioning, but he is fast and explosive. Just using him as an example.
This was actually the second time that Kaczor mentioned Khaleke Hudson’s name. I think it’s safe to assume that Hudson is a cornerstone of the ST Coordinator’s plans. He also mentioned Kamren Curl and Antonio Gibson earlier, both of whom are expected to contribute to special teams.
From the standpoint of some basic X’s and O’s, I thought the coach’s answer to the question of what’s missing when the players can’t get on the field to physically practice was pretty interesting.
On special teams, one of the first thing we always talk about is the movement patterns that they have to learn.
For example, the college punt rules are different, and I get a lot of questions about this in general. The college rule, the coverage players can leave as soon as the ball is snapped.
In the NFL, they can’t leave until you punt the ball [and] there are movement patterns like kick shuffling on a punt or a kickoff return dropping. Some of these players have not done this or maybe they did it when they were a freshman or sophomore in college and have not done them for a few years.
Our challenge...on special teams [is] we have to get everything we can do in the classroom done so the second we are together we can start working on these movement patterns that these guys are not accustomed to doing.
They have done something similar to what we are going to teach them in college, meaning we are going to teach them different techniques but it is not going to be totally foreign if that makes sense.
Asked to describe head coach Ron Rivera, Kaczor was very positive about his new boss.
He’s so consistent.
I’m going to throw out so many terms that get overused. He is such an authentic, real, sincere person with just a great background that covers a lot of different areas. When you meet him, you’re not surprised that he meets that consistency because that’s just the way he is. He’s just a rock.
Like I said, you have some tough discussions about whether it’s personnel or scheme or putting things together or what not, what’s going on pandemic-wise. I mean, I’ve seen him lead already because we haven’t been through the most normal of times. Obviously when you go through the season, emotions and feelings get amplified but he’s an impressive person behind the scenes as he is out in front of the camera where you see him mostly. Very consistent, very authentic, very strong.
One reporter asked specifically about players like Antonio Gibson and Steven Sims and whether their apparent importance to the offense would have an effect on how much they contributed to special teams. Kaczor discussed this question at length.
If you look at a sliding scale – whether it’s on the SAT test for college eligibility or any type of sliding scale – the more Antonio plays on offense, the less he would play on special teams.
He’s different than Steven Sims, obviously, because he’s big and fast. He was 220 pounds and some people had him in the low 4.4’s and high 4.3 area.
He’s not only a returner, he can bring some protection and speed and coverage. For example, he could be on the punt team and play a slot, which is very conducive to a running back skillset, where they block rushes and release and help contain. Quite often on the punt team in the NFL, you will see a starter or two – be it offense or defense – being used. He’s so versatile because he is a returner, and he is big enough to play in the return game as a blocker, as an off returner.
In an ideal setting — and this isn’t really just talking about Steven Sims or Antonio — if you have a legitimate returner and your off returner who is 30 pounds bigger than your returner, who if he doesn’t get the ball is a blocker — he weighs 220 — then that’s a really good situation because, if they don’t really want to kick it to one guy and they want to kick it to your other one, and he’s really good, then you have a heck of a situation there.
It was mentioned that Terry McLaurin had been drafted in 2019 with the expectation that he would be a key special teams player, but was quickly pulled from ST duties when he became the focal point of the offense.
Yes, so that would be like getting a Christmas present and just when you open it, your brother snatches it from you and you never get it back. You’re happy for your brother, but (laughs).
If I didn’t believe this then I would be a little fraudulent. What I tell our players is that special teams is a great way to start your career, and a great way to extend your career if you are not starting. Ultimately, I want all of these guys to become starters on offense and defense and play a long time.
Obviously with Terry, his makeup just as a football player, his character, effort, intelligent, speed – the fact that that happened didn’t surprise anybody. So, I was really happy for our football team and I was really happy for Terry.
I think he scored a long touchdown in the first game against Philly. It was kind of like right off the bat like, ‘Oh I’m glad he is on offense.’