Bengals special teams coach staying calm as raw rookies struggle early on

If there’s one thing Darrin Simmons has learned — perfected, really — during his 20 seasons as an NFL special teams coach, it’s patience.

Tasked with re-assembling his units each season with a large influx of rookies, many of whom were stars who didn’t play special teams in college, Simmons knows there will be glitches, misses and lapses in the early going of each season.

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Two rookies who have a chance to play big roles this season got off to a shaky start Saturday in the intrasquad scrimmage at Paul Brown Stadium. But Simmons, who is one of the most vociferous coaches during any given practice, assessed the performances of first-round pick John Ross and fifth-rounder Jake Elliott in calm, measured tones once the scrimmage had concluded.

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“We talked about what went on, what happened and how to fix it,” Simmons said after watching his rookie kicker, who is battling veteran Randy Bullock for the job, miss a 52-yard field goal and an extra point on his first two attempts of the scrimmage.

“Obviously you don’t want to miss,” Simmons added. “He had a little problem down here in pregame warmup on this (south) end, pushing the ball right. We’ve got a pretty decent left to right, wind and he kept pushing them right. So that one, he pulled a little bit left. He over-corrected a little bit. He’s kicked probably five days in a row now. His leg’s a little fatigued. But you’ve still got to make it. It was a PAT he missed. I understand the 52-yarder he missed. But you can’t miss the PAT. That’s the one that most upsets me.”

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The 52-yard miss came one series after Bullock had hit a 39-yarder. And missed extra point came just a few minutes after Bullock had made a PAT, which put a little more pressure on Elliott than would normally be expected in a scrimmage.

“There’s definitely that added pressure, but it’s nothing I’m not expecting to deal with,” Elliott said. “My whole rhythm going up to that (missed field goal) was just weird. I was just kind of standing back there and just didn’t feel comfortable. I hit it really well, but my line just wasn’t right. (The PAT) was just a bad hit. No excuses.”

Elliott rebounded to make a 32-yard field goal later in the scrimmage and then capped the final drive, a one-minute drill where the offense only reached the 33-yard line, with a 51-yarder.

“I liked to see that his demeanor was the same. He wasn’t panicked,” Simmons said. “On the last one he came and hit it hard and hit it clean, the way he should have been doing the whole time. But he showed he was able to correct it. That’s the positive.”

Ross will have to wait a little longer for his shot at redemption after making a mental error on his only chance to do anything during the scrimmage.

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The No. 9 overall pick in the draft still hasn’t done any team drills since camp began July 28, as the team is bringing him along slowly following the labrum surgery he had in March. But Ross has been getting in some work catching punts in practice, and he got one shot in the scrimmage that didn’t go so well.

Ross, who who has struggled with judging the ball in the air during practice, tracked Kevin Huber’s punt well Saturday. But he was so locked in on the ball he forgot where he was on the field and caught it at the 2-yard line.

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“I think you’ve got to put the training wheels on with him,” Simmons said, noting that Ross has not returned a punt since his freshman year at Washington in 2013.

“Who knows when we take them off. When we take them off, we’ll be depending on him and how fast he can pick this stuff up,” Simmons continued. “I’ve said it many times, much of punt returns is decision making. It’s not their ability and all the other stuff. We know he can run with it. We know he has a ton of natural ability, but it’s all the decision making, when to do this, when to do that, how to handle this part in a certain situation, certain time in the game. Those are all things that are completely new to him. He’s been practicing with us for a week. We couldn’t do anything in the offseason, the whole OTAs. We couldn’t do any of this stuff. So again, it’s a work in progress.”

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