There’s a consistent message this offseason coming from players regarding special teams.
And it’s not the usual, “I’m willing to do whatever I can to be on this team” cliché.
Well, it’s not only that.
It’s mostly how awesome new special teams coach Brock Olivo is.
You remember Olivo from his introductory presser? Nervous, genuine, excited...mentioned his wife’s homemade lasagna with almost the same amount of love as he did for football?
Or perhaps from a couple weeks ago when he expounded for several minutes on the differences between a punt returner and a kick returner.
“Catching punts, to begin with, is very difficult, in the NFL especially because you’ve got gunners flying down the field, you’ve got the (punt protection) and they’re all very fast, and they’re in your face,” he began, before eventually getting to, “A kick returner tends to be more of a linear-speed guy...They have courage to run through smoke,” and finally ending with, “there’s a lot of stuff. I could go on a lot with this stuff because I’m passionate - unapologetically passionate - about it.”
This passion is not Olivo just hyped-up on caffeine.
This is just Olivo.
And his players are loving it.
“That guy is great to work with,” says fullback Andy Janovich, noting Olivo brings a lot energy to practice. “He really takes pride in what he does, and he wants us to be the best special teams unit out there.”
Punter Riley Dixon sees that same passion from Olivo when working with the kickers too - which he notes is not always the case with coaches.
“He’s the best. That guy has some energy,” Dixon said. “To see somebody who cares so much about it, as much as we do...to see a guy with as much fire and energy that he has is awesome and it’s really motivating for us to work for a guy like that.”
With a handful of potential special teams stars among the rookies, Olivo is also focusing on getting this special teams unit to be one of the best in all elements - kicking, returning, running, tackling, etc.
And teaching his new players those differences in returning kicks versus punts, for example, is a big part of his focus - which foot is the kicker using? how can you beat the ball? how do you track the ball?
“A lot of these guys that come in from college where they were the superstar haven’t played special teams for two or three years. Some of them have never played special teams in the four phases,” Olivo said recently, noting that OTAs is a great time for teaching that stuff. “A lot of [OTAs] is projection, but we can look at a guy and look at his speed, how he changes directions, how he learns, and how he plays in space and all that. In training camp is where we can do a lot of really good evaluating.”
But from Dixon’s vantage point, the learning is coming fast - just like the returners themselves.
“Those guys are killing it out there. I’m excited to see what they can do,” Dixon said, adding that as the punter he understands the need to keep the ball away from excellent returners like Tyreek Hill of Kansas City, Olivo’s former team. “To be able to put other teams in that position by having a threat back there is incredibly important. These guys are doing an unbelievable job. I’m excited to see what they can do.”
One of the benefits for all the guys playing special teams - whether it’s rookies looking for a place to plug in, whether it’s offensive backups catching the ball or defensive backups tackling the guy with the ball, all positions are learning to understand the whole unit.
“We've gone over everything,” Janovich noted. “We go over different things every week - things for every single special teams unit.”
Rookie running back De’Angelo Henderson, who had Olivo as a special teams coach at Coastal Carolina for a while, said he could “talk to y’all for days” about his former college coach.
All this energy? All this talk of Olivo’s deep understanding of the game and the special teams strategy?
Yeah, it’s always been this way.
“Coach Brock is one of those guys that I naturally just fed off of when I was with him at Coastal,” Henderson said last month after rookie minicamp. “His energy, his enthusiasm, his intelligence of the game, everything. Definitely, fed off of him and everything he provided for us and brought to the table at Coastal. Definitely going to do the same here.”
And perhaps if this unit lives up to the high expectations of its new coordinator, Olivo’s wife will make some of that famous lasagna.
“Brock is an awesome dude. He is super hands-on. He’s been really awesome with us,” Dixon said. “He’s just getting a feel for us as we are getting a feel for him. I think we’re blending really well. I really like what he is doing for this team.”