Q&A with special teams coach Gary Zauner

Editor's note: Because the Baltimore Ravens will have such a young team with so many first-year starters, the club has placed an increased emphasis on special teams work. Many of the minicamps were highlighted by unusual, creative drills implemented by new special teams coordinator Gary Zauner. Among the exercises: obstacle courses and having players toss volleyballs behind their heads to simulate keeping a kick from bouncing into the end zone for a touchback.

"Gary has a lot of enthusiasm," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's very detailed, very fundamentally sound, very meticulous in his preparation, very creative, which will show up at some point as well."

Under Zauner, who worked for the Minnesota Vikings for the past eight seasons, the Ravens are breaking in a new punter in fourth-round pick Dave Zastudil to take the place of Kyle Richardson, and auditioning sixth-round selection Lamont Brightful to fill the shoes of Pro Bowler Jermaine Lewis.

About the only constants to this unit are the return of kicker Matt Stover, the fourth-most accurate field goal kicker in league history, long snapper Joe Maese and veteran gunner James Trapp. There will be several rookies covering kicks, and Zauner expects them to perform.

"It's awesome," Maese said. "I can't tell you how much I've already learned from coach Zauner. I look forward to the whole year."

Zauner coached Gary Anderson to the first perfect kicking season in NFL history in 1998, when the Pro Bowler and all-time leading scorer in league annals hit 35 of 35 attempts.

Zauner also worked with Pro Bowl punter Mitch Berger and with talented kicker Fuad Reveiz in Minnesota.

Prior to learning from NFL Hall of Fame coach George Allen at Long Beach State, coached at New Mexico, San Diego State and Brigham Young.

He had training camp stints as a punter with the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings after playing for Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Here is a transcript of an interview with Zauner during the Ravens' June minicamp:

 RAVENS INSIDER: "With so many new faces on the special teams, yourself included, what are the main things you're trying to install at this point?"

ZAUNER: "I'm a players' coach, and I'm trying to change things up for the best. I'm trying to teach terminology and technique. It's a learning process, and I like the energy the guys are putting out."

RAVENS INSIDER: "Obviously, special teams doesn't get the attention that the offense and the defense command. How critical, in your view, is this phase of the game?

ZAUNER: "It's like any other phase of the game, just like the offense or defense. The guys need the timing. The kickers need it. The snappers and holders have to get their timing down.

"The return guys have to get used to catching the ball and doing all of the schemes we're going to run. It's all important. It's all basic, fundamental football."

RAVENS INSIDER: "How much pressure is there on rookies like Zastudil and Brightful who were basically hand-picked to start right away?"

 ZAUNER: "I look at those guys almost like you look at a quarterback, even a first-round pick. Everyone thinks he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Then, all of a sudden, there is a transition period no matter who the athlete is.

 "They come in here and they're supposed to be the best at what they do, but there's always going to be a transition. There are some nerves right now. Those guys are getting through some of that and getting used to the schemes. I think the bottom line is the potential. Hopefully, they'll come along quickly."

RAVENS INSIDER: "What's your impression of the talent you have available to you now?"

ZAUNER: "You draft most of these guys on potential, and these guys have great potential. There are some free agents that look very good, too. J.R. Jenkins is a very good kicker. We beat our four or five teams and were lucky to sign him. Tellis Redmon is another free agent who's looking pretty good and is also looking good as a running back.

"The more they can do, the better the chance they have of making the team. What we have going is a bunch of young guys who are competing. I think it will sort itself out in the games."


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