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Rams ST’s Coach John Fassel Talks About Saving Lives, Monday’s Practice, & Getting “Peady” Back

St. Louis Rams’ special teams coach John Fassel spoke to members of the media after Monday’s two hour practice. Here’s what he had to say about the marathons, saving lives, and....special teams.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

John Fassel – Special Teams Post-Practice – August 3, 2015

(On how he thinks today’s practice went)
"Well, today, you know, we got after it pretty good. We came out here for a little special teams practice and for about the first 30 minutes, we worked a little bit of drill work. We know their brains is what’s on the last 20 minutes, so we try to be…you know, real technique, good fundamentals and then we kind of liven it up the last 20 minutes. We see who can bang and battle."

(On what he did on his summer vacation)
"I went to Southern California for three, four weeks. I have a wife and I have two little babies. We spent a lot of time in the water. Is that what you’re getting at?"

(On him saving a man from the riptide on his vacation)
"Are you asking about the deal? Okay. So long story short, I was out boogie boarding. It was my last day and I had the little kids out there, but I thought I’d go out there and ride some big waves. I was out on the boogie board and a couple of surfers were maybe 30 yards to my right and there wasn’t really anybody else out there until a couple minutes later, a guy came kind of floating out, maybe 30 yards to my left. He just kept getting moved out into the sea and there was some brown water around so obviously I’m pretty good in open water swimmer so I recognized that he’s in a riptide. He didn’t have equipment. He didn’t have a boogie board, fins, surfboard and he didn’t look like he could swim. So me and another surfer kind of teamed up and we saw him really struggling and getting pulled out and he was splashing. He was under the water and back up and he was just barely head above water, so we jammed over to him as fast as we could on our boards. When we got to him, he was unresponsive, but he was head above water. He was choking and gasping and obviously panicked. So me and the surfer dude, we picked him up and put him on a surfboard. And we had to hold him on the surfboard because he had no power, so he couldn’t even hold on to it on his own. So all three of us were kind of dangling out in the water for a little bit. We kicked ourselves out of the riptide and started to head back to shore and by then the lifeguards came out. So that was my last day. It was quite an open water experience."

(On his reaction time getting to the man drowning)
"Yeah, I don’t even know if it was three minutes or ten minutes. It was just… we saw the guy and we looked at him for a second, didn’t look right. So we got to him pretty quick and it happened fast."

(On if he has heard from the man since the incident)
"No. We brought him to the shore and the paramedics took over. There were probably 15 of them. They kind of blocked the area off and they moved everybody out of the way. They worked on him for about an hour before they took him in an ambulance. So I didn’t know his name. I think he’s okay from whatever somebody read me the story. But he didn’t speak English, so they had to bring an interpreter in. So there was no way to communicate with him."

(On if the man was responsive)
"No. So when we had him on the surfboard, he was totally unresponsive. He wasn’t talking. He obviously couldn’t speak English, but he couldn’t speak anything, whatever his language was. So he was dead weight. He was obviously live and semi-alert but no communication."

(On the location of the incident)
"Manhattan Beach."

(On if he competes in triathlons)
"I do. Yes, every spring and summer, I’ll compete in three or four and I think the open water and swimming in the triathlons helped me out a little bit."

(On if he still competes in marathons)
"As part of triathlons. I like to swim and bike, not run as much anymore."

(On if he is in ridiculously good shape)
"Thanks. I don’t know. After running out here with these guys, I have a lot of work to do."

(On what he looks for in the player that sets himself a part on special teams)
"Yeah, it’s a good question and for an easy answer, guys like (Daren) Bates and (Chase) Reynolds and (Cody) Davis and Benny (Cunningham) and (Cory) Harkey, they have…there’s something about them where they each have their own unique traits. Whether it’s really fast, if they’re not really fast, they’re tough as hell, maybe a little bit of combination of both. You know, a little bit of smarts is good. Not necessarily for the schematics but just for understanding football. They show the ability to block and tackle and be able to do both well. You know, Maurice (Alexander) really improved last year. You know I could name quite a few more guys, but that’s what today was about to see who could run, scrap, get off the ground when they get knocked down. We didn’t do any scheme work, so it’s just all just running around and trying to keep everybody on two feet by the end of the day, which I think we did."

(On if the guys that play special teams are a little different)
"They’re a little different. Yeah. And probably like their coach, really all kind of crazy, a little whack. They’re a little different, which is good. If you’re not, then it’s probably not for you."

(On if today’s special teams practice is like the Super Bowl to players trying to make the team, since LB Daren Bates was noticed that way a few years ago)
"Yeah, we showed that film yesterday, just so that everybody knew. And even in 2012, (DE) Eugene Sims, and (FS) Rodney McCloud, (TE) Cory Harkey in 2012. 2013 was Bates, and (S) Cody (Davis), and (RB) Chase (Reynolds) and (RB) Benny (Cunningham). Last year, (CB) Lamarcus (Joyner), and (CB) Marcus Roberson and guys that kind of stand out in these very high competition, high speed, tons of space drills. You can kind of see who might project well to doing it on gameday, because it’s tough.

(On how far Bates has come as a core special teams guy)
"It’s so fun to watch him as a really quiet rookie. Quiet as far as, maybe not while the play is going on, because he’s a little yapper. But, guys obviously have seen two years of tape and have tons of respect for him because he played some really tough positions. Understanding the game- special teams- which is different. Then obviously just being a guy that everybody can see on tape in practice and in games, doing the right thing. He’s come a long way and he’s got a long ways to go, really."

(On whether he knew Bates had that in him when watching him in practice a few years ago)
"Not really, because up until that day we had never had pads on in OTAs or in training camp up to that point. So, you think, ‘This guy might have something to him. He may be scrappy and he may be tough.’ But you don’t know until you can go out there and bang with the pads on. Obviously that day kind of woke everybody up as far as the coaches and said, ‘Let’s keep an eye on this guy. Let’s see what happens in the games.’ And he did it in the games."

(On being ranked in the Dallas Morning News Top 10 special teams unit last year and if they can improve on that)
"Sure. I can’t remember where we finished in it, but I think we finished pretty good. Yeah, especially if we can return our core guys. Last year, the core guys, they were only in their first or second year. Another year under their belt, if we can return the main group, like those guys I mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of tricks to the trade of special teams that I think are unique to the game that we see on tape that the fans don’t see. So we practice those little things. The more reps and experience we have doing it, the better we get. So, we’re only going into, really to me our third year as a group. And we play against teams that have more experience than that. So, hopefully in year three, four, five, six, we’ll really take off."

(On the challenge of getting guys interested in playing special teams)
"It’s a good question. I love that challenge of trying to get the guys who maybe seem disinterested or are starters, and kind of find a little bit of a role for them because we kind of need some starters to kind of spot play. You’ve got your core, but you don’t have 11 core guys, so you need some guys to step in. The core guys, not hard at all to get them going. There’s not a lot of motivation that takes place. But, my fun challenge is to get the kind of outside looking in guys interested and kind of perfecting a role in maybe one or two phases."

(On if the kickers did anything different in the offseason to prepare)
"(K) Greg (Zuerlein) and (P) Johnny (Hekker), as far as the volume, not much. We kept it pretty limited for a couple of months until we got into April, we started to ramp it up. We tweaked very little on their technique because I think they’re pretty darn good, so we didn’t mess with them too much. They’re going into their fourth year, so honing their steps, their drops, their feet. They’ll be better too."

(On if he ever envisions RB Todd Gurley being a return guy)
"You’ll have to ask probably (Head) Coach (Jeff Fisher) that one. The guy we have now, Benny, I think he’s super. Hopefully ‘Peady’ (RB Isaiah Pead) comes back. I was really looking forward to him returning kicks last year. I don’t know, it’s a good question. If he did it, I know he’s good at it. But, I really like the guys we have right now, if it’s not him."

(On what makes Benny Cunningham a good fit for the kick returner)
"He’s a running back, he’s got really good vision, he’s got great feet. He’s a real strong looking, stout guy, where you think he might be a bit stiff, but he’s not. He’s fluid, he’s got great feet, he’s a tackle-breaker. He can see a little hole and if the return is designed to go here but there’s a pocket of air here, he’ll hit it. He’s got great ball skills, so I was very proud of Benny last year, he did a great job."

(On how much Hekker tries to angle trick plays)
"Yeah, we probably won’t do any of that this year though. But he’s always asking for it."