Some players on the Carolina Panthers roster are like tailor-made suits.
What Jeff Rodgers needed was a few off the irregular rack.
The Panthers' new special teams coach is trying to fix the league's worst kicking game from last year, and he's got a better chance than his predecessor because he has some actual special teams players.
When the offseason transactions filtered in, names like Marcus Hudson, Aaron Francisco and Wallace Wright did not fill the fan base with great hope.
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Likewise, late-2009 call-ups Jordan Senn and Quinton Culberson barely made a blip. But they were exactly what Rodgers needed, because he knew they gave him a chance to fix things.
"I think there were several people that felt like that was a change from the previous year in '08 until '09," Rodgers said. "The performance was a little better in '08 than in '09. We wanted to get back to having some guys who had more experience do that stuff."
The world of special teams players is filled with tweeners: Receivers who can't catch, too-small linebackers, too-big defensive backs. But while the jobs they perform are often overlooked, they create the kind of field position advantages and big-impact plays that can define games.
Backups have to fill those roles, and last year, the Panthers had one dedicated special teams player, cornerback Dante Wesley. Filling in the cracks with the kind of rookies made necessary by keeping defensive end Julius Peppers for $16.7 million left former coach Danny Crossman's unit thin and inexperienced.
Now, Peppers and Crossman are both gone, and Rodgers has some parts to work with.
Francisco's a step-slow safety whose intelligence and physical style make him a natural leader. Wright's never had a role on any offense, but with his size and speed, he's perfect to replace Wesley as a gunner.
Hudson has many of those same traits, and while Senn and Culberson are too small to be counted on as defensive regulars, they run well enough to put up big numbers in the kicking game.
In fact, those two illustrate last year's problem. Though neither arrived before Thanksgiving, they accounted for 20 of the Panthers 123 special teams tackles. That's one-sixth of the team total in 11 games between them. Funny how having people good at their jobs helps improve performance.
"Special teams, it's not about being big and fast, it's about determination," Culberson said. "No matter how big or fast you are, it's hard to block people who don't have the mental capacity to do it.
"Some people say special teams guys are kind of crazy. I think that's true."
Senn looks the part, at least. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 224 pounds and both numbers might be generous. With his skinny legs and shaved head and tattoos, he appears a little out of place and off-center. In his two NFL seasons, he has 14 tackles as a defensive sub, but 28 special teams tackles. They might not want him playing much defense, but they definitely want him on the kickoff team.
"It takes a special person to excel on special teams," Senn said. "The guys who play for nine years, who never really started, that's amazing to me. That's a violent play, and it's a long play to play.
"It doesn't upset me if somebody says 'Oh, you just play special teams.'"
Hudson, who came here from San Francisco and worked with Rodgers there, said they just watched a video of former Denver running back Terrell Davis, who went from sixth-round pick and core special teamer to league MVP.
"Special teams is field position. If you can't get special teams down, you shouldn't even been looking at defense or offense," Hudson said.
"It can be the beginning of your career, and for a lot of veteran guys, it ends up being the last thing you do in the NFL. At some point in your career, you're going to get a taste of special teams. For us role players, that's your work, and you do it."
The Panthers needed the help those veterans bring. Without competent players, the Panthers ranked last in the league in the Dallas Morning News' comprehensive special teams rankings. While Rodgers suggested those rankings take too many categories into consideration, the reality is the Panthers were a mess.
"We haven't talked about where we were league-wise," Rodgers said. "Because there's a lot of guys with helmets on that weren't necessarily a part of that."
The Panthers were 31st in the league in kickoff return average, 30th in kickoff return average allowed. They had two returns for touchdowns against them, and none of their own. Three field goal attempts or punts were blocked.
Rodgers has tweaked a few things, adjusting the way they line up the blockers on kickoff returns. But mostly, his practices are more focused on teaching. He talks about "drill-emphasis," and you can tell he wants to make sure his odd collection of parts knows exactly what he expects.
It should help, and it's not as if it can get any worse.
"From what I heard, we had some struggles on special teams last year," Senn said politely. "Everybody says 'This is important,' but this year they've really tried to instill, 'Hey, this is important.'"