We hear about an emphasis for good special teamers quite a bit these days. Late round draft pick? Better be able to contribute on special teams. Fringe 53 man roster player? Special teams. As the old adage goes, if you’re not a starter on offense or defense, you better be one on that third phase or you’re not on the team.
Outside of gunners and jammers, rarely do we get much substance beyond being apt on special teams. But they, of course, are not the only positions of importance, and it brings us a good chance to talk about another. The personal protector on punts can be viewed as a quarterback of that phase, and is in large part, why Pittsburgh Steelers’ safety Robert Golden is currently safe.
The personal protector, also referred to as the upback, dictates the punt team’s protection. It may seem unimportant but the PP sets the protection on each punt. On each play, he will complete three tasks.
1. Count and declare the number of defenders in the box
2. Tell the long snapper which direction he should block
3. Make a “Set” call, allowing the LS to begin the play at any point after this.
For example, the PP could say on a given play: 8 Up, Right, Set!
Like an offensive or defensive playbook, each special team’s coach brings his own set of terminology. In some systems, like Northern Illinois, they use an “even” or “overload” call to describe the return team’s front. Other systems use a color to identify direction. “Red” for right is an example I’ve seen.
It’s a role Golden has held the last two years and unquestionably one reason why he was named a special teams’ captain in 2014. If there is even a debate to be had about him not making the 2015 roster, you’re going to have to see another player receive snaps at that position.
At St. Vincent in 2014, Golden only relinquished a lone snap or at the maximum, two. If the same story unfolds in ’15, there will be little question of his job security. Gerod Holliman is simply not going to be trotted out there in Week One without work in the preseason. It’s too delicate to simply dish out. One blown call can result in a blocked punt, turning the tide of the game.
If there is a player who could be a candidate for Golden’s job other than Holliman – and even that is a complete guess – Will Allen could fill it. He may have been the player to receive that snap in camp, it was so insignificant that it’s forgettable, but he’s a veteran and will likely open the season as a backup. He has earned the trust Mike Tomlin demands at such a position. There’s no indication that’ll actually happen but should a player like Holliman be deemed worthy to keep on the 53 and not as the upback, Allen could make Golden expendable.
Until that point, there’s every reason to believe Golden’s roster job is safe. A vital position to the punt team and not one to overlook on Sundays.