Darren Rizzi – May 6, 2017 Download PDF version

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi

(The thinking to this point of not bringing in another kicker … Are you leaving open the possibility that you might? Do you think it’s unlikely? Is it a show of confidence in K Andrew Franks?) – “We obviously evaluated a bunch of guys in the offseason. Certainly it’s obvious that we didn’t draft one. The specialist position is a really unique one because you’re always kind of competing against the rest of the field, regardless if we have two kickers or if there are two kickers somewhere else or whatever. We felt very comfortable. I thought Andrew (Franks) started off the year very strong last year. I thought he might have hit a little bit of a lull in the middle of the year, but he really finished strong. We really were happy with the way he finished the season. He obviously made two field goals in the playoff game in really, really tough conditions. Heck, their kicker missed a PAT in that game. Obviously (Franks) made the 55-yarder against Buffalo and the game winner. So we’re really, really happy with the way he finished the year and really are just looking (for him) to pick up from where he left off. That position, as we all know, is a miss or make proposition. Your success is going to be evaluated on a daily basis and we know the kickers that are out there throughout the league, the teams that have two guys in, the guys that are on the street. We spent the whole offseason evaluating not only the free agent guys – the street free agents – but also the entire draft class. It was a unique year because three kickers got drafted – three guys we evaluated, as well. We’ll see how it goes, but my confidence in Andrew right now at this point is high based on how he finished last year.”

(Among the draftees, who do you have your eye on for special teams and how does that work as far as you figuring out what units that they can play?) – “I’ve got my eye on everybody, for sure, in the entire rookie class, regardless of where they were drafted. I think that’s one great thing about (Head) Coach (Adam) Gase is he sat in front of the rookies the other day and made it perfectly clear that regardless of where you were drafted or where you’re from – all that stuff, how you got here at this point – doesn’t matter. We’re going to evaluate everybody and see what the best role is for them on the team. The way we evaluate guys, it’s interesting because you look at their college film and there are some guys that haven’t played special teams in a couple of years. There are some guys that haven’t played special teams at all. There are some guys that played right on through. So you have to kind of take each guy on an individual basis and see what their skillset is. With that said, I kind of really like where we are. A special teams coach is always going to be happy with a defensive-heavy draft because usually that’s a pretty good sign for the special teams. But right now, from our first pick on down, I think there are going to be guys that can add value to the special teams in the coverage units (and) in the rush units. I really like the skillset of some of the guys. (Cordrea) Tankersley has played some special teams before. Obviously I have a great relationship with Greg Schiano, the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. I worked for Greg for six years. He speaks the world of (Raekwon) McMillan, just his skillset and what his value can be. We had some conversations about him as well. We’ve been friends for a long time. But there are a bunch of guys in that group – not only the drafted guys, but the undrafted guys – that I really feel at this point can … I’m really excited to get out there. I think there are going to be, looking throughout our roster right now, you look at the 90-man roster and I really like where we are in terms of position battles setting up for training camp and kind of where we are with the ‘bottom of the roster.’ I think there’s going to be some really, really good battles because I was really pleased with a lot of the rookies last year and how they finished the season, and now you look at some of the guys we brought in. I’m very excited. As a special teams coach, I’m really, really excited to get out there and start working with these guys.”

(Your sixth-round pick, DT Vincent Taylor, I believe blocked four kicks last year from the defensive line position. He held up his hand at the press conference yesterday to show everybody how big it was. Did you watch the tape of those blocked kicks and what did it show you? What is he capable of doing on this level?) – “It’s always great to get guys that have done it before because, like I said, there are a lot of times that you have guys that don’t play on those units (in college). So Vincent (Taylor) blocked four kicks – I think it was last year –field goals. He’s a guy that gives tremendous effort on that unit. He’s a guy that we’re certainly going to look at and he’s going to get a ton of work in the preseason doing that. Ironically enough, we also have an undrafted guy, Praise (Martin-Oguike) – I’m not even going to attempt his last name – from Temple. He blocked a bunch of kicks at Temple, as well. We’ve got some guys. The undrafted linebacker, (Chase) Allen, he blocked up some kicks. I think he blocked four kicks in his career. You guys know that’s something we take very, very seriously around here – the field goal block or the punt block stuff. We’ve made a bunch of plays here the last few years in those phases, so to get guys that have done that, not only Vincent (Taylor), but a bunch of guys that have done that … That’s something we look at when we’re evaluating these guys – the drafted guys and the free agents – we’re always looking at their special teams value. That’s always going to be something, especially from a rookie. As you guys know that have covered this team for a while, the more help you can get from that class, usually the better we’re going to be in that phase and the better we are in that phase, this phase, the better we’re going to be as a team. If you guys look at last season and how many games – this special teams play here or there – came down to … You can go through every game – four or five games – there was really a big play that could have swung the game either way and did swing the game either way. Those blocked kicks can be huge, as we all know.”

(I know you guys love WR Jarvis Landry as the punt returner.) – “We? (laughter) I don’t know about the ‘we’ but I (do). No, I’m just kidding. (laughter) I’m totally joking. We do love him. I’m just busting chops.”

(But the reason why everyone else may not be so enthusiastic with WR Jarvis Landry returning punts is because he’s a big part of the offense.) – “And I totally get that. You look at Jarvis as a whole and how valuable he is to the team, certainly. Listen, we’re going to go in this preseason no different than any other with him being a possibility in those phases. Last year he obviously didn’t return any kicks, it was just punts. We did a lot of situational things in terms of … He was back there a lot of times where the percentage of actually getting a return wasn’t very much. So there were a lot of going-in punts that we call them – plus-50 punts, whatever you want to call them – where the percentage of actually getting a return is going to be very low. But for decision-making, fair catches, knowing when and not to field a ball – we had a rookie obviously with Jakeem (Grant) that hadn’t done that a lot. So hopefully this year is a whole new year. We’ll kind of evaluate that again. Jarvis is certainly part of the mix. But he is a very valuable guy. You guys know every time this comes up, I always use the Antonio Brown comparison. You look at the playoff game and Antonio Brown is back there against us fielding punts. It’s the same type of situation. Some would argue that he’s the best receiver in the league. It all depends on … It’s an individual situation. He’s going to be back there. He’s definitely part of the equation again. Listen, as a special teams coach, I love having (Landry). He wants to do it. He loves doing it. He’s passionate about it and he’s a great weapon to have.”

(Since the season ended, I’m trying to think if there was a player who was added via free agency or the draft who has punt or kickoff return experience.) – “Return experience, there are some of the rookies that have had some experience along the way. No extensive … there are no guys that have extensive (experience); but there are guys that have done it. But there’s nobody that has an extensive, long history.”

(How will you know if WR Jakeem Grant, who is trying hard to improve – I know he was out in Texas with P Matt Darr – how and when will you know if he’s better at it now?) – “With the way the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) is now with the rules, I haven’t worked with Jakeem since the season has been over. So I know all of the stuff that you know about how hard he has worked in the offseason. Here’s a guy that flew his punter down to Texas to make sure he got some extra work in. That’s pretty impressive, so that tells you how serious he is about it. Listen, usually, as a coach, you look for the biggest improvement from a player from year one to two in any phase, in anything that they’re doing – any position player, anybody. So I’m looking for a major improvement – we all are – in that phase. He knows the corrections he has to make. It’s great that he’s recognized that and he’s working on it. I’ll see when we get out there for the OTAs – for OTA No. 1 – really where he is and how much he has improved, and we’ll take it from there. He’s obviously … The one thing you can’t deny is what he did with the ball in his hands when he did have the ball. We just have to make sure his ball security is a lot better, his decision making is better. Those are things that certainly have to improve. He knows that; we know that. But you can’t deny when he had in the ball in his hands, what he did. I think people forget that he returned another one for a touchdown that got called back for a questionable penalty. He actually had – in the Seattle game – another long return that got called back for a penalty. So his average – his numbers – were a little bit skewed. But I’m really, really proud of him and really happy about his work ethic here in this offseason, because you can tell that he’s taking this thing seriously.”

(This year you brought in a long snapper, which I can’t recall the last time you did that. What was the thinking behind that?) – “Well, John (Denney) is older than me. (laughter) Not quite. He has as many kids though. (laughter) Combination-wise, I think we have 10 kids together. That’s a little nutty. So we’re always talking kid stories. But look, John is getting up there in age. We did bring one in a little bit last year for training camp. We had a second guy. So the thought process is No. 1: The guy that we brought in, Winston Chapman, is a guy we evaluated last year, and were looking to bring into camp last season; but he had an ACL injury in his senior year at Mississippi State. We really liked his skillset. So he’s been out for a year and now he’s fully healthy. So No. 1, he’s a very solid snapper. That’s No. 1. No. 2: Certainly with where John is in his career, I still feel very strongly about him. The one thing about John – I joke around about his age all the time – he’s in tremendous physical condition for a guy at his age. I don’t know if there’s a guy that has a better work ethic than John. He’s a guy, I think he’s probably in the building more than I was in the offseason. He’s always here, always working on his body, always working on his skill. The thought process there is No. 1: We felt like we got a really solid snapper for competition; and No. 2: We just thought it would be a good deal with where John is in his career.”

(From a coaching perspective, how valuable was that postseason experience to you and how motivating was it?) – “Yes, extremely motivating for me, individually. I thought it’s a great deal to get a taste of the postseason. Obviously you guys know I’m going on my ninth season here, and it was great – just a phenomenal experience. I felt like it’s really going to … You look at the roster – and I was showing the rookies in our first meeting – at how many returning players we have back, and how many young players we have back. The point to them was, especially the undrafted guys and those guys, (is) you have to really battle your butt off here because these guys aren’t going to be looking to give up their roster spot. You go back and look at Pittsburgh and who we took the field with in that game and how many young players we have out there, it’s a great thing because now coming back, those guys all have a taste. We had a young team on the field that day and I think it’s a valuable experience for the coaches and the players.”

(Do you realize that you have now been part of three coaching staffs and you’re the second most powerful coach here?) – “Powerful is a strong word (laughter). Powerful, I don’t know about that. Yes, it’s been a very, very unique ride. If you told me that when I first got here that I would be here going into my ninth season, I probably wouldn’t have taken that bet; but it’s been phenomenal. I love this organization. I think I said the same thing last year, I’m just as excited now as I’ve ever been to be a part of the Miami Dolphins. If you count the interim coaches, by the way, it’s five. But we won’t go there. (laughter) Listen, I really love where we are right now. I think from the top down, this organization has really come a really long way in the time that I’ve been here. I think starting with (Owner) Mr. (Stephen) Ross, he’s just … I think it really goes unnoticed sometimes about how much he does for our organization. I was telling the rookies yesterday how many resources we have and how much resources he puts into this organization. Really, there’s nothing that they don’t have at their disposal when you look at everything we have from sports science, to nutrition, to the off the field stuff. That really goes back to Mr. Ross and his commitment to this organization. I love where we are with (Head Coach Adam) Gase. We have a great relationship and I really like the direction of this organization right now. I’m really, really excited.”

(What’s the key to survival?) – “For me? You know what, all kidding aside – you guys know I like to joke around – I’m very, very passionate about what I do. I think that probably comes out sometimes. I really enjoy what I do. I’m very, very passionate about this game. I’m very passionate about this organization. I think that is probably seen by most. I’d like to think that I have a good work ethic, and sometimes we’re good at what we do and sometimes we’re not. I think that sometimes we’re better than most. We’re better the majority of the time than we are on the flip side. I just think that I put my head down, I grind, I work and get these guys ready to play. I think that’s probably, maybe, been seen by my bosses.”

(You’ve mentioned a lot of the guys you brought in don’t have a lot of return experience. WR Malcolm Lewis had some and WR Drew Morgan returned a few last year. Do you expect, fully expect, WR Jakeem Grant will be your returner next season?) – “I’m not going to say that. It would be a disservice to everybody. I think I probably say the same company line every year, the 90 guys we bring in, everyone is going to get an opportunity. Jakeem certainly has the experience behind him from last year. I’m looking to get him a lot more. I’m not going to sit here and say that today … If we went out and played a game today, he would be; but let’s see where we are. We don’t play for a long time. Let’s see where some of these guys are. I’m excited – just like I mentioned earlier – I’m excited because I know Jakeem has worked at it so much. He was disappointed how last year went. Jakeem was disappointed. He did not believe in his mind that, that was really the Jakeem Grant that he wants everybody to see. He’s determined to make a major jump in his game. I’m excited to kind of get him out there. I’m excited to see him.”

(Out of left field, do you know off the top of your head how many teams has a holder that is a backup quarterback like they used to do back in the day and when you use the punter, does that decrease the success of a successful fake?) – “I like that question. I don’t think it’s out of left field at all. It’s a great special teams questions. There’s not … It’s very, very uncommon these days for the quarterback to hold. Now there have been some teams here in the last couple of years … The Saints did it for years because their punter wasn’t a great holder. But he’s become their holder, kind of over the years. So they had a bunch of different guys. There are some other teams that had some holding problems. Last year, the Chargers had a problem. They had a rookie punter, so they brought their quarterback in. If you look at it, the majority of the teams are going to use the punter. Why? It’s because all the time is spent – that the specialist spend together. Your quarterbacks are obviously going to be working on other things, so to have your punter as a holder is certainly a good thing. Is it a good thing to have a punter that is a good athlete – I think that’s where you were going – that can throw and run and all of that? Absolutely. When you do play a team that has a quarterback in as a holder, you’re certainly going to alert your block team, your defense and all of that, because there’s a possibility of some other fake stuff that comes up. But on occasion there are punters you know that aren’t going to be great fake threats, if you will, as holders. I’m going to give a little shout out to our punters because we brought a second punter (Matt Haack) in here as well and Matt Darr was a … I don’t know if everybody knows this but Matt Darr won the state championship in the shotput in California, and the discus (throw). So he’s a guy that’s actually an athlete. And the new guy we brought in, Matt Haack, is really a guy that I was impressed with. He was a three-sport athlete (and) was an all-state wide receiver in Iowa. He’s a lefty punter, which is also a unique thing as well. He really had some impressive showcases when I got the chance to watch him at his different events, so I’m excited to get him out there, as well.”

(A left-footed punter puts different spin on it right?) – “Yes, and usually, believe it or not, we actually have a JUGS machine that spins the ball both ways. So we have a JUGS machine that spins the ball with a right-footed punt and you can flip it and make it a left. So if we’re playing the Patriots, for example, they have a left footed punter. All week we’re working on the different rotation. Now we have two live – The Two Live Crew. (laughter) We’ve got a right footer and left footer in camp, which is great for our returners. Which is also great because now you’re not catching it off the machine, you’re catching it off a live foot, which obviously is a little more realistic. But (I’m) looking forward to it.”

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