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Chargers Special Teams Coach Tough to Please

Monday, Aug 15, 2011  |  Updated 11:14 AM PDT
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Bryan Walters #13 of the San Diego Chargers eludes a tackle by Josh Pinkard #22 of the Seattle Seahwaks as he returns a kick for a 103-yard touchdown during an NFL preseason game at Qualcomm Stadium on August 11, 2011 in San Diego, California.

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The new boss of the Chargers' specials teams is a tough guy to please.

Rich Bisaccia, who has a Super Bowl ring, gave his units a D grade for their work in the preseason opener despite a 103-yard kickoff return, two punts inside the 20 and no turnovers allowed.

"We've got a long ways to go," Bisaccia said after a recent practice.

Chargers coach Norv Turner, impressed by his work with the Buccaneers, hired Bisaccia in January to clean up special teams that gave up blocked punts and touchdowns at franchise-worst levels.

"He's very conscientious," Turner said.

An East Coast accent formed in Yonkers, N.Y., isn't the only distinctive part of what the goateed coach is bringing to Chargers Park.

"There's no wasted breaths in his special teams meetings," said fullback Jacob Hester. "Everything has a purpose."

Running back Mike Tolbert added: "I do think last year some guys took special teams for granted, and that's not going to be the case this year."

The Chargers, despite a recent knee injury to special teams regular Kelley Washington, expect to be healthier this year in their kick units. A glut of injuries last year challenged special teams coach Steve Crosby, who had several top-notch squads in his previous eight years on the job.

With the NFL having moved up kickoffs 5 yards, coverage will be easier for all teams. On Thursday against the Seahawks, the Chargers booted their first two kicks for touchbacks against an opponent that returned two of their kicks for touchdowns last September en route to an upset victory.

Better ingredients may be in San Diego's new special brew as well. In April, Chargers general manager A.J. Smith drafted more with an eye toward special teams. No other team made more selections in the first three rounds than San Diego's five, and Smith didn't have any pressing needs to address on offense.

Several of the defenders Smith drafted — such as linebackers Jonas Mouton and Andrew Gachkar and cornerbacks Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright — are vying for special teams jobs. Another rookie, undrafted linebacker Bront Bird, made a key block on the 103-yard return by Bryan Walters, who was on the practice squad last year.

Bisaccia declined to identify any of the candidates who had impressed him. He preaches team identity and calls his special teams "We-Fence."

"We're not an offense; we're not a defense — we're a blend of offense and defense," said Bisaccia, who played defensive back for Yankton College in South Dakota.

Bisaccia doesn't refer to himself as a special teams coach, although it was in that role, as a rookie no less, that he got the Super Bowl ring in 2003, when Tampa Bay beat the Raiders on San Diego's home field.

"I'm a football coach," he said. "I've been coaching football 30 years.

"I try to learn from everybody, steal from everybody. I'm not an innovator. I'm an imitator."

Just by tackling return men and protecting their punter, the Chargers could've had a special season in 2010, when they ended up first in total offense and defense. Instead, they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Turner sees a big turnaround in the making.

"We're going to be outstanding in the kicking game," he said.

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