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Chargers are hoping Derius Swinton II can fix disastrous special teams

Derius Swinton as a member of of the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff.
Derius Swinton takes over as the Chargers’ special teams coordinator.
(Associated Press)

A lot of things didn’t go well for the Chargers in 2020.

Except on special teams, where pretty much nothing went well.

By every measure available, the Chargers this season got kicked in the kicking game.

“I’m not here because I’m some guru,” Derius Swinton II said Thursday. “I’m here because of the relationships I’ve had with the players and the performances they put on the field.”

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Improved special teams performances in 2021 certainly would be welcomed by the Chargers and new head coach Brandon Staley, who hired Swinton to coordinate his team’s third phase.

The Chargers missed too many kicks, had too many punts blocked and too frequently failed to set up the offense or defense on changes of possession.

Brandon Staley and Renaldo Hill were position coaches with the Denver Broncos in 2019-20 and now are teaming up as the Chargers’ head coach and defensive coordinator, respectively.

The production was so poor that veteran coach George Stewart was removed as coordinator in late November. When that change didn’t help, former head coach Anthony Lynn took over special teams to finish the season.

After Lynn was fired on Jan. 4, general manager Tom Telesco praised Stewart’s efforts and admitted the kicking game failures were because of inadequate roster building.

“I didn’t do a good enough job getting him the players that he needs,” Telesco said. “I need to do a better job stacking that group. And I will. From top to bottom, it just wasn’t nearly good enough.”

Now the Chargers turn to Swinton, 35, who has spent more than a decade in the NFL and was the special teams coordinator for the 2016 San Francisco 49ers. He was an assistant with Arizona this season.

Asked to identify his philosophy in building productive special teams, Swinton referenced the “three f’s of football.”

“It’s not going to be grammatically correct, but it sticks with the players,” he explained. “We’re going to play fast, physical and fundamentally sound. … My mom’s an English teacher. So, phonetically, that’s correct.”

Michael Badgley is coming off a season in which he missed 12 kicks — nine field goals and three extra points. He was perfect from shorter distances but converted only 10 of 19 field goal tries from 40 yards or more.

Chargers kicker Michael Badgley kicks field goal as punter Ty Long holds.
Michael Badgley and punter Ty Long, shown holding on this field-goal attempt, had miserable seasons for the Chargers.
(Alexander Gallardo / Associated Press)

Ty Long had three punts blocked and ranked 30th in net average and punts inside the 20-yard line. The Chargers surrendered the most punt return yards in the NFL.

Telesco said the poor kicking game performances contributed to the team’s struggles in close outcomes. During a stretch that began in Week 2, the Chargers went 0-7 in one-possession games.

Though they ranked near the middle league-wide in kickoff returns, only four teams were less productive returning punts. They were fourth-worst in average kickoff return yards allowed.

All totaled, it’s little wonder that Telesco called improving the special teams “a point of emphasis” for the upcoming offseason.

Another area where Swinton could impact the Chargers in 2021 is game management, an expectation Staley referred to in a statement released by the team Monday to announce coordinator changes.

Game management was another struggle for Lynn and his staff as the Chargers finished 7-9. There were issues with strategic decisions and communication in vital moments.

With the Cardinals this season, Swinton said he was part of a three-man team that assisted head coach Kliff Kingsbury in such matters.

As the Chargers’ new offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi says he will build around Justin Herbert and apply what he learned during a doomed stint with the Detroit Lions.

While Kingsbury was busy calling offensive plays, for example, Swinton said he and two fellow staffers would plot what to do next based on game circumstances.

“I think it was that flow of communication, situationally, that led us to be one of the better teams, if you look at two-minute, four-minute and end-of-game [situations],” Swinton said. “It’s just communication.”

While watching the NFL’s conference championship games Sunday, Swinton said he and Staley were texting back and forth about what they would do at certain crucial points.

He said Staley finally just called him so the two could talk in more depth.

“We’re football nuts, I guess you could say,” Swinton said. “I think the more the entire staff, coordinators, work together with the head coach, and we start seeing the game the same way, it’s just going to work together. … I always said that you try to see the landmines before they blow up, you know what I mean?”


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