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/Assistant Head Coach George Stewart.
OC Ken Whisenhunt – The Offense
Chargers.com:It's been about two and half months since you've been hired, and a few weeks since you've had the chance to meet with the players. Can you give us an update on the state of the team's special teams?
Stewart:We have a chance to be very efficient in the kicking game. Overall, (Head) Coach (Anthony) Lynn has done a great job molding this team. When you have a staff with two previous head coaches in Ken Whisenhunt and Gus Bradley, you have a good foundation on both sides of the football. We have a great group of young men who have great character and talent. (Assistant Special Teams) Marquice Williams has done a phenomenal job. We have young players like Drew Kaser and Josh Lambo who have bright futures in the National Football League. They've been very impressive so far. With hard work, we have a chance to have two good, young specialists for a long time.
Chargers.com:Let's take a closer look at those two young men. Now that you have spent some time around Drew, what stands out most about the punter heading into his second season?
Stewart:He has an outstanding leg. Fundamentally, he knows he has to get better, and he is working hard on that every day on the field. The thing we like about Drew is that he is very coachable. He takes it well and wants to get better. We love his mindset and attitude because he has a deep desire to get better.
Chargers.com:And what have you noticed about Lambo?
Stewart:Josh is one heck of a worker. He is a perfectionist. He is a straight forward guy. There is not a lot of fluff when it comes to Josh; he's all about substance. We love that in a kicker because we are going to put him in (stressful) situations. Go out there and make a game winner. Go make a long field goal. That isn't easy. We want someone with great substance and makeup, and that is exactly what he has in addition to a great leg.
Chargers.com:You've said there is nothing like competition, and the team did add kicker Younghoe Koo as an undrafted free agent. What was it about Koo in particular that made him an attractive prospect?
Stewart:You said it. There's* nothing* like competition. We believe that here. Our scouts did a great job canvassing the college circuit to find Younghoe. He's a guy that has great talent. He is an outstanding field goal kicker; very accurate. His field goal leg is good, and he is very consistent. That consistency is what we like most. Guys who score points are at a premium. When they can do that consistently they are very valuable. You see that in our first round pick, Mike Williams. If it is a runner like Melvin Gordon or a quarterback like Philip Rivers, consistent players who can score points are at a premium. That is what Josh Lambo is, and we feel Younghoe Koo can be as well. So we're excited to get him in here and start working with him.
Chargers.com:When we last spoke, you mentioned there would be open competition at returner. How has that been so far?
Stewart:To go out and sign a young man like Kenjon Barner gives us a chance to have success there. To draft Desmond King out of Iowa, he is another young player who has experience returning the ball. He did a great job returning punts in college. We also have Travis Benjamin, who has had a lot of success returning punts in his career. He's excited about getting the chance to do that again and show what he can do. Isaiah Burse has shown he can be successful returning in this league as well. We have enough guys in that area to give us a chance to win games on Sundays.
Chargers.com:What is it about Kenjon Barner that you feel he has a chance to have success as a returner?
Stewart:When I last saw Kenjon, he was running past me down the sidelines in the Philadelphia-Minnesota game for a touchdown! He returned the kickoff for a touchdown against us. Everyone here has watched his whole career in college at Oregon, and he is a lot tougher than people think. He is excellent on kickoff returns. He is fearless on punt returns. He is a dual guy who can give us a chance to be successful.
Chargers.com:Finally**, *how much you do you stress to rookies, whether they are drafted high or added as a college free agent, that they need to help out on special teams? Going out there in coverage, playing gunner and making consistent tackles can be a surefire way to not only make the team, but also earn playing time.
Stewart:Exactly. We will stress that to them. You look at this football team a year ago and see guys like Dexter McCoil, Trevor Williams and Jatavis Brown. Look at the guys who were lower round picks or undrafted free agents and made our football team. They performed very well on special teams, and that's a plus. Like we tell the rookies, you have to go through the fire of playing special teams. Three, four or five years from now you may see (extensive) time on offense or defense, but right now, you have to go through the fire on special teams first. Guys who have been special teams players, when they get a chance to play on Sundays on offense or defense, they bring it. Look at a guy like London Fletcher. When he first got onto the field as a rookie out of John Carroll University, he was a great special teams player. He played in this league for 16 years, and translated those skills he showed early on in special teams. Isaac Bruce was the same way. So was Terrell Owens for me in San Francisco. He was a great special teams player when he first came into the league as a cover guy and someone who could return kicks. Then he had a chance to play offense, and those skills transferred over. He went through the fire. Now these guys do, too. It's a transformation you'll have to make as a young player in this league.