The Pittsburgh Steelers roster did right by their teammate in naming fifth-year safety Robert Golden their special-teams captain for the third year in a row. It was an honor that Golden said that he did not expect to receive this year because his responsibilities on special teams are expected to be greatly reduced with him moving into the starting lineup.
And that raises some questions about the special-teams units, considering that Golden was a core contributor on most of them. This year, he figures at least to retain his role as the primary up back on the punt-coverage units, but he may be tasked with little else besides.
That is no doubt where Jordan Dangerfield, a veteran of three previous training camps and making his regular-season roster debut, comes in, as he can likely duplicate the majority of the rest of Golden’s responsibilities, while rookie Sean Davis will also do much to fill the void and contribute in other ways as well.
The hamstring injury that Shamarko Thomas is enduring is of course a temporary setback, and it is unclear when it will be resolved, although it is possible that he is even ready to go for the season opener.
Still, neither Golden nor Dangerfield are really apt candidates as gunners, and I do not believe that Davis worked that aspect of special teams much at all during the preseason. Obviously Darrius Heyward-Bey is likely to be one of the Steelers’ two primary gunners, but as to the other, I am not certain.
Doran Grant could have been one, but he did not make the Steelers’ roster this time around, and is currently on the Bills’ practice squad now. Sammie Coates did see time as a gunner and a jammer against the Saints, although he did not do particularly well, and he is also apparently being tasted with kick-return duties.
Perhaps one of the other cornerbacks, even newcomer Justin Gilbert, could function in that role, but we will see who will be asked to step into that spot once the regular-season games role along if Thomas indeed has to miss time.
Golden has obviously been a big part of the Steelers’ special-teams units over the course of the past four seasons, which is why his teammates have donned him their captain for three straight seasons, even now when he is likely to see considerably less time in his usual responsibilities.
That gave the Steelers all the more reason to carry Dangerfield as an extra defensive back, not to mention Thomas’ injury and the fact that Davis is a rookie. Dangerfield may be a first-year player, but he has been around for a while now, and was even on the practice squad all of last season.
Special teams is always a unit notoriously full of turnover from one year to the next, but the Steelers this year in particular are dealing with the loss or reduction of roles of some of their most important contributors. The younger safeties, and defensive backs generally, are going to be key in helping fill the void.