Parmalee’s philosophy on Falcons' special teams: ‘We have to hunt’

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After he was named the Falcons interim coach, Raheem Morris made only one major coaching move to the existing staff. He fired special-teams coordinator Ben Kotwica and promoted Bernie Parmalee, the team’s running-backs coach, to the role.

The reason, Morris said, was so that Parmalee could inject some needed energy to a special-teams group that ESPN’s power index ranks 17th in efficiency throughout the NFL. Parmalee has experience in this department from when he was the Falcons' assistant special-teams coach during the first half of the 2019 season. He also was a special-teams assistant at previous coaching stops with the Miami Dolphins and Notre Dame.

Assuming an entire unit in a coordinator role for the first time in his career, Parmalee shared his philosophy on how he will approach his new position with the special-teams groups.

“We have to go get it. We have to hunt,” Parmalee said. “That’s what it’s all about. I told them today, if you’re not one of those guys, then that’s OK. It’s not your fault. We try to put the best people we can on the field. The big thing is, put them out there, we got a good group.

"Let’s go hunt, let’s go have some excitement and let’s go make some plays. That’s what it’s all about.”

Asked about this particular coaching change, Morris didn’t delve into the decision to relieve Kotwica of his duties. Instead, he focused on what he hopes Parmalee can bring to the group.

“Really it was about the energy that Bernie’s going to provide,” Morris said. "Getting new energy in there, a new voice. Everything in this business is about a new perspective. I got a little bit of experience of a new perspective from last year moving from offense, going to the defense, getting a new set of eyes on something, looking at it, having to build it to have some new success. Some newfound success was good for us at the end of last year.

“Now, moving to the head coach role, getting a new set of eyes on it, some new things, a lot of similar-type things that you want to do. There’s no difference in that than in your special-teams unit and what Bernie can bring and what (assistant special-teams coach) Mayur (Chaudhari) can bring and what those guys have the ability to do together. I look forward to watching it.”

Although the totality of the Falcons' special teams ranks in the middle of the pack in the league, there have been a couple of sore spots. Most notably was the failed onside-kick recovery in the fourth quarter in a 40-39 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. In addition, until Sunday’s 23-16 loss to the Carolina Panthers, punter Sterling Hofrichter had only one punt travel 50 yards or more. But after hitting a 37-yard punt on his first attempt from the Falcons' 36-yard line in the first quarter, Hofrichter’s next two punts traveled 50 and 52 yards, respectively.

Even with the two long punts, Hofrichter ranks 26th in the NFL with a 41.8-yard average and is 21st with a net average of 40 yards. Parmalee didn’t say if the punting strategy may change to feature Hofrichter adding distance to his kicks when the Falcons are backed up inside their own 40-yard line. Under Kotwica, the Falcons opted for an approach that was built to limit return yards by hitting punts with great hang time.

However, that has led to some short punts and an inability to flip the field.

“A lot of times it depends on your coverage team,” Parmalee said. “If there’s a lot of distance, you better be covering pretty well, especially if you got a good returner. We have to make sure we play to our personnel. If that’s more hang time and less distance, that’s what we have to do. We definitely don’t want to stretch it and put ourselves in a bad position. We just have to play to the strength of our team.”

Parmalee was asked if he believes his punt coverage had the right personnel to cover punts with good distance.

“I believe so,” he said. “(Hofrichter’s) pretty darn good. And we have a nice little crew of players that we think can execute what we need to execute. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. Over the last couple of weeks you could see the guys are getting down there and you can get the hang time. The fair catch, that’s a weapon in itself. Our guys know exactly what we need to get done. They know the game-plan and we’re looking forward to the next challenge.”

Parmalee has bounced between coaching positions since his time with the Falcons began.

After coaching running backs in 2018, Parmalee moved to an assistant special-teams coaching role for the 2019 season. After eight games, he moved back to coaching running backs, which is where he began this season. But with former Falcons coach Dan Quinn getting fired Sunday evening, and with Morris subsequently letting Kotwica go a day later, Parmalee was once again asked to take a new responsibility.

Beginning with this Sunday’s game against the Panthers, Parmalee, who broke into the NFL as a player in the early 1990s as a special-teams player, is hopeful his group will bring a spark to a Falcons team that has began the season 0-5.

“I just reminded the guys you always have to bring the juice, you have to always be ready to go,” Parmalee said. “Football is an exciting game, a physical game. It’s a game that’s supposed to be about guys being excited to step onto the field. That’s always been my mentality.

"I love the game, I love the energy around it. I love bringing the juice as a coach, I did it as a player.”

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