New series we’re kicking off here to get us through the upcoming dog days of the offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Vince Williams – Become A Special Teams Leader
We haven’t talked about Vince Williams much lately. Only one article with his name as the headliner since mid-March. But we have talked about special teams a ton, or at least, I have, and the changes that unit has undergone over the past few months. And so we’ll revisit it again, knowing that as long as Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier are upright, Williams’ contributions will come when the defense is trotting off the field.
The “be a leader” suggestion isn’t to say that he has a track record otherwise. He’s certainly an intense, vocal individual, not a shrinking violet to any big moment. But the onus may be on him more now than ever before. With the “Big Three” of Terence Garvin, Sean Spence, and Will Johnson gone, Williams is the elder of the group.
The players who will surround him this year will almost exclusively be younger than him. The new linebackers, whether that’s a rookie like Travis Feeney or Tyler Matakevich or a second year player like Anthony Chickillo. Sean Davis is expected to have a large presence on special teams. Even Steven Johnson, who is older, but hasn’t been in Danny Smith’s system.
Smith’s job is to coach, Williams’ job is to play. Don’t misunderstand that. But there is plenty of valuable advice someone in the league like Williams can give to a younger player struggling with the myriad of problems new players face. The physical, mental, emotional toll.
From the beginning of camp, it’s important for the players, the stars in college who haven’t run down a kick in years, to understand the importance of buying into special teams. Desire and effort makes up 75% of the job. I’m sure Williams can give you the specifics grinds of the job better than me. Heck, maybe he’s reading this and can chime in (hi Vince! Big fan).
The Steelers’ strong 2015 unit has to carry over into 2016. Their kick coverage ranked 10th and they didn’t allow a punt to be returned longer than 25 yards, also a top ten figure.
Let’s compare those two data points to previous years:
2014: 15th, 33 yards
2013: 10th, 43 yards
2012: 17th, 63 yards
Steady improvement, especially when Smith took over in 2013. No one wants to see that nosedive in a year. And it, as it always is, will be a collective effort. One that needs to be led by Vince Williams.