The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Who will emerge as a new special teams standout this year?
The Steelers have taken some hits for a variety of reasons to their special teams units recently, whether it was self-inflicted or otherwise, including losing L.J. Fort in free agency. But no loss may be bigger than Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose combination of speed and intelligence (knowing all the rules is pretty valuable) was crucial on a number of occasions over the years in the third phase of the game.
As always, it depends greatly on who is going to make the roster. For example, we have previously talked about Johnny Holton, but he is going to have a hard time making the roster, considering they already have six strong candidates at wide receiver, with some other interesting names as well.
I’m going to guess that one of the favorites named below is Sutton Smith, the sixth-round linebacker out of Northern Illinois. The Steelers even talked about how his pass-rush repertoire shows them indications that he can be a strong contributor in that area. Assuming that he makes the team, and gets the opportunity to dress regularly—which would probably be because of his special teams ability—I believe he could be a big factor there.
Another rookie that could be worth monitoring is Diontae Johnson if he gets the opportunity to take on a return role. But if not him, Ryan Switzer would also have a chance to establish himself there. He struggled statistically in that area last year, but that was with no offseason.
I don’t know why, but I also have a feeling about Benny Snell. The Steelers usually have their number three back play special teams in some capacity. I could see him contributing in a variety of areas. Somebody who loves the game as much as he does always has the opportunity to be a strong special teams player.