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Unsung heroes on special teams


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Unsung heroes on special teams

By Gil Brandt

Special to NFL.com

(June 19, 2003) -- We hear about the guys who throw touchdown passes and the players that score them week in and week out during the NFL season. We hear about the sack leaders, the run stoppers and the pass deflectors. There's never a week that goes by when we don't hear about some of these big names.

But rarely do we hear about the men who also make tremendous plays, but only on special teams. How often are you aware of the David Binn's and the Paul Edinger's of the world? Believe it or not, those that play on special teams are extremely important to the success of an NFL team.

Do you know how many games were decided by a field goal or less last season? Would you believe 63 games, nearly four per week on average? In some of these games, a special teams player may have made a play or two that saved (or cost) his team the victory. Before the 2003 season gets started, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with these big, contributing -- but little-known -- players

Quick history of special teams

Obviously, there's been kicking and punting and returning of both since the game of football was invented. But for years and years, not a lot of attention was paid to the special teams game. Teams would often find kickers all sorts of ways -- the draft, the waiver wire, private tryouts and so on. With the Cowboys in 1972, we signed a former soccer player from Austria named Toni Fritsch, who was very famous across the pond. He couldn't even speak much English! During a game in St. Louis, Fritsch lined up for an important field goal and one of our opponents started yelling at him. Dave Edwards, a linebacker on our team who also played on special teams, told the guy he was wasting his energy -- Fritsch couldn't understand a word. It was a good thing Fritsch wasn't our quarterback -- his job didn't need to be spelled out for him very much.

Like kickers, good deep snappers are not easy to come by. At Dallas, we actually had one by the name of David Manders. One year, Manders decided to hold out. He didn't attend practice or play the entire preseason. Well, during our final preseason game, the deep snapper that we did have in camp, Jim Arneson, snapped the ball way over our punter's head and through the end zone. Not good. Coach Tom Landry came up to me on the sidelines, looked me in the eye and said, "Get Manders signed!" He was there for our first game that year.

In 1983, the Cowboys' Bill Bates caught everyone's attention. He was the first NFC guy to be selected as a Pro Bowl special teams player. He was great, and our fans really loved him. But until 1983, the NFL never had a designated Pro Bowl player that was strictly a special teams player. Since then, the Pro Bowl has allowed one kind of that player from each conference make the team. It's a nice way of rewarding those who aren't household names.

Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy loved his special teams units.

You may be thinking that there are way too many Cowboys stories here, but I guess we focused on special teams a lot. The team still does -- coach Bill Parcells recently put his rookies through special teams drills to find out who was good at them. If a sixth- or seventh-rounder on the bubble can make a nice open-field hit or block, he could make the team because of it.

In actuality, the two pioneers of special teams are Dick Vermeil and Marv Levy. Both legendary coaches broke into the league as special teams coaches. In fact, Levy was always proud to promote the special teams game to his players. He would usually keep five receivers on the roster, but the fifth receiver wasn't necessarily the fifth-best receiver he had in camp, but rather a solid special teams player. That's how Steve Tasker made the Bills. Ironically, both of those coaches have taken teams to the Super Bowl.

According to my rankings, the top three special teams units in the NFL last season were Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets. All three made the playoffs, and the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. Coincidence?

Deep snappers

Here are the 10 guys who I feel are the best at delivering the ball to their holders and punters.

Player Team College

Mike Bartrum Philadelphia Eagles Marshall

David Binn San Diego Chargers California

James Dearth New York Jets Tarleton State

Ryan Kuehl Cleveland Browns Virginia

Brody Lodiard Minnesota Vikings Colorado

Jason Kyle Carolina Panthers Arizona State

Pat Mannelly Chicago Bears Duke

Lonie Paxton New England Patriots Sacramento State

Ed Perry Miami Dolphins James Madison

Derek Rackley Atlanta Falcons Minnesota

The average cap value for these guys is $452,000. So, for an average of six-tenths of one percent of a team's salary cap, a team could have a quality snapper.


Here are the top eight upright-splitters from where I sit.

Player Team College

David Akers Philadelphia Eagles Louisville

John Carney New Orleans Saints Notre Dame

Phil Dawson Cleveland Browns Texas

Paul Edinger Chicago Bears Michigan State

Jay Feely Atlanta Falcons Michigan

Jason Hanson Detroit Lions Washington State

Matt Stover Baltimore Ravens Louisiana Tech

Adam Vinatieri New England Patriots South Dakota State

The average cap value for these guys is $746,000, about one percent of a team's salary cap.

Special teams

Here are the best overall special teams players in the game right now.

Player Team College

Frank Chamberlain Tennessee Titans Boston College

Tim Johnson Oakland Raiders Youngstown State

Michael Lewis New Orleans Saints No college

Damien Richardson Carolina Panthers Arizona State

Adalius Thomas Baltimore Ravens Southern Miss

Notables: Lewis is a great returner as everyone knows, but he's also on the Saints' punt-defense team too. He made 12 tackles last year stopping punt returns ... Thomas is as good as anyone at blocking his man on returns for the Ravens.

Get familiar

Here's a sampling of some of the special teams standouts from each NFL team. Keep an eye out for these guys as the 2003 season goes on.

Team Player Team Player

Arizona Coby Rhinehart Miami Trent Gamble

Tommy Hendricks

Scott McGarrahan

Atlanta Artie Ulmer Minnesota Tyrone Carter

Baltimore Alvin Porter New England Matt Chatham

Adalius Thomas Je'Rod Cherry

Larry Izzo

Buffalo Phillip Crosby New Orleans Steve Gleason

Michael Lewis

Carolina Damien Richardson N.Y. Giants Wesly Mallard

Karl Hankton Damon Washington

Chicago Rabih Abdullah N.Y. Jets Jason Glenn

Larry Whigham Jerald Sowell

Cincinnati Reggie Myles Oakland Eric Johnson

Tim Johnson

Cleveland Chris Akins Philadelphia Dameane Douglas

Brant Boyer Ike Reese

Dallas Randal Williams Pittsburgh Vernon Haynes

Chris Hope

Chidi Iwouma

Denver Sam Brandon St. Louis Nick Sorensen

Donnie Spragan

Reuben Droughns

Detroit Brian Walker San Diego Joey Goodspeed

Jimmy Wyrick Vernon Fox

Ronney Jenkins

Carlos Polk

Green Bay Torrance Marshall San Francisco Paul Smith

Houston Jason Bell Seattle Alex Bannister

Ramon Walker Tim Terry

Indianapolis Derek Smith Tampa Bay Corey Ivy

Joe Jefferson Jermaine Phillips

Clifton Crosby Dwight Smith

Aaron Stecker

Nate Webster

Todd Yoder

Jacksonville Ainsley Battles Tennessee Eddie Berlin

Johndale Carty Aric Morris

Frank Chamberlain

Kansas City Gary Stills Wasington Matt Bowen

Ifeanyi Ohalete

Kenny Watson

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