Spencer talks about the special teams

<b>LATROBE - </b> Kevin Spencer was voted special teams coach of the year by his peers last season. I sat down with Spencer and talked about a number of issues with him. <br><br> <i> How much did the hip injury affect what Jeff did last year?</i> <br><br> <b> KS: </b> I don't think it affected anything. I think it's something that goes back to college and he had probably gotten used to kicking with it.

He never said boo. He's solid. He's never going to use his leg as an excuse. And quite frankly, when I heard he had surgery I was shocked. He has aches and pains like everyone else. Kicking off and the other things you do, it is a lot of wear and tear on your leg. But he never ever said boo about it and I don't think it was a factor.

Now that he's got that cleaned up, considering he had been kicking with it for years, do you expect a big season from him?

KS: I expect big things from him just because I have a lot of confidence in him. I think last year, not to make excuses for him, but you almost look at that like it was his rookie season. It was his first full 16 game schedule plus the preseason. I think even kickers go through highs and lows just like other players and Jeff's still, although a very mature and solid citizen, he's still a kid. I think that was part of it more than anything. I think it was mental and dealing with situations. And he went through growing pains. I anticipate he'll get right back on track and be very dependable for us.

The misses inside of 30 yards, was there anything you saw on tape to correct that?

KS: We obviously looked at that and there wasn't anything that we noted consistently. We looked at technique and finish. But it wasn't like we said, 'Well you need to fix this.' I don't want to make excuses like it was a mental thing. He knows that inside the 40, he's got to be 100 percent. We can't have that. It's going to be points for us. He's adamant about that this year. He's not going to miss inside the 40.

When you look at what a guy like Vanderjagt did last year, it's just amazing isn't it? It's tough to be perfect.

KS: I'd have to say some of it is luck. You get on a roll. And a lot of it is confidence, not only in yourself, but in the hold, the snap and the protection. That was an incredible year for Mike, but he was always capable of doing that. I was with Mike so I know. As I said, he got off on a good roll. But he made a lot of big kicks and he relishes that. I think any guy who's worth his weight wants to be in that situation. I think Jeff's the same way. I don't think he'll ever balk at the challenge.

Changing subject, you've got a new punter to work with this year. This is a guy you've worked with in the past. What are the differences between he and Josh Miller?

KS: I think they're both very professional in their approach and are mature people. Both have weathered ups and downs in their careers, especially with conditions, Josh being in Pittsburgh, while Chris was in Chicago and then Cleveland. I think they're both consummate professionals. There's a little difference in technique, but that doesn't mean one guy's better than another. But probably the one glaring difference is that Chris is a very accomplished holder. Given the circumstances here, going back to Kent Graham and Josh doing it the one year with Chris and then going back to Tommy, Chris is more accomplished at it. It's not that Josh can't do that, but that's the way things worked out. Now, Chris can spend more time with Jeff, they spend a lot of time together working on that. That's really critical that the snapper, holder and kicker spend a lot of time together. Tommy was a soldier and he never balked at it, but let's be honest, he's not going to be able to spend the quality time with the kicker that a punter would. Therefore, I think that just enhances our kicking game. And let's be honest, I know Chris and we have a great relationship, not that Josh and I didn't. But Chris and I go back a ways. I feel real good about Chris as a person and what he can bring to us as a professional on and off the field.

Now the fact he's never had a kick blocked .

KS: I know I don't like talking about it. When the press release came out, that was the first thing my wife asked me about. Chris has had some near misses, he's been lucky. I just fall back on his professionalism, he's been around 14 years and knows all of those little things. And he's incredibly fast hand to foot. That's always been his trademark that he's very quick. But I just don't like talking about it.

It's like a perfect game .

KS: Yeah, I don't want to be the one if that were to happen, whose watch it occurred on because it usually leads to some not-so-positive things. But that's a tribute to Chris. He's a true professional and an excellent athlete who takes great care of his body. It's hard to believe he's as old as he is, not that he's an old guy, but he is by NFL standards.

Yeah, he's the same age as me, come on.

KS: But he looks like he's about 16 years old, look at that hair. But he really is a consummate professional.

Switching gears again, you're going to lose some guys on special teams this year with some of the new starters, aren't you?

KS: I think that you've got to be realistic. Chris (Hope) and Troy (Polamalu) have had their roles expanded. Clark (Haggans) has had his role expand. And those kids really made some huge plays for us last year and their roles will change, you have to be realistic. We can't beat those guys up, they have to be fresh for defense. But coach is really good about using guys. I think you have to use them intelligently. It's like anything else, someone else is going to have to step up.

These first couple of preseason games are going to be huge in that respect.

KS: Yeah and it will probably be rough and people will say, ah, here we go again, but you have to be realistic. You can't be afraid to play people. You can't be afraid to play different combinations, because you need to find out who can and who can't do it. If you struggle a little bit, that's OK because it doesn't count. I'm not worried about it. We've got to throw these kids out there. I don't know who it's going to be. Clint (Kriewaldt) was huge for us. Chidi (Iuwoma) was huge for us. Ike Taylor came out of nowhere and made some incredible plays for us and who it's going to be this year I have no idea. I like our athletes. I like the attitudes we have between the vets and the younger guys. So who knows? Those other guys will still contribute, but it will be in a lesser role.

Some guys could make this team based solely on what they do as special teams players, though?

KS: Coach made the speech the other day that there are going to be certain spots where special teams contributions are going to weigh heavily in his mind. That's a good message to send to the players. And it makes me feel good because I know that coach understands how important the kicking game is. And let's be honest, we really had some kids step up to the plate last year. A lot of that was attitude. We don't want to change that mentality because that's what you need in the kicking game. They understand how important it is because coach talks about it. And they know his background. They know he means business.

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