Shawn Slocum Press Conf. Transcript - Jan. 20


Over the last four games, the players have really raved about the schemes that the coaching staff has given them and how effective they've been.  Can you just talk a little about the importance of film study and how important it is to be on the same page with your players communication‑wise and have them execute those games?
I think any time you have this number of people that work together throughout the course of a ballgame, whether it's 11 players on the field or the sideline organization or the coach‑player interaction, communication is the key. And I think that with success and winning ballgames and moving into the playoff scenarios, that the communication tends to heighten.  As a result, it's something we talk about all the time, communication helps.  And as a result, I think you see a higher standard of play. *

*What is the fair tradeoff on directional kicking given versus the yardage given up on return possibilities? *To give you a specific number, I think it's really more about the game situation, the field position, where you're punting from, for example.  If we're punting from midfield, you'd like for them to be backed up when they start their offensive drive.  At the same time, Devin can be aggressive and catch the ball and advance it 25 yards, so your net ends up being not quite what it needs to be. Overall, you want to create the worst possible field position for their offense, and at the same time, in our return game giving ourselves the best possible field position.

*Is the best way to deal with Hester is to have a game like you had Saturday night?  If that doesn't happen, do you feel good about what you did the last time you faced him?
I thought we were effective in the last ballgame here against the Bears.  We punted eight times; he returned two.  We had two, actually, four punts inside the 20, I guess, and two of them were inside the 5.  That was really good production.  If we could get that, I think it would really help us. I think the objective, when you've got a guy who can change the game the way Devin can do that, is you've got to limit, number one, the space that he has to operate in, and, number two, limit the total number of return opportunities.

*There are a lot of returners that are fast.  But what is that special "it" that he has?
One of the things that I think, Devin is slippery.  A lot of guys fall off tackles when they attempt to bring him down at times.  But I think one thing that really makes him unique, other than the fact that he sees the holes and he sets up blocks well, is his change of speed.  The ability to control his speed into a particular area and then burst.  When he does that, he makes pursuit angles bad.

*What's accomplished pre‑game?  Field conditions are obviously going to be a condition down there.  What do you and Mason and Tim try to accomplish pregame while you're out there?
I think it's important that you see what the game conditions are that day.  What the wind is doing, what direction it's blowing, or how the ball's traveling.  There are a number of things that involve that.  The field itself, how is the ball bouncing when it hits the grass?  Is it soft?  Is it hard?  What is the footing as a kicker?  Those type of things, you determine them prior to the game.

*Has it been disappointing that you just haven't been able to get the production in the return game that you've been looking for?
I think Tramon's done a very good job fielding the ball and making decisions in fielding the ball.  Lot of punts have not hit the ground that have continued to roll.  I think we've really improved in that area. I think a number of times, particularly later in the season, Tramon has been aggressive fielding the ball inside the 20 and getting those better field positions.  As opposed to starting on the 5, we may start on the 18 with that aggressiveness, and it has been a smart doing. In our last game he had a really good return toward their bench and started off and gave us good field position to go score. But, again, any time that you can have an impact return, and particularly with the explosiveness of our offense, it helps our scoring probability tremendously.

*Have you settled on a kickoff returner?
We still have ‑‑ you know, really, primarily three guys that we've been working lately, James Starks, Patrick Lee, and Sam Shields.  We'll continue to go in that direction as we play on.

*On the return that Hester had in September, Tim actually had a pretty good punt.  Did he outkick the coverage in that situation?
We were punting coming out of the red zone.  He had a long 50‑plus yard punt that was slightly right of center, and Devin was at his best in that situation where he had some space to start, create pursuit angles by the defense, which is the punt coverage team, and then change direction.  He went sideways and hit a vertical seam.  That is his running style.  He does so well. I think if you can get him closer to the coverage when he starts, you're better off to eliminate that spacing, or kick the ball out of bounds if you can.  If it was that easy to kick the ball out of bounds considering all the things that you're dealing with as a punt unit, there would be no returners in this league.

For like three weeks you had pretty good continuity on the kickoff return and pretty good ‑‑ I'm sorry, kickoff coverage and pretty good numbers too, and then you give up the 102‑yard kickoff return.  How much does this that make you nervous going into this game and doing so well and then, boom, just like that?It doesn't make me nervous because these impact returners can do that at any time.  We had a problem on the second kickoff coverage of the game that our ball placement wasn't quite by design, and we had a couple of breakdowns in the structure of the coverage.  I think the big thing is that after that play, we were productive in our kickoff coverage.  And I thought that was very important, especially the number of times that we kicked off.

*Outside of Hester, how does the Bears' punt return unit make it difficult to limit the space?
At times.  This is my 11th ballgame going against them.  I think Dave Toub does a great job with his game plans.  He can do anything from a maximum return to a maximum pressure.  I've seen it all from him.  So we prepare ourselves to deal with any of those situations and try to, again ‑‑ remember, first thing you have to do is protect that punter because you can't cover what you don't kick.  So we'll do that.  That is the number one objective.  And then try to give and limit Devin's opportunities.

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