After the 2017 season ended, Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett decided to make some wholesale changes to the structure of the Dallas Cowboys to avoid another disappointment, if 9-7 can really be called a disappointment. While offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli both remained with the team, much of the staff around them has changed. This series is meant to profile each coach, including the ones who stayed, and analyze how their presence will contribute to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, we are looking at a former special teams ace who’s seen his fair share of big special teams plays, Doug Colman. Be sure to check out our other profiles below:
When Rich Bisaccia left to reunite with Jon Gruden in Oakland, assistant special teams coach Keith O’Quinn was promoted to the top spot, which meant O’Quinn needed to fill his former position. Enter Doug Colman, a longtime special teams assistant.
Colman started out as a linebacker in college and won back-to-back national titles with the Nebraska Cornhuskers before joining the NFL. There, he was part of the Titans’ Super Bowl run that fell short to the Greatest Show on Turf. Colman was also one of the blockers for the infamous Music City Miracle.
After he retired in 2000, Colman began coaching at the high school level and even had a stop in the NFL Europe coaching program. He then made stops at Nebraska and Tulane, assisting on special teams and with linebackers. From 2014-2017, Colman was the assistant special teams coach for the Houston Texans. While there, the Texans’ special teams unit saw consistent struggles, especially in the kicking game.
However, much of this can be chalked up to a lack of talent at the positions. The Texans cycled through three kickers, two punters, and countless different returners in Colman’s four years with Houston. When the Texans fired their special teams coordinator in 2016, Colman remained in his assistant position. While Texans head coach Bill O’Brien never really commented publicly on it, one can infer that he liked what Colman brought. In fact, the kick and punt coverage for the Texans was often solid, rarely giving the opposing offense good field position. It was primarily a lack of good kicking and returning that led to the unit’s struggles.
In Dallas, Colman will see a significant uptick in talent. Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, and L.P. Ladouceur are the best special teams trio in the NFL today, and players such as Tavon Austin and Deonte Thompson can make moves in the return game. Colman’s biggest point of emphasis, though, must be in helping O’Quinn fortify the blocking and coverage units. Players such as Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Kavon Frazier, Kam Kelly, and possibly Bo Scarbrough are all possible key contributors to these areas.
In coverage, there needs to be a premium on players who can get past the blockers and lay the lumber on the return man. Special teams is a dangerous game for many reasons, and returners are disproportionately more susceptible to big hits in the open field. Frazier and Kelly specifically come to mind as big hitters, and if they can get down the field and blow up the ballcarrier, fumbles will follow. It is then on guys like March-Lillard and Scarbrough to sacrifice their bodies and recover the ball. Turnovers on special teams are often overlooked, but don’t forget about Ryan Switzer’s costly fumble against the Rams last season.
The blocking on returns must also be solid. Colman has experience as a special teams blocker, so he should be able to relate those techniques to the special teams players in charge of doing so. If O’Quinn and Colman can get their unit to open up holes in blocking, then the supreme speed and athleticism of Austin and Thompson will either score or give Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott some fantastic field position.
Not many people concern themselves with special teams anyway – it’s often a thankless job – but there shouldn’t be much to worry about when looking at the Cowboys’ special teams unit. Since Garrett took over, this unit has been one of the strongest in the NFL. With O’Quinn’s promotion and the addition of Colman, whose player experience makes him a good fit, there are reasons to be unsure of this group heading into 2018. But the on-field talent will make up for any uncertainty at the coaching level.