A Newfound Emphasis On Special Teams


It may have been considered a ‘pass the buck’ type of move when the Chargers’ organization fired long time special teams coach Steve Crosby following their dismal campaign in 2010, but the team is turning the page on that era of the third phase for their football team. The 2011 draft class clearly emphasized special teams and their newly hired special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is certainly ready to install his philosophical changes to the Bolts kicking game.


It may have been considered a ‘pass the buck’ type of move when the Chargers’ organization fired long time special teams coach Steve Crosby following their dismal campaign in 2010, but the team is turning the page on that era of the third phase for their football team. The 2011 draft class clearly emphasized special teams and their newly hired special teams coach Rich Bisaccia is certainly ready to install his philosophical changes to the Bolts kicking game.

In a recent article at SignOnSanDiego, Bisaccia’s confident, enthusiastic attitude came through loud and clear as he said: “We have plans, whether it’s with the same players with a new system or new players with a new system. It could be done in two months, two weeks or two days, whatever it takes. I’ve done this for a long time. Whatever the procedure is, we have a plan.” It is that demeanor that led a few teams with head coaching vacancies to consider Bisaccia as a potential candidate to fill that role.

With behavior that just oozes confidence and an infectiously positive outlook on each and every aspect of his job, Bisaccia will bring a newfound purpose and energy to a team that seemed to lack that at different times during the last handful of seasons. Perhaps his most endearing quality is that he is actually the antithesis to current Head Coach Norv Turner’s cerebral approach to the game by bringing the passion and fire that Turner truly lacks.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Bisaccia’s approach to coaching is his no-nonsense manner without rhetorical speeches to water things down. He really believes that special teams boils down to responsibility and commitment which is clear when he says: “We all have core beliefs; we teach. We’re not curing any diseases. You have to block the right guy and tackle. Tackling is tackling, and I don’t care if I’m coaching high school or Pop Warner or the Chargers. I don’t care if we have veterans or rookies. We had seven rookies in Tampa last year. You’re responsible for your work.”

It really is as simple as that.

Last season and at times in the past the Bolts’ special teamers just lost their lanes and overcommitted on the return man. When a unit loses its structure, chaos inevitably ensues and leaves the defense on the hook for cleaning up the mess. Scheme can only correct a portion of the team’s missteps last year and General Manager A.J. Smith realized that by bringing an all new fundamental view to the war room in April’s draft.

When a team finishes number one in both total offense and defense across the league, the reason for a 9-7 record and a front row seat on the sofa for the postseason isn’t necessarily that easy to detect. For their GM and the rest of the talent evaluators with the Chargers however, they felt like a new emphasis on special teams would greatly improve the Bolts moving forward. According to Smith via the team website: “We’re trying to upgrade special teams with speed guys, quick guys, and more importantly what we call football temperament. We’ve got to get back to that mentality where you’re going to go down there and get after people.”

It seems like a given that general managers would always be looking for draftees with a ‘football temperament’, but often times team’s get too hung up on upside and potential rather than the proof of what a player can do on film. Getting back to the nuts and bolts of football by focusing on players with a proven track record of success rather than those with strictly pure talent should be just what the team needs to upgrade in the third phase of the game.


Getting deeper and spurring on some competition was clearly one focus for team management with the 2011 draft class and selections like Marcus Gilchrist, Jonas Mouton, Shareece Wright, and Andrew Gachkar are likely to push one another for starting spots on kick coverage. And although that may seem like a relatively benevolent beginning to an NFL career, some of the league’s elite players earned roster spots as special teamers before blossoming into Pro Bowl caliber players.

It seems that the Bolts’ GM had those very thoughts in mind both leading into and coming out of the draft as A.J. Smith said of the 2011 draftees: “We’re not very happy with what happened last year. Unacceptable. We have a new special teams coach and there’s been a heavy (special teams) emphasis on a lot of the players we brought in here. You’re going to wait your turn in some cases before you become a starter in the league, but we think they’re going to contribute immediately on special teams.”

Unlike recent years, the Bolts have finally put some serious thought into the special teams phase this offseason and that additional consideration should yield some positive results. Hopefully it will be a long time before San Diego sees another season featuring five blocked punts in total with two of those happening within five minutes of one another against the Oakland Raiders. Bisaccia and company have the tools at their disposal to put all of those special teams gaffes behind them and move on to a more organized campaign in 2011.

Now it’s your turn. It’s been more than four months now since the season ended so do you still believe that Steve Crosby’s firing was a justified move or was he simply made into a scapegoat? Are you enthused about Bisaccia as the Bolts’ new special teams coach or will he turn out to be just an average coach? Does Smith’s focus on drafting special teams’ starters get you excited for the season or make you yawn that he didn’t go for more impact type of players? Do you see things turning around for the Chargers’ group of special teamers this coming season or will there be more of the same mental mistakes for the Bolts in 2011? Please fill up the comments section below with your take!

May 20, 2011

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1 comments:

cczer08 said... May 20, 2011, 1:26:00 PM

I personally am pleased that the Chargers made the coaching change.  I know Crosby has coached in the NFL for a long time and generally has had success, but sometimes when things continue to go badly a shakeup is needed.  I think with his energy and good track record, Bisaccia will steer the Chargers to a big improvement.

That being said, I would have preferred that the early round picks place more emphasis on impact players than special teams.  I think at least a couple of these guys (Gilchrist, Brown, maybe Mouton) are viewed by the Chargers as potential future starters.  But most of these guys are good prospects so it's hard for me to criticize too many of the picks except for Mouton, who seemed like a serious reach and one that was made because of the emphasis on special teams.  I would have much rather seen Jeromey Clary's replacement drafted at #61 than an ILB most people felt would be available at least 2 or 3 rounds later.  Usually the middle and later rounds are where you find your special teamers, but AJ has wshown in the past that he is comfortable using high picks on role players/special teamers. 

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