Under former special teams coordinator John Fassel (2012-19), the Rams' special teams provided a reliable, game-changing weapon that could flip the field, add points and surprise opponents with trick plays to gain momentum, complementing the offense and the defense.
Current Rams radio color analyst and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew, who played for new Rams special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis during his playing days as a Jaguar, believes the Rams can return to that form under DeCamillis.
"He has this thing, he talks about the tip of the spear, and that was special teams," Jones-Drew, who has remained good friends with DeCamillis in the 13 years since they worked together, told theRams.com in a phone interview Wednesday. "'We're the tip.' That's what he used to tell us. 'We're the tip of the spear.' So the first thing that punctures a person is the tip, right? You start games with kickoffs, kickoff returns – that tip can change the fight if you're in a fight and you're able to get that tip in. Obviously with punts, punt returns, field goal blocks, field goals, you can change the course of the game, and he really changed the mentality of our team."
The two of them worked together during the 2007 and 2008 seasons. In 2007 – Jones-Drew's second NFL season – the Jaguars qualified for the playoffs, with special teams a "focal point" of that success.
Jones-Drew had a hand in it, averaging 26.2 yards on kickoff returns and returning two for touchdowns during the regular season. In the Jaguars' wild card round win over the Steelers, he returned a kickoff 96 yards to help set up a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Fred Taylor which tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter. Kicker Josh Scobee eventually drilled the game-winning, 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter to advance them to the divisional round.
"I was a second-year player, special teams was really important to what I was doing for the team," Jones-Drew said. "And that was a big part of it. He was like, 'We are not going to tolerate anything less than this effort. We are not going to tolerate, as a group, anything less than this type of execution.' We didn't, and we dominated."
It's not just DeCamillis' high standards and motivational talk that inspires confidence in his units – he also has personal experience with overcoming adversity.
In May 2009, DeCamillis was coaching the Cowboys' special teams when their tent-like practice facility collapsed during a thunderstorm. He broke his neck in the accident and was hospitalized, but was back coaching with the aid of a neck brace and a bullhorn a little over two and a half weeks later.
"You bring him in, and he comes in with a different mentality, a different mindset, that will allow that to be one of the strongsuits of the program," Jones-Drew said.
DeCamillis said last week he's still in the process of evaluating the return game, noting "we've got to get a guy that can ring the bell and drop the ball over the goal line." Speaking from his own experience and what he saw from afar – DeCamillis working with explosive returner Trindon Holliday in Denver when the Broncos won the Super Bowl following the 2015 season, for example – Jones-Drew is confident that if DeCamillis believes that player isn't on the Rams roster currently, he knows what to look for.
"Teams were like terrified to kick to us," Jones-Drew said, referring to his two seasons with DeCamillis in Jacksonville. "And so with his scheme, and then the players we had, we made it very dangerous, you know? I just think that's kind of what you want ... you want your special teams to be another weapon that teams have to scout for, for sure."