We gave this announcement little fanfare when it happened back on January 25th but with HC Ron Rivera commenting on the impact of hiring Richard Rodgers as Assistant Special Teams Coach after the recent rookie mini-camp it is worth revisiting. Here's what Rivera had to say when asked specifically about special team play:
Bringing Richard in showed the completion of our commitment to special teams. After having evaluated last year and looking at things, the one mistake we made was not giving (special teams coordinator Brian Murphy) Murph help. We've corrected that by going out and finding a guy that coached it in college. So he's got a background in it and was a physical player. I think he's going to add a little something to us and help Murph out tremendously.
I find it interesting that in today's NFL having a single coach for special teams is now considered too much for one guy to handle. I imagine its because there is so much detail not only in each phase of the game but each situation each phase faces. Think about each specific situation special teams faces and the need to have a detailed plan for each. You can see how it might be overwhelming to plan for each situation on a weekly basis as the season progresses. We will look at each situation after the jump...
- Kick off coverage - The recent rule changes to the use of a 'wedge' changed every ST coaches strategy last year regardless of how many touch backs were called
- Punt return coverage - Moving more towards directional punting increased the demands on coverage planning; kick to the wrong spot and it could be a disaster (reference the Arizona game last year)
- Field Goals; actual and fakes - Getting a kick blocked amps up the coaching intensity on the blocking up front; a fake or two in the preseason might be needed to give the opponent something to think about
- Punts; actual & fake - I'm not sure how many fake punts you want a rookie to run but it seems a necessity in today's NFL.
- Punt returns; normal and gimmick plays - Imagine something other than a fair catch or 4 yd punt return?
- Kick off returns; normal and gimmick plays - Teams must now plan for returns starting from the end zone or even 5 yards deep to keep teams honest; you can't let them all bounce in the end zone. With changes to the wedge rule its worth it to take a chance periodically and run one out
Rodgers hiring brought the total number of assistants/consultants up to four on the roster. We now have assistants for both sides of the line, Rodgers assisting ST and Ricky Proehl as an offensive consultant. The total staff now sits at 18 which has to be a franchise high. Unlike the roster I imagine each NFL team can hire as many coaches as they want . The number could go up if they break-up Sam Mills III dual role of Defensive QC and assistance DL coach.
By the way on a side note, Rodgers was one of the Cal players that handled the ball during the famous kick returnto beat Stanford as time expired and the scoring player ran into the band in the end zone. Now called simply the 'The Play' maybe Rodgers can bring some of that magic to Carolina on gimmick plays.
For example, the last kick return gimmick play I remember was a game against the Vikings (2007 ish?) when Chris Gamble tried an across the field backwards lateral that resulted in a turnover. John Fox gave up on gimmick plays that day I believe. You can't be conservative all the time if you want to pull out close games in today's NFL. A handful of plays can determine an entire season so I'm glad to see the Panthers doing their best to see those plays go out way. I think we will see many more big plays from special teams in 2012.