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Evaluating the Special Teams with ST Coordinator Kevin Spencer
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Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches to get the inside scoop about the Bolts. We now turn our attention to ST Coordinator Kevin Spencer to get his thoughts on the Special Teams.
Chargers.com: So first off, what has been the focus for you during this offseason program?
Spencer: Right now today (Assistant Special Teams Coach) Craig (Aukerman) and I are working on final preparations for rookie minicamp. Craig is a great coach, and has been invaluable to our success here. We meet every day to get ready. We work on individual projects and share the information with each other. Now that the players are in, we try to get 10 minutes of work in with those guys each day. On Monday and Wednesday we will try to grab the defensive guys, and on Tuesday and Thursday we will work with the offensive players. With the NFLPA regulations, our emphasis is teaching technique and scheme. We are familiar with our guys, but now we will get familiar with the rookie class and new free agents.
Chargers.com: Speaking of rookies, you hear many coaches say success on special teams can be a path to more playing time or even a roster spot. Is that something that the team stresses to the rookies?
Spencer: You are exactly correct, and I think Coach (Mike) McCoy does a really good job of talking to the players about that. I know when we have a team meeting he’ll talk to the team about it, and it’s true. When you have a 53-man roster, there are tough decisions to make. So for a young player who may not be seeing as much immediate time on the field while they grow and mature in those roles, another way to contribute is in the kicking game. I think the older guys get it, and the younger guys will have to get it.
Chargers.com: When scouting potential draft picks or signing college free agents, how much does special teams ability play a role in selecting a player?
Spencer: I think that our scouts do a really, really good job knowing if a prospect has special teams reps in his college career. I think college coaches are more inclined nowadays to use some of their starters in those roles. It’s not like some of those kids haven’t done it since high school. So they make us aware if certain guys have done it in college, and we will go back and look at their film. The best things that our personnel guys do is they find football players. They go out and bring in guys who help us on offense and defense, and if you bring in that type of athlete with a work ethic and football IQ, we will get them to play well in the kicking game. Once we give them the experience playing it; that is all they need. So I don’t want to hear, “He is a special teams guy.” Tell me he is going to be great and will start for 10 years at safety or inside linebacker. Those are the guys who will be great special teams players as well. Like we like to say around here, they’ll graduate to the varsity, but in the meantime, they will excel in the kicking game.
Chargers.com: Talking about specific players, the last couple of years Seyi Ajirotutu held down the gunner spot across from Darrell Stuckey. How do you see the competition playing out through training camp and the preseason as someone tries to lock down that spot?
Spencer: We have enough guys in house here that we are excited to see who will step up. It could be a running back, wide receiver, outside linebacker, cornerback, safety – we don’t know who specifically will step up right now but somebody will. We are going to try a bunch of guys there, and we will see who steps up. I don’t think it is a stereotypical position where we need a certain type of guy or position. It will be fun to see who will emerge. Often guys just need an opportunity. Malcom Floyd played in the kicking game before he made his mark as a receiver. So every year guys are there, you just have to give them the chance and they’ll jump up. The light will go on somewhere, and they’ll realize this is a golden opportunity to make their mark in the kicking game. Nobody has a crystal ball at this point, but it will be fun to see who emerges.
Spencer: Oh yeah! First of all he’s a really big man. When I first saw him I was like, “Holy smokes!” He always dressed out big, but he is a big person and still runs very, very well. He has a lot of gas in the tank, and he gets his role. He knows what his job is, and he knows what he gets paid to do and help his team. He’s a real pro and has a lot of juice left. But what we have to get across to guys is they can’t just think we will roll number 12’s helmet out there and we’ll be successful. The other 10 guys have to hold up their end of the bargain. It’s just like what Coach McCoy said when he first got here. Philip Rivers is our guy, but everybody else has to get better around him. It’s the same type of mentality for Jacoby. He will do his job, but now the rest of the guys have to do their jobs.
Spencer: He’s a pro. He can change the field. With Mike it is obvious that he has an effect also on field goals. He’s such a good holder, so that impacted Nick (Novak) on field goals at the end of the year. Everyone has a lot of respect for Mike in that locker room. He is an athlete that is also a punter. He is still very effective and takes care of his body. He is a pro that learned very early on and got that he has to take care of himself. Mike still punts the ball with the best of them. It’s like the old adage you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Well, as a coach you sometimes take for granted performances, and then when it is not there, it reinforces it. We are glad Mike is back healthy and ready.
Spencer: He is a pro who has worked very hard to attain his position. He is an incredible young man. You take away some of the glitches at the end of the year when we lost Mike, Nick is above 90% effectiveness. Coach has the confidence in him in every situation, but we’ve challenged him just like everybody else. There are things he has to get better at, and he’s working hard this offseason like he always does. Putting in work is never an issue with Nick. Sometimes we have to tell him to slow down because he works so hard.
Chargers.com: No one ever talks about the long snapper, which is a shame because Mike Windt is so good at his craft.
Spencer: People only talk about them when they don’t do well, and no one talks about Mike so that says a lot. It sounds corny, but I am really proud of him. He’s really transformed his body first of all. He lost body fat and increased muscle mass. He’s a better athlete than before, so huge kudos downstairs to the strength and conditioning staff. He’s a better athlete and a more physical football player. It’s more than snapping the ball. Mike may not run down the field and blow up people, but he does a lot of little things at the line of scrimmage in the field goal and punt game that helps our team and coverage guys. I told Mike I don’t care if he makes a tackle. I’ve challenged him to do certain things and techniques to aid our guys, and he’s accepted that challenge and done that. So yeah, he is accurate and a perfectionist, but he is more than that. He helps our guys get out after the other team latches on to them. Mike will give what we call a pick, which is legal in special teams. He has become very, very good at that and also at field goal protection. He is about 240 pounds and throws his body in protection to move a 300-pound guy so that D.J. Fluker won’t have two 300-pound guys on his shoulders. So he does a whole lot. He’s a pro and he’s smart. He is dependable and we trust him.
Spencer: Obviously we were very, very happy for him. It’s just a great thing because he is a great person and a great player. He works hard. In the old days you had a lot of Darrell Stuckeys, but that’s not the case anymore. He is a throwback in some respects, so I’m really happy for him. He was honored and recognized, and got to play defense too.
Chargers.com: Finally, looking back at last year, what is one area you want to improve upon heading into this season?
Spencer: We want to improve both sides of the return game. We want to return kicks better to give our offense better field position. That changes the way (Offensive Coordinator) Frank Reich calls a game and makes it easier for the offense. And on the other side, we want to defend kickoffs better to put less pressure on the defense. Like on offense, (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano has more defensive flexibility when given optimum field position. That is complementary football. So we are focusing on the little details on all types of techniques to be more efficient. Read