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Media roundup | Nate Kaczor breaks down kick return duties


The Washington Commanders wrapped up training camp with head coach Ron Rivera and special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor addressing the media. Here's a look at the highlights from their press conferences.

Ron Rivera

On RB Antonio Gibson expected to play special teams on Saturday:
"This one thing you guys need to understand is that once we get into the regular season, everybody is involved in special teams. AG did it last year. So for the most part, you know, this is nothing new. It's just, you guys see it. So now it becomes a news story."

On how many snaps starters will take:
"I really don't. A lot of it has to do with the health of specific players. When we do certain things on the offensive side, it's going to impact how all the other guys play. So hopefully we can stay healthy, and we can get him in. Ideally, I'd like to play him the whole half, I really would. But I don't know if we can get that done, you know with some of the soft tissue injuries we we've had to deal with."

On WR Jahan Dotson and RB Antonio Gibson getting returner reps on Saturday:
"It's something to think about. We know who he is. We know what he is capable of, but the same time we want to make sure he's comfortable back there. So we'll see how it unfolds come game time."

On how to balance exposure and safety with starters on special teams:
"Well it's about need more than there's anything else. We get into game situations, and something happens, if they've gotten no reps at it and you got to put 'em in there, you've kind of screwed yourself. So as I alluded to earlier, that's one things that'll happen. You guys won't see when we get into the regular season, a lot of our veteran players, a lot of our starting players will have backup roles and specific special teams."

On how RB Antonio Gibson has responded to adversity:
"I think he's been fine. I think he's worked on some things individually. He's taken his reps the way I think you should take 'em and he's continued to do that. And the biggest thing more so than anything else is, and I've said it to you guys, this is more than a one back league. I mean, you've got to have guys that have specific skill sets, all three of our top three backs, all have a different skill set and, you know, that's the important thing for how you're going to use them."

Nate Kaczor

On the challenges of trying to figure out who will be on special teams with not as many padded practices and games:
"That's a really good point. We did lose some special teams, reps, and obviously O and D with the lack of pre-season losing a game. So, taking advantage of the padded practices, and it's well noted that we've got some players that hadn't been on special teams reps the day we had pads on because we're running outta opportunities to have padded reps. The last thing you want for a player that maybe hasn't been a core special teams' player, the first padded rep they get is against Jacksonville. No player wants to be unprepared so, sometimes we have to kind of work guys in roles earlier in camp, because they're competing for a role on O or D even a starting role, sometimes it's to make the team, but they certainly want the reps. So sometimes we have to kind of show our hand early so they're prepared with the less reps in pre-season."

On how he assesses the kick and punt return game:
"So in the game against Carolina, we obviously had some opportunities. Sometimes people will kick all touch backs and you get no opportunities, even in the preseason. So, I was glad we got some opportunities. There were some decisions by us on upfront and the returners that we need to keep getting better, but I was glad we got the work on it. Dax [Milne] had a nice 12-yard punt return that was just taken advantage of a really good punt, but we had a good blocking on that left side and he snuck down the left sideline. One was blocked up pretty good and Alex [Erickson] just couldn't quite get to the scheme because the gunner was, we had guys on him, but he was right where Alex needed to run. So probably better blocking on part return then kickoff return in that first game. We worked it yesterday and some of the guys that needed corrected took a step forward, but us getting to work on it in the preseason, that's like gold because you just, you don't want that first rep in pads with full speed timing to be in the regular season opener."

*On RB Antonio Gibson being a returner: *"That's part of what I was talking to John [Keim] about, AG [Antonio Gibson] would be in that category. Social media has had some of his returns from Memphis out there recently. He was one of my Christmas present type guys when we drafted him. What guys did in college never leaves my mind. If him or [RB] Brian Robinson [Jr.] who have been practicing special teams all along, whatever their roles are on offense, we need to have one or both of them prepared to do a job on special teams. AG is a returner. Brian had some return production at Bama too, but that doesn't mean he is going to be back there. But these running backs that are talented are very, very Swiss Army Knifeish on special teams. So with AG you've seen more of a role with us recently because we only have so many padded opportunities left and he needs some work in the event that we need him on a phase or two in the regular season. And certainly another tool in his box is the return game, which he was very good at. So again, we want to have him prepared to play. I'll emphasize this because I don't think a lot of people realize this, people may see Antonio practicing special teams and go 'oh, you know, the offensive running back race.' He's approaching it as a professional as, 'I need to get ready just in case I'm playing' and professionals want to be prepared. That's an impressive part of Antonio, he has approached this with a great professional attitude realizing, 'I don't want my first special teams rep on punt to be against the Jaguars in the regular season opener.' So whether he's out there or not, he wants to be prepared and that's admirable. A lot of times as a special teams coach, I might be dealing with a player who's dealing with some disappointment on a role change on offense or defense, not necessarily talking about AG, but sometimes when they walk in my office they've been told by an offensive or defensive coach that maybe the other guys going to start. So I'm not dealing all the time with guys that are just all excited to be talking to me and it's for our job to get them excited about embracing that role. And that starts with [Head Coach] Ron [Rivera] and the personnel guys and the type of players they keep that can conduct themselves as professionals and be kind of a servant leader and embrace any role we give to them. Even though they may be dealing with disappointment."

On WR Alex Erickson and WR Dax Milne competing for punt returner:
"Anyone that you see at practice catching punts is competing for that role. We tell the players all the time 'preparation and execution over and over and over develops confidence.' Well, I'm out here seeing these players catch jugs and balls. [P] Tress Way can be tricky with what he does and what we do punting and of hiding direction and whatnot. So he's a handful to catch punts from in practice. So the more we see those guys catching the ball and practicing, even though they've not done it in games per se, Dax has done it in the preseason but not in regular season. That gives us confidence that they can go out there and do it. And you'll see the guys that did it in the first preseason game, they will all be available to do it against Kansas City [Chiefs]. So that just gives more confidence to us to see them do it in a preseason game. And then once you see that they have the skill set and they're wired the right way, then you just turn them loose and let them play."

On how Antonio Gibson looked returning kicks:
"Well, the first thing would be when you watch him run even against defenses. So you guys have watched practice. I try not to stand around and coach with my hands in my pocket. So I'm usually following that returner so I can kind of feel the seam and kind of coach the blockers as I'm running through there. And while I was following Antonio, I couldn't see as much because he's big and he can run. So the first thing you see is you got a big man back there, that's got legit speed and a lot of returners don't weigh. I didn't look at the weigh-in sheet for the week, but Antonio's a big man. So those big returners that have speed, just like when they run the ball on offense, they're harder to tackle. And he's got a really good one-cut move that you see when he runs the wide zone for us on offense. But that's the first thing that jumps out is the combination of the size. We all know he can run."

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