It is no secret that the Chargers have been a below-average special teams unit in 2020. That is why new head coach Brandon Staley decided to hire Derius Swinton as his special teams coach. Swinton is coming from being an assistant special teams coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals.
Swinton has his work cut out for him. He believes in the three F's.
"It's not going to be grammatically correct, but it sticks with the players; we're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, and we're going to play fundamentally sound," said Swinton. "My mom's an English teacher, so phonetically, that's correct. I'll get a little credit for using the term, 'phonetically,' in a press conference, so that's for mom."
Before even interviewing with Staley for the job, he went through every snap of the Chargers special teams.
"I've watched it all," said Swinton.
He did it because he loves football, but also because he wanted to be prepared just in case Staley asked him something.
The Chargers made a lot of mistakes on special teams. The mistakes got George Stewart's job changed. Anthony Lynn gave the duties to Keith Burns and Chris Caminiti with input from him, but they continued. Lynn had to take full control and was able to handle it to an extent.
He watched the Bolts give up a punt return for a touchdown, blocked punts, ten men on the field, 12 men on the field, and numerous other blunders. He didn't want to speak about the past.
Kicker Michael Badgley is coming off a terrible season where he missed 13 kicks during the season. He doesn't have a good percentage beyond 46 yards. There will be questions about whether he is the right kicker for the team. Lynn believed so and stuck by him. Swinton will evaluate everything.
He did explain how to help a kicker going through a rough patch. He compares a special teams coach to a golf caddy in that situation.
"I really think his recommendations, right? I got to get a feel for what are you seeing? What am I seeing? And if they match up, and I don't even need to have a long conversation, I think when they go through tough stretches just like a golf, or you look at a basketball player whose shot is off. At this level, they know what it is," explained Swinton.
He will also need to evaluate punter Ty Long, who is coming off a pretty bad punting year, and it seems like the Chargers are trying to find a successor to Mike Scifres, who hasn't been on the Chargers since 2015. He was a game-changing punter who could pin a team inside the 20-yard line. He was an MVP for the Bolts at times.
General manager Tom Telesco admitted that he didn't do a good enough job of putting the best players to play special teams a couple of weeks ago. There wasn't much experience on the unit last season. Swinton made a good comparison on how to build a team.
"I think building a team," Swinton said. "It's like making a meal, right? Like I don't worry about, you know, what groceries I have, I just take the groceries I have in my cabinet, and I may feel right like I don't care if I have fresh fruit or the fruits a day old or it's a week old and as long as it's not spoiled. We can make a meal."
So, what is he looking for when he evaluates players to play special teams?
"So, I'm just looking at body type," explained Swinton. "How does he move? How's he adjusted these things? What does he like? What is the thing he likes to keep doing? And you just go from there, that's the beginning of the evaluation process."
Not only has Swinton evaluated the special teams, but he is familiar with the rest of the roster. He loves the fact that Staley believes how crucial all three phases of the game are and how critical it is to help the offense and defense out with coverage and return units.
"We have Justin Herbert. He doesn't want to start inside the 25 at bare minimum. We got to get him starting with a touchback, you know, the same thing with Joey Bosa. He doesn't want to have to cover 75 yards of field. I think he'd rather go than go 80 or 85, so it's just working together in the team will see that we're all a part of it," said Swinton.
The most challenging part about building a special team unit is guys buying into the product. A lot of players are getting drafted from big-time programs and were the big men on campus. Some of them have never played special teams and are getting asked to do so in the NFL. It is different for them.
Sometimes special teams are how you make the team.
"Chris Harris had the most dominant four weeks of a gunner from preseason to the regular season that seen him in the NFL. That's how he became, you know, a starter in his first-year. Then you go somebody like (Austin) Ekeler, he was covering kicks as a gunner as well," explained Swinton.
He is now on his eighth NFL team. He has only once been a special teams coordinator, and it was in Chip Kelly's only season in San Francisco. Swinton said his main reason for coming to the Chargers was the opportunity to work with Staley.
"That was a big selling point," explained Swinton. "Then, obviously, the roster and things like that came into play afterwards. But that was the main thing for me. When he presented this to me, it was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up."