Very Good Special Teams Article
Saints hope for more special deliveries
Everest's unit was NFL's best
Thursday July 24, 2003
By Brian Allee-Walsh
Much will be expected from Saints special teams coach Al Everest this season.
But he has no one to blame but himself for those high expectations.
Everest was voted the NFL's Special Teams Coach of the Year for 2002, an award based on production, execution and innovation of Saints' special teams in 21 categories of the kicking game.
Two Saints special teams' players were chosen to play in the Pro Bowl -- return specialist Michael Lewis and coverage ace Fred McAfee. Special teams standouts Steve Gleason and Mel Mitchell were picked first and second alternates to the Pro Bowl, giving the Saints a sweep of the top four spots on special teams.
Saints kicker John Carney made 31 of 35 field-goal attempts and all 37 extra points. With those players returning and the additions of veteran punter Mitch Berger and safety Tebucky Jones, the Saints have the potential to be even stronger on special teams this season.
That fact is not lost on Everest.
"On paper, we should be better," Everest said. "If we stay healthy and if these guys keep working hard, I don't see any reason for us not to be successful on special teams and help the team win."
The Saints vaulted from 20th in special teams in 2001 to the top spot last season, finishing in the top three in 11 of 21 categories. Lewis provided the impetus, returning one punt and two kicks for touchdowns and setting an NFL single-season record for combined return yardage with 2,432.
But success came slowly. Everest recalled a meeting with Owner Tom Benson early last season when the Saints' special teams ranked near the bottom third in the league.
"I told Mr. Benson that we would improve as the year goes on, because our coaching style is to teach these guys how to play," Everest said. "It is not to be a scheming team or to have all kinds of trick plays.
"You have a choice. Because you only have so much time in practice, you can either teach a scheme, like who to block on different plays, or you can teach them basic fundamentals and how to win the one-on-one battles. We teach them how to play."
Saints management and Coach Jim Haslett said they were forced to rebuild the special teams when they inherited the team from former coach Mike Ditka in 2000.
Ditka's multi-draft-pick trade to acquire running back Ricky Williams had left the roster riddled with holes on special teams. Slowly but surely, Saints officials have assembled a much faster, deeper talent pool on special teams, they said.
"Jim deserves a lot of credit," Everest said. "He made a commitment to be good on special teams when he came here. Obviously the players have done a great job and our coaching staff has done a great job.
"I'm most proud of the fact that people know when they play the New Orleans Saints they know they are playing a team that knows how to play special teams, and they are going to get after their butts from start to finish. We may make mistakes, and we're not invincible, but we'll get after you now."
Everest said the most difficult aspect of his job is convincing the players the importance of special teams. Some positions are filled by rookies with little expertise in that area.
"I tell our players just like the 'Karate Kid,' if they don't learn wax on and wax off, it's a three-minute movie and there ain't no 'Karate Kid V' or 'Karate Kid VI,"' Everest said. "The 'Karate Kid' didn't want to do all the other stuff. He didn't really want to wax the cars and learn all the fundamentals and techniques that go into karate. He thought he was ready to go fight. That's kind of the same thing that happens to us. We get guys in here in the NFL and everybody thinks playing special teams is easy. It's hard.
"The reason it's hard is, yes, it's just offense and defense, but it's played at a higher speed because more players on the field have speed. And it's played over an entire football field."
Everest said some first- and second-year players who may have excelled in college have low regard for special teams, but quickly learn it's a way to make the 53-man roster.
This year is no different. For example, wide receivers Kareem Kelly and Talman Gardner, the team's sixth- and seventh-round draft picks, might determine their roster fates with how well they perform on special teams.
"If we keep six wide receivers, one of those guys better be able to impact special teams while he's learning to play receiver," Everest said. "You can't carry people on a roster hoping they'll be a pretty good this or a pretty good that in a couple years.
"In our world, the longevity of coaching is all built on what you've done for me lately. You can't win waiting on people unless they can contribute right now."
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