Often forgotten in the midst of the bevy of former-Panther hirings, is the fact that Ron Rivera did keep a couple of coaching hold overs from the former regime. One of the coaches Rivera thought highly enough to retain was Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor.
Kaczor seems to be playing an increasingly engaged role in the team - or at least getting more attention than he has historically - and playing a critical part in Washington’s team-building efforts.
GM Martin Mayhew just said fifth-round safety Darrick Forrest was one of Nate Kaczor's top special teamers in the entire draft.— Kyle Stackpole (@kylefstackpole) May 1, 2021
As minicamp wrapped up earlier this week, Kaczor conducted one of the team’s final press conferences, and a number of interesting topics were discussed.
You've rotated some punt returners through, could you break down the situation there for us?
So far, it’s been Deandre Carter, Isaiah [Wright], Steven Sims, Dax Milne, Danny Johnson’s done it. Those guys have been the primary players. There’s also players on the roster like Adam Humphries, who I have a history with in Tampa Bay, who’s done it in the past. But, those guys who have been working at it are the ones we’re looking at the most at this point in time. Then we’ll recalibrate, and at training camp we’ll have everybody that is going to be evaluated in training camp. Yes, that has been a point of emphasis and we’ll be spending a lot of time on that.
What’s the top quality you’re looking for out of those guys?
The number one characteristic is efficiency, and the biggest part of efficiency is catching the football. As elementary as that sounds, that’s the most important thing, because we’re getting the ball back for our offense. All we need to do is possess it. After efficiency, then we’re looking for explosion, because every step we take towards their goal line after we catch it is yards in our favor. Efficiency first, which includes ball security/reliability, and then explosion.
What do you make of Deandre Carter?
Deandre....is a young veteran. He’s done a few years in the NFL. He’s got good game experience. He’s comfortable back there. You can tell by the player’s mannerisms, he’s comfortable underneath the ball, what we call tracking the ball, adjusting in the breeze. He’s a comfortable veteran back there. His film is good, he’s got good run skills. He’s a good all around returner. We could see that on the film, which is why coach and our personnel department brought him in. But just being around him, in person, the things you can’t see on film, he’s a really energetic, positive, he’s a fun player to be around. The positive of having a good personality is when you’re a runner, those blockers, even if it’s sub-conscious, really enjoy blocking for you.
How is Camaron Cheeseman doing and fitting in?
Obviously in the specialist world, the chemistry of everything, the snap, hold, kick, is an ongoing process. The more good chemistry that occurs, the more they develop confidence in each other. Every new thing is a new moment for Camaron, being a rookie. So, we’re over there working on our own field early on OTAs, and then we get together, and now you’re in front of the line. And you’re lined up next to Brandon Scherff and some of these veterans, so I’m sure there’s some angst that comes with that. And that’s a moment. Coach Rivera, at the end, had Hopkins make a kick to end camp, so that was a little bit of a moment to work through. With any new rookie, working any new moment is something that we all do together. He’s done fine with the chemistry part of that. We vetted him virtually. His personality is what we thought it would be. He’s a smart player, he’s an aware player, he’s wired consistently, not too up and down. He’s off to a good start. It has not been perfect, but we’re working towards having a good chemistry.
What do you look for in long snappers?
Efficiency is first. So, the number one thing is, when you’re working with all three, snapping to Tress and Tress presenting a good ball to Dustin to kick, him being able to execute location and also the laces. The three factors we usually look are: Laces being where the holder doesn’t have to turn them too much, location, where the the punters like the ball, and the less wobble, or tighter spin you can have. Location and laces and spin rate when we’re talking about short [kick] snaps. And then punt snaps, punters don’t like moving their feet out of their stance. So when Tress is back their set up, we like to snap a ball to him between his chest and his belt, and not make him move too much side to side, where he can just take his jab and his two-step approach. If punters have to move a little bit, it just makes them work a little bit harder to get back on their line. Most snappers, I don’t know if I’ve seen any that have been perfect, the easier they can make the punter’s job when he’s punting with accuracy and not making him move his feet, and the three things we talked about on the short snaps, that’s the starting point. The third thing that comes in for the snapper is protection, and if you can have good feet to move and block people, because when they rush you with 8 people, your snapper has to be involved in protection and block somebody. So the better they can move their feet, size, length, and all the things you look for in a blocker in general are an added bonus.
What are some of the traits you’re looking for in special teams and who are some of the back of the roster guys you’re looking at?
What we look for this time of year is how they can pick up and process information. In our drill work, we watch them respond to what they’ve learned in the meeting room in the drill work: How to get leverage or keep a returner where we need him to be so we can all converge and tackle. Spacing. After we punt, and we’re running down the field, being in the right place. And if someone’s not in the right place, how to replace them. How to get your body under control when you’re around a very good athlete who has the ball in the return. We work on a lot of the movement patterns. Basically, when we get to training camp, and we have the ability to put on pads, then you’re practicing the physical part of the game. And, the players that are good tacklers who can get people on the ground when we’re covering, and blockers in the return game, and also punt protectors like we talked about. So then, the physical element in training camp and pre-season games is coupled with the movement patterns and how they process and react to information and then you can come up with your most complete special teams players.
Been very pleased with our draft picks and how they may potentially fit. I think all of the draft picks are at least what we thought they would be in terms of how they grasp information and move. Now we just have to see how they play with the pads on. Any of the draft picks are doing fine, and any of our good special teams players from last year: Deshazor Everett, Jeremy Reaves, Danny Johnson, Cam Sims, and some of these players are starting to have biggest roles on offense or defense. As you know, that’s a good part of it. We want to bring players in here that can start on offense or defense, or be developing to be starters, and that’s your special teams’ roster. Jared Norris, Kunaszyk, Dave Mayo is an addition. I’ve coached against Dave several years, he’s been a good addition. The tight ends: Bates, he’s a draft pick. He's done fine. Temarrick Hemingway. I’m naming a lot of people. I like all the guys that were here last year playing for us. I mentioned a couple new additions. Happy with where the draft picks are, but we’ve got to grow from that in camp.