INDIANAPOLIS – Film sessions in the special teams room often are revealing. Even prophetic.
Sometimes they involve Bubba Ventrone reaching back into a 10-year NFL career that was rooted in special teams.
Zaire Franklin laughed.
“Of course,’’ he said. “Bubba don’t let an opportunity slip to drop one of his clips into the meeting. I always joke with him about it. He’s good to pull out a San Fran or a Browns or even a New England clip of him making plays.’’
Ventrone – his given name is Raymond Michael, but he’s been Bubba since he was an infant and only the ladies in his life still call him that – never blocked a punt or field goal in 97 regular-season games, but always was a special teams factor. He piled up 57 career tackles and was voted a Pro Bowl alternate in 2011 with Cleveland.
“He sees it,’’ Khari Willis said. “He knows where the challenges are for the other team.
“It’s not that there’s any magic to it. He puts the work in.’’
Occasionally, that work involves Ventrone digging into his personal archives. The highlights might feature a long-haired special teams standout whacking a return man. He would have relied on the proper angle to the ball carrier, and technique, of course.
“When you’ve got a coach who’s played, when they’re asking you to do things, it’s almost from a first-person perspective of like, ‘OK, I’ve played against guys like this. This is how you get ‘em,’’’ Franklin said. “Or, ‘I’ve beat guys like this. This is how you beat ‘em.’’’
That wealth of knowledge, he added, is invaluable.
Even so, Franklin and others smile when Bubba Ventrone, Indianapolis Colts special teams coordinator, occasionally points to the playing style of Bubba Ventrone, special teams contributor.
Does Ventrone have a personal highlight reel?
“He probably do somewhere,’’ Franklin said. “I’m not surprised. He probably sits at home with his sons.
“But he’s got some plays now. Bubba was a dude. And they’re against good guys, too. They’re sweet clips.’’
Given the chance, Franklin will mirror Ventrone’s teaching style.
“Look, if I played and I was a coach, I’d be dropping my clips,’’ he said. “If I’m a special teams coach one day, you can believe everybody coach will see that block.’’
That block was a direct byproduct of Ventrone detecting a crack in Jacksonville’s punt protection leading up to the Colts’ week 10 meeting with the Jaguars. He saw the potential for a game-changing play.
He made it a point to mention Franklin by name during video review.
Then, he texted Franklin.
Hey Z, you’re going to get a block this week. I’m calling it right now.
“I had to prove him right,’’ Franklin said after the game.
In the first quarter, he crashed through Logan Cooke’s protection and blocked his punt. E.J. Speed returned it for a touchdown.
Just as Ventrone predicted.
“We were doing punt-block drills in the middle of the season, like serious punt-block drills in the middle of the season and him saying, ‘Somebody’s going to get it,’’’ coach Frank Reich said at the time.
“Bubba was really confident that we were going to get a block this week.’’
He was similarly confident as the much-hyped showdown with the New England Patriots neared.
Again, Ventrone noticed something with the Patriots’ punt protection. He believed someone – Matthew Adams – would have an opportunity to leak through the B-gap on the right side of Jake Bailey’s protection.
“This is going to be extremely good for us,’’ he said during a segment on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
It was. In the first quarter, Adams knifed through the B-gap and smothered Bailey’s punt. It careened into the end zone where Speed covered it for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“He was talking about it all week,’’ Reich said of Ventrone after the 27-17 victory over New England. “He’s on a roll. He should go to Vegas or whatever.
“I mean, man is on a roll.’’
The Colts’ special teams has been on a season-long roll. Credit Ventrone’s ability to mix his contagious enthusiasm with that deep pool of experience, and then getting the message across to a room replete with playmakers.
Franklin. Adams. Speed. Willis. George Odum. Jordan Glasgow. Ashton Dulin. Jahleel Addae. Isaiah Rodgers. Nyheim Hines.
Odum led the NFL in special teams tackles and was named first-team All-Pro last season. This season, Dulin is second in the league with 16 tackles and Speed fourth with 12.
Rigoberto Sanchez remains one of the NFL’s premier punters. Longsnapper Luke Rhodes was selected to his first Pro Bowl. Michael Badgley and Rodrigo Blankenship have combined to convert 24-of-29 field-goal attempts and 42-of-43 PATs.
Ventrone’s influence can’t be overstated.
“He’s such a good coach. He’s such a good leader,’’ Reich said.
And he’s so animated.
“Oh, man, Bubba’s like a battery pack,’’ Willis said.
“All the time,’’ said Speed. “He’s got to turn it down some. Sometimes he’s over there trying to hold it in. Like you can tell his face when he’s trying to hold it in. You can tell with Bubba the emotion on his face all the time.
“Sometimes he’s going to let it out, he can’t hold it in anymore. He’s like an air-head . . . just explode.’’
Prior to Saturday night’s win over the Patriots, the Colts held a special teams walkthrough at the team hotel. When everyone converged at the end of the session, Ventrone was, well, excited.
“He went bananas. He just went ballistic,’’ Reich said. “He doesn’t do that that often like that, but this game meant a lot to him. Obviously he’s got some roots and connections there.’’
Ventrone signed with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie out of Villanova in 2007. From 2013-17, he was a special teams assistant with New England.
“It’s not just the juice,’’ Reich said. “What makes Bubba a great coach is he knows the game. He knows how to coach detail. He knows how to help the players with their matchups, helps them understand how to win their matchups.’’
When Reich was forming his staff in February 2018, he reached out to Ventrone.
“It was a two-hour call,’’ Reich said. “I got off the phone, I ended up calling Chris (Ballard) and said, ‘I just had the most unbelievable two-hour phone call with Bubba Ventrone that . . . it was unreal.’
“You could feel it just oozing through the phone that this guy’s a winner.’’
Ventrone described himself as a “good evaluator.’’
“I’m a hard worker. I’ve done that my whole life,’’ he said. “I’ve earned everything I’ve ever gotten.
“Undrafted and I worked my way onto the practice squad and got activated. I mean, that’s been my M-O my entire life. Under-recruited in college, went to a I-AA school, played all special teams and fortunately Frank gave me an opportunity to be the coordinator here.’’
And the energy factor? The bouncing around on the sideline, smacking hands and bumping chests?
“Yeah, I try to be as normal and as real as possible at all times,’’ Ventrone said. “I’m always the same coach every day to my players.
“I never change. I’m going to be the same guy every single day. I’m always going to show my players exactly how I’m feeling, and they’re always going to know what I want and what I expect from them.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.