Chase Blackburn is entering his first season as the NFL special teams coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, but that didn’t stop the team from asking him to help identify three new starting specialists for the upcoming season. After joining LA just a few months ago, Blackburn is already one of the most important assistants on the coaching staff.
After losing Matt Gay to the Indianapolis Colts and the largest free agent contract ever at the kicker position, punter Riley Dixon returning to the Denver Broncos, long snapper Matt Orzech leaving for the Green Bay Packers, and return specialist Brandon Powell reuniting with Kevin O’Connell and signing with the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams are facing total turnover on special teams this year.
Even as bleak as the defensive depth chart may seem, at least it wasn’t totally blank—but the clean slate allowed Blackburn to bring in a new stable of young, moldable talent. Los Angeles identified Wingate’s Ethan Evans as a draftable talent at punter, choosing him in the seventh round. It was evident during the rookie’s post-draft press conference just how much research Blackburn had done on Evans leading up to his selection:
Blackburn attended Evans’ pro day and took him out to dinner the night before, explaining the Rams’ situation. They also spoke a few times after pro day. Blackburn had also texted Evans earlier this week to wish him luck, then the next time they spoke was when he got the call on Saturday that he was being drafted.
Upon the conclusion of the draft on Saturday, the Rams also made several crucial signings of undrafted free agents to round out the special teams corps. Central Florida’s Alex Ward projects as a day one starter at long snapper, and NC State’s Christopher Dunn will compete with Tanner Brown from Oklahoma State during training camp for the starting kicking job.
The UDFA window is similar to college recruiting, where pre-draft meetings and connections beforehand help provide leverage to sign players who didn’t hear their name called on draft day. By not drafting a kicker, the Rams also fostered an environment where they could sign multiple rookies and let them compete for a roster spot. Blackburn deserves credit for landing big fish like Ward and Dunn and keeping them from signing with another team—think of the benefit to Los Angeles versus the San Francisco 49ers considering it necessary to draft Michigan’s Jake Moody in the third round.
With the Rams’ recent run of special teams coordinator—John Bonamego flamed out after just one season and Joe DeCamillis publicly butted heads with Sean McVay before leaving after two years—stability would be a welcome attribute in the new lead man. While the rookie class on special teams seems promising, the results on the field over time will be the better indication on Blackburn’s performance. It’s surprising to see a new addition to the coaching staff already filling such a pivotal role on draft weekend, and Chase Blackburn already seems to be one of the most important assistant coaches on McVay’s staff.