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Interview: Special Teams Coordinator Nate Kaczor

via Redskins

Tuesday, May 26

On what it has been like to lead a room and meetings virtually:

“Well number one, it’s better than the alternative of not being able to do anything. I don’t think anything is ever as good as interpersonal communication, and I pride myself as a coach that is hands on and likes to work with the players. I feel like that’s one of my strengths. So being able to exude that virtually is a challenge, it’s not impossible, but it took a few times of going through it. The computer screen and not having moving bodies just takes a little bit of time to get used to. Once you get used to it, it’s very user-friendly and very beneficial. On my end of it with some of the meetings having a lot of people on them, upwards of 50 people, when I go to share a screen, I’m either showing video or PowerPoint, the people that I see rotate because I can’t see 50 guys and share my screen. So, that is kind of good because you can in essence keep an eye on the guys, and you can tell who is locked in. It’s pretty amazing what you can get done once you get used to it.”

On if there are any techniques or tips he has picked up on that make communicating information better and easier virtually:

“Yes. I believe that this is going to, once it’s all said and done, this is going to help all of us become better teachers. Because you have to develop plans for, what if the video is dragging really badly today, can I go back to PowerPoint? Oh, how good is my PowerPoint slide? Is that descriptive enough for them, is it visually captivating enough for them? Because, as we know, all of us, let alone the players, all of us in this society are around the best graphics all the time and the higher level. I mean, you guys and ladies are at the top of your market in media, and the NFL has a lot of resources as well. We don’t see bad graphics, so challenging yourself to have plan A, plan B, plan C, and have it all be as visually stimulating as it can be, that is definitely a challenge. I can already tell that it really pushes your limits as a teacher. I don’t think anybody is going to go through this and just fall back into be a coach that can’t check his emails, so to speak. Because quite honestly there are people at the top of their profession that can go in and do a knee surgery and conduct an interview with very little preparation because they’re just really gifted and really good at it. They may not have to work as hard to do a job as someone else might. But this really, really, was the impetus for everyone to get woken up in terms of the technology front. Those people that were already in it really pushes. It’s fun, it’s fun to get challenged that way.”

On who stands out from the rookie class as potentially making a major impact on special teams:

“Obviously, I’ve been like you, all of you all, I’ve been watching a lot of other Zooms, what people are doing with their graphics. So, anything that’s on YouTube, being able to say, ‘man, how did they do that?’ I might text our video staff. My point with this is, I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about evaluating players that in essence the last time I talked to them in person was at the Combine, so how do you evaluate those? Well we do so much work evaluating the video, putting that together with an in-person contact at the Combine if they are there. And at the direction of our personnel department and [Head] Coach [Ron] Rivera, the lip service that we really put the pieces of the puzzle together on these players. And it’s not just lip service. We’re really reliant on that right now because you see the video at the Combine through the workout, through the interviews come to life. Then whether it’s virtually like this or on the field, I probably know less about their mental capacity. I tested it a little bit at the Combine. I know more about what they can do physically because I’ve been watching that tape a long, long time. To learn about these guys is verifying,’ oh, this guy is as sharp as I thought he was or this guy might need an extra rep in terms of learning.’ We all learn differently, we know that. I know that’s a long answer to a short question, but I just wanted you to know that it’s amazing how, you asked about the rookie class, how they validate who they are even though virtually. Obviously, [RB] Antonio Gibson, [S] Kamren Curl, [LB] Khaleke Hudson, all the picks. You know, obviously, [DE] Chase [Young], by position and draft pick, those guys don’t play a lot of special teams, but they would be in some certain packages maybe like rush and punts. All of the draft picks, I didn’t list them all, but the draft picks and the people that we signed as free agents, I’ve been impressed with all of them. Those are the guys that even virtually, you get to spend the most time with because you can spend more hours with them than you can the vets. All the draft picks that were special teams players and really with this draft being where we picked, meaning the bulk of it was the middle to later rounds, that’s where you’re getting a lot of your special teams players anyways. So, I would say all of these, by position, will be able to contribute. I think some will be very strong for us.”

On what he expressed to the personnel department about skillsets that he likes on special teams:

“Not just this year, but every year when you are in alignment as a building and when I say building I mean football personnel, coaching, strength and conditioning, training room, media, everyone. So, when Coach Rivera got here and I was asked to be a part of the new staff, I look forward, I don’t look back and I don’t compare but immediately we were in alignment. There was no question who was in charge and the chain of command. That being said, when we met as a building, more emphasis on the coaching and personnel department and this is being well documented by you in the media very well, the core of the roster meeting that you have talked about, that was where coach said the roster in terms of numbers, that we would like so many of these and so many of these, here is what we are looking for in these positions. We all got to talk. Obviously, [Vice President of Player Personnel] Kyle [Smith] is a part of this. We are all in the room. I feel like that took place. What we were looking for in that meeting and obviously continued through the draft. You may say that you really like the fastest linebackers we can get. It may get to a point where, [LB] Khaleke Hudson, wow this guy is fast. He is not a big imposing linebacker in terms of positioning, but he is fast and explosive. Just using him as an example. The trades that we are after and looking for continued to come up after Coach Rivera with the rest of the building set the core of what we are looking for.”

On what he loses from a special teams standpoint without field work:

“On special teams, one of the first thing we always talk about is the movement patterns that they have to learn. For example, the college punt rules are different, and I get a lot of questions about this in general. The college rule, the coverage players can leave as soon as the ball is snapped. Rugby punting, where the punter can roll out for 10 seconds and then punt it, they are down the field. In the NFL, they can’t leave until you punt the ball. You would be hurting yourself. That being said, systematically there are movement patterns like kick shuffling on a punt or a kickoff return dropping. Some of these players have not done this or maybe they did it when they were a freshman or sophomore in college and have not done them for a few years. Our challenge to your question is on special teams, we have to get everything we can do in the classroom done so the second we are together we can start working on these movement patterns that these guys are not accustomed to doing. All the running backs, receivers, defensive linemen, linebackers, their college football movement patterns whether it is blitzing, dropping, rushing, dropping to the curl, match dropping in zone, whatever it is, they have done something similar to what we are going to teach them in college meaning we are going to teach them different techniques but it is not going to be totally foreign if that makes sense. A lot of the special teams movements that they have not done and that is going to be the number one challenge getting back, getting on the grass and teaching the movement patterns. The problem that is going to arise is the amount of reps you can accumulate in your bank so to speak, before you play a game. That is going to be the main challenge for sure.”

On the process of staying on with the new staff and in being one of the few holdovers from the last staff:

“The number one thing is the amount of names you get called. Holdover, retain, and some of them aren’t really flattering. You are just the best guy they could find so I guess you stayed. My point is that sometimes that is how you can feel. You are sitting here, and you walk into the building and 90 percent of the people are new. If you have been in this business long enough you have been through it before. To answer your question, I think the familiarity that I have especially coaching in the same division with Coach Rivera for three years when I was down in Tampa. You can really learn what a team is all about and obviously what the head coach is all about. A head coach that obviously keeps his team competing on a consistent level for all the time that coach did in Carolina. I was in the first 10 rows of the theater so to speak being a division opponent. When you have a respect for someone immediately when you meet them, obviously that is a benefit. Basically, our discussions were football, beliefs, how do you teach this and what do you believe in. Obviously, we talked about the core of the roster and he spoke to what he believed in as well. I believe you have an exchange at some point in time that you are either going to be comfortable or uncomfortable with each other. Obviously, he is going to go off and do homework on us. I don’t know if he talks to players or people that saw us play, he was watching us play. Obviously, when a coach has the ability, he watches us more, they can learn more. When you are coaching a team all 20 weeks, you obviously don’t have much time to study or watch more people. Obviously, he did some work on us and I was very happy and fortunate to be asked to be a part of it. When I met him for the first time I really, really respected him and I do not say those words lightly. I saw the product and I saw it when it was about as good as it could be and when they may have had injuries and continued to play really hard. Like I said, I was very impressed and I am happy to be here.”

On if he now views Coach Rivera differently after being in meetings with him as opposed to just coaching against him:

“That’s a great question. I see him exactly the same. I’m going to tell you that really verifies when you meet somebody that you have a lot of respect for and they’re at least that if not more, then you’re really like, ‘wow.’ Number one, you’re probably subconsciously patting yourself on the back like, ‘yep, I was right about him.’ To my point, he’s so consistent. What you see, I believe this is how everybody – whether it’s the media working with Coach [Rivera] or his coaching staff or his players, people in the building. When he is so consistent and the sincerity – whether it’s something you want to hear or something you don’t want to hear – when it’s authentic, and I’m going to throw out so many terms that get overused, he is such an authentic, real, sincere person with just a great background that covers a lot of different areas. When you meet him, you’re not surprised that he meets that consistency because that’s just the way he is. He’s just a rock. Like I said, you have some tough discussions about whether it’s personnel or scheme or putting things together or what not, what’s going on pandemic-wise. I mean, I’ve seen him lead already because we haven’t been through the most normal of times. Obviously when you go through the season, emotions and feelings get amplified but he’s an impressive person behind the scenes as he is out in front of the camera where you see him mostly. Very consistent, very authentic, very strong. When I say strong personality, I’m talking more a rock not overbearing.”

On how he feels about the potential special teams changing and where he sees the special teams aspect of the game trending:

“Since the changes in the kickoff rules started happening, obviously, every year the data league-wide on all football not just special teams on trying to reduce injuries and heighten player safety. The numbers that we’re looking at and that we see are getting better. Obviously when you’re in the special teams area of the team, you want to keep as many special teams plays in as you can. When they talk about alternatives like the onside kick you talked about, I would need to see the numbers of what the actual percentage of converting a fourth-and-15 would be compared to the onside kick success numbers in the past few years even after the rule change. As we look at all those, and I have most of the numbers, it’ll be interesting what they do with that. In terms of the kickoff in the XFL, I feel like it was interesting to look at because it was quite a departure in terms of the actual traditional play. It seems like it wasn’t a huge sample size, but there is enough to look at. But there’s no question, JP, that there is definitely winds of change out there – at least exploratory – and we need to, when they ask us as special team coaches, work on making something safer. We need to really be diligent with that and improve that because that’s our job. It is a definite ongoing process. The League has officials and certain committees that have asked the special teams coaches over the last few years to look at ways to do this or do that and give them feedback. We have committees that some of the special teams coaches are on. They do communicate with us, but there’s no question that there are definitely winds of change blowing around. So, we’ve got to be able to adjust, adapt and really keep working to keep the game and make the game as safe as possible. To ultimately answer your question, a special teams coach is going to want as many special teams plays in the game. We’ll do everything we can to help out anyway, but also it helps keep our livelihood intact.”

On when he became aware of RB Antonio Gibson and how he plans to utilize Gibson and WR Steven Sims Jr.:

“Well geez, the more [Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner] uses him, the less we can (laughs). You kind of prefaced your question with the answer. If you look at a sliding scale – whether it’s on the SAT test for college eligibility or any type of sliding scale – the more Antonio plays on offense, the less he would play on special teams. He’s different than Steven Sims, obviously, because he’s big and fast. He was 220 pounds and some people had him in the low 4.4’s and high 4.3 area. Regardless of what time he prescribed to, he was fast. He’s not only a returner, he can bring some protection and speed and coverage. For example, he could be on the punt team and play a slot, which is very conducive to a running back skillset where they block rushes and release and help contain. Quite often on the punt team in the NFL, you will see a starter or two – be it offense or defense – being used. He’s so versatile because he is a returner, and he is big enough to play in the return game as a blocker, as an off returner. In an ideal setting and this isn’t really just talking about Steven Sims or Antonio, if you have a legitimate returner and your off returner who is 30 pounds bigger than your returner, who if he doesn’t get the ball is a blocker, he weighs 220, then that’s a really good situation because if they don’t really want to kick it to one guy and they want to kick it to your other one and he’s really good, then you have a heck of a situation there.”

On if there are any specific players that he is envisioning deploying on special teams:

“Well I always hate, and it is really hard for me because I work with so much of the roster and inevitably, you’ll leave 10 guys out and they will get pissed at you (laughs). They may not tell you that. But I would say a similar skillset just to talk about one would be [WR] Isaiah Wright who is 220 pound, caught punts and kickoffs at Temple and also 220 pounds, can maybe cover and be a blocker if he isn’t in the return game, so he would be one.”

On WR Terry McLaurin getting pulled from special teams so quickly last season:

“Yes, so that would be like getting a Christmas present and just when you open it, your brother snatches it from you and you never get it back. You’re happy for your brother, but (laughs). If I don’t believe this than I would be a little fraudulent. What I tell our players is that special teams is a great way to start your career and a great way to extend your career if you are not starting. Ultimately, I want all of these guys to become starters on offense and defense and play a long time. Obviously with Terry, his makeup just as a football player, his character, effort, intelligent, speed – the fact that that happened didn’t surprise anybody. So, I was really happy for our football team and I was really happy for Terry. Obviously, you would love to have as many good players as we can have, but we need good football players in all three phases. So, it was humorous how fast that happened kind of. When I saw him, I think he scored a long touchdown in the first game against Philly. It was kind of like right off the bat like, ‘Oh I’m glad he is on offense.’ It was interesting for sure.”

On if he has been doing anything special during quarantine to keep himself sane:

“Honestly, I’ve seen several people duck and dodge this question because the answer probably isn’t concrete and I hate to sound like an old sap here, but I really enjoyed seeing the players. It is amazing when you get on the Zoom meetings and the guys that jump on there early, it is amazing the interaction that you get and how happy everyone is to see everybody else and I would say the main things for me are getting outside, doing bike rides and some form of cardio and still keeping a little bit of a workout routine. Sitting down and watching tape, my chair down here in my office is a lot more comfortable here at home than it is at Redskins Park. I don’t have a recliner at Redskins Park, so there are some benefits. Staying active and as close to normal as you can is what has helped me, but number one is the players and the coaches, the people you work with and seeing them is fun.”

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