New special teams coach trying to find right combos for Steelers
Some football coaches welcome a second chance. Danny Smith usually doesn't.
When Drew Butler's 55-yard punt against the Giants was wiped out by a Marshall McFadden penalty, Smith knew that a second punt by a unit that had just expended itself racing downfield in coverage is worrisome.
“You repeat a punt, you're asking for problems,” Smith said.
The problem on Butler's second punt was that Damon Cromartie-Smith released before making his block, allowing Giants rookie Damontre Moore a wide-open lane to leap and block Butler's punt. The Giants managed only a field goal, but it was an embarrassing play for Smith, who returned to his hometown in the job he always wanted.
“You want to block them first,” Smith said. “You know that they want to go down the field, but you tell them there's nothing to go downfield for if you don't block them.”
Smith will try to block out that image — and that of a muffed punt later in the preseason opener — as he gets a second chance Monday night to prove that the Steelers' special teams will be improved greatly this season.
The starters will play about one quarter at FedEx Field against the Redskins, who employed Smith as their special teams coordinator for the last nine seasons. Who starts at running back — Le'Veon Bell, Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer — is likely to be a game-time decision.
Smith might have returned to Pittsburgh before now, but another kind of block kept him in Washington; in 2010, the Redskins blocked the Steelers' attempt to talk to Smith. The Redskins relented last winter and allowed the Steelers to hire him to replace Amos Jones.
Special teams have been a Steelers concern for years — they've ranked above 17th overall twice in the last seven seasons — and they believed they finally had the right man for the job.
But a new coach needs time to evaluate his personnel — he's coaching dozens of players, not a handful as most position coaches do — and Smith is still in the early stages of that job. And that might have shown up against the Giants.
Smith is aware of the dangers of a block. The Redskins had five field goal attempts and an extra point attempt blocked in 2011 and two punts blocked last season.
“We're mixing and matching a lot of guys. And that's hard. It's not only hard on me, it's hard on them, to be honest with you,” Smith said. “When you start playing next to a guy, you get a feel for the other. But when you're trying to find those fits, it's difficult. It's a process.”
Smith will try a number of combinations against the Redskins, including LaRod Stephens-Howling returning kickoffs and rookie Markus Wheaton returning punts. Both could wind up staying in those jobs when the season opens.
“We're moving guys, trying to find the right matchups,” Smith said. “We're doing it with gunners, we're doing it with returners, we're doing it with protection and return front line, jammers outside, return guys. Everybody.”
Including the punters. Butler, who won the job as a rookie last season, is competing with 12-year veteran Brian Moorman, who was promoted to co-starter status after the Giants game.
The 24-year-old Butler averaged 43.8 yards last season to the 37-year-old Moorman's 44.2 for the Bills and Cowboys. If the Steelers keep Moorman, they might have to go looking for a punter again next season because of his age.
“I like the competition, and it makes us all better, but you'd like to know who your guy is, and we're not ready to make that decision,” Smith said. “We haven't put a timetable on it and haven't talked to (coach) Mike (Tomlin) about it yet.”
There's no such worry with the kicker. Shaun Suisham is coming off a 28-of-31 (90.3 percent) showing on field goals last season and is showing off an even stronger leg during training camp.
If only all such special teams decisions were so easy.
“I think the guys we pick will be the right guys because I think a lot of guys can play,” Smith said. “I think a lot of guys who are Pittsburgh Steelers (now) will play on other teams (after getting cut), and that's a good situation. We have good personnel; it's a matter of me matching them up properly.
“We'll get better as we go along.”
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Century mark beckons for Ben
- Steelers’ defense on pace for fewest sacks in 16-game season
- Steelers notebook: No-huddle gets limited use vs. Texans
- Steelers’ Pouncey, brother won’t be charged in July fracas
- Nearing season’s midpoint, Steelers still have issues to sort out
- Steelers use 3 late first-half TDs to stun Texans
- For all but 2 minutes vs. Steelers, Texans played ‘pretty good game’
- Snapshot in time: Comparing Cowher, Tomlin drafts
- Steelers film session: Watt kept under control
- Steelers’ defense rebounds after shaky 1st quarter, forces Texans into mistakes
- Steelers lookahead: Colts QB Luck becoming one of NFL’s elite