Football is Football No Matter the Level, Special Teams Coordinator Rychleski Says
INDIANAPOLIS – Ray Rychleski has experience.
It may not be professional football experience, but as far as the Colts' new special teams coach is concerned, that isn't a huge issue. Division I-A college football? The National Football League?
What's the difference?
Not much, as Rychleski sees it.
"Football is football," Rychleski said shortly after being named the Colts' special teams coordinator in January. "I really do believe that."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, who coached with Rychleski at Penn State in 1991 then hired him as an assistant when he was the head coach at Wake Forest from 1993-2000, hired Rychleski shortly after replacing Tony Dungy as the head coach in January.
The reason, Caldwell said, was Rychleski's dedication to putting his special teams in a position to succeed.
"He's a guy who's always around the office," Caldwell said. "He's always looking at different ways to put our special teams in an advantageous position. I think you're going to see some aggressive play from our special teams corps."
The Colts' special teams this past season had varied success. Kicker Adam Vinatieri scored more than 100 points for a 13th consecutive season. Colts opponents averaged starting at their 26.5-yard line last season on kickoffs. The Colts did not allow a kickoff return for a touchdown last season. They allowed three kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2007, two in 2006 and one in 2005. The Colts' 20.8-yard average on 63 kickoff returns ranked them 28th in the NFL. Their 6.0-yard average on 22 punt returns tied for last in the NFL with Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.
In his first season with the University of South Carolina last year, Rychleski's special teams ranked second in the Southeastern Conference in kickoff coverage, and in seven seasons before that as the tight ends coach/special teams coordinator at Maryland he coached some of the Atlantic Coast Conference's top special teams units. Maryland during his tenure there had no punts blocked, the longest streak in Division I-A football. His units also blocked 22 kicks and had eight returns for touchdowns during that span.
"The biggest change (between colleges and the NFL) is in the rules, and I'm definitely a rules guy," Rychleski said. "There are some different rules in the NFL compared to the college level. Actually, one of the NFL rules has come back to the college level for on-side kicks. A few years ago in the NFL, you could put as many guys on one side (of the kicker) as you wanted to, where in college you could only put six on one and four on another. Actually, the NFL has come back to that rule the colleges had. Another rule is on the punt team. Only two guys can go at the snap of the ball, where as in college, everybody can go if you wanted to.
"I think that's the biggest difference making sure of being up on the rules and how they affect the special teams as well as the overall game."
Motivating players at the professional level shouldn't be an issue, Rychleski said.
"I say if you want to get up with the upper echelon (of players on an NFL roster), prove your worth," he said. "It doesn't matter what you're getting paid, it's what you do on the field. It's like this job (special teams coordinator). It doesn't matter how I got this job, it matters what I do when I'm here. It's the same thing for those specials teams players. It doesn't matter how they get on this football team. What matters is what they do while they are here.
"Quite obviously, motivation is a part of it, but it's their job. You are either a dilettante or a professional. A dilettante dabbles in his craft. A professional perfects his craft. If their job is special teams, perfect your craft. Make the big tackle."
And the way Rychleski sees it, because special teams is part of the team, special teams should be a critical part of the team's stated goal of returning to the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season and winning a sixth division title in seven years.
Caldwell spoke recently of wanting division-title caliber play from the special teams. Rychleski said that's a goal he expects every special teams player to share. And not just when they're on the field.
"When you have a stake in it and guys are watching and sitting on the sideline, I'm hoping they are looking and seeing what happens," he said. "Let's see what kind of field position we can get out of this. The first play of defense is the punt team and kickoff coverage. It's a lot tougher calling plays inside the 20 than it is at the 30 or more, and the defense realizes that.
"Hopefully, we can all buy into that. If everybody has a stake in it, they tend to work at it a little bit harder."