The way special teams are played could have quietly been changed forever this offseason.
One of the major changes happening is the popular technique of wedge blocking on kick returns has been banned. This will likely benefit teams who are quicker all around considering the amount of one-on-one blocks happening.
This could really benefit a few players who would’ve otherwise had trouble making the team. The first one is Brandon Wilson. When Wilson came out of Houston, his position was up for debate. He had played all over the secondary in college as well as a little offense. The Bengals have been trying him at safety, but where he will likely end up shining for the team is on special teams.
Last season, Wilson missed the first eight games due to a knee injury. When he returned, his impact was felt instantly, as he finished the year with the fourth-most tackles on special teams. Part of the reason he was able to pull off such a feat was his speed, which he displayed during the Bengals first preseason game when he chased down Chicago’s running back. He saved what would have certainly been a touchdown. He had originally taken a bad angle that helped create the big run, but you often see guys slow up when they think they can’t reach the runner after missing him.
That thought never crossed Wilson’s mind.
“We won the game by how many? Three points?” Wilson asked Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “When you make a mistake, you just have to go to the next play and just play the next one. You just really can’t think on it.”
Another player who could really benefit from the Bengals trying to get faster on special teams is newly acquired Bengal C.J. Goodwin. He ended up being literally the fastest player for Cincinnati’s kickoff return team on Thursday night, according to the GPS tracker. It was that kind of speed that had the Bengals special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons praising him.
“For the limited amount of preparation,” Simmons said, “he showed that he’s a veteran who has played some games. He’s in the thick of it.”
That is an incredible amount of confidence to show to a player who was likely thought of as an afterthought. It should be interesting to see if he is able to secure a spot on the roster based off of his special teams prowess alone.
Last but not least is Bengals rookie cornerback Darius Phillips. His addition of speed is appreciated at a different spot on special teams. It is no secret that the Bengals have been really bad on punt returns for a few seasons.
Alex Erickson has really struggled with that specific return, so when Phillips returned a punt for 27 yards is a very flashy manner, it caught a few people’s attention.
“[Phillips] showed a little juice,” Simmons said. “He’s kind of what we thought when he has the ball in his hands. He’s got knack to make guys miss in space.”
Darqueze Dennard’s contract is expiring after the season, and it is uncertain if the Bengals will be able to retain him. That was likely the motivation behind drafting two cornerbacks like they did this year.
Phillips hasn’t done much to instill confidence on defense yet, but if he shows he is worth a spot as a returner, it could allow him time to develop into an NFL cornerback as well. The more you can do, the more valuable you are, and being able to flip field position is pretty valuable already.
It is clear that special teams are going to start favoring faster players, and Simmons isn’t worried about getting left behind if these players can make the squad.