Bubba Ventrone has proven he has the perfect touch when it comes to playing and coaching special teams in the NFL.
Hired in February as the Browns' special teams coordinator/assistant head coach, Ventrone was likely a familiar name for Browns fans. He spent four of his nine years in the NFL in Cleveland from 2009-12 as a special teams mauler, constantly finding ways to bring down returners and give the Browns one of the top special teams units in the game.
Since his retirement in 2015, he's coached special teams for the Patriots and Colts and has used his expertise to help them develop consistently strong special teams groups.
Now, he's back in Cleveland looking to share his top-tier wisdom to do the same job with the Browns.
"I think I have a good feel on the techniques that are played within the scheme," Ventrone said on a Zoom call Thursday with local reporters. "I've actually done it. That's all I've done, really. So I feel like I have a little bit more insight into the true intricacies of the techniques."
Ventrone spent the last five seasons with the Colts, who ranked eighth in the league in special teams play last season in longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings. The season was the third consecutive year and fourth time in five seasons the Colts were ranked in the top 10, and they finished last season with the best kick return group in the league by averaging 27.8 yards per return.
To Ventrone, those feats happen because of textbook technique, which he plans to drill into his group of special teamers in Cleveland.
"We drilled the crap out of their footwork on kickoff return and our drops," he said. "We led the league in kickoff return because we executed our techniques well and we ran basic returns the entire season. I feel like the same parallels show up when you're talking through the punt unit.
"You can handle any type of rush in protection as long as you have those fundamentals and technique to be able to allow you to see those different types of exotic looks."
Perhaps the most exciting part of the new job for Ventrone is that he'll be able to teach those elements in one of his favorite NFL towns. He constantly mentioned in his answers how much he enjoys being able to be back in Cleveland, and he believes his mastery of the game will give its team the special teams boost it needs.
"It's a blue-collar town that loves football and is passionate about football," he said. "I was here from '09-'12. We didn't have a lot of successful seasons — we were good at special teams back then, I may note — but even back then, we didn't win a lot of football games, but you could tell that this town just loves football."
Ventrone's job, of course, won't only be to elevate the kickoff and punt return units but help second-year K Cade York step up his game, too.
York was 24-for-32 (75 percent) on field goals last season and struggled to find consistency, but Ventrone knows York has the talent to be great. He ranked him as the top specialist in last year's draft class and feels "fortunate" to be able to coach him.
"The kicking position, I feel like the best guys, the guys that have the most successful and the best kickers — I have been around quite a bit (Browns Legend K) Phil Dawson, (former NFL K Adam) Vinatieri, (former NFL kicker Stephen) Gostkowski – and the guys who I have coached in Indianapolis — (Colts K) Chase (McLaughlin) this past year-had a good year and (Lions K Michael) Badgley," Ventrone said. "Those guys have done a good job of putting misses to bed, moving on and not being so caught up in missing a kick.
"It's how fast you can make the correction and then move on to the next kick. I haven't had a chance to sit down and actually meet with Cade, but that will be one of the things that I am going to influence him."
Head coach aspirations
In addition to leading all special teams tasks, Vetrone will also serve as head coach Kevin Stefanski's assistant, a role he won't take lightly as he seeks to one day become an NFL head coach.
Ventrone said, however, that his goal of leading a team won't get in the way of fulfilling what he needs to do in his new role.
"I have aspirations to be a head coach at some point, but honestly, my sole focus right now is getting this core unit and these specialists going," he said. "I'm excited for this opportunity. I can't wait. I'm so excited to be back in Cleveland and have this opportunity. I can't express it enough."
Favorite Browns memory
Asked what his favorite Browns memory was in his days as a player, Ventrone thought back to a game he played against his other former team as both a player and a coach: New England.
The Browns beat the Patriots, 34-14, in Week 9 in 2010, and one big play from the game was Ventrone recovering a muffed kickoff in the first quarter after the Browns kicked a field goal on their opening drive.
Ventrone said he had actually discussed the game with Browns pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea, who was the Patriots' wide receivers coach that season, earlier Thursday before he spoke with reporters.
"We beat them up pretty good," Ventrone said. "I know that's obviously a really hard (team) to play against every season, so it was a big win in that game."