One of the concerns that I have regarding the 2020 season is the impact that the level of preparation allowed this offseason will have on the quality of special teams play. This is an area of the game that routinely experiences a high rate of personnel turnover year after year, consisting of fringe players who lose their roster spots or budding stars who become too valuable to play in that phase, so it consistently involves a lot of young players and new faces.
As far as the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned, they’re not making any excuses for the quality of their special teams play, as both special teams coordinator Danny Smith and head coach Mike Tomlin said before and after practice earlier today.
“I don’t know if it’s going to change the quality of play or the level of play”, Tomlin said regarding the impact of the offseason on special teams. “I know it probably creates some anxiety for coaches who are used to a certain procedure or a certain process in order to get a group ready to play, or get an individual ready to play”.
“We’ll know less about some of the young men in particular that are on coverage units and in return units in September”, he added, “but it’ll be the same for all 32 teams, so from that standpoint, it will be fair. I’m just focusing on ways to provide capable men of proving that they belong so we can make sure we make the appropriate decisions in terms of not only who stays and who goes, but the division of labor within it”.
The Steelers are dealing with some major special teams departures from last season in Tyler Matakevich, Anthony Chickillo, Roosevelt Nix, and Johnny Holton, while trying to incorporate new featured players like Derek Watt and some of the rookies like Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, and Antoine Brooks. But Smith believes they are putting in the work now to ensure that they can play cleanly come September.
“Yes, it is something that we’re detailing right now”, he said. “No, I don’t expect it to be sloppy, and that’s the who game of this, for it not to be sloppy, to get off on the right foot, and it’s my job to teach those things and put them in those situations”.
He talked about how earlier that morning he just had a film session with his special teams group with video from the day before, and he showed a play in which there were three blocks in the back. ”We reviewed it today in a walkthrough, we’re gonna review it this afternoon, and we’re gonna be ready when that time comes”, he said. “I don’t expect it to be sloppy, and I expect it to be on point”.
It’s easy to feel like you’re putting in the necessary work, but when it comes time for the guys to actually get out there on the field and be on their own, there are always mistakes. The Steelers have had a rash of penalties early in the season in recent years, including on special teams. At least from that perspective, they can’t start off any worse this year.