Special teams is one third of football, but coaches don't always emphasize that part of the game as much as offense and defense. Bucs head coach Lovie Smith and special teams coordinator Kevin O'Dea, not only will emphasize it, but count on special teams to help win football games.
Every NFL coach talks about how special teams are an important phase of the game, but once the season starts, not all coaches put the same emphasis on that group as they do their offensive and defensive units.
New Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith and special teams coordinator Kevin O’Dea recently made it clear that not only is special teams important, but that unit will also be counted on to help win games.
Smith told PewterReport.com and the local media in January that great special teams play alone can help a team win two more games than it would otherwise.
"If you play great defense, you can win eight games," Smith said. "If you add special teams along with that, if you're great at special teams, you can win 10. From there … you need offense."
The 53-year old O’Dea, who is one of the Bucs most experienced assistant coaches with stops in San Diego, New York, Kansas City, Arizona, Detroit and Chicago, is deadly serious about special teams. O’Dea, who also had a stop in Tampa Bay from 1996-2001 as an assistant, talked to PewterReport.com about the type of players he wants heading up his units.
“We want relentless guys who are going to be physical, that are just never going to stop,” O’Dea said. “We want guys who want to be a part of it. If they don’t want to be a part of it, then we don’t want them to be a part of it. That is the mentality we are looking for. We want somebody that is just going to go full speed for the full play.
“We see enough in the league of guys who aren’t going full speed the whole time and that is one thing that is not acceptable. You solve problems by creating problems. How do you create problems? By making people have to double (team) you. But if we have three guys they have to double, they can’t double everybody.”
Hardly stopping to take a breath, the passionate O’Dea continued to describe what he envisions his unit becoming.
“I want about 15 guys that want to be in that (special teams meeting) room and be on that field,” O’Dea said. “And when you get that working, you have something special. That is what we need. And we don’t need just 11, because those 11 aren’t going to be with us the whole year. We know how it is with injuries and whatever else that comes up. So we need those 15 guys that say, ‘Hey, I want to be on punt team,’ or ‘Hey, are you cramping because I will take a rep?’ You get it going like that – and we have had that where we were before – then you have something special ... then it feeds into the game.
"So if you get that type of mentality, in that room, for whatever phase (of special teams) you are dealing with, you are going to be doing just fine. We have a lot of those guys here right now. We just have to get them pointed in the right direction and we just have to get them to cut it loose all the time, every play.”
O’Dea and Smith believe that special teams success, especially the return game, is vital to the organization's overall success.
“We have to be able to score on our punt return,” O’Dea said. “We have to be able to score on our punt [block] team. We have to be able to score in all phases. That is the mentality you have to have. I relate a lot of things to the military as I talk to the coaches and players. The Navy Seals is a big thing out right now and everybody talks about that. Really, if you look at it, that is the elite (military) unit in the world. And when they go together, and when the Seals take their mission, they go in small bands, in small units. Very rarely are there more than 12. So we think like that. We never go with more than 11. So there are some similarities in how you approach things. It’s not warfare – don’t get me wrong, and it’s not life or death – I don’t make that comparison at all. But what I do make the comparison to is the teamwork. They function as a small unit, and they have to be highly-trained and highly-motivated individuals. And that is what we need.
“Let’s say things aren’t going right on one side of the ball and then you make a great play on special teams, then all of a sudden the crowd is electrified and then whatever unit is coming out on the field for us next is electrified from that one play. That is what we need, those guys that are difference-makers.”
The cupboard is not bare for O'Dea as placekicker Connor Barth, who lead the team in scoring from 2010-2012, should be fully recovered from an offseason Achilles injury that cost him th entire 2013 season, and also punter and kickoff specialist Michael Koenen is still under contract. Last season's punt and kickoff returner Eric Page is also under contract, and performed well enough to finish in the top half of the NFL in both punt return (10.9) and kickoff return (24.9) average.
Despite Page returning, finding an explosive returner may be a priority for the Buccaneers this offseason, and there is already speculation that Bears free agent standout Devin Hester could be reunited with his former coaches in Tampa Bay. Kansas City's Dexter McCluster, who will be a free agent, hails from Clearwater and is also a free agent in 2014. And while O’Dea didn’t mention either Hester, who is the NFL's all-time greatest return specialist, or McCluster by name, he wants that type of difference-maker.
“That can be that one guy that makes the one big play,” O’Dea said. “When everything else isn’t working, and even all the blocks aren’t perfect, he can electrify the crowd with a great return and put points on the board.”
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