Earlier this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed running backs coach Kirby Wilson to walk, ending up with the Minnesota Vikings after they released their own running backs coach, James Saxon.
Saxon wound up replacing Wilson as the Steelers’ running backs coach, but we haven’t heard much from him since he joined the team.
Yesterday, however, the Steelers posted an interview with him on their official website, which adds some insight into his priorities as a coach. You can listen to the whole interview here, but here are some highlights.
One difference between Wilson and Saxon is that Saxon was actually an NFL football player once upon a time, playing fullback for eight seasons. He thus has the unique ability to provide personal experience to his coaching lessons.
I prided myself as a player in being very, very intelligent in terms of what I had to do and what I was asked to do. There’s not going to be anybody tougher, there’s not going to be anybody out there who’s going to work harder, and at the end of the day there’s not going to be any regrets about what I brought to the table, and that’s the message I try to get across to my guys.
While he didn’t describe his policy on fumbling as “zero tolerance”, which is how the question was framed, he did say that “I don’t like the word”.
Of course, it might be difficult to have a zero tolerance policy on fumbling when you’re coaching Adrian Peterson, who has fumbled the ball nine times over the past two seasons alone, and 31 times in total in his seven-year career. Here’s what he had to say about fumbling and the responsibility of the ball carrier:
The one thing I get across in terms of that, when the ball gets stuck into your belly or you put it under your arm, you’re taking responsibility. Number one, the head coach is giving you a privilege, and you are carrying 52 other guys with you. The ball, when the play’s over, when the whistle’s blown, you have to have it, and get up off the ground with it.
Saxon talked about “paranoid awareness”, a term of his coining, which is a state of mind that a running back has to have when it comes to protecting the ball and keeping it safe from those who try to strip it out.
Fortunately, his main pupil had little trouble holding on to the football as a rookie, as Le’Veon Bell put the ball on the ground just once in nearly 300 touches. And Saxon seems to feel good about the stable of backs that he has to work with, even if LeGarrette Blount can use a ball control seminar.
Asked if the Steelers have the personnel to have a successful running game, he said “I believe that we have the people in this building who are going to be capable enough to do that”. Now it’s his job to take what he’s given to work with and hone it.