Over the coming weeks, we'll be checking in with the Chargers' position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We continue with Special Teams Coordinator Craig Aukerman.
Chargers.com:Let's start with the big news, which is the change at punter. How hard was the decision to release Mike Scifres?
Aukerman:Mike was obviously a great punter for over a decade. He was one of the top five punters during his career in the NFL, but we felt it was time to make a change. Mike and I have such a great relationship that we were able to talk about some different possibilities that could happen beforehand. He understands that it is a business, and he is a true professional. It's hard, for sure. Not only is he a great football player, but a good friend. That makes it tough. But we are looking forward to Drew and Kasey battling it out.
Chargers.com:As you mentioned, Drew Kaser and Kasey Redfern are the two punters now on the roster. Some may see Drew being a sixth round pick and think it is a given that it's his job. How much is this really an open competition?
Aukerman:It is definitely a real battle. Coach (Mike) McCoy talks about it all the time; it doesn't matter if you are a draft pick, an undrafted free agent or however you got to this team. You are going to go out there and compete, and if you end up beating the guy out, so be it. That's how we want to do it. We want to compete at every position, so they are going to do everything they can to earn it. We are going to give them plenty of reps each, and they will battle it out.
Chargers.com:What did you see in Drew to draft him a few weeks ago, and what does he bring to the table?
Aukerman:He has a big time leg. His leg is so explosive, and that is the first thing that stood out when we watched film of him, especially the Alabama game. The ball just explodes off of his leg. Not only does it go very far, but it also has hang time. That's key. He can directional punt right and left. We were impressed by the film, and when we worked him out, he really caught our eye. That type of ability only comes around every once in a while.
Chargers.com:What are Kasey's strengths?
Aukerman:We feel really good about his ability. The thing that Kasey does very well is he can place the ball really well. If we tell him to go deep right and outside the numbers, that's where he's going to put it. He is really experienced when it comes to directional punting, and he has a very strong leg, too.
Chargers.com:Josh Lambo had a successful rookie year. What are you looking to see out of him in year two?
Aukerman:Josh did a really good job for us last year. He started out really hot, and he did it all with field goals and kickoffs. He had more touchbacks last year than we had the previous few years combined, and that was a big part of the game. We're excited about him, but he needs to build off of it. He still has things to work on. We would like him to be a little more consistent for a full year. I wouldn't say he hit that rookie wall, but it was an adjustment playing that many games. The thing I like about him is when he mishits something, he already knows what went wrong. He can correct himself right away. That's big, and I like what I've seen out of him this offseason.
Chargers.com:It's no secret we struggled in the punt return game last year, and Travis Benjamin is expected to turn that around. What have you seen so far out of Travis?
Aukerman:When you say his name, my face lights up. We are very excited about him, but he just can't show up and make plays. The players around him have to get better, too. We expect a lot of good things out of Travis, but we expect the players blocking for him to perform better than last year. It's not just on Travis; it's on everyone else, too.
Chargers.com:Will he be doing kickoffs also, or is that an open competition?
Aukerman:He will get reps there, but that will be a battle. There are a lot of players we are looking forward to seeing back there. Branden Oliver is another guy we will take a look at, as well as Javontee Herndon and Isaiah Burse. Danny Woodhead has done it in the past, too. We will give a bunch of guys an opportunity throughout training camp and preseason games to try to win that job.
Chargers.com:Special teams is so important for a rookie trying to make the team. How much do you emphasize that to the 28 rookies on the roster right now trying to land a spot, and point to undrafted guys last year like Nick Dzubnar?
Aukerman:You are absolutely right, and that is the main focal point when I talk to the rookies. I reiterate it all the time. You have to understand, they were *the man *in college. They were the top dog, and now they come in and have a whole new role. There are only so many undrafted free agents that make the team, and I point to Nick Dzubnar. He came in, and people maybe didn't give him enough credit for what he did in college, but he worked his tail off and made the team. Not only that, he led everyone in special teams tackles. He is a good role model. The same with Tyrell Williams. He did everything he could to perfect his craft, and he hadn't played special teams really before. It's funny because he started making plays in preseason, and he forced all of us to take note of him. He did well at gunner, and that boosted his value. We expect him to make a huge jump from his first to second year, also. He wants to meet and talk every day, and get every little detail down.
Chargers.com:Going into your first full season as Special Teams Coordinator, how much does Darrell Stuckey mean to you?
Aukerman:A lot. We look at him as another coach. We hold him up to a higher standard than a lot of people do, and we expect him to coach those younger guys up. His experience and leadership have always been important, and he is ready to step up even more, which is great.
Chargers.com:With changes over the past two seasons at kicker and punter, how crucial is Mike Windt to provide stability?
Aukerman:Crucial is the right word. He is the steady veteran. He's a pro's pro who will work hard, do his job, talk to the guys about the little details rookies may be oblivious to and take charge. We expect a lot out of him. It will be an adjustment for him though also because he has a new person he is snapping to for really the first time in his career. The snapper and holder have to see eye to eye on everything. Mike is excited about it, and they are out there working on it every day. Simple things like where to put the hand up, and where to grab and it put it in play. It is a lot bigger than people think.
Chargers.com:Finally, what is your overall assessment of the unit after a difficult year in 2015?
Aukerman:It's great to be back out there. It's one thing to study it and watch film, and we learn a lot from that. But now the juices really get flowing being back on the field. It's been fun, and I'll probably end up losing my voice in a day or two. But it's good to be back out there teaching. The guys want to learn and are doing a good job, so we are excited. (New Special Teams Assistant) Marquice Williams is doing a great job so far, too. He's hit the ground running. He works hard and he grinds. It's been great having him here, and we are working really well together.