Marysville High School graduate Chase Blackburn speaks at Bunsold Middle School in this file photo. Blackburn appeared at the school after winning one of his two Super Bowl championships with the New York Giants. Blackburn is preparing for his first season as the special teams coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.
(Journal-Tribune photo by Tim Miller)
Chase Blackburn is packing his bags and getting ready for his new position with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
Blackburn, a 2001 graduate of Marysville High School, is beginning his first season as the special teams coordinator for the squad.
The Journal-Tribune spoke with Blackburn on Monday as he was preparing to leave for camp, which officially begins on Thursday at Wofford College in Spartansburg, South Carolina.
“I’m excited about it,” said Blackburn on his promotion to coordinator after serving as a special teams assistant the past two years. “I have high expectations for what the special teams unit will do.”
Blackburn served as a special teams assistant coach under coordinator Thomas McGaughey, who is now the special teams boss for the New York Giants.
“The position became open and I interviewed for it,” said Blackburn. “It’s going to be a learning curve, but we want to become better as a unit in order to make us better as an overall team.”
The biggest learning curve for the Panthers or other NFL special teams for that matter will probably come in the form of new kickoff rules implemented by the league for the 2018 season.
NFL owners met this past spring and voted to approve significant changes to kickoff rules in order to improve player safety and avoid massive, violent collisions.
The kickoff rule changes, which will be reevaluated after the upcoming season, include eliminating the running start for the kicking team, banning wedge blocks and changes to how the receiving team can line up on the field.
Prior to this year, coverage teams could get a five-yard running start on the kick, but now players cannot line up more than one yard from the restraining line (the 35-yard line).
The receiving team, meanwhile, must have at least eight players lined up in the 15-yard “setup zone” prior to kickoff.
The receiving team may no longer use wedge blocks, whereas in the past two-man wedge blocks were allowed. Also, the receiving team can no longer initiate blocks before the ball is caught or hits the ground.
“You’re not going to see as many offensive and defensive linemen-type of bodies on special teams,” said Blackburn. “You’re going to see more tight end and linebacker types.
“We spent time during our spring practices working on these new rule changes,” said Blackburn, who earned two Super Bowl championship rings as a New York Giants linebacker. “We worked on our spacing and timing for coverages.”
Blackburn, who helped lead the Marysville Monarchs to the Division II state playoff semifinals as a senior in 2000, said special teams play is not just a transition between a squad’s offensive and defensive units.
“We see special teams play as a vital part of our entire team,” he said. “Everything we do is for the greater good of the team.
“The way the NFL has gone over the past few years, each successful team has been in the top ten in the league in special teams play,” said Blackburn. “Our work is to put both our offensive and defensive units in the best possible positions to be successful.
“We’re not looking at it necessarily as a yardage thing for our unit,” he said. “Our job is to help the offensive and defensive units increase ‘win productivity’ for the team.
“This isn’t a unit thing, it’s a team thing,” said Blackburn. “We always want to make the right decisions that will help the team win football games.”
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