Nate Kaczor

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It only took one meeting for Redskins special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor to believe in Ron Rivera

It only took one meeting for Redskins special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor to believe in Ron Rivera

After the Redskins' disastrous 3-13 campaign in 2019, the organization underwent major turnover. Washington hired Ron Rivera in an attempt to change the culture at Redskins Park, and the well-respected head coach formed almost an entirely new staff alongside him.

However, Rivera chose to keep a pair of coaches from the old regime, with special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor being one of them. It didn't take long for Kaczor to immediately believe in his new boss.

"When I met him for the first time I really, really respected him and I do not say those words lightly," Kaczor told the local media on Tuesday via Zoom. "I was very impressed and I am happy to be here."

Rivera's authentic personality and consistency were two things that specifically stood out to Kaczor, and were two of the biggest reasons he immediately got behind the head coach.

"To my point, he’s so consistent," Kaczor said. "What you see, I believe this is how everybody -- whether it’s the media working with Coach [Rivera], or his coaching staff, or his players, people in the building. When he is so consistent and the sincerity -- whether it’s something you want to hear or something you don’t want to hear -- when it’s authentic, and I’m going to throw out so many terms that get overused, he is such an authentic, real, sincere person with just a great background that covers a lot of different areas.

"When you meet him, you’re not surprised that he meets that consistency because that’s just the way he is. He’s just a rock."

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Once the new staff was finalized, one of the first meetings they had together was to identify the core players on the roster. 

Kaczor was blown away by Rivera's demeanor during that meeting. While the special teams coordinator explained it was clear who was in charge, he was impressed that Rivera let everyone on his staff voice their own opinion.

"When coach Rivera got here and I was asked to be a part of the new staff ... immediately we were in alignment," Kaczor said. "There was no question who was in charge and the chain of command. That being said, when we met as a building, more emphasis on the coaching and personnel department and this is being well documented by you in the media very well, the 'core of the roster' meeting that you have talked about ... we all got to talk."

Kaczor was able to explain the certain traits that he looks for in players during that meeting, and he believes that his opinion carried over into some of the decisions the team made on draft day.

"What we were looking for in that meeting obviously continued through the draft," he said. "You may say that you really like the fastest linebackers we can get. It may get to a point where, [fifth-round pick] Khaleke Hudson, wow this guy is fast. He is not a big, imposing linebacker in terms of positioning, but he is fast and explosive. Just using him as an example. The trades that we are after and looking for continued to come up after coach Rivera, with the rest of the building, set the core of what we are looking for."

The first few months of Rivera's tenure in Washington have not been the easiest to navigate by any means.

The pandemic has eliminated all in-person offseason activities, and the team had to conduct both free agency and the draft from the comfort of their own homes.

Doing so was difficult for every franchise, but more so a team like Washington, whose staff was really still all getting to know one another.

Despite the fact that all of Kaczor's contact with Rivera has been virtual for the past two months, he's been blown away by the leadership the new Redskins head coach has demonstrated this far.

"I’ve seen him lead already because we haven’t been through the most normal of times," Kaczor said. "Obviously when you go through the season, emotions and feelings get amplified but he’s an impressive person behind the scenes as he is out in front of the camera where you see him mostly. Very consistent, very authentic, very strong."

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How Nate Kaczor expects to use Antonio Gibson's varied skill set on special teams

How Nate Kaczor expects to use Antonio Gibson's varied skill set on special teams

Just moments after the Redskins drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the running back/wide receiver hybrid was asked what position he plans to play in the NFL.

Gibson's answer was simple: "I view myself as a weapon."

The 21-year-old is officially listed as a running back, and the No. 24 jersey that he will wear backs that up. But Gibson plans to contribute in a lot more ways than just as a rusher, and his versatility and experience on special teams is Nate Kaczor is excited about.

Kaczor, Washington's special teams coordinator, believes that the combination of Gibson's size and speed will allow him to make an impact for the Redskins specials unit in a variety of ways. 

"He's big and fast," Kaczor told the local media in a Zoom call on Tuesday. "He [is] 220-ish pounds, some people had him in the low 4.4's, high 4.3 area. Regardless of what time he's prescribed to, he's fast. He's not only a returner; he can bring some protection and speed and coverage."

A year ago, the Redskins found a gem in undrafted wide receiver Steven Sims. The Kansas product became Washington's starting slot receiver by the end of the season, but Sims first made an impact as an NFL player on special teams.

Kaczor believes the combination of Gibson and Sims gives the Redskins a lot of flexibility in the return game.

"In an ideal setting, if you have a legitimate returner [Sims] and your off-returner [Gibson], who is 30 pounds bigger than your returner, if he doesn't get the ball he becomes a blocker," Kaczor said. "And he weighs 220 [pounds]. That's a really good situation. If they don't really want to kick it to one guy and they want to kick it to your other one and he's really good, then you have a heck of a situation there."

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The special teams coach emphasized that Gibson has the skill set to make an impact in other ways on special teams, too, even if he's not the primary returner for the Burgundy and Gold.

"He could be on the punt team and play a slot, which is very conducive to running backs skill sets, where the block rushes and then release and help contain," Kaczor said. "Quite often on the punt team in the NFL, you will see a starter or two on offense or defense being used. He's more versatile because he is a returner, he is big enough to play in the return game as a blocker, as an off-returner."

As a senior at Memphis in 2019, Gibson was the team's primary returner, and the third-round pick was a home run threat every time he touched the ball. He notched 23 total returns on the season, averaging close to 29 yards per attempt and even took one kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

That kickoff return touchdown came in an upset victory over then-ranked No. 15 SMU last October. That game was truly a coming-out party for Gibson, who finished with 386 all-purpose yards on 12 total touches. In addition to scoring a touchdown via kick return, Gibson found the end zone twice more in two different ways: a 50-yard TD reception and a 78-yard TD run.

Florida State head coach Mike Norvell, who was Gibson's coach at Memphis at the time, told the Redskins Talk podcast that Gibson's outing that evening "was probably the finest performance I’ve ever been a part of from a single game."

Kaczor is excited to get to work with Gibson in the near future, but knows that the running back's value could be best displayed in other ways.

A year ago, Washington drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, who at the time was known just as much for being a special teams ace as he was a wide receiver. Well, it didn't take long for Kaczor to realize that McLaurin could be an excellent wideout at the NFL level, and that the then-rookie was too valuable as a pass-catcher to be used on special teams.

“Well geez, the more [Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner] uses [Gibson], the less we can," Kaczor joked.

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Redskins special teams coach Nate Kaczor has a hilarious Terry McLaurin story

Redskins special teams coach Nate Kaczor has a hilarious Terry McLaurin story

When the Redskins drafted Terry McLaurin in last year's third round, the expecation was that they'd use his elite skills on special teams — analysts raved about what he did in that area for Ohio State — while slowly working him in on offense.

Naturally, that thought delighted Washington's special teams coach Nate Kaczor. Who wouldn't love a blazing fast and unselfish guy on their unit to help down punts and drop returners?

Unfortunately, Kaczor never really got his hands on McLaurin, thanks to how quickly the rookie blossomed at wideout. And during a Tuesday Zoom call with reporters, the top assistant gave a spot-on analogy for how he felt about the situation.

"That would be like getting a Christmas present and just when you opened it, your brother snatches it from you and you never get it back," he said.

Kaczor explained that right when he saw McLaurin haul in a 70-yard touchdown in the team's opener against the Eagles, he understood where McLaurin's future would be — and it wasn't as a gunner or a tackler.

"It was humorous how fast that happened," Kaczor said. "Right off the bat."

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It wasn't a shock to see Kaczor act so good-natured about the whole scenario (he's the kind of person who'd get a flat tire from a loose nail on the road and check to see if the nail was OK). To him, meanwhile, it wasn't a shock to see McLaurin flourish.

"Obviously with Terry, his makeup just as a football player, his character, his effort, intelligence, speed, the fact that that happened doesn't surprise anybody," Kaczor said. "So I was really happy for our football team and I was really happy for Terry."

In the end, according to Kaczor, that kind of outcome is exactly what he's looking for with all of the pros he oversees.

"What I tell our players is that special teams is a great way to start your career and extend your career if you're not starting," he said. "Ultimately, I want all these guys to become starters on offense or defense and play a long time."

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