Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone (1.10.24)


Not to bring up the bad subject, but the Dameon Pierce touchdown back in Houston. He was a surprise returner that day. Is there anything about that led to or is it just a missed block? 

“No, we need to cover better inside. Yeah, we just need to cover better.”


Frank Ross, the special teams coach worked with you? 

“Yeah, he was my assistant for three years in Indy.”


So is it protocol that you guys talked afterward and did he give you any crap? 

“Yeah, we talked after the game.”


Kevin (Stefanski) said that Dustin (Hopkins) has made some progress. Has he been able to kick at all? 

“I mean, that’s part of the rehab process. He’s going through that now and we’re hoping that – not sure how it’ll look. Probably, like Kevin said, probably unlikely this week and we’ll just see how it goes moving forward. But yeah, I’m sure he’s implemented that into the rehab.”


What about Riley (Patterson)? Why do you feel so confident with Riley heading into this game? 

“Thought it was a good option. I thought to have a guy that has had experience. He’s actually hit a pretty high percentage in his career and he has playoff experience. Last year he actually hit a game-winner against, I think it was the Chargers, in the first round of the playoffs. So he’s done a good job.”


Why does he prefer the right hash on PATs? 

“Just personal preference, I guess.”


You mentioned him kicking the game winner. How much confidence does that give you as a coach that this guy’s been there before, if it comes to that in Houston? 

“Yeah, I think that anytime you’re in those situations, it’s good to have experience. But ultimately, what you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter. So every game is different, every rep is different, every kick is different. The playoffs aren’t about experience, it’s about execution on that day. Would you like to have a lot of veteran players that have been there? Yeah, but that’s not the case. It’s about who’s going to execute that day on that rep.”


How good was it to get Corey (Bojorquez) back last week and get one more game in before the playoffs? How do you think he did? 

“He did a nice job. He hit the ball well. I thought he was controlled in his swing and he elevated the ball pretty well and with good direction. So he gave us good field position and I thought it was a good ramp-up to this week. So, I think he’s in a good spot.”


We’ve asked you this before about holding and blocking them back on your returns. Do you chart where your penalties are compared to other teams, it seems like you have very few?

“No, I don’t look at it. We emphasize playing clean and try to coach that up. We put a big emphasis on it in our Friday meetings, which is going to be like Thursday this week. And I think the players understand how the game is being officiated. So try to just always review and go over how those calls are being made. So try to play clean in those return phases”


Do you know how many penalties you’ve had though, or not? You’re pretty good on numbers. 

“I know we haven’t had a ton.”


Did you get a chance to speak at the team meeting when people were talking about Super Bowl experience and if so, what was the message you shared? 

“I spoke and I’ll keep those comments for our team.”


Do you not want to share? I mean, it seemed like the players felt it was very inspirational. 

“Yeah, I felt like they probably weren’t supposed to elaborate on that with you guys. That was really like a team, tight-knit thing. So I’ll keep my comments to myself on that.”


Pierre (Strong Jr.) is obviously battling, dealing with the back, having James (Proche) as kind of the fallback as the backup, how much does that kind of put you at ease if Pierre isn’t able to go this week? 

“Yeah, I mean, other guys have done it too that are on the roster and Jerome (Ford) was our kick returner to start the season, so we have options.”


In terms of the execution, you said that’s the big key factor for the playoffs. Does your philosophy and messaging change at all being into the playoffs? Does it intensify or is it just business as usual for you as a coach? 

“I treat every game the same way and I think that’s a big thing with the playoffs. You can’t treat these games like they’re any different than the next. And I would say your heightened awareness of certain situations may be greater just because of the magnitude and the stakes. But trying to do – like a player, trying to do too much or not play within the scheme is not the answer. So I think it comes down to fundamentals and technique and playing sound discipline football is what’s going to win games in the playoffs.”


Were your special teams shuffled up a lot in Cincinnati? 

“Well, you see a lot of guys that were even that were up for the game and dressed didn’t participate in the game. So it puts a lot of stress on the players that are actually playing on defense and offense because they have to double duty. So those guys are definitely gassed on our punts and on our kickoffs and kick returns.”


You used your core guys?

“There’s no one else to use. We told those guys in that game, don’t look over your shoulder because there’s no one else to put in. So I’ve been there before, and that’s not a fun place to be. And I called those guys during the game. I said, ‘You guys are warriors.’ I said, this is not easy to do. And that’s why football is a team game. And those guys, credit to those guys for being selfless players. I mean, for us to be able to not play certain players last week is a credit to the back-end roster guys, and they definitely haven’t been given enough credit, and I think that they deserve it.”


I know you said you treat every game the same, but are there lessons that you’ve learned from your time in the playoffs that you’re trying to pass down to the guys? 

“Definitely, yeah.”


What are they?

“Do your job. Do your job, right? Don’t try to do too much. Do your job and trust that your teammate is going to do his job. The more you can play collectively as a group per unit, and then I would say complementary football with the kicking game and offense and defense, the more positives you could have in that, the better the results are going to be. Can’t have self-inflicted wounds, can’t have penalties. Got to protect the football. That’s in the return game and on offense. So, I think that’s important. Just don’t try to do too much, play within the scheme.”


I want to go back to my question about Patterson returning the right hash. Is that unusual? 

“I don’t think so. There are a number of kickers that have hit their PATs from certain hashes. Trying to think of who I was watching recently, but no, I think it’s just preference. Honestly, it’s just preference. Some guys will like for a game-winner, you may prefer right or left. Some guys will say, ‘Hey, I want it on the left hash or I want it on the right.’ Depending on what. Like, if were playing like, the wind is always a factor. Like I remember against Chicago. Against Chicago, from what I remember, we wanted the right hash because of what the wind was doing.”


They missed the second PAT from the right hash, right? And he didn’t change after that. He made everyone after that. 

“I actually asked him after that. I said, ‘Are you sure you’re good for the right hash?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ I’m like, okay. I feel like the thing with specialists, too, is to have them in their comfort zone, right? You don’t want to take them out of their comfort zone, however they’re comfortable, and that goes with their weekly routine and everything as well. So I think as long as those guys are comfortable and put them in the best mindset possible, gives you every opportunity to execute.”


Going back to Corey, is that helpful for Riley kind of as he’s acclimated to the team? To have Corey who’s been around and been in his position.

“That was a big thing for me last week, is like, ideally you’d like to have Corey at the game more for the holding factor. I think that it was good that we actually had him out there in case Dustin wouldn’t be able to go this week. So at least we have a game. I’ll warm up pregame with those guys and then obviously they’ll work together this week in practice.”


Obviously, you were back of the Patriots coaching in 2016, but as a former Browns player when the Cavs won the title, do you remember that grabbing your attention at all and allowing you to think what a football title would mean in December? 

“Yeah, I mean, it’s special. It is. To win a championship is incredible. So, we’re just going to take it game by game and hope for the best.”


Do you remember watching any of that? Just like the parade or do you remember thinking…?
“I mean, I remember when they won it. I don’t have a ton of recollection as far as the celebration to it and all that. I know that this city would go nuts and I’m worried, honestly about winning this game this week, but everyone wants what you’re talking about. But I think right now, our sole focus is winning this game against Houston and doing everything we can to prepare ourselves and our players to do so.”


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