'Special' Players in High Demand

The Senior Bowl features some of the premier offensive playmakers and defensive stoppers available in the 2010 NFL Draft. However, most of these players will be cutting their teeth on special teams as they work their way up their respective depth charts. It's a role being embraced by the players in Mobile, Ala.

How important are special teams? Look no further than the San Diego Chargers, who led the league in total offense and total defense yet missed the playoffs due in large part to their horrendous special teams.

The Chargers are just one of many teams looking for special teams help here in Mobile, Ala. Unlike other areas, needs on special teams can be filled well by rookies because of the relative simplicity of the assignments.

"Special teams are a lot less assignment-type things," said Colorado CB Jalil Brown. "When you're on defense you have so many things going through your head: motion; if your guy switches off you go to this guy; etc. With special teams, you just go down full speed, make contact with someone and run through it."

It is an easy trade to learn, one that is 10 percent skill and 90 percent want-to.

It's also a foreign skill to many of the players here at the Senior Bowl. These players were the top performers at their respective colleges, so their coaches often kept them off of special teams to reduce the risk of injury.

WR Niles Paul
Eric Francis/Getty
Players with ample experience in the game's third phase, such as Nebraska WR Niles Paul, are in even higher demand.

"I've played on every special teams unit since I was in college: punt team, kickoff, I was a punt returner, I was a kick returner," Paul said. "I'm willing to take on any role my team puts me in."

The teams are making it clear to most of the young players here in Mobile: play well on special teams or don't play at all.

"I know if I want to make it on the next level I need to contribute on special teams," said Mississippi State LB K.J. Wright. "I did that a lot early in my career and I believe I can do that really well."

As mentioned above, special teams, like survival in the NFL, are very much about want-to. The players who are willing to do whatever it takes to carve out a niche in the league are the same ones willing to sacrifice themselves covering kicks and blocking for kick returners.

It has been called a thankless job, but for rookies trying to get their foot in the door, the thank-you comes in the form of employment in the NFL.

Said Notre Dame DT Ian Williams: "I'll do whatever I can. Special teams, the practice squad, whatever it takes."

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