When arriving on an NFL team, the majority of rookies set their sights on contributing to either offense or defense.
Few — apart from punters, kickers, and long snappers — enter the league with a strong desire to make their impact on special teams. But for those with little professional experience, they must contribute on special teams in order to earn a spot on the initial 53-man roster.
For Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel, the key to inspiring potential special teamers lies in making the unit a unique opportunity — one that can help players refine their skills, while helping them affect the team as a whole.
"You come to pro football and everybody wants — I get it — to be a starting safety, linebacker, tight end, receiver, running back," Fassel said during the offseason program. "But this is your role right now. It's my job not to trick them to embrace it, but let them know that this is critical and it's a great way to get yourself started in the NFL."
It's for this reason that Fassel seeks out younger players for impact roles on special teams.
The unit, as he puts it, is often a revolving door of sorts, as players are called out of special teams and into larger roles on both offense and defense. But by targeting rookies and younger players, Fassel is able to mitigate those losses and consistently replenish the depth on special teams.
"In my head [during the draft] I'm calculating, OK, we're losing probably Cory Littleton off if not all four, at least three of [the special teams units], and Samson Ebukam same thing," Fassel explained. "Who's going to jump in and fill those spots on those phases we're losing them on?"
"And so that's kind of the puzzle that I try to piece together in my head, it always changes once training camp starts," Fassel continued. "My job is to get the next new, young guys to fill their shoes and that's part of my challenge and really what I like to do."
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According to punt returner Pharoh Cooper, Fassel is quite successful in that endeavor.
"Our special teams unit, we all want to play for 'Bones,'" Cooper said, referring to Fassel by his nickname. "He makes it so fun, he isn't one of those hard, strict, yelling coaches. He just lets you go out there, roam around, and have fun. As long as you're doing your job and you're competing, effort, playing for your teammates, it's fun. The meetings are always fun because he's just a cool, relaxed guy and everybody loves playing for him and we all love playing for each other on that special teams unit."