Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
November 12, 2020
Q: Joe (Judge) was talking in his film breakdown about how Riley (Dixon) can kick the ball so it spins differently and falls differently. How common is that for a punter to be able to do that?
A: It’s becoming more and more common nowadays. These guys are really, really good at what they do. The influence of the Australian punter has been big on a lot the American guys. Just being able to have a plethora of kicks to be able to make it harder for the returner to catch the ball. Especially when you have guys that are really talented and they are used to catching that ball out of the jugs machine and it’s just an easy ball, it turns over. It’s difficult, especially with the wind and the conditions. You get a ball that’s going to spin a little different, something that you don’t see every day. The ability to do that is definitely advantageous to us as a coverage unit.
Q: What you saw Sunday is ideal, the way it plays out?
A: (laughing) Yeah, definitely.
Q: Why do you think it didn’t work out with Corey Ballentine as a kick returner? Did it just not click for him there? Is it too soon to expect Dante Pettis to make a big impact this week?
A: I wouldn’t say for Corey it didn’t click with him. He averaged almost 24 yards a return last year. With the COVID and no offseason, a ton of things that went into that. It’s never really kind of flowed like we wanted it to. I think it was just a matter of time, we put Dion in there. It was progressing in that direction. Corey is going to be fine. We wish him the best of luck. He’s a great kid, I love him to death. He’s going to be successful in this league.
Q: Dante, can we expect him back there this week?
A: We’re still going through an evaluation process with all these guys. He just got in. We want to let him get his feet wet first. Just trying to get him his bearings from the Bay (San Francisco) to Jersey is a little bit different. Dante is working hard. We’ll figure that out once we get to the back end of the week.
Q: What’s the season been like for you? You have a new coach, a whole new regime? I know a lot of you guys as coaches, your families aren’t even here. I assume you haven’t been able to go back and forth maybe as much as you would in the past. What has it been like personally on that end?
A: It’s always hard. My family is in Houston. For me, the staff is great. The guys are great to work with, Joe is awesome. It’s been really good. On the family side of it, you’re right. The one time I was able to go home, see my son, see him play. As soon as I landed, I get to the stadium, I walk up. I get a text when I drive into the parking lot, Trent’s hurt. I walk up to the stadium, I’m coming into the stadium up to the bleachers and I see him with this big wrap on his hand. As soon as he looked at me, I looked at him and he broke out crying. I knew something was wrong. To make a long story short, he dislocated a bone in his hand. He had to have surgery the next morning. I was literally there for 24 hours. By the time I got to the stadium we went straight to the emergency room. Picked him up, took him to the emergency room and he was in the hospital all night. I actually left the hospital at 4:30 in the morning to go home, get an hour of sleep, then hopped on a 9:00, 8:30 flight, whatever it was, to get back here so I could COVID test. That’s kind of been our situation as a family. Just to give you a little insight, it’s never easy as coach when you’re away from your family and trying to do what’s best for your family.
Q: I know there are bunch of other coaches who also don’t have their families here. There’s just been so many different elements to this year. Does it make you guys more like a close-knit group?
A: Definitely. We spend, to be honest with you, during the season, we spend more time around the players and other coaches than we do our own families. You have to enjoy the guys that you’re working with. You’re right, we do become a tight group because we spend so much time together. That’s a good thing. I enjoy the guys that I work with. Obviously, we’d like to spend time with our families, but obviously we have to pay the bills and we have to do the things we have to do to get things done.
Q: Saw Joe’s breakdown on the website about Riley’s punt. He mentioned having Cam Brown lined up as what he called the “Canadian gunner.” How common is that? Have you seen or used that in the past? How did you guys, if not, come to decide that was a scheme you wanted to work in this year?
A: We’ve used it before, we used it last year with Michael Thomas. It’s been done before. It’s a good scheme against teams that have really good returners so you can get that pressure and that third guy down the middle of the field that acts as a third gunner for your coverage. More speed on the ball. Putting more pressure on the returner. Either he is going to fair catch it or he is going to have to try to make a play. It kind of worked out for us.
Q: One more thing on Pettis. How much work did you put into him in the draft process a couple years ago? How in tune were you with him? Obviously, he has the numbers as a returner to back it up in college.
A: Dante was one of the best returners, one of the most prolific returners in the history of college football. When he came out, I liked him as a returner. He was on a really, really good football team. If you go back and look at the guys that were on that football team. Budda Baker, Byron Murphy, there was a lot of good football players on that team. I watched them closely because we had to evaluate all of them coming out. Dante is working and we’ll see where he is toward the back end of the week.
Q: Did you start with Riley, have him training differently in the offseason because you knew you might have him put that spin on the ball? How long has he been working on it? Was there anything in particular that he did to kind of practice that?
A: He’s been doing it for a couple years now. He used to hit it all the time in practice last year. He used to do it in pregame. This year is the first year he’s hit it during the game. I think the more and more reps he gets at it, the more he can feel confident and hitting the ball consistently. Knowing exactly where the ball is going to go. Any time you start to develop a shot, those guys want to make sure they get enough practice reps and then enough game reps to where they feel comfortable with it. When I say game, like doing it in warmups, in a game-like situation. They want to make sure that they feel confident they can pull that cat out of the bag when they need to. That’s always a tough deal when you go out there and you don’t feel comfortable hitting the ball. When you’re full of confidence and you know you can swing at and you can make an aggressive swing, you get a good result. He’s been working on it, so now that’s part of his bag of tricks.