Falcons discuss Bryant situation, plan for special teams

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New Falcons assistant Ben Kotwica addresses the team's priorities for 2019 season. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter /AJC)

With the offseason in full swing and new coaches settling in, Ben Kotwica, the Falcons’ new special teams coordinator, has a big job ahead of him.

The most notable offseason development on the Falcons’ special-teams unit was the announcement that the team will be moving on from 43-year-old kicker Matt Bryant, the leading scorer in franchise history. Coach Dan Quinn made the first public comment on the situation.

“Matt has been a proven player for a really long time,” Quinn said. “Somebody that has been counted on in a number of really big moments in big games, a true competitor. But like most things, when … there is time for change, time to move on that was the case right now with Matt. We certainly wish him the best.”

Kotwica said that he thinks highly of Bryant’s replacement, Giorgio Tavecchio.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Giorgio,” Kotwica said. “The thing I respect about him is that he’s been through the grinder.”

“What do I mean by that? This is a player that came out of college, and he’s gone through multiple offseason camps where there’s 60 kickers there. He’s been through that, which helps with his experience, with his database.”

Kotwica referenced Tavecchio’s offseason experience because there isn’t much in-game experience to point to when evaluating the 28-year-old kicker. Tavecchio has played two NFL seasons. In 2017 with the Oakland Raiders, he made 16 of his 21 field-goal attempts and 33 of 34 extra-point attempts. Last season, as the Falcons’ backup, he made all five of his field-goal attempts and all eight of his extra points.

Read more about the winding path Tavecchio took to end up on the Falcons.

Kotwica explained that he currently is assessing what Quinn calls the “core” of the special teams. He said that involves evaluating individual players as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each unit, after which he and the Falcons can “go out and explore,” according to the new special-teams coordinator.

Kotwica, 44, spent the past five seasons as special-teams coordinator for the Washington Redskins. He worked with Dan Quinn in his first NFL job in 2007, when he worked in quality control for special teams and defense with the New York Jets while Quinn was the defensive line coach.

“Dan is a coach that I’ve always had great respect for from afar. I always thought that if I ever had the opportunity to work with him that he’s a man that, not only professionally, but personally I really respect,” Kotwica said.

Kotwica also mentioned the appeal of Quinn’s philosophy and how it related to his military career. Before becoming a football coach, Kotwica was a decorated officer, serving eight years in the Army after graduating from the United States Military Academy.

“The other thing that really attracted me here is what (Quinn) talks about with the pillars of the program,” Kotwica said. “When he talks about the brotherhood, the battle and the ball, being a former military officer and serving the country, that’s very attractive to me. It’s a great fit.”

Kotwica's results as a special-teams coordinator have been middling, according to annual special-teams rankings compiled by former Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin.

The rankings, which combine special-teams ability across 22 categories and boil them down to one number, marked Kotwica’s Washington teams between 13th place and 19th place in the NFL over the past four seasons.

His worst finish was 30th, which came in his first season with the Redskins in 2014. His best finish came the year before, when he led the Jets special teams to the ninth-best ranking in the league in his only season as special teams coordinator in New York.

For context, Gosselin’s rankings had the Falcons 19th last season, while Kotwica’s Redskins placed 17th.