Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Bubba Ventrone (5.30.24)

How much work have you guys been able to get in with the new kickoff rule over the last couple of weeks?

“So, we drilled a lot of things in phase two, on-air, drops, get-offs, tracking the football, catching the ball, fly-foot with the returners. And then obviously, as we transitioned into phase three, which is OTAs, and you can actually have somebody line up against you, we’ve done more things there in I would say more of a team environment to try to fill out the spacing, the timing, and how that play is going to look on both sides.”


Has there been anything kind of unexpected? Obviously, it’s different when you’re doing it in the classroom and then doing it on air, but then you really start to get live, in a sense. Is there anything unexpected that you maybe had to adjust, kind of go back to the drawing board with?

“Yeah, it’s a trial-and-error process throughout this whole development of the hybrid kickoff and the kickoff return play. We’re just honestly just trying to feel it out and try to come along as fast as we can and take what we’re seeing on the field and apply it to the next practice, the next meeting, and to see improvement in all areas.”


How limited are kind of what you can figure out with the inability to go full speed? How much do you have to kind of wait to figure out until you can kind of start hitting people and going all out?

“Yeah, you can go at a pretty high tempo. Obviously, we’re not having collisions now in the OTA setting, but we feel like we can figure out the timing, at least in the spacing relative to where the ball is and where it’s fielded and things like that. So, I feel like we have a pretty good grasp on it right now.”


How much of the (XFL) film have you looked at?

“I mean, we studied it quite a bit leading up to the players coming back. Our analytics people did a hell of a job on that. You know, me, (Stephen Bravo-Brown), (Mike Vrabel), Kevin (Stefanski), we sat down for a lot of time and met on it, just talking through schematics and how that play is similar and different to what we’re going to be doing. So, I think there’s some similar concepts that carry over and, you know, we’ll use some of what we saw in that other league stuff. But, you know, the play is different from the XFL, it is. It’s a lot different.”


Do you have different type players, Bubba, on either return or coverage than you would have before this change?

“Yeah, so what we’ve done is we’ve repped quite a bit of skill players as far as the body types. We’ve repped pretty much all of our skill players back there, receivers, even some of the tight ends. We’ve repped a good bit of the running backs. Everyone has really gotten more ball-handling than we’ve had in the past. And I think on the flip side of it, on the coverage aspect of it, you are going to see more defensive players, and I think that you’re going to see some bigger body types on that unit.”


The coordinators got together to make these changes or to suggest these changes, I should say. Are you talking to any of them around the league right now or are you in your competitive silo, trying to come up with your own stuff?

“There’s a handful of guys that I’ve talked to. I don’t like to share a lot of things that I think or how I see it, but no, there’s definitely a handful of guys that I trust and, I would say confide in, I guess. Share similar ideas and see what they’re doing. It was, I would say, more communication with other guys earlier in the process than now since we’ve started on the field.”


Is Tyler Huntley involved in the return again?

“We haven’t used him back there. No, we haven’t used him back there, but I mean, we could, Tony, we can see what it looks like.”


You’ve got to conceal a lot in the preseason, I would imagine, right? I mean, this is a whole new world for everybody, but how do you practice it at game speed if you don’t use some of it?

“What I think is beneficial for the play overall is compared to how the kickoff and kickoff return play was in the past. So now, obviously with the play, you eliminate the speed and the space on the rep. So, in the past, you wouldn’t be able to rep as many kickoff and kickoff return plays within a special teams period. Now you have eliminated the running portion, really. That’s why you wanted to have less reps back in when it was normal back with the older kickoff. Now you can probably get more reps because you’re eliminating the speed. You’re not taking as much, you’re taking more off of their legs. So, I think that definitely plays a factor.”


You have Cade (York) back in the building. How has he been kind of being back in here? How do you think he sort of dealt with this last kind of year since you guys let him go and brought him back?

“I think he’s been good since he’s been back. He really has. I think he’s learned a lot. I think that he’s grown up quite a bit, and I think that we’ve seen a good bit of improvement in all areas of his kicking performances to this point.”


How can you tell? He was pretty good in practice before, but it was the games that didn’t go so well.

“Yeah. You know, I think that time will tell. So, we’re excited to have him back, and I think he’s worked hard to get back to this point.”


Has Kevin given you his blessing to use anybody that you want in the return game for these kickoff returns in terms of star skill players and whatnot? 

“I would say to a degree, yeah, I would say to a degree. And I think across the league you’re going to see more high-profile players back there. I think just guys that are good with the ball in their hands because there are elements of this play that play like a kickoff play, there’s like a true kickoff kick return play. There’s elements of the play that could look like more of a punt return, and I think you’re going to see a variety of schemes in that sense. I think you’re going to see some schemes that you’re going to try to get on guys quicker, and it’s going to look more like a punt return. I think you’re going to see some teams that will have schemes and plays that look like the old kickoff return where you’re going to retreat and you’re blocking techniques. So, I think that you’re going to see a variety of things, and you’re going to see a lot of different body types back there.”


I know you’ve known (Nyheim) Hines for a while, obviously, but to get him back after that injury he went through and how hard he’s working. What can you just say about him? What he might add as a return guy?

“Yeah, I mean, first off, great kid, great player, great teammate. You know, in every meeting, I would say very good leadership from him. He’s helping out the young players with the return stuff right now. He has not been on the field yet, but very attentive. I’m really excited to have him back, and he’ll definitely be a part of what we’re doing.”


When we talked to you at the draft, you indicated the players were volunteering to be on this. Why, why are the kids so anxious to be a part of it?

“Well, I think you’re gonna see some more defensive players maybe wanting to get involved, because first off, I think that this play is gonna impact the game a lot more than people think. I think that there’s an opportunity for both the coverage team and the return team to have big plays. And, a lot of times guys like in the past, I would say you’d have some pushback on starters. Wanting to be on the unit because it’s, being on the kickoff unit in the past was hard because you’re starting to run, whether it was kicking off from the 30 or 35, that’s a long way to run. And then go right to a defensive play. That is hard. Okay. That’s hard to do. Now you’re eliminating the space of the run is there are a lot of elements of a defensive play in there. It’s an opportunity to get another tackle. It’s an opportunity to make another play, to get another turnover. And then on the flip side of that, obviously it’s another chance to make a play like an offensive play.”


You mentioned Nyheim and just how he hasn’t been out there yet, but you’re excited to have him out there. He mentioned last week that just from how he’s kind of studied the play, he feels that a player like him, who’s a running back by nature, has kind of an advantage on just because how that neutral zone sort of sets up looks more like a play. Do you see some truth in that as well?

“Yeah, I think so. I think obviously, it’s great to have a guy back there that has good vision and obviously a good run skill set. He has both of those. He’s an explosive player that’s had a lot of production in his past. I know he has multiple punt returns from me and he had multiple kick returns when he was in Buffalo. And I think all that will translate into the new play. I really do.”


Because on all this work on the new kickoff. Do you feel like you have a good handle on how it’s going to look week one, or does it still feel like a mystery?

“No. I mean, I think I do. I think I have a good feel on it. And I know that throughout training camp once we get the pads on, there’s definitely going to be some trial-and-error things that we’re going to mess around with. I know, Tony (Grossi), to your point, like the preseason you’re not going to want to show too much, but you’re still going to have to see things and I think you’re going to see more than you think in the preseason. I do. And I think for us, you know, being able to have the joint practice against Minnesota will be really helpful for us. And when we practice it and I plan on going at it a good bit in training camp, we’re going to have to practice hard and we’re going to practice it a lot. So, we have to be on top of it and be ready for it.”


During the off-season workout program because it’s so new. Have you been devoted more time in the classroom or on the field or do you just kind of replace the time that you normally do for kickoff with these new kickoff rules?

“I’d say there’s definitely been more time put into the new play, yeah.”


Bubba, do you have any plans to try to basically keep Dustin (Hopkins) healthy between pulled muscles and things like that?

“Yeah, I’d say tackles inside the 20 will help us. That’d be great. Yeah. If we can limit his time where he has to chase a returner would be helpful.”


I’m curious, I understand that’s significant. But he has a history of these other problems with same type of thing happening with him. 

“I think last year I think he did a good job of communicating with us on the volume of kicks in practice. I think we saw really good results from, I would say, lower volume of kicks and kickoffs. So, I think that’ll have to be consistent with this season upcoming. And I think that he’s a professional. He really is. He’s a professional and, I trust him, and those other specialists have done a good job.”


Is that why there are three kickers on the roster currently? Is to help maybe alleviate some of the wear and tear on Dustin’s leg?

“Right. So, he hasn’t been here that much in the offseason program. He’s been training in Tennessee and he’ll be back from minicamp. I know that Lucas (Havrisik) gives us another leg for sure. He’s a talented kid that also can punt, so it’s advantageous for us to be able to carry a guy that can both kick and punt, kicks off well, and he’s a right footed guy. So now you have a right-footed punter and a left-footed punter (Corey Bojorquez) in practice.”


You joke about Dustin making tackles but could this new kickoff rule expose kickers maybe having to do more of that since they’re by themselves back there?

“Yeah, I think you’re going to have to spend more time with the kickers on true tackling technique. And we’ve actually talked to the defensive secondary coaches about getting with our guys on some of the drills that they do. So, yeah, I think that you’re going to have to anticipate that those guys are going to have to make a few more tackles.”


# # #


***Visit the Browns Media Center for materials provided by the Browns communications department, including media schedules, press releases, quotes, photos, media guides, rosters, depth charts and more.***