Special teams coordinator Danny Smith was the scheduled member for this weeks Coordinator’s Corner over on Steelers Nation Radio. An interview that I’m sure was the last thing to do. Smith generally doesn’t like discussing disastrous special teams plays, like his quick deflection over a failed fake field goal two years ago. So when Smith was asked about the mess that was the failed safety kick against the Cleveland Browns, which the Steelers failed to recover, his answers were predictably short and vague.
“That’s a bad play by a good player,” Smith told Labriola when asked what went wrong.
Labriola followed up and asked what player he was referring to. Smith’s answer became even vaguer.
“We’re talking about the players who didn’t field the ball.”
Ostensibly, he’s referring to Ryan Switzer, the closest return man to where the ball landed. Switzer got out of the way after Roosevelt Nix called fair catch, letting the ball hit the ground, and then none of the 11 Steelers chased after it. Cleveland did and was rewarded with the recovery.
All-22 look of the safety kick disaster. All 11 Steelers stop and watch the ball. No one with ball/rule awareness to even attempt to chase after it. Unspeakably bad. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/CBIo0OCrJh
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) October 29, 2018
Post-game, Switzer said he didn’t know the rules of the safety kick. Smith was asked about those comments and responded with an off-the-charts non-answer.
“That’s what Ryan Switzer said,” Smith replied after a pause.
When pressed, Smith explained the situation more and heavily implied these situations and rules are taught, which would run counter to Switzer’s comments.
“We cover [the rules] more than any other team I’ve ever been associated with. Like I said, it was a bad play by a really good player.”
Although it’s not known with certainty, it appears Switzer thought punt rules applied since it was a punter booting it instead of the kicker. As Smith explained, that’s because teams aren’t allowed to use a tee on a safety kick so teams choose their punter instead. On a punt, if the kicking team recovers the football, it’s simply downed, not a turnover. But the same rules don’t apply on any type of kickoff, where it’s a live ball after it’s traveled ten yards.
For what it’s worth, Smith said his unit extensively worked on these issues on Monday.
“We have already rehearsed it. We have already lined up. We have already gone through very situation. It’s Wednesday morning, we did all those things on Monday. We went out on the field, we got everything corrected, put them in every situation, again and again and again. There’s no excuse for it. It was a bad football play by a good football player.”
After one more general question about the rules, Smith became audibly frustrated and they moved on with one more question before the interview concluded.
For Smith’s sake, let’s hope this issue never happens again. Unfortunately, recent history shows those odds aren’t in his favor.