On Monday night, the Bears’ Devin Hester made an impact on special teams—and that is now on tape. A 62-yard return for a TD stands out in the film room and has a direct impact on how the Bears’ future opponents will prepare throughout the week when it comes to the kicking game.
Great returners bring unwanted stress to the facility throughout the week. During my career, it was Dante Hall of the Chiefs. Meetings, film, etc. All of that was magnified as we prepared to try and limit his abilities as a returner on Sunday. Long week to be in that meeting room.
On Sunday night, the Bears take on the Giants. Let’s break down what the New York players will do this week in the meeting room and on the field to avoid being victimized by Hester in the return game.
ICONHester's TD return against the Packers will be the focus of the Giants' game prep.
Learn from the Packers’ mistakes: The Giants will watch that 62-yard return (along with the other return Hester almost broke) a hundred times. The special teams coach will make an example out of the Packers’ coverage unit. What did they do wrong? Why was Hester able to press the contain of the coverage, make one cut and find an open lane? Dissect the coverage mistakes of Green Bay, and use their players as an example of what not to do in this situation. That return will never die. It lives on tape for the rest of the season for all of the Bears’ opponents. That’s how it works, and if you were on that punt coverage unit for Green Bay, the rest of the league is going to be watching you do it—again and again.
Practice schedule: The routine is adjusted. Most clubs will spend their entire special teams portion of practice on Wednesday (around 25 minutes) working on punt and punt return. But, with a guy like Hester, players should expect to at least walk through their coverage assignments on Thursday, hit it at full speed again on Friday and go through one final check list on Saturday. It becomes almost obsessive. And, every day you are reminded that Hester is coming to town.
The meeting room: Every club in the league starts the day off with special teams meetings. And almost every player—minus the QBs—is sitting in one of those chairs. Thursday mornings are spent watching tape on kickoff and kickoff return. Don’t be surprised when a great returner is on the schedule to see the special teams coach throw that big play back up on the screen on a Friday or Saturday morning—just to remind you of what you are going up against. They are long meetings and that return becomes ingrained in your memory by Thursday afternoon. You go to bed at night thinking about it. And, by the end of the week, that special teams coach is on edge.
The scout team: Find the best athlete on the scout team. Doesn’t matter if it a RB, a DB or a WR. Put a red jersey on him with the No. 23 across the front. The special teams coach will instruct him to run lateral, backwards, change direction, etc. You want to get someone back there during practice that can at least try and simulate what the punt coverage team is going to see on Sunday. It will never be mentioned by the head coach in a press conference, but it is the most important job of the week.
Players only meetings: Had these throughout my career (usually on Fridays) where we would meet after practice as a coverage unit—without our coaches—to watch the tapes again. Order pizza, subs or some wings and spend a good hour getting back into that tape. It is easier to talk amongst teammates and to come up with your own game plan for Sunday when you are out on that field together without the coaches to tell you what to do.
The challenge:The most important part of the game prep. It is a challenge to stop a great returner. The players on the Giants know it. If you aren’t a starter on offense or defense, this is your time to shine on Sunday. Take the challenge and go make a play. You want to stand out on tape? Defeat that block, get into your coverage lane and make a solid tackle. Even better? Get the ball on the ground. National TV against one of the best returners in the NFL. That’s what you play for.
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