THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – If there were two words to summarize new Rams special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn's approach to the unit, controlled aggression would probably hit the mark.
"We're always gonna be on the attack," Blackburn told theRams.com recently. "We're going to be simplistic in our schemes. We're gonna be very sound against everything the opponent does, but we're going to be we're going to be the aggressor. That doesn't mean penalties. That doesn't mean dumb things that hurt the team. None of that stuff. We've got to be really smart in the way we attack it, but we have to put pressure on our opponents."
It's a mindset that served Blackburn well, helping him make the New York Giants' roster as an undrafted free agent in 2005 and ultimately play 10 years in the league. He made an impact on special teams and became a starter on defense for the Giants and later the Panthers. He led the Giants in special teams tackles in each of his first six seasons, beginning with his rookie year.
That he became a coach isn't much of a surprise. Growing up, Blackburn had a coach he really enjoyed being around and saw the impact that coach had on him and those around him.
"And so he led me in that direction to be a teacher and a coach," Blackburn said. "I went to school to be a teacher and a coach. And as you look at it, my playing career obviously started on special teams, and even when I was starting, I played special teams every game and finished up that way. So it was a passion of mine, was definitely a deep passion, and it was a way, honestly, for me to get in. I was fortunate with (former Panthers special teams coordinator) Thomas McGaughey, and then the Panthers organization where I played, coming back and being able to just get right into it at that point."
Throughout his playing and coaching career, Blackburn has kept detailed notes and taken those stacks of notebooks with him. His first two moving boxes arrived with the ones from his coaching years. The notebooks he filled out as a player – and takes with him after every move – are still at the home office in Charlotte.
The game has obviously evolved since his playing days and his first year coaching, but it's still a valuable resource for him as he continues his coaching career.
"Every year, you kind of get further removed from the ones that were before, because different coordinators come in the game and different things like that, and you make your own notebooks, right?" Blackburn said. "So like within them, as the player (it) was, you look at it, you kind of made my favorite rushes that we ran against certain teams and why did we run them? What was the protection scheme? What was this, X, Y and Z? What are my favorite returns in the kick return game versus different (teams and) wherever they place their people, right? So trying to decide that, and then evaluating those, some of your favorites, your tops, with what the team that you're about to play does and how we match up. Can we match personnel to fit them and what we want to do? Kind of a give and take.
"But the biggest thing was probably just trying to understand the coordinators – what they do, and how. I thought that was one of the things that (former Giants head coach) Tom Coughlin, (former Giants special teams coordinator) Tom Quinn, (and) T-Mac did a great job of explaining to us – even as players – like, this is what they like to do, expect this, and so I want to be able to give them what to expect, but why. I think the 'why' behind everything is big and I love that as a player. I fully believe it, because if they have complete understanding, they'll take it and they'll own it and they'll run with it."
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At his previous coaching stops, Blackburn's groups were strong in kickoff and punt coverage.
While with the Titans as an assistant special teams coach, Blackburn helped coach a Tennessee special teams unit that led the NFL in gross average punt yards in 2022 with 53.1 and finished second in net average with 46.
While Blackburn was with the Panthers, Carolina ranked eighth in the NFL in punt return coverage (7.4 yards per opponent return) in 2021. Carolina also finished seventh seventh in kickoff coverage (20.6 yards per opponent return), while setting a franchise record for most punts inside the 20 at 46.7 percent, a figure which was also third in the NFL, in 2020.
That success, Blackburn said, starts with the specialists first.
"That's going to be our major goal right now, trying to figure out our specialist situation," Blackburn said, alluding to kicker Matt Gay (reportedly signing with Colts), long snapper Matthew Orzech (reportedly signing with Packers) and punter Riley Dixon (currently an unrestricted free agent). "When you have great specialists, it makes the job easier for everybody else. And then I've also had times where you may have an injury or different things and you have to get different guys in. Being able to stay ahead of that, and then once that does happen or anything takes place, it's, how can we adapt? Don't be so stubborn that we're going to do the same thing with every guy. Don't have an ego – take something from (assistant special teams coach Jeremy) Springer. He's done stuff in college, he's done stuff with Joe D last year. Don't have the ego, allow the plan to come together as a whole and not be pigeon-holed into one thing."
One of those key departures is Gay, who is reportedly signing a 4-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts as an unrestricted free agent. Blackburn has experience overseeing kicking competitions from his time with the Panthers and will be leaning on that experience again as the Rams search for Gay's replacement. That process is already underway with Blackburn attending free agent kicking combines and camps, with flexibility for finding the right player factored into it.
"I think the first thing is obviously trying to identify the guys that are going to come compete, that are within what we want to do. Got to be within our system," Blackburn said. "And then once we get that, the faster we get it, the better off we are. But then it's about identifying the guy that competes, because you have guys that go out there in practice and go 10-for-10 two or three days in a row, but can they do it under pressure? Can they do it in certain things? So you're going to always be constantly evaluating and learning what they're good at, what they're not, and then going from there and making the best educated decision as the preseason wraps up and getting into the regular season."