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Interview: Washington Football STC Nate Kaczor

Every week All-Pro Reels will bring you day by day coverage of the Washington Football Team through the eyes, ears and lenses of our content creators.

ASHBURN, VA -- October 16, 2020

On the return unit making more big plays:

“So, actually the two different return units at this juncture right now, we’ve had two longer punt returns. We’ve had a longer one this year that we had any time last year. That was the one [WR] Steven Sims had at Cleveland, and then [WR] Isaiah [Wright] had a decent return this last week against the Rams. So, the punt returns, the ones we’ve gotten have been a bit better than the ones last year. The kickoff return phase is a function of penalties. It’s not like there’s been 100 kickoff returns yet, but basically improving our angles and our drop urgency on the kickoff return which has caused a couple penalties. One of the penalties last week when [CB] Danny [Johnson] got past the 20 was an illegal wedge. [RB] J.D. McKissic was running to his person that he’s supposed to block, and somebody that was engaged with someone in the set-up zone was handling him. So, it wasn’t a poor decision or anything. That just happened to be a tough bounce for us. If we get those things cleaned up, when we get those things cleaned up, we’ll be better. The ones we haven’t had penalties on, the first one of the game we got past the 25 against the Rams. Just got to clean up the penalties and the drop angles.”

On how kicking is affected without fans:

“That’s a great question. I don’t know exactly if it affects the kicking. I know, allegedly, no movement in the stands or anything, that doesn’t bother or affect kickers according to them. But, it might. I think just the general consensus I’ve heard from players in general is just maybe the intensity, the energy that they get from the fans might help them lock in a little bit. There could be a little effect on that. But in terms of the actual aesthetic view of the kicker, I’d rather have it still than a lot of people moving around. But definitely playing to the crowd or if it’s a big kick and there’s a lot of crowd noise, that actually helps some people. There could be a little effect to that. I saw a little blurb about baseball, just how the human bodies in the stadium—obviously there’s something to that—but baseball did a study where the lack of fans, the temperature. If you want to get into compressing a football when it’s really cold, the lack of fans when it’s colder then maybe the thermal temperature could have something to do with that, too. That’s a good point.”

On WR Cam Sims’ special teams talent:

“Cam is a great example of a player that is taking advantage of his role. I know that might sound like coachspeak, but his play and his play-making ability being enhanced and being viewed through the lens of special teams is just creating confidence. Any time confidence is created, it has a chance to enhance their performance. That certainly has happened with Cam. He’s made some plays and started playing more confidently. He’s a big, fast athlete that’s hard to block. He’s finding the benefit of that is that you get doubled more so. In the last game, he was coming off the sideline: ‘They’re doubling me every time.’ Well, when you have as many tackles as you do that’s part of the game. I think that’s a function of confidence and just getting out there and getting exposure.”

On improving kick returns:

“Well, that’s my job obviously is to factor in where we have been, where we’re going. When that happened last year and when you look at last year—I’m just going to use this as a reference—we got better as the year went. Regardless of the pieces of the puzzle that we have on special teams whether it’s by injury or whether it’s active or inactive, we make all those decisions with [Head] Coach [Ron] Rivera and what’s best for our whole football team. We improved as we went. The end result was that statistic. That’s not where we started. Where we’re at right now, the numbers may be down because of the lack of returns. Meaning, we haven’t returned as many balls as we will at the end of the year. We have to get better. I can’t sit here and explain away any poor statistics. But, we have to help the players see how they can improve and where they can improve. If we start getting better, we’re going to be in good shape.”

On dealing with player injuries:

“For example, Danny Johnson who we have confidence in, like I said Danny took the first opportunity in the Rams game and took it past the 25-yard line. We would take that every single time, and that was blocked well. There’s evidence with us as coaches being able to show the evidence to the players on film: ‘Look what happens when we do it right.’ There have been times whereas a coach, you don’t have any good evidence to show them so you’re sitting there trying to create faith without visual evidence. We have some visual evidence of what we have to do, and the guys we have are certainly capable. Isaiah Wright, for example, is a rookie and he’s learning and learning and learning. But, there’s a lot to learn. Without a preseason and that stuff, it’s not an excuse, it just created less exposure for those guys. We can do what we need to do with Danny and Isaiah, for example. It’s easy to say I wish we had this guy or this guy, but we have to move on and roll with the guys we have and get everything we can out of him.”

On K Kaare Vedvik:

“The thing that’s in vogue right now and it’s important is having a player that can do punts, kickoffs and placekicking and also hold. That’s a large, wide skillset. He can do all of those. If the COVID thing happened to one of our players, we don’t know exactly which one it’s going to be. Having someone with that kind of versatility is key. He’s also has a nice, built frame. He’s explosive. He’s a talented player. So, the fact that he’s very versatile and talented makes him very intriguing. We’re getting to know him as a person, but he hasn’t been here very long. We’re liking what we’re seeing from him, but the versatility is the main thing right now under these circumstances.”

On if COVID made versatility more important: “Yes. That’s a great question. Basically, because of the pandemic, if somebody got sick on Sunday morning and it was your kicker, then you need to have somebody that could kick. It could be the punter. If it’s the punter, then he’s got to be able to punt and hold. That’s the real reason because most of the time if you had an injury, you would have the whole week to just punt for punters or kickers or long snappers, for instance. Because you don’t know exactly and it could hit literally the day of the game. Because of the protocols, if someone woke up with the flu and said: ‘I’ll make it through it’—we’ve had a lot of players play sick over the years. With the COVID-19, if they’re positive they’re not playing. That’s what creates the totally unique environment we’re talking about.”

On kicking on turf:

“Well, I think if you asked all the kickers that kick on any kind of surface, the consistency in footing because there’s a plant foot that you would like to stay in place as your body’s executing the rest of the kick. So, definitely an artificial surface on sorts is going to at least give you some consistency. Nobody likes any kind of a plant leg on slippery types of surfaces or soft surfaces. The advantage is a consistent surface to operate, hold the ball, your plant leg, kicking it through not fat because the grass is tall or thin if it’s short. These guys are so good in the NFL and they could kick on any kind of surface, so that kind of gets masked over. To your point, I would say definitely if you pooled all 32 kickers in the NFL and asked if they’d rather kick on a dry, consistent surface I think they would all say yes. I’d be shocked if they didn’t. The consistency definitely would be a good thing.”

On LB Khaleke Hudson:

“He, along with the other rookies, just with the lack of live preparation that’s been well-documented since we started back with practice, the learning curve has had to be picked up for all of our players. Khaleke took a big step last week. He was actually the one when we were on the 20-yard line and punted it out of there, the result of the play was good. We netted over 40 yards on it. Khaleke was actually the one that made the tackle on that, a solo tackle. He’s also—the position that he plays on the punt team—he’s aligned the deepest on the punt team aside from our PP [S] Deshazor Everett. So for him to protect under those conditions, being backed up and making a tackle, that was fun for him to make a play. He’s also been, if you’ve noticed, rushing the punter quite a bit in most of the games which is something that we really liked coming out of college from him. He’s really improving. It took a little bit. I expect him to keep improving. As we talked about earlier with Cam Sims, with that comes confidence and players can start playing to a higher level when all of that happens together.”

On keeping Vedvik healthy as a backup kicker and punter:

“His number one objective is to stay healthy. If you have an asset that’s a backup for several players and he’s not healthy, that defeats the whole purpose. He absolutely is coached and understood to be away from everybody. He’s out there working with us, but it’s easier for us as you all have seen who come to practice all the time, we’re on our own field. We’re kind of spaced out anyway. But, he has to be really, really diligent with that in meetings. He doesn’t come to all the meetings, for example. The ones he comes to, he’s just got to be really, really careful with that. The league has obviously already had really great protocols in place for safety, and they’re ramping those up which is well-documented. Everybody is being read the same message, but he’s certainly somebody—because he backs up more than one person—that has to be extra responsible.”

On how roster moves affects special teams:

“It affects us a lot. I know that all of you that interview me from time-to-time, I say the same thing. There’s no other place on the roster where your best player, for any good reason, may go start on defense because of an injury or another circumstance. Usually when you lose your best player, you’re not happy. That’s happened. So, there are going to be some players that are starting here or there on offense or on defense throughout the course of the year here and maybe not play as much on special teams. We have to adjust and put the best product and the best unit on the field to help us win. That’s the biggest challenge because ultimately all of these guys want to start on offense or defense. Whether it’s injury or promotions or them trying different roles or maybe they put in a different package for the opponent that we’re facing that requires different players, and those are some of our main special teams players. That happens all the time. If you don’t like dealing with that, then my job is probably not the best for everybody. It’s hard. It’s a challenge, for sure.”

On the Ravens fake punt:

“So, just in a summary of the play, that’s around midfield, so obviously there’s less risk-reward. There’s more reward than risk for the team on offense. Basically, if they punt the ball there and do a good job and down it on the 5-yard line for example and we have to punt it back to them—let’s say the offense moves it a little bit, you’re backed up and you punt it out of there, they might get the ball back in that same spot. So, they’re taking a calculated chance. With [Ravens P] Sam Koch, who’s an excellent thrower of the football and the big receiver there, where they were on the field, the fact that they had a receiver playing the gunner spot, are certainly ingredients to have a fake. You can give the corner in that case—we were in a package of ours that’s on film, so it’s no secret—most of the guys on the field are defensive players because we’re trying to stop a run fake by the bodies we have in there. If you have your regular punt return team out there, they could snap it and run right at you. We have our bigger players out there, but where they attacked us was at the corner position. The most common technique to cover a gunner singled is to press them. So, they did a really, really good job of executing the play. I think Sam’s completed almost every fake, if not every fake, in his career. They had a good environment for it. Our players played it decently, but they did a nice job of the play. All we can do there is mix in some different tools and maybe show some off-coverage and maybe some different coverage, so when people are preparing to run a fake that we don’t do the same thing every single time. To combat that, it’s more of what we can do and tools we can give our players. It wasn’t really anything totally unexpected. You know you could get that there certainly with Sam’s throwing statistics. They did a good job executing the play.”

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