It is easy and popular to focus and harp on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ poor return team. And there is certainly blame to be given to that group – they have to get better. But that isn’t the only unit that is Danny Smith’s responsibility. And the rest of them are doing pretty darn well.
The Steelers’ coverage unit has been nothing short of spectacular in 2015. They’ve yet to allow a return longer than 32 yards and only three of the 21 returned have gone for at least 30 yards. It’s a carry over from last season when, one Jacoby Jones’ TD aside, Smith’s gang allowed just one return of more than 30 yards.
Keeping it in 2015, the Steelers have gotten a field goal block and punt deflection in back-to-back games. I love obscure stats and would be positively giddy if I could find out the last time that happened. They’re creating splash plays in almost every area outside of the kick return game.
The coverage unit has continued to be a strength without Terence Garvin, a four-phase player and a guy Danny Smith basically admitted as their best special teamer. You wouldn’t have known it though; this group simply hasn’t missed a beat. Whether it’s Jordan Todman, Sammie Coates, or even taking a starter like Jarvis Jones or Ryan Shazier, they’ve all responded well. Credit begins with the players for doing their job – you can’t absolve Smith from the kick return game and shower him with praise in every other area – but his work ethic and desire to spend extra time with players is paying off.
I’ve been to the last 33 training camp practices. Stick around for the end, after the final horn bellows over Latrobe. There’s still plenty to see. And often, Smith was pulling someone aside, or several players, and working with them, repping whatever specific assignment it was for a couple extra minutes. It was a testament to those player’s work ethic – Josh Harris, Alejandro Villanueva, and many others – but also to Smith for putting in that time. He didn’t care if you were a first round pick or a UDFA likely to be cut, he’d teach you all the same.
Don’t focus on just one phase of the game. He’s taken a first year punter, a first year kicker, and helped make them successful. His units are making plays they haven’t in years. And frankly, even the kick return unit wasn’t terrible with Dri Archer, and it probably won’t be with Jones either. If someone can change that tide, it’s probably Danny Smith.