In last weekend’s preseason game against Seattle, Denver’s special teams unit left something to be desired. This was especially clear in the long returns they gave up, as well as a blocked punt by Seattle’s DeeJay Dallas.
Tom McMahon, special teams coordinator, isn’t focusing only on the gloom.
“Kickoff return has been a bright spot,” he said when he met the media yesterday, adding that they’re averaging over 30 yards per return. “We’re just not getting off blocks.”
McMahon admitted that special teams came up short in the tackle, kickoff cover, and block prevention. He also had a clear answer for which players on special teams were emerging as leaders - none.
“We didn’t cover well,” he explained, “Leaders produce, you know what I’m saying. From a coverage standpoint, you have to go down and tackle, then you get a voice. There’s no voice yet.”
Despite this, he doesn’t think their athletes are lacking effort, but rather they haven’t been reared properly at this point.
“No, it’s just the shed. It’s not effort,” he said. “I have to do a better job in practice of getting that full speed for them. It’s not on the players. The coaches have to get that done.”
On punt returns, McMahon was asked if WR Diontae Spencer was a shoe-in for being primary returner. He said this isn’t the case.
“You’ll see some other guys,” he said. “It’s just right now, we’ve only had the chance to really return one ball. All the others have been fair catches, or they’ve been short.”
According to McMahon, wide receivers Trinity Benson and Kendall Hinton will definitely be getting shots at returning, as well as running back Damarea Crockett and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland. He actually said that he’s “impressed as heck” with Benson in particular.
McMahon did not hold back in his praise for TE Eric Saubert, either, going so far as to declare him an asset for every unit.
“Eric is tough. It’s hard to find a tight end that can run like him, and he is as physical as a linebacker,” he insisted, “He can shed, and he does every single thing you ask him to do.”
The ST coordinator highlighted Saubert’s preparedness, saying he comes into the meeting rooms and “all the guys see his notebook.”
“He’s mean, and that’s what you need,” McMahon said.
Taking into account the special team’s shortcomings this preseason, McMahon was asked whether it consoles him that his starters haven’t been employed yet.
Short answer - it doesn’t.
“Every single guy has to play for us,” he said. “You guys all know. The practice squad guys to start the year, they’re playing for you in Week 7. That’s reality in this league.”
Everybody on special teams, he says, needs to make plays and shed blocks. Everybody.
McMahon sounded satisfied with the time given to him this preseason, which may come as a surprise considering teams were only allotted three preseason games. He believes the practices against Minnesota provided ample opportunity for player evaluation, and that a fourth game wasn’t necessary.
“I think we had four (preseason games) when add the practices with Minnesota,” he said, noting that he used those two days as an evaluation period. ”And to be honest with you, our guys are going to play a lot this week, so we get the chance to really evaluate.”