I am thankful for special teams’ demons.
I bet Danny Smith feels the same way.
It seems almost certain the Pittsburgh Steelers will be getting back two of them Sunday. Terence Garvin and Shamarko Thomas were both full participants in Wednesday’s practice. Garvin missed several weeks with an MCL injury while Thomas was scratched in Week 10 due to a knee.
The timing couldn’t be any more perfect, squaring off against a stud return man in the Seattle Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett. Lockett is averaging 24 yards per kick return, which on the surface may not look great, but he’s also taken a 105 yard kick return for a touchdown this year. He also has a 57 yard punt return touchdown.
Lockett was one of the best return men in Kansas State history. He was a two-time Big 12 Special Team Player Of The Year and a two-time honorable mention. He averaged over 28 yards per kick with four touchdowns and 15 yards per punt with another two. He’s already made a name for himself as one of the most dynamic return men in the game.
For their part, the Steelers’ coverage has been excellent the last two years under Danny Smith. As we recently wrote about, only three of the 21 kick returns allowed by the Steelers have gone for at least 30 yards and none have gone for more than 32. Last year, only two returns went for longer than 30.
The Steelers have adjusted well without Garvin, arguably the team’s top special teamer, a multi-phase guy who led the team in special teams tackles until his injury. But getting him back is a big boost and takes the stress off the several players who were forced to fill in for him. Thomas has been inconsistent as a gunner but has done an excellent job of getting clean releases as a gunner and squeezing the return.
Though certainly not a special teams’ stalwart, even the return of Matt Spaeth will help the third phase. Spaeth is the right wing on the punt coverage team. However, it’s not impossible to think the team is better off without Spaeth on that unit. Roosevelt Nix has filled in for him and is a better coverage player than Spaeth. We’ll see what the team decides to do Sunday. For a nerd like me, I’ll be paying close attention.