Pete Hailey is rewatching Amazon's All Or Nothing, a behind-the-scenes look at the 2018 Panthers, to learn about Ron Rivera and other key people who are now a part of the Redskins. Here's his review of episode three, "Special Times."
Every NFL head coach will tell you that special teams are crucial. They'll tout the significance of winning the field position battle, of being sound when covering kicks, of cashing in on field goals when touchdowns aren't possible. And every NFL head coach believes in all of those things to varying degrees.
Ron Rivera, though, comes across as someone who cares about that area of the game more than most. Part of the reason why? Because he thrived in and cared for that area of the game when he himself was a player.
In the third episode of Amazon's 2018 edition of All Or Nothing, the cameras follow Rivera into his then-home in Carolina. There, the coach looks over some memorabilia from his time on the field before reflecting on his career as a linebacker with the Bears.
Yet it wasn't his role on defense that he devoted the most time to talking about.
"I wasn't the greatest special teams guy, but I was probably the most — I was consistent," he says.
He then explains that he was Chicago's personal protector, something he cherished.
"It was my job to be the last line of defense for the punter, and I tried to make sure I did my job to the point that we didn't get anything blocked, and that was a great sense of pride. It really was."
In terms of spots on a football depth chart, personal protector is about as far from glorious and distinguished as it gets. It's a position that touches the field a handful of times a week, and the only time it ever warrants a mention is when something fails and blame needs to be assigned. Yet to Rivera, it mattered.
That wasn't the lone part of this installment that highlighted the coach's investment in special teams, either.
Another example comes in a practice before the Panthers square off with the Giants. During a quieter portion of the proceedings, Rivera chats up Graham Gano about the kicker's footwork. In that conversation, he quizzes Gano about whether he's considered adding an extra step to his routine to generate more power, which leads to all sorts of follow-ups about how that would affect timing.
In terms of football nerdery, it's extreme. Really extreme. Some of the NFL's top minds, leaders like Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh, have probably had discussions like that with their kickers. But still, it's hard to imagine many coaches taking the time to go that in-depth with one on something so specific.
The final illustration of Rivera's belief in his team's third unit comes when he opts to introduce the special teamers before the matchup with the Giants, doing so to "make sure we’re not paying lip service talking about how important it is" and because those members of the roster "deserve it." To be clear, he's far from the first person to execute this idea, but that doesn't take away from the meaning of the gesture.
Conveniently enough, in the three hours that followed those pregame intros, Rivera's special teamers produced a touchdown on a muffed punt and then Gano boomed a truly ridiculous 63-yarder at the buzzer to take down New York. Afterward, Rivera presented Gano with the game ball — as in, literally the ball that was used for the kick and somehow recovered in the pandemonium that followed.
Yes, it's necessary to note that the folks at Amazon know what they're doing — packaging the segment where Rivera recalls his days on specials into the same episode where the coach gives those players recognition couldn't have been an accident.
It's also necessary to note that they got damn lucky — what are the odds of the episode's contest being miraculously decided by that facet?
Those factors no doubt lead viewers to come away impressed by Rivera's commitment to a component of the NFL that's often overlooked. That said, while that commitment is highlighted by the show, it's absolutely not fabricated.
He's lived it, he means it and he's going to bring that to the Redskins. That can only mean good things for them during his tenure.
Links to past reviews:
Episode 1: Rivera doesn't flinch after adversity hits
Episode 2: Rivera shows his feelings on distractions