INDIANAPOLIS — Bubba Ventrone is in his first year as the special teams coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts. He recently talked to reporters about the state of his unit as it continues through offseason workouts and heads towards the 2018 season:
What do you find challenging about your role since kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Rigoberto Sanchez had great seasons last year?
"The biggest challenge, I would say, (is) maybe adjusting to not having to play in crazy weather (laughs). No. I mean, honestly, I feel like the guys – I obviously see it as a challenge. Every job, every opportunity is a challenge for me, but the players have been receptive. They're working extremely hard to get all the mental stuff down so that when we apply it to the practices, it's been easy. I thought the vet minicamp went really well. I think that they're getting down the techniques that I'm teaching and my assistant, Frank (Ross), is teaching. They've applied it to the drills and hopefully it applies when we actually get into a team setting and go against somebody."
At 35 years of age, is it difficult working with Vinatieri since you're a young coach?
"No, not at all. I think he respects me. We've had a few discussions about the age thing. I was actually a rookie with him in New England his last season there. So whenever I came in, we initially spoke and we had a good conversation. I pretty much laid out what I expected from him, he did the same, and it's been a good working environment so far. Those specialists are doing a really good job so far."
Are you any bit surprised or stunned that Vinatieri is still producing at such a high level this late into his career?
"It's amazing. He's gone through – he obviously has a progression, he's older. And we followed his progression to this point. He's right on track. I feel like he's in a good spot, so it's been good."
Who is competing for the kickoff return job?
"There's a number of guys – (Nyheim) Hines, Marlon Mack, Ferg (Josh Ferguson). I'll get Chester (Rogers) work back there."
Are you just going to throw the kick returners out there and see who wins the job?
"Yeah, whoever does the best job (wins). The one thing that's really important for me as far as ball-handling is, obviously, trust. There's nothing more important than the possession of the ball, so you've got to be able to have a guy that you can throw back there that you trust is going to give the ball back to the offense. It's the No. 1 thing, is possession. And then obviously, you have critical factors as far as big-play ability and explosiveness and speed."
And each of them have some of those factors?
"Yeah. Hines is explosive, you know? He's a 4.3 guy. You know — he's going to improve. He's a rookie. All these guys, there's a big learning curve, and I told these guys (at rookie minicamp) when they were first here, 'You guys are way behind. It's not your fault — it is what it is. The vets have been here learning the new scheme and techniques for the last five, six weeks. You know, you guys are just comin' in now, you're behind the eight ball. So you have to do extra work to get better.' Once we're able to actually shoot a JUGS machine — you can't do any of that in Phase 2 — so once we actually get into OTAs, these guys are going to be sick of me by the time they have their break for the summer."
A lot of these younger guys starred in college and didn't necessarily play special teams, but that's how they're going to have to earn a spot in the NFL. Do you see buy-in early from those guys?
"Yeah. So, that's the one thing in college right now: there's not a lot of teaching with, I would say, specifically the punt formation. A lot of the punt roles are different in college; a lot of teams use that shield punt. So the footwork is all different, you know, applying it to the NFL. And so those guys understand that if you're gonna suit up on Sundays, you've got to be able to play on the punt team. So everyone's buying in and they've done a good job in the first week."
Are you able to relay your own story to the players as a guy who made his mark as a special teams standout?
"Yeah. My story, I mean, it definitely applies to a lot of these guys: undrafted and earn your place on special teams, and that's how I stuck. And that's why I'm doing what I'm doing right now. So I think a lot of guys could probably learn from how I came up, but I'm not a guy that lives in the past. I'm trying to move forward and shed some light on everything I can do there."