In almost every respect, the addition of Jacoby Jones was a disaster. Not only was it counter-productive to the team, it turns out Antonio Brown was very unhappy over being replaced for punt return duties. The always-honest Danny Smith explained the story yesterday during his press conference to discuss 7th round pick Demarcus Ayers.
“When last year we went with the Jacoby Jones experiment. And we made that decision to make that change. After that meeting, AB came to my office and very distinctly said, ‘Danny, I don’t like it.'”
To which Smith replied.
“‘AB, I don’t like it either, but that’s what we’re going to do.’ And it didn’t work and we went back to AB.”
For the ultra-competitor Brown is, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to hear he was unhappy about losing playing time. Brown has been an excellent, trusted returner with big play capability, averaging at least 9.5 yards per return and one touchdown over the last three seasons.
The Steelers’ front office made the decision to jump on Jones, forcing Brown – and Smith – to roll with the punches. Jones returned six punts for a 3.2 yard average, struggled to hold onto the football, and was released less than two months after being signed.
To Brown’s credit, he never publicly displayed his feelings and seemed to form a great friendship with the man who took his job. Jones even was at a taping on Dancing With the Stars to show his support.
These roster decisions are, frankly, above Smith’s pay grade. Similar to what Joey Porter said in response to knowing if James Harrison come back, positional coaches are there to coach up whatever players are brought in. To steal a film industry reference, they are below the line. The workers and molders, not the decision makers.
Even having said that, while I’m sure this isn’t unique to Pittsburgh, I’ve seen a pretty obvious disconnect between Mike Tomlin and Smith’s philosophies about special teams over the course of the 2015 season.
It was Tomlin who said Jones would need “24 hours” to find his rhythm into the Steelers’ kick return scheme. Perhaps exaggerating a bit but presenting the overall point of a quick transition. Smith has stated that it takes much longer and lots of repetition to create the rhythm and timing needed to field a successful return unit.
Tomlin dished out some harsh criticism to Shamarko Thomas over his punt coverage incident against the Denver Broncos. Smith had a different approach, he seemed to absolve Thomas, and didn’t appear to perceive it as an egregious mistake.
Having those competing thoughts is actually healthy for a coaching staff. It’s a whole lot better than a bunch of yes men. Smith also praised the Steelers’ culture, calling it “a team organization if there ever was one.” There is no question Smith enjoys his time here, even if you get the sense he is occasionally frustrated or his ideals butt heads with his boss’.
This is me talking out loud from the mountain top, but Smith’s expertise needs to be leaned on. He’s been around this league for a long time and clearly, is going to know more about the intricacies of special teams better than his head coach. It doesn’t make him infallible, but it sounds like if he had his way in this situation, Jones’ Steelers career never would have existed.