Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
Q: Was that (punter) Jamie's (Gillan) best game, do you think?
A: It was pretty good. It was pretty good. It's trending more in the right direction as far as hang and distance and what we want to accomplish, but we got to help him out. The gunners got to help him out, make some plays for him down there. He did a really nice job; he's trending in the right direction for sure.
Q: How? What are you looking for (from) your gunners in those spots?
A: Make the play.
Q: What do you want them to do differently?
A: Catch the ball. Don't drop it. There's some little, small nuances within our scheme, what we want to do, working back towards the goal line, the punt side gunner and being able to have a better angle coming back to the ball. And just doing little stuff like that: Just making sure we're doing our job correctly. And to put themselves in a better position so make sure they can make the plays.
Q: Is that demoralizing for a punter, for the whole unit, when everything is executed and by six inches, the ball crosses there (the goal line), and now they're at the 20 (yard line)?
A: It's not a fun feeling. I don't know if I'd say demoralizing, but it's not a place you want to be. It frustrates you, but we got to make sure we do a better job of that and just taking advantage of those opportunities when we get them.
Q: When he has a punt, let's say from the 40-yard line, trying to get it in close, is there a spot in which it should bounce like the 5 (yard line) or something?
A: Yeah, you want to give ourselves a chance. Ideally, if the ball hits around the four or five-yard line, that's not a bad thing. But again, you got to (remember) the fundamentals of the game: catch the ball, see it all the way into your hands. And he has to do his job by giving the coverage team an opportunity to down it, so you don't want the ball to hit at the one (yard line). If it does, you want it to bounce backwards. But if it hits and dives into the end zone, it just makes it difficult. And conversely, if it hits at the five (yard line), and you're there to get it, you got to catch the ball. It's not rocket science. It's pretty simple.
Q: Does having him (Jamie Gillan) help at all this week when you're going against a lefty punter (Commanders Tress Way)?
A: Absolutely. They've been seeing it ever since training camp, and Jamie and Tress are very similar in how they hit the ball. They like to hit the same style of punt. So, it shouldn't be anything new because they see the same lefty spin with the same kind of power every day.
Q: What makes Tress so effective?
A: He is a ball striker. He's one of those guys where he's so effective hitting his directional ball out to his left, and then he can hit that pull spiral, and it's going the complete opposite direction with hardly any hangtime, and it just goes. It just goes forever. And when his ball hits the ground, it just rolls. So, when he's in the 30-yard backed up, 60-yard backed up, that ball could easily be inside the 10 (yard line or), inside the 5-yard line quickly.
Q: I'm curious why you think punting the ball, angling it out of bounds, has become so out of style. Until recently, guys were really good at it. What is it now that makes, not just you, but other people around the league not really want to do it.
A: It's not that. That's a hard skill. That is a really, really hard skill. I guarantee if you poll every special teams coach and if you could limit their ability to return the ball and punt out of bounds, they'd want to do it. But it's just hard. Because that's what we want to do: We want to be able to punt the ball out of bounds. But it's not an easy skill to do. The last guy that was here that was really good at it was (former punter) Jeff Feagles. You got to realize that by the time you all saw Jeff Feagles, he was in year 17, 18, 19, 20. And he had been doing it his whole career. It's not an easy skill, but you see a lot of power punters. These guys are bigger, stronger and faster than Jeff was; and Jeff will be the first one to tell you. These are some big, strong guys. You look at Jamie – Jamie's a big, strong human being. A lot of people like to punt for power now, and they just surround their team with speed. And now you can flip the field and really affect field position. So, it's kind of a different game than it was in the '90s and early 2000s than it is now.
Q: You have a long history with a certain free agent wide receiver (Odell Beckham, Jr.) who's going to visit here tomorrow. I'm just curious: Has anyone asked you what Odell is like? And what was it like coaching him?
A: No, nobody's asked me anything. If they want my opinion, they give it to me. (Laughs) I'm just kidding. It was great coaching Odell. I had him three years at LSU (Louisiana State University). He was obviously a dynamic player there from his freshman year all the way up until he left. It was fun watching him grow as a young man, coming in as a 17-year-old freshman and leaving and becoming a first-round draft pick and then watching him his first few years in the league. It was fun. He was fun to coach, and (he is a) super, super talented guy.
Q: Pretty good punt returner, too?
A: Not too bad. He wasn't too bad. (I) have some good, fond memories of Odell versus Ole Miss (The University of Mississippi) in a shootout, returning a punt for about 60, 70 yards for a touchdown. It was fun – special time.
Q: I think in 2019, wasn't (Commanders kicker) Joey Slye here for a coffee break? What has changed in his game?
A: Joey has done a really good job of just bringing his game along, maturing. The first time he was here, he was here for a hot second. And we gave him some things to go home and work on, and when he came back the next time, you could tell he had worked on them. Joey's leg is super, super live. He has a very, very strong leg. And he's very smooth, very methodical. And he doesn't swing outside of his body. He doesn't overswing. He's very, very compact. And if you see Joey, he's a big, strong dude. He's put together. He has done a really nice job of developing as a young kicker in this league.
Q: Does (wide receiver Kalil) Pimpleton have any chance of returning kicks in game action, or do you think he's more of a developmental player?
A: They've all got chances. Every guy on our roster from the top down, bottom up has an opportunity as far as the guys that are working back there, returning kicks. And even the guys that are just teams guys, our whole roster's live. At any point in time, those guys can be up and be playing. Look at (defensive back) Trenton Thompson last week – day before the game, boom. He's up, and he's playing. So, all these guys got to be ready for the opportunity, and we talk about it all the time in this room. You got to stay ready because it might be literally the night before the game to where you get a tap on the shoulder, and you've got to be ready to go.
Q: You've obviously been in this league a long time, and you've watched the trends week-to-week, year-to-year. With the return game – both punt and kickoff – you hear people talk about how it's changed through the years. But has your approach changed? Do you identify certain areas and say, 'You know what? Maybe we pull back a little bit on expectations here or on kickoff. And we need to get more out of punt because of the lack of return in another area and field position and everything else,'? How do you approach that week-to-week?
A: The expectation level never changes. We always want to perform at a high level. Now, the amount of time you spend on it, based upon who you're going against, is always different. If you know you're playing against a team that's going to hang the ball up, you've got to spend more time doing it that week. But if you know you're playing a team that they've had 45 kickoffs and 42 of them have been touchbacks, you know you're probably not going to get a whole lot of opportunity. So, it's a totally different game than it was in the '90s and early 2000s. It's a totally different game that way; the reps aren't there like they used to be.
Q: So, are you just protecting in that situation if you identify a week that you're not going to get kickoffs in this situation, just don't make a mistake? It's almost like the mistakes are magnified if you do make it a situation like that?
A: I think more than anything, you have to stay status quo as far as how you approach it. But just knowing going into the game that you can't chase plays because if you do, that's where you make mistakes. Just knowing that 'Okay, going into this game, we're probably not going to get a lot of opportunities,' especially if we're playing a team indoors and that team doesn't like to cover kickoffs. You just know going in, you're probably not going to get a whole bunch of them. So, instead of spending 30 minutes talking about their kickoff coverage team, I might spend 15 (minutes).