New Orleans Saints Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi
Video Conference with New Orleans Media
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
We have two punters in camp, which is kind of a thing that maybe I guess a lot of people weren't expecting when you had to cut down to 80. What do you like about Blake Gillikin? And what is it having a guy to give Thomas Morstead and Wil Lutz a rest whenever they need it?
"Yeah, you know, I'll tell you what, Luke, it's a good question. You know, the thought process going into it is, you know, when you're in preseason like this, and obviously, when we first signed Blake, we weren't aware we weren't going to have preseason games and all that. So, you know, there was certainly a different thought process when we first started, but to have a guy to be able to give us a lot of different reps and we can do our punt period every day. We can do a kickoff period every day. You know, most people probably wouldn't realize, that, you know, you don't want to really punt your punter and kick your kicker every day. Think of a kicker and a punter as kind of like a starting pitcher. You know, they have their, they have their on-day, they have their work days, they have their off days. And to be able to have a guy that can do all three, you know with us here in preseason. You know, it allows us to practice a little bit differently. That's number one. Number two, we're talking about a good player, a guy that can do, did a lot of good things in college. And then thirdly, you know, we had some background, you know, Phil Galiano, obviously was at Penn State with Blake and you know, had a little background on the player. And so we felt really comfortable. We can, you know, we could take more advantage of some of the off days. Here's a guy that can, you know, really he's a jack of all trades, he could punt, he can kick off, he's a good holder, and so we can get a lot of group work. And, you know, for example, if it's where T-Mo (Thomas Morstead) is down, we could still have a punt period, we could still have him go in there and hold field goals, so on and so forth. And not to mention, he's doing a good job as well. So all those factors kind of played into it. And I think having an extra leg, I've always been a big fan of having an extra leg this time of year."
How live will you go with special teams drills in practice since there are no games to really gauge upon? And then, how much does training camp really take away from throwing Taysom Hill into special teams, given that he has typically worked more at quarterback in preseason? And how do you balance that dynamic?
"Yeah, sure, I'll answer the first part. Personally, maybe I'm selfish, a little biased, but I think these no-preseason games affects special teams the most. You know, I think because of the evaluation of the younger players, you know, on a team like ours, where maybe you have a veteran team, where you're trying to really find those last, let's call it you know, 45 to 53, player 45 to 53. A lot of times and you know, Coach (Payton) mentioned the other day at a meeting, Coach Payton said, hey, we don't have those preseason games where you can go out and block a punt, or like Deonte (Harris) last year, returned a punt for a touchdown. And so, we're trying to create as many competitive settings in practice as we can. And so, I'll give you an example, the other day we did a quote unquote live punt versus punt returner drill, where in the kind of the gunners versus the jammers the inside guys, and you know, might not be 11 on 11, it might be more of a one on one or, but we're trying to create as many of those quote unquote, live situations as we can. Maybe it's not bringing the ball carrier to the ground, it's everything else. It's full speed, full cover. And so, you know, obviously keeping player safety in mind as well. But we really have to, we have to set up competitive situations to be able to evaluate these players. And, you know, let's be honest, a lot of these rookies have never done these jobs before. You know, the punt game is totally different in college. Even if they were on the punt team, the rules and everything else. It's a really different play. And so seeing a lot of these guys do things for the first time in these live settings is going to be important, you know, for those rookies. You know, again, it's different for guys who've done it before. Even guys coming from other teams, we have a good background, on a lot of those players. But for those rookies, man I'll tell you, it's really important. The second part of the question with Taysom (Hill), you know, there's always a delicate balance with a player like that. He's kind of a unicorn because, he's taking snaps at quarterback and he can do so many different things. And so, I think the benefit we have going into this year, you know, last year was my first year trying to get to know him a little bit and the different roles he was going to play. I think now that we're kind of in Act Two, if you will, with me. You know, I have a really defined role in my head and so does Coach Payton on what Taysom can do. And so you know, maybe he's not getting as much practice at it, at different things, but he's still there, he's still in the meetings, he's still repping things. And again, a lot of maybe some of those younger guys are taking some of those reps away, so we can evaluate some of those guys. So it's definitely a delicate balance. I think the more we go closer to game one, the more we, you know, we put on his plate. But you know, early on here, I think it's good that we've kind of been through the cycle. He knows what to expect and same thing for me."
You mentioned the delicate balance in trying to create these live situations in practice, because of no preseason games, does that affect the personnel you get to use in practice? Because, you know, you kind of have be careful. And also, you know, you are trying to see more live situations.
"It is a really good question, because, again, probably the biased answer and the selfish answer, I think, going from 90 to 80 players, it really affects the special teams coach as well. Because usually those 10 players that we just had to release, getting down to 80, a lot of those guys are trying to make the team on special teams. And so, you are trying to evaluate those guys. So knocking down from 90 to 80, it does affect the way you practice for sure. Maybe you should rep, for example, rep three groups, and instead we are repping two. And so, it definitely, hundred percent affects the way we practice, no question about it. On the flip side of the coin, it is a benefit to the guys that are here. We are able to evaluate them a little bit better. Again, you have got to be smart in the way you practice. We can't go out and practice live reps every time. We can't have a full cover of every kickoff. So we have got to kind of shorten the field, do some individual drills, some technique work. And so it has kind of created a new kind of process for us special teams coaches. But again, I would say it's a double edged sword. You have to change the way you practice, but at the same time, the guys that are here are getting good quality work. Maybe the quantity, not as much."
I was curious, with some of these unknown guys, how do you, gunner for a specific example, choose your gunners? Is it a pure speed thing? Or is there some other quality that kind of makes you want to try them out there?
"You know what, Katherine (Terrell), I've had a bunch of different body types in my career go out there, small guys, bigger guys. Certainly speed is a factor. Usually, if you don't have high end speed, it's usually, now you're looking for a bigger body that is going to be able to defeat blocks. I would say the number one factor is the mentality. Going out there and knowing you're going to be the first guy down the field and draw a lot of attention and draw blocks. I could talk about the gunner play for a long time. Because it is something I am passionate about. Because we spend a lot of time working on technique. There are a lot of rules that people may not be aware of, with the sideline and staying inbounds, running out of bounds, when you can go out of bounds, using the sideline, have you have to reenter the field. That guy's not only played at a high, high speed, there's a lot of thought process that goes into that position as well. And so typically when you look through the NFL, you see a lot of defensive backs, wide receivers, some running backs, usually your skill position guys are your gunners out there. But you know, when you try to break down our practices, you know, and I mentioned not being able to cover full-field every time. Just from a realistic standpoint, a lot of times will work just a line of scrimmage technique. It might be, you know, your hand placement, it might be just your first step, working the sideline, things like that. And so, you know, there's a lot that goes into. It's not only body types. There's a lot of coaching that goes into that as well."
This is going to require a little bit of a leap. I'm assuming that you're getting some work with Joe Bachie. Just curious, what your early impressions of him are?
"That's definitely not a leap. C'mon I thought there was going be a much bigger leap than that. Hey, listen, if you're an undrafted linebacker in this league, you have to make the team on special teams. Now that's not a secret. So you know, I think that you know, all those guys, you know, we have a young linebacker group. You've got some guys that, you know, first and second year players in that group. And so, it is going to be one of the battles that to be honest with you, as we move forward here, that I'm really keeping an eye on and Joe is right in the mix. Joe was a very, very productive defensive player in college, a lot of ball production, tackles, always around the football. The one thing, he was a player I watched as a possible late round guy and free agent and the one thing that stuck out to me all the time was how well he tackled. He was a good open field tackler, always around the ball. And I think if I'm not mistaken, if he didn't lead the Big 10, he was certainly up there and in the Big 10. You can correct me on my stats, but he was up there in the Big 10 in total tackles. So he's a guy that kind of, you know, with the rest of that linebacker group, that is definitely going to be in a competitive situation, but he's right in there in the mix. He's working on every single, every single special team right now. And you know, so far, obviously, only the first couple days in pads, but so far, so good with Joe."