While the New England Patriots’ offensive issues got much of the attention last season, their special teams unit was not up to par with a typical Patriots unit either. Led by special teams coordinator Cam Achord, New England finished dead last in Football Outsiders’ DVOA rating last season.
As the Patriots now return to Foxboro for the first phase of the offseason program, they will trust their process in hopes of getting the unit back on track.
“I think you have to trust your process,” Achord told reporters at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday. “You go back look at your process — what was the results, the good, what was bad. You got to go back to that.
“You look at the fundamentals, the techniques, that’s where we got to start. You got to start a foundation which is what the spring is all about for us. Starting with that foundation of the techniques, the defeating the blocks, getting off of the blocks, the tackling — everything you do that happens on every single football play.
“You take all the good, and what you did really well, and that’s what you want to build off of in the spring. That’s what we’re going to start here this week.”
To help improve the performance, New England added several players who project to play key roles to their special teams unit throughout free agency. That group is headlined by linebacker Chris Board.
“I’m excited to work with all the guys,” Achord said. “You know what guys are on film, you know what guys can be, but when you start working with guys you’re really able to start seeing what their attributes are and what their skillset is. So all of these guys bring something to the table or they wouldn’t be on the roster right now.
“That’s what’s so fun about the special teams coaching is figuring out what this guy does really well and how we can use him. … Finding those spots, finding those roles for each different body type.”
Perhaps the biggest moves to the unit were the players New England retained in free agency, however. The Patriots re-signed veteran specialists Cody Davis and Joe Cardona, while long-time team captain Matthew Slater also announced his decision to return for a 16th season.
“I was excited,” Achord said of Slater’s return. “Matt is a tremendous recourse for me as a coach, our other players in the locker room. ... You can’t speak enough good things about him and his leadership in the kicking game. ... Anytime you bring a good player back it’s always exciting.”
Another boost to New England’s kicking units will come off the field. Achord confirmed on Tuesday that part of Joe Judge’s new role with the team this season will be to offer an extra set of eyes on special teams.
Judge has plenty of experience working with special teams, as he coaches the specialists in New England from 2012-19 before being hired as the head coach of the New York Giants.
“Obviously he’s a great coach,” Achord said of Judge. “So, anytime you can add more coaches to help you, and influence you, and you’ve worked together, it’s going to want to make you better.
“The more good coaches you can have in the kicking game, the better you’re gonna be. Because now you have more eyes. … With another set of eyes and stuff like that you’re able to see a little bit more which is only going to help us moving forward.”