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Film Room: Signing Nat Berhe Fills Important Role For Steelers

After striking out on Matthew Slater and Michael Thomas, the Pittsburgh Steelers finally found their replacement for Robert Golden. Nat Berhe announced he’s signed with the team, a move that’s likely to be made official Thursday. Today, we’ll focus on his main value, special teams. Friday, we’ll delve into what he brings into the defense, which is going to be more limited based on his skillset and depth chart.

Special Teams

Coverage Units

Berhe is definitely a “core” special teamer. He played 268 special teams snaps last season, only 31 fewer than Golden. The most important role he fills is Golden’s former spot of the Steelers’ upback/personal protector on the punt team. As we’ve explained in the past, that’s the QB of the unit and a key role that you can’t just throw anyone into and expect immediate results. Golden filled that role for pretty much every snap, even in camp, the last five years, so getting someone like Berhe, who’s been doing it for years, is a huge plus.

Since 2016, the Giants have allowed two blocked punts, both coming last year. One was with Berhe out of the game (again, highlighting how quickly things go wrong with an inexperienced guy) and the other came with some possible miscommunication between LS and upback – Berhe – on who was picking up who in the A gap. That’s a good way to lead to a blocked punt.

That stuff can’t happen but again, I feel much more comfortable acquiring someone who has been in that role rather than trying to teach it to some rookie who probably didn’t do it in college or played in a different scheme (like a shield punt, which is more common in the HS/college level).

The Giants attempted one fake with Berhe, a two yard direct snap on 4th and 1 last year.

On kickoff coverage, he served as either the L1 or R1 all of last year, mostly in the latter role. That’s the player directly to the left or the right of the kicker. In 2017, those spots were mostly held by Tyler Matakevich, Terrell Watson, and Anthony Chickillo.

Maybe Berhe stays at that inside spot. Or he could move out to take Golden’s place at L4. I’d probably prefer that to be honest. Berhe doesn’t quite have that “crazy” in him the way Roosevelt Nix and Vince Williams do, that get-hyped-on-a-touchback attitude that just sets the tone for everyone else.

More importantly, while Berhe is a big hitter who shows good effort, he’s a little undersized and lacks hand use to shed blocks. I like those interior guys to have a pass rushing background. That’s why Williams and Nix have had their success – they got a lot of work rushing the passer (for Nix, his DL background is a major plus).

Watch Berhe, #29, get stuck on this block. He’s between the hashmarks around the 25, getting turned around.

Overall, after watching every Giants’ kickoff in 2017, he’s effective covering kicks. But he prefers to work around, not through, to get the job done. Actually, he has this really identifiable “weave” in his coverage path where you immediately know which guy he is. Like here, lined up as L1, first man to the left of the kicker.

He’s trying to win with an angle, not with brute force. Nothing wrong with that but I think he fits better on the outside.

Return Units

Not as much to talk about here. He gets work on both. For the punt team, he is usually lining up on the edge, occasionally on the interior. Didn’t get much pressure, wasn’t really asked to, and he often dropped to set up an early block or peel off to help the jammer on the outside.

From what I saw, he was part of the “front line” on kick returns too on the far left side. Arthur Moats held down that spot for most of last year so that’s one way to replace him there. Golden was directly behind that front five, for what it’s worth, but regardless of how Danny Smith draws it up, there will be bodies to replace Golden on kick returns. Not worried about that.

Conclusion

Berhe is not some Earth-shattering signing, obviously, but it definitely filled a very important void in the defense. He should be the Steelers’ starting upback all of next season. I would call him a slight upgrade over Golden. Berhe is a bigger hitter, more athletic, and more productive (7 special teams tackles to Golden’s 3 last season). But to be honest, if he does his job, you’re not really going to notice the difference.

I’m just breathing a little easier knowing they’ve found their special teamer in the draft and don’t have to try to develop someone as a rookie, chiefly for that upback spot.

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