Special Teams Coordinator Thomas McGaughey
August 23, 2023
Q: (Wide receiver) Bryce Ford-Wheaton got a shout out from (general manager) Joe (Schoen) the other day on the broadcast in terms of his special teams potential. What is it that you guys like about him as a potential gunner special teams player?
A: The obvious with Bryce is just size, speed. He’s 6’4”, he’s 225 pounds, or 230, whatever he is, and runs 4.40. Those measurables are pretty special. Whenever you can get—and with him, he's a very mature rookie. He goes about his business very professionally, he comes into meetings, he works his tail off, he's attentive, and he wants to learn. So, when you have those qualities -- smart, tough, dependable -- and just those physical attributes, he has a really, really big upside, I think.
Q: What's your role when they get it down to 53? Are you campaigning for guys that you know can help you? Or how does that work?
A: I tell our guys, I said, ‘I play favorites.’ Like, I play favorites all the time. I favor the guys who are making the most plays. That’s part of it. I mean, you're always trying to build it from the top down and the bottom up. Especially the bottom-up guys are the guys that help us the most. You’ve got to maximize the value of your roster. So, we're always trying to find a way to get better at the bottom end.
Q: There's always that feeling where, guys say it all the time, ‘Well, I know I have to be on special teams in order to be able to make the roster.’ Can you speak to the challenge of that it's a skill, that it's not just a guy saying, ‘I'm going to run down the field, and just because I'm running down the field and being willing, that makes me able to make the team.’
A: Yeah, you're right. There's a certain kind of skillset that you need. You see a lot of guys that are willing to do it, but they just don't know how. When you find those guys that really understand it, leverage, angles, speed, hat placement, hands, and just have a knack for finding the ball, those are the guys you get excited about. And then those other guys, you just coach them and bring them along, especially because a lot of it is the willingness to do it. It’s not for everybody, and we understand that.
Q: With (running back) Eric Gray and any rookie that you’d say might be your return guy, you’ve kind of got to juggle that he wants to get the ball and make a big play, but then he makes a couple of decisions in the game the other day which maybe save some yards, but they're not any kind of wow things. What do you prioritize with a guy like him?
A: The latter. What you just said. Just making good decisions, and he's done that so far. He’s done some really good things as far as decision making. We always tell our guys, ‘Let the plays come to you; don't chase them.’ The plays will come to you. As a rookie, they all have—all rookies have a tendency to try and go chase plays. You’ve just got to let the play come to you.
Q: That play at the goal line on the kickoff, would a lot of guys have panicked and said, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go get that ball?’
A: Could have. Absolutely. Absolutely. You’ve seen it happen before. But again, the kid, I mean, you’ve got to think about it – Eric’s played at Oklahoma and Tennessee. There were 25,000 people in the stands the other day. He’s used to 106 (thousand), 105 (thousand). He’s been on the big stage before, so it doesn’t faze him.
Q: How close are you to feeling confident that he's ready to be put out there in a big game, regular season, to be an NFL returner?
A: You don't know until till it happens. You know what I mean? All you can do is go by his day-to-day. Every day, all he's done since he's been here is get better every day. You watch him. You know what it's like out here, the wind, and then in the stadium the other day, their guys were struggling with the wind. Eric did a great job with it. So, that part of him, making good decisions, he's checked all the boxes so far. So, you just hope he keeps getting better.
Q: Joe kind of gave Bryce a shout out. Is there anybody else? We certainly can't evaluate special teams plays as well as you can, but is there anybody else that stood out to you here this summer?
A: There’s a lot of guys that are playing well. I don't want to point out any guys in particular, but as a group, I think they're doing a really good job of being coached. I literally just told them I can't look around the room and not see a guy that doesn't want to be coached and doesn't work hard. All these guys are trying to put themselves in a position to where they can make a team. We all know everybody can't make this team, but hopefully they show themselves well enough to where they can make other teams, and just make themselves proud and make themselves better every week. That's what it's all about, our group getting better, so we can help our football team be better.
Q: Is it difficult for guy who is a veteran guy who's never really played special teams six, seven years along to try to learn them at that point? Is it too late?
A: It's not easy. It's never too late for anything, but it's definitely not easy. When you get to that point, it's more of a desire thing, and then just being able to learn that skillset. It’s a different kind of skillset. It's very similar, but it is different at the same time.
Q: What does (running back) Jashaun Corbin give you on teams?
A: Jashaun works hard. He's smart. He's tough. He's dependable. He's physical. He's a good football player. He gives you value. He's just a good football player.
Q: Understanding your focus is on the here and now, obviously, can you look back to maybe the beginning of last year around this time and kind of just talk about how this roster has changed, seemingly in many ways for the better?
A: Yeah, I mean, we're a lot faster than we were last year, I think. Just overall, just more competition at each spot. Joe and his staff have done a great job, and Dabs (head coach Brian Daboll) has done a great job of putting this roster together. Again, we're just always working, trying to tweak it, get better. That's our job; as personnel people, that's their job, always trying to look to get better. The guys that they bring us, we’re trying to make sure that they get better while they're here. So, it's definitely moving in the right direction for sure.
Q: How does G.O.’s (safety Gervarrius Owen) skillset translate to special teams and what does he need to do to become a core guy?
A: It's like all rookies. It's different. They did some in college, especially being a defensive player, did some things in college, but it's just the whole maturation process of being a rookie, learning how to be a pro, finding out what you do really well and then trying to maximize that skillset. That’s the thing that I think G.O. and all the rest of the rookies, they’ve just got to find out, ‘Okay, what's my bread and butter, right? And now I’ve got to hang my hat on that and then I’ve got to bring everything else up to speed.’
Q: Do you have any examples of guys, like, six, seven years in that picked it up late in their career during the course of your time doing this?
A: Normally the guys that play teams later in their career played it early in their career. It’s rare when you see a guy that hasn't played on teams then just start doing it years seven, eight, or whatever it is. You don't see it a lot. But I mean, it definitely happens. I haven't seen it a lot, but it definitely happens.