Sometimes it takes a different breed of player to be a standout performer on special teams. If you look at a lot of the players are successful, you will often see that there is something about them that is not quite entirely conventional relative to the position to which they are designated.
Many of them are defensive players with an offensive background, or vice versa. A player like the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie sixth-round pick Sutton Smith would check that box. He has been working at both outside linebacker and fullback for the team this spring.
Take somebody such as former Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey. While speed was his primary asset to many of the special teams units, he was always also very physical for the wide receiver position, and he brought that into the special teams assignment as well and helped to make him as good at it as he was.
Danny Smith, the Steelers’ special teams coordinator, recently talked about having versatility and how that is frequently an asset for him in finding players who can be strong contributors for his groups, especially considering that he knows he will often be left with the ‘scraps’ at the end of the roster.
“I just feel like having that versatility and being able to play to do a lot of things as a football player is good anyway”, he said. “If you have the movement to play safety but you also have the physicality to go on and play linebacker then more than likely you’re gonna be able to help on special teams some type of way”.
Of course it sounds as though Smith is referring to Mark Barron, who was brought in free agency, but he is not much of a contributor to special teams, or at least hasn’t been recently. He didn’t play there at all last year, and saw all of four snaps in 2017, though he did play 48 and up earlier in his career.
“So we’re gonna release some guys that can play this year, I think”, the team’s special teams coordinator added. And he should know. He’s been around long enough to know when this is likely to happen, including around long enough in Pittsburgh in particular. “That’s my opinion at this point. Again we ain’t even had pants on yet, so that’s maybe speaking a little quick too, but I expect that”.
Of course he knows a lot more than we know right now. We haven’t seen any of the special teams drills that they have been doing so far, so we really don’t know to whom he might be referring to, but if I were to venture a guess, I would offer up somebody like Diontae Spencer as a return man he might like who probably won’t make the team.