Why have the special teams improved? Two words: Darrell Reid

Darrell Reid will flip ya. Flip ya, fa real.

Photo: Indy Star

Since pre-season, we fans have wondered what is the cause, the reason for Indy's special teams coverage units going from one of the worst in the league to one of the best. Using traditional stats, the Colts have the #9 ranked coverage units in football. Last year, they were ranked #20 (though some games, they looked as if they couldn't cover your mother if she fielded a punt). Using FO's stats, the Colts coverage units are one of only a handful of teams to have a positive ranking in both kick and punt coverage. Other teams also with positive rankings in both categories are Buffalo, Atlanta, SF, and Pittsburgh (all teams with noted and respected special teams play).

This is a major turn around for the Colts. But what is the reason why? Is it Adam Vinatieri and Hunter Smith kicking the ball better on kick-offs and punts, respectively? That is part of the reason, in particular Vinatieri. But, even when kick-offs have not gone out the back of the endzone, coverage players are now almost always there making a big tackle. Last week, after beating the Browns, the Colts only awarded two game balls to players. One went to Robert Mathis on defense (duh), and the other went to rookie Marcus Howard for his excellent play on special teams. Cleveland's Josh Cribbs is as good as it gets when returning kicks and punts. He was totally neutralized last Sunday.

So, again we ask the question: How have the Colts special teams gotten so good, so quickly? Take note that the answer is not special teams coach Russ Purnell. He does deserve some credit, I suppose. But he is not THE reason the coverage units finally started playing like professionals.

The reason is Mr. Darrell Reid:

Mostly, the Colts’ fourth-year defensive tackle said this week, what he did early this season was about not having the Colts’ kickoff coverage unit – a unit he felt a huge part of – be a weakness anymore.

As Reid saw it, he’d been through that already.

And this year, he wanted it to stop.

...

In December of last season, he was named the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week after a game in which he delivered one of the team’s biggest hits of the season.

Early this season, teammates said Reid put that special-teams credibility to use.

Along with two other four-year veterans who played extensively on kickoff coverage – outside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler and safety Matt Giordano – Reid began calling extra meetings each week for the unit.

"Darrell and I have been here for four years now, and with those four years of experience, we understand how valuable special teams are," Giordano said.

The meetings last for about 10 or 15 minutes, but in those minutes, Giordano and Reid said much is accomplished.

Again, you'll notice that it was not Russ friggin' Purnell demanded his players stay after and get the job right. It had to be one of the veteran players. It is Darrell Reid that is pulling the coverage units aside after Friday practice and going over the details. Along with veteran special teams ace Matt Giordano, these meetings seem to have had a very positive affect on the players. Look no further than Marcus Howard and Melvin Bullitt on special teams. Both have played outstanding. Colts.com continues:

“Darrell brought it up and he asked a few of us,” Giordano said. “It is on Friday, so some people want to get out of here and go home, because it’s that half day, but you know what? I really feel like those 10-to-15 minutes go a long way, especially on game day. Everyone kind of tightens the screws right before the game. We see what we have to do and we see what kind of returner the returner is.

“It gets us that much more ready for the game on Sunday.”

Not that Reid said everyone was keen to work extra. Not immediately, anyway.

“When we first started, all the guys didn’t come, but now all the guys come,” Reid said with a smile. “We knock it out fast. It’s only 10 or 15 minutes. We changed the system a little bit. We tried to set a time and now we go right after practice, knock it out and get it done. . . .

“It’s a credit to those guys . . . now they see the value in the meeting. It’s turning over into consistency on the field. It’s a credit to the guys. They’re the ones who have to show up. It’s not mandatory or anything.”

I agree, it is a credit to the guys, but it is now an essential part of Friday practice. It now should be mandatory, and anyone who doesn't show up is a punk who is more interested in himself than the team. And if this is what it took to get these guys playing like professionals, then it is about friggin' time! Seriously, there was never any excuse of our coverage units to suck. We've always had fast players who can tackle well play on special teams. The key was getting them on the same page week in and out, and last I checked that's what we pay the special teams coach for. So, since Russ Purnell was unable to do that, Darrell Reid stepped up to the plate and started acting like a leader.

A guess we Colts fans can thank ole Chris Henry for giving Darrell the team's respect.

Now, this story is not here to simply bash Purnell. As I said, he deserves some of the credit for these players turning it around. But it is pretty damning for the coach when it is the players that see to their area getting the details down pat. Then again, maybe all areas of football need that kind of player. Peyton certainly makes sure the offense has their crap together, and Gary has always been the QB of the defense. Remember, Gary was the one who got the entire defense together just prior to the Super Bowl, huddled them all together, and asked just one question: Am I my brother's keeper? Cato June often cites that moment as one of the reasons the Colts won that game. Gary has that kind of an affect on people, and it seems Darrell is having that kind of an affect on the special teams coverage units.

I'm glad Colts.com finally wrote an article on this, because the improved play of the special teams has been the biggest reason this team has managed to claw back into playoff relevancy. Imagine how good they'd be if TJ Rushing hadn't gotten hurt. One thing is for certain, remember back in February when I said the Colts needed to find a special teams ace. Well, they found him, and he's been on their roster for 4 years now. His name is Darrell Reid.

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