NFL Nation: Ben Kotwica

The realities of the situation are different -- one is life or death; the other a game -- but the lessons transfer. So Ben Kotwica tapped into what he learned in Iraq when he became a football coach.

Kotwica, the Redskins special teams coach, spent seven years in the Army, serving as a combat attack helicopter commander. He earned multiple medals during his time in the Army: the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Bronze Star.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Ben Kotwica
Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesRedskins special teams coach Ben Kotwica earned multiple medals during his time with the Army.
He's entering his second full season as a special teams coach and seventh overall in the NFL.

"You can have a plan going in, you can have an operational order, whether in Bosnia or Korea or Iraq, but the enemy has a vote," Kotwica said. "You have a plan going in that might work, but again the enemy has a vote, so whether it's in the desert of Iraq or on a football field on Sunday, you have to have the ability to make adjustments and instill that confidence in your soldiers or players that the job will get done."

During the spring workouts, Kotwica certainly came across as a tough commanding voice. After a disastrous season in 2013 for the Redskins' special teams, they certainly could use a strong tone -- and a kick in the rear.

Even Redskins coach Jay Gruden joked that, "I'm never going to overstep my boundaries with coach Kotwica."

Kotwica said being a commander or leader in the Army is akin to coaching. That's why, when he left the Army, he turned to coaching -- Bobby Ross was coaching at West Point and hired him.

"I seized on that opportunity and it's been great," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed being in the military and this has been a great run."

The Redskins hope that run continues. Kotwica takes over a unit that was beaten down, not just because of coaching but because some players did not buy in the way others had. Some younger players contributed little or nothing to these units.

"Anytime you try to form a unit or an organization you want to instill a culture," Kotwica said. "There are things I brought from my military background. I put an apply within sign on my front door. We're taking all applicants. I think guys have bought into that."
1. I've mentioned Washington Redskins outside linebackers coach Brian Baker a number of times and wanted to give you more of a feel for him as a coach, just by listening to him during practice with his players. A few things I noticed: He's constantly teaching and reminding players when what they've done is right or wrong. It's constant. He even chastised one player (wasn't quite sure who) for not having his eyes on him when he was speaking.

2. During pass-rush drills, he reminded the players, “don't let them control your body! Keep your elbows tight!” It's a point of emphasis. At one point, he told rookie Trent Murphy, “Give me one good one 93; I need one good one before we move on!” Murphy gave it to him. Baker worked with players on where their hands should be on the blocker at the snap (obviously not low, but he worked on getting the hands right before the snap, too). Baker: “You can't let him get into your chest. The closer you are the higher you put your hands.”

[+] EnlargeJay Gruden
AP Photo/Nick WassJay Gruden had his coaches concentrating on special teams during the Redskins' minicamp.
3. And, finally, I like that Baker does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to pass rushing. He worked with Brandon Jenkins on his footwork off the snap when positioned at right outside linebacker. It's a little different than on the right side and he wanted to make sure he stayed on the right path from the get-go. But he also told Jenkins, “You can't get it to look like everyone else. You've just got to get it right. Make it work for you.” He also worked with Jenkins on accelerating at the top of the rush -- it's where you win.

4. I don't know what sort of difference one outside linebackers coach can make, but I also know it can't be overlooked. He's a legit coach.

5. Redskins coach Jay Gruden incorporated more of his coaches in special teams drills. It's not as if other coaches in past years did nothing here, but it was noticeable this past week. Secondary coach Raheem Morris worked with the flyers in punt coverage while receivers coach Ike Hilliard showed them how to get off a jam. Baker helped with the tackling drills. Gruden said it enables special teams coach Ben Kotwica to get more out of his allotted 10-15 minutes. There is a definite increased emphasis on special teams, starting from early in the offseason.

6. The Redskins now know they'll face quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the season opener against Houston. Not sure it's a big surprise and not sure it really matters. Fitzpatrick was 9-5 as a starter from Nov. 14, 2010 to Oct. 30, 2011 -- that includes the 23-0 shutout of Washington. Since then, Fitzpatrick is 10-23 as a starter. Of course, his first NFL start came against Washington, a 24-9 loss while with Cincinnati in 2005. Fitzpatrick has thrown 106 touchdown passes to 93 interceptions in his career.

7. Three months later DeSean Jackson remains a big topic in Philadelphia. It started, again, with running back LeSean McCoy saying Jackson's release caught everyone's attention. It let them know if you don't buy in, you will be cut. Kelly refuted that notion. “I don't send messages to other players by how I deal with other players,” Kelly told Eagles reporters. “And how LeSean McCoy interprets things … LeSean has a beautiful mind. Sometimes trying to analyze that mind I don't wrap myself around that too much. Or bother myself too much with that. However LeSean interprets things is how LeSean interprets things.” The Eagles do think they have enough speedminus Jackson to still thrive.

8. There was a big to-do over the Patriots having a Jets playbook and that led to a discussion over whether it made a difference. Some who have covered the NFL a long time insist it means nothing; others who have covered it a long time insist it does. With players switching teams all the time, I doubt it's a big secret what's in various playbooks and coaches study so much tape that there shouldn't be many surprises. The bigger issue is when you know another coach's tendencies. I say that because some coaches here in the past felt that part of the success they had against Giants quarterback Eli Manning stemmed from having their playbook. But it also helped that they felt offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride didn't change a whole lot. Tendencies mattered more.

9. One player who must have a strong year for Dallas: cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Cowboys traded up to get him with the sixth overall pick in 2012, but his impact has been poor. Claiborne has picked off two passes, has battled nagging injuries and lost his starting job last year. This is the time of year for player optimism and Claiborne is no different. Everyone is saying the right things about Claiborne, as you would expect. But they like that he's competing. One nugget: Claiborne pulled a rookie corner off the field in order to face receiver Dez Bryant in practice. "Me and him talked about it before we even started up that we want to be the best and we want to go against each other," Claiborne said. "We feel like we both compete at a high level. I get good work when I go against him and it's vice versa. When I'm not up there, he's telling me to come. We're trying to help each other so we can be the best for our team."

10. The Redskins nearly had Antrel Rolle in the 2005 draft, but he went one pick ahead of them at No. 8 to Arizona, so they drafted Carlos Rogers instead. Rolle, a corner when he came out, continues to improve at safety. Giants safeties coach Dave Merritt said of Rolle, “Before, as far as formations, he didn't see formations. He didn't really see the route concepts. Now, the last two years, it's all coming together for him and he's feeling more comfortable. So with Antrel's ability to continue to learn and grow, he hasn't really scratched his ability as a safety yet. Last year was a glimpse of what Antrel could actually become."
The Washington Redskins enter their final week of offseason work with a three-day minicamp. It'll look a lot like their OTA practices, but the difference is that this week is mandatory. With temperatures expected in the 90s, or near them, over the next three days, it'll be good preparation for Richmond later this summer.

Here are some things -- but certainly not all -- that I'll be looking for over the next three days:

Griffin
Robert Griffin III's finish: It’s tough when you watch someone just once a week to accurately gauge their progress. Griffin has had some good moments and not-so-good ones, but watching over three days will reveal more about where he’s at in terms of his passing. Has he remained consistent with his fundamentals? Is the accuracy more consistent? What we still won’t see until games begin is the ability to extend plays, which is a huge part of his game. But a good week for Griffin would propel him into the final month before camp with a lot of momentum, capping what has been a productive offseason for him. Don't know what that will mean for the season, but he'll exit this offseason feeling much, much different than he did a year ago at this time for a variety of reasons.

Offensive design: During the OTAs, we saw a lot of situational football – red zone, third downs, two minutes, etc. Hoping we get to see even more, to get a better sense of who the Redskins might be this season. Thus far, Griffin has operated a lot under center and in shotgun during certain situations. Coach Jay Gruden sounds intent on developing him, so this helps. (Not that the other staff didn’t want to develop him; it had Griffin as a rookie and then with no offseason. Tough to develop a player who can’t practice. How it would have handled it I don’t know.)

Rookie improvement: Rookie tackle Morgan Moses knows the issue he has with staying low and has worked on it since the OTAs started. Over three days, how much improvement will he show? How about Trent Murphy? His spin move has been terrific (mostly against young players); how much else will he show? Bashaud Breeland seems to have improved and, with Tracy Porter’s durability an issue, he could be a plus for the Redskins. But is he still grabbing too much? It’s hard with the running backs to tell a whole lot, so Lache Seastrunk’s true impact won’t be known until the games start. Thus far he hasn’t stood out. Is guard Spencer Long looking more comfortable?

Hatcher
Hatcher
Defensive looks: How are they using their personnel? Will they really be doing a lot of different things this season? Or is it just offseason chatter? Won’t know for a while on that, but we’ll get to see more of what they plan to do. In some cases it’s not about having different looks, it’s about – they hope – having better rushers with the addition of Murphy and Jason Hatcher.

Offensive line: There will be an interesting battle along the line this summer, even if it’s just for one of the backup positions (especially at guard). If the Redskins keep nine offensive linemen, that means two players from this group might not make it: Mike McGlynn, Adam Gettis, Josh LeRibeus, Maurice Hurt and Tom Compton. This assumes Chris Chester keeps his job (not a lock). And they’re not going to cut Long or Moses. Remember, they signed McGlynn in free agency and his ability to play center helps. The others have some work to do.

David Amerson’s progression: He’s had a quiet camp and I mean that in a good way. It’s not like he’s messing up or getting beat and looks lost. Does that continue this week? Amerson’s continued improvement (plus a lack of cap room) is among the reasons the Redskins are not one of the teams who have inquired about recently released corner Brandon Flowers, according to a source.

DeSean Jackson: Needs to make sure he exits these three days with a good hamstring. If he’s fully recovered, it’s always impressive to watch his speed. He’s not the fastest player I’ve ever covered (Darrell Green), but he is explosive.

Coordinator chatter: We should get our first chance to interview special teams coach Ben Kotwica this week, as well as defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Will be nice to finally hear more of what they think about their groups after the spring workouts end.
Ben Kotwica, who spent six seasons with the New York Jets as a special-teams assistant and last season as the coordinator, has left the team to become the special teams coach of the Washington Redskins.

The Redskins confirmed the move Wednesday afternoon.

Kotwica was one of at least six assistants on Rex Ryan's staff with an expiring contract. Kotwica received a contract offer from the Jets, according to a league source, so his departure is a bit puzzling. It's possible he felt there was more security with the Redskins, who will have a new staff under recently hired head coach Jay Gruden.

Kotwica, a West Point graduate, interviewed for Army’s head-coaching job in late December. That job went to Jeff Monken, formerly the Georgia Southern head coach.

Ryan's uncertain contract status could be a concern for members of his staff. He has only one year remaining on his deal and, although there has been speculation about a one-year extension, nothing has been finalized. Ryan has told friends that he'd like to keep his staff together, and it's believed that most, perhaps all of the soon-to-be-free-agent assistants have received contract offers.

Kotwica, originally hired by Eric Mangini in 2007, took over the special teams after the venerable Mike Westhoff retired after last season. The one bright spot was place-kicker Nick Folk, who enjoyed a career year. Otherwise, the special teams were fair to middling, based on league rankings. The lowpoint came in Week 15, when the Jets suffered a blocked punt that changed the momentum in a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. Kotwica used a strategic wrinkle -- three gunners instead of two -- to contain punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., but it left them vulnerable in the line, resulting in the block.

Westhoff, 66, held the job from 2001 to 2012. Now the Jets will have their second special teams coach in as many years.

What about a Westhoff comeback? He's said to be happy in retirement, working as a football analyst for local media outlets (including ESPN New York 98.7). He has received feelers from other teams, but it sounds like he'll continue his post-coaching career. Then again, he's always been a never-say-never guy, so you never know.

Ben Kotwica: 'We don't coach pushing'

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
6:00
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, commenting for the first time on the New England Patriots' illegal "push" play, refused to confirm or deny he warned the officials beforehand to watch out for the tactic. Kotwica was more expansive on Bill Belichick's accusation that the New York Jets used it, too.

Kotwica
No way, Kotwica said.

"We don't coach pushing or anything along those lines," said Kotwica, adding: "I don't know what they were trying to do. I just know this: We teach a technique and a scheme on how to block field goals and it's within the regulations of the game."

Kotwica echoed Rex Ryan, who fired back at Belichick Wednesday by saying the allegation is "not true." It appeared that Quinton Coples gave teammate Muhammad Wilkerson a one-armed push on Stephen Gostkowski's field goal at the end of regulation. It was "incidental contact," according to Kotwica.

Kotwica said he took no offense to Belichick calling out the Jets.

"No, I don't take it personally," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Coach Belichick and what he's done for the game. That's his opinion. I wouldn't take it personally."

On Tuesday, ESPN.com reported the Jets' sidelined tipped off the officials during the game. It probably was Kotwica, who routinely speaks with officials during the week and before each game. Publicly, the Jets haven't confirmed that they alerted officials to the Patriots' previous use of the push play.

Kotwica cleverly danced around questions, saying he always communicates with the league office during the week to discuss rules and points of emphasis. He also speaks with the umpire before every game to discuss "different formations you have, different guys that are eligible ... and anything else that might happen during the game."

Asked point-blank if he brought up the subject last Sunday, Kotwica he preferred to keep those conversations private.

Everybody knows what happened. Nick Folk's field-goal miss from 56 yards in overtime was nullified because the Patriots' Chris Jones was penalized 15 yards for pushing a teammate into the Jets' formation. On his second try, from 42 yards, Nick was successful, lifting the Jets to a 30-27 upset.

"My initial reaction (to the penalty) was, 'I hope it's on them,'" said Kotwica, claiming he had no idea it would for pushing.
We have yet another wrinkle in the Tim Tebow saga.

The New York Jets, who traded for Tebow this offseason, plan to use him as many ways as possible this season. In addition to working Tebow as a punt protector in minicamp, Jets assistant special teams coach Ben Kotwica told the New York Daily News the team also is considering using Tebow on the kickoff team.

"I think there might be some value there on kickoff returns,” Kotwica told the Daily News. "It’s something that we’ve talked about. I don’t think there’s any option with Tim that we’ve taken off the table."

Is this a good idea?

I'm all for the Jets getting the most out of Tebow. Despite criticism of his throwing ability, Tebow is a solid football player who is strong and athletic. But using Tebow on the kickoff team might be going too far.

Many of the NFL's biggest collisions and subsequent concussions take place on kickoff returns. That number decreased last year with the new kickoff rules, but subjecting a backup quarterback to that is risky. Tebow will take enough big hits this year running the ball in the Wildcat offseason. The Jets need to protect him to some degree.

Physically, Tebow probably could get the job done on the kickoff team. But there are plenty of players on the Jets' 53-man roster who can run 60 yards down the field and make a tackle. The Jets should leave that to players who are fighting for roster spots. Tebow has more important roles to worry about.

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