After years of shaky performance, the Falcons’ special teams fared quite well in 2018. Matt Bosher had a good year, Matt Bryant and Giorgio Tavecchio were terrific, and coverage improved significantly over an awful 2017. In the end, that wasn’t enough to save Keith Armstrong’s job, especially after yet another year of poor performances in the return game.
That leaves special teams as unsettled as it has been in many, many years. No longer is Armstrong’s philosophy guiding things with new coach Ben Kotwica taking over as special teams coordinator, which means things we’ve taken for granted over the years could change suddenly. Kotwica is a virtual lock to add one or two of his guys if he can, meaning longtime special teamers like Kemal Ishmael may or may not return. Then there’s the situation at kicker, where Matt Bryant is as dependable as ever but faces a legitimate threat to his job for the first time in recent memory from Giorgio Tavecchio.
How will things shake out? Let’s look.
The team has to weigh whether they want to bring back their own free agents, first and foremost. Justin Bethel was just as good as you’d expect him to be, given his outsized reputation, but he’s a noted disaster in coverage and may not be back just to contribute on teams. Kemal Ishmael is a more reliable defender who can play linebacker or safety and has been a core contributor on teams since he arrived as a seventh round pick way back in 2013, but he’s not a lock to return either.
If the Falcons are planning to replace them, keep an eye on guys Kotwica has recently coached. Linebacker Zach Vigil is an unrestricted free agent and spent two seasons working with Kotwica in Washington, leading all players in special teams snaps in 2017 and grading out as Pro Football Focus’s fourth-best tackler on the team that season. The Falcons could very well elect to replace Ishmael (or somebody like Bruce Carter, if they’re not drafting a linebacker) with Vigil, who has shown his reliability and would be very comfortable with what Kotwica will want to do.