Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone (1.4.24)


How unique was that to lose your kicker and your punter in the same game?

“It was definitely a unique situation. Unfortunately, we lost them and had to use new guys. I thought that Riley (Patterson) and Matt (Haack) did a nice job in the game, though. I thought they did that, especially with a short week and not a lot of time to get ready, so that was a good thing.”


How much does Riley being on the practice squad this week impact things in terms of the overall plan, in terms of getting guys rest? Do you plan on Riley kicking this week? 

“Yeah, we’re going to have both guys ready to go and we’ll see how it goes at the end of the week. But Dustin’s (Hopkins) really like day-to-day and we’ll make a decision at the end of the week on what Coach (Kevin Stefanski) and AB (Andrew Berry) think.”


Was it a snub for Dustin that he didn’t make the Pro Bowl? 

“Yeah. I feel like sometimes the Pro Bowl can be a little, I would say unfair to a degree. I remember back in 2020 when I was in Indianapolis, George Odom was clearly the best special teamer in the league. Led the league by like, I think he had like 21 tackles. I think the next best guy had like 13 maybe, and he wasn’t elected to the Pro Bowl, but then he was First-Team All-Pro. So, I think that a lot of times the All-Pro teams are a little bit more, I would say, accurate. But I think, clearly, Dustin’s had the best season in the AFC for sure, and probably the second-best season overall next to (Brandon) Aubrey in Dallas. Eight-for-eight, over 50 and in addition to that, I would say the kicks that he’s made have impacted our team and our season and have really put us in a spot to have 11 wins. So, I think when you look at that, not to take anything away from (Justin) Tucker, but he’s probably the best kicker of all time. Fortunately for me, I think I’ve coached the most clutch kicker of all time in Vinny (Adam Vinatieri), and I think Justin Tucker is also an elite guy.”


How do you approach this? Kevin was talking about yesterday, resting guys and everything. So how does that affect special teams and how do you approach that going into Cincinnati? 

“Yeah, it’s challenging and you don’t have as many numbers as you have in a preseason where guys, not as many guys are playing, but you have a lot more numbers to work with. So, guys will be playing more. It’ll be great opportunities for young players to get more offensive and defensive time and some of those guys will have to go double duty and obviously play in the kicking game. You only have so many guys and bodies to work with so, everyone will be ready to play.”


You talked about the way the injuries have impacted special teams in terms of losing guys and having to plug new guys in. Have you found some guys, who are some of the guys maybe that have really kind of shined in given this opportunity? 

“I think a lot of guys have done a nice job. I really do. I think if you look at our whole entire core, I think everyone – we’ve done a good job of playing collectively together. We’ve definitely had some injuries throughout the way that have forced us to go in another direction. We’ve had to elevate guys in playing games and injuries happen throughout the week and then you have to bring up a guy on a Friday and things like that. I think, to credit our players, everyone has prepared well and I would say, everyone’s prepared well and preparing like they’re going to play in the game. And I think that’s been a good thing for us.”


Since we haven’t talked to you after that Houston game, just what was that like to try to cobble the kicking game together and how did you ultimately wind up on D’Anthony (Bell) to kick off? 

“You know, things happen in a game and unfortunately we had a couple of things, a couple of mishaps and didn’t play to our standard. And then you get into a game and ideally, you would like to not have the kicker chase down the runner there. D’Anthony kicked in high school so we thought it was a good option for us. Corey (Bojorquez) had been a little sore there and didn’t want him to finish it out like that. So just made the adjustment in-game and I thought our guys responded. I think on the kick that he actually made, he made the tackle. So that was a pretty unique thing.”


Do you go into a season like okay, who’s kicked in high school? You know what I mean? Do you kind of snuff things like that out?

“I know you’ve seen over the last couple of years like Justin Reid kicked for Kansas City, last year, (Dare) Ogunbowale in Houston kicked for them. To me, those guys, just watching those guys kick, I know Kamu Grugier-Hill kicked this past week in Carolina. To me, it actually looks like those guys have had some type of history of playing soccer maybe. The way that they actually hit the ball doesn’t look like they’ve never done it before. Fortunately for those teams, they have those types of guys. Not everyone’s going to have that option or that ability. And when you have something like that happen in-game, the biggest risk is obviously not just the operation but the elevation of the kick. You risk getting a block. I know that we had a short kick at one point and then we decided not to use D’Anthony because you don’t want to risk a block at that point.”


With Hopkins and the hamstring, those soft tissue injuries can kind of be hit or miss at times. Is that something you worry at all about, him leaking or re-injuring if he plays this weekend? 

“I mean, I think there’s always risk whenever you’re coming back off of a soft tissue injury. I’ve had them in my career. I’m not a kicker, so I guess we’ll have to see how he is. I mean, obviously there’s risk when you’re coming back from any injury.”


Corey, he makes it to the Pro-Bowl as an alternate. Just how impressive has he been this season? We know field position is such an important part of the game. For him to just be able to be effective and do that for you all season, sort of flip the field. Just what that’s been like to be a part of? 

“Yeah, I was excited that he got recognized there. I think he’s done a nice job. I really do. He’s worked hard, and he’s given our unit an edge. I feel that we’ve done a pretty solid job overall in that unit, and I think we can be even better, and hopefully we can get him back soon.”


Shelby Harris, the block field goal. How big was that moment? And it seems like he has a history of that. What makes him so effective? 

“Yeah, he’s a great guy to have on the unit. He plays with high effort. He’s got long arms. He takes pride in that unit, he’s very vocal. He’s a good communicator with me and does a good job of in-game communicating on what he’s seeing inside. So, he did a nice job of getting hit. We didn’t get a ton of push on that rep, but he does a nice job of getting his hands into the ball flight. So anytime you can block a kick, it’s good for the team. So, it was good.”


Dustin bolting after – is that something that you guys had discussed ahead of time in that situation that you don’t want him doing? 

“It never came up, honestly, and I wish it would have come up. I wish I would have got after that one earlier in the season and just communicated better on that if that were ever to have happened. Our coverage has been pretty damn good all year and playing some young guys inside, and it just gets on us fast and we don’t close the crease down enough. And to his credit, he made a good run. It’s not like it was like this elaborate scheme that weren’t ready for. We just got to play it better. So, I mean, the kid does a good job of navigating his way through a tight crease. It wasn’t this big hole. Ideally, you would like to have the kicker not chase it down, especially once it gets outside. Just have him pull off. But playing with effort to finish, and unfortunately, we get the injury.”


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