Not a lot of players who enter a starting role probably feel particularly strongly about playing on special teams. Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool perhaps is not within that group—and to be clear, when I speak about special teams, I’m not including the glamorous return man roles. I’m talking about running down punts and kicks.
Generally speaking, players who see increases in playing time on offense or defense and graduate into the starting lineup soon after also ‘graduate’ from special teams, seeing their responsibilities there severely curtailed or even removed entirely.
Claypool told reporters on Wednesday that he has no particular interest in seeing this happen. After all, this is a player who specifically told his college coach not to take him off of special teams as he became Notre Dame’s number one receiver, after being told that that was his intention. Fortunately for him, I suppose, that doesn’t appear to be in the plans right now.
“Coach T, he’s never mentioned me getting off ‘teams”, he said. “I think it’s something that I need to do, especially as a rookie, and especially the more people go down, the more I’ll be needed. So he’s never mentioned anything like that, and I’m not really looking forward to getting off special teams or anything. It’s not what I’m hoping for”.
Claypool has logged over 100 snaps on special teams this season. While it could certainly be significantly more—four-phase players routinely log over 300 snaps a year, it is nevertheless a significant workload, especially for someone approaching 60 catches for over 800 yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage.
According to Pro Football Focus, he actually hasn’t recorded a special teams tackle since all the way back in week three, but he had four tackles within the first three games. The reason for this is that they did significantly reduce his responsibilities on the coverage units.
Claypool logged 11 snaps on the punt coverage unit over the course of the first three games of the season. Since then, he has logged just six. He played 13 snaps on the kick coverage team over the course of the first three games as well, but since then has played only 20 more, so they have scaled back a bit, with his main job now being on kick returns.
Of course, we will see what happens next year, especially assuming JuJu Smith-Schuster does not return to the team. Even if we assume that he does campaign to continue playing on special teams, it will be up to Tomlin to make that decision, and he’s not really going to listen to his second-year budding star of a receiver when he says he wants to run down kicks.