While the departure of quarterback Tom Brady overshadowed the New England Patriots’ free agency period and dominated the headlines between Maine and California, the team also had to watch a core member of its special teams units depart: Nate Ebner left the organization after eight seasons and three Super Bowls. Ebner, however, is not the only important member of the Patriots’ kicking game operation to leave the team this offseason.
New England also saw linebacker Jamie Collins, who ranked ninth with 209 special teams snaps during the 2019 season, sign a free agency deal with the Detroit Lions. Furthermore, the club parted ways with its long-time place kicker — and second longest tenured Patriot behind Brady — Stephen Gostkowski. On top of it all, the unit also lost its coordinator when Joe Judge opted to become the next head coach of the New York Giants.
Needless to say that the Patriots are facing a top-to-bottom transition period when it comes to the oft-overlooked third phase of the game. Veteran special teamer and captain Matthew Slater acknowledged as much during a recent media conference call: “It’s going to be challenging I think. Right now, we’re looking at the possibility of not having an offseason at all. I think some of that acclimation process is going to have to be on the fly whenever it is that we’re able to return to work.”
The fast-spreading Coronavirus pandemic has forced teams to adjust — offseason workouts, for example, have been pushed back indefinitely — and those with new coaches in place are under significant pressure to make up for lost time. Luckily for the Patriots, the transition away from Joe Judge does not project to be all that difficult considering that his likely successor has already been on the team’s coaching staff since 2018: Cam Achord.
“A lot of us have some familiarity with Cam and we’re really comfortable with his coaching style and we know how he likes to call the game, we know that [...] he’s going to have the same expectations of us that has always been had of us around here and that’s pride yourself on working hard, pride yourself on doing your job the right way, pride yourself on being a selfless team player and don’t expect anything to be handed to you,” Slater said.
While Accord has not yet officially been named as the Patriots’ next special teams coach — the club has reportedly also had discussions with former kicking game coach Scott O’Brien about bringing him back out of retirement in some capacity — he is the odds-on favorite to take over the vacant role. After all, he has served as Judge’s right-hand man for the last two seasons and is enjoying the trust of head coach Bill Belichick and veteran players such as Slater.
“I think Cam’s going to coach us in that same style, certainly when we get into games, we’ll see how he calls games differently. That will be a learning process. I’m sure there will be a lot of dialogue between him and players from now until the time we play,” he said. “We’re excited about the transition, it’s a new challenge for all of us. It’s a new year, every team, every player has to prove himself over again and that’s exciting. I know Cam is up for the challenge and I know he’s going to lead us in the right way.”