When the Washington Redskins hired Ben Kotwica in January to be special teams coordinator, they brought him in with the idea that his toughness, tied together with a string of impressive coaching successes, would be the perfect agent of change.
With three weeks to go until the regular-season opener against the Houston Texans, those on the special teams units say they have have bought into their coach's style, and believe a major rebound is underway.
The confidence in Kotwica's system begins with the veterans, both returning and new.
“We’ve added some guys who have made their careers playing special teams and now how important it is,” tight end
That confidence in Kotwica has trickled down to some of the younger players as well, most notably two second-year defensive backs.
“You just look at young guys like Bacarri [Rambo]…blocking the flyers on punt returns and stuff like that,” Paulsen said. “He’s done a great job being out there by himself, which was something he couldn’t really do last year. Adding that has been great.
“[David] Amerson’s done a great job with that (being a gunner/jammer). I think every single young guy knows how important that is. We didn’t have that last year and it’s great to see them embrace the special teams and kind of work at it the way it needs to be worked at.”
Primarily seen working with the younger players on the field are Paulsen, tight end
Hayward -- who relays what Kotwica tells him to the huddle -- says he's "always talking" to his coordinator about what he wants done.
“Coach Ben will explain something with about what he wants,” Hayward said. "It’s kind of easy for me to go do it. When I do it right, it gives him an example to be, ‘This is what I’m looking for. This is what I’m talking about.’
“It’s easier for him to explain, and then I can get with the younger guys and be like, ‘This is how I did it. This is what he wants. Try this, and if it works then we’ll do it, if not, then we’ll find another way.”
For Paul, who has taken on the upback role during kick return situations, he’s noticed a collective mindset taken by some the younger players fighting for a spot on the unit.
“I see guys that are hungry, guys that are eager to make a play and not afraid to bring it out,” he explained. “Obviously it’s preseason, so they’re going to try and bring out everything, but I’m excited to see what they can do in a game.”
Paul said that with veterans and younger players – some of which who have limited special teams experience -- working together, the entire unit has see much progression in recent weeks -- a far cry from a season ago, when the Redskins finished last or near the bottom in just about every key special teams statistical category.
“I think compared to last season where I thought we were at then at this point, I think it’s night and day,” Paul said. “I think everybody’s bought in to what Coach Ben has sold us, I think you’ve got 11 guys out there who in order to make this team and in order to have an impact on this team, it’s going to be on special teams.
“I think you’ve got 11 guys excited about special teams.”
Paul And Hayward’s Competitiveness
One plays tight end. The other plays linebacker.
So, understandably, the two don’t always see eye to eye in terms of certain goals relating to their offensive and defensive duties. But, by being leaders of a revamped special teams, they put their differences aside to get the best out of the unit.
“He’s a defensive player, so naturally I’m against him, but when we’re on special teams we unite,” Paul said. “We talk to each other, we’re very responsive to each other, we communicate certain calls (and) we play off of each other.
“It’s evident out there even in practice. You hear him talking, you hear me talking like ‘right, right right’ or ‘left, left, left.’ I think that’s going to make for a great special teams unit.”
Hayward echoed his teammate’s sentiment about cohesion creating success.
“Niles and I compete at everything,” he said. “Him and I are like two of the same. If we’re not arguing with each other on the field, then it’s not a good day. Him and I are the same – we compete on special teams, on offense and defense and just try to make each other better.
“At the end of the day, if you have people like that then you’re going to win and you’re going to do real well in this league.”