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Commanders' special teamers thrilled to learn from Larry Izzo


Jeremy Reaves had a wide smile on his face as he entered the Washington Commanders' facility to re-sign with the team he's called home since 2018. Larry Izzo, the team's new special teams coordinator, was one of the first people to greet him.

It wasn't the first time Izzo and Reaves had spoken over the past week. Izzo, hired by the Commanders in February, spoke to Reaves as he was doing his physical training exercises, wanting to explain what he expects Reaves to do in his system.

"He said, 'Look, man, I don't want you to change anything about you. That's all I'm asking of you. Your play speaks for itself. You just run out there, and you go be Reavo,'" Reaves said.

It didn't take long for Izzo to start coaching his new players. While Washington's offense and defense, both in justifiable need of improvement, have gotten most of the attention, its special teams unit also needed an upgrade as well. In addition to bringing back Reaves, Washington also signed long snapper Tyler Ott and kicker Brandon McManus, both of whom have worked with Izzo in the past.

The prospect of working with a special teams legend gave them even more reason to come to Washington.

"The energy he played with, he brings that coaching," Ott said. "He's gonna get the rest of these guys and myself to play really hard for him."

Izzo demands high effort from his players, because that's how he played during his 14-year career with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets. From the time he was trying to earn a spot on the Dolphins' roster in 1996 -- Jimmy Johnson once said that Izzo and Dan Marino were the only players who had earned a roster spot in training camp -- to his final season with the Jets in 2009, Izzo impressed teammates and coaches with his production, effort and dependability.

Special teams players often don't get as much recognition as their counterparts on offense or defense, but there's a legitimate argument that Izzo is among the best in league history. On top of recording 298 special teams tackles -- the most by any player -- Izzo was selected to three Pro Bowls, won three Super Bowls and was part of the Patriots' undefeated regular season in 2007.

Izzo's special teams units as a coach are often recognized as some of the best in football. His unit played a key role in helping the New York Giants reach the Super Bowl, and in his last three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, the team had top 10 DVOA special teams rankings, finishing eighth in 2023.

For people like Ott, who played for the Seahawks from 2018-21, Izzo's influence is easy to spot.

"You see that on the tape from the time we were in Seattle," Ott said. "And I think you're gonna see it on the tape moving forward, just with guys running around and hitting, having a good time on special teams and I think bringing pride to the special teams unit and hopefully making a difference in games."

McManus, who last played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, doesn't have as much experience with Izzo. His only experience with the special teams coordinator came all the way back in 2014, when he signed a reserve/futures contract with the Giants and played in four preseason games before being traded to the Denver Broncos.

Though that was 10 years ago, Izzo's coaching style, particularly his knowledge of the game, has always stuck with McManus.

"He understands the game a lot," McManus said. "He understands what the players are going through, obviously getting players to buy in."

Getting players to buy into special teams roles is not always an easy task. Most players in the NFL were key pieces on their high school and college teams, and the prospect of being bumped to being on special teams can be a jarring shift.

But as someone who made a career out of making plays on the punt and kickoff teams, Izzo knows how to make it more appealing to them.

"He has an innate ability to communicate with the players on how to help them grow in their career. He played the game physically, and he expects the players to do that as well."

Just ask Reaves, who has already been won over by Izzo's style.

"He's kinda just letting the chains off me and letting me just go play football fast, and that's what I like to do," Reaves said.

Like several moves Washington has made this offseason, hiring Izzo has gotten praise because of the coach's resume and reputation. It'll take more than that to improve Washington's special teams unit, but McManus knows for certain that he and his teammates will at least be prepared for the task.

"I think we'll be [some] of the best educated players on the field as well...with the pregame studying and understanding the rules and stipulations of the game," McManus said. "So, I'm looking forward to getting back in the same room and on the field with Larry."

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