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Steelers’ special teams likely to see changes

It’s quite often the one area of football that is most often overlooked by the casual fan and sometimes even the most ardent fan. I’m speaking of special teams of course or as many football people refer to it as, “the third phase.” It is many times the part of the game that can ultimately be the biggest. Accurate punters can dictate field position while return men can flip the field in their team’s favor in the blink of an eye.

You can pretty much bank on the Pittsburgh Steelers looking significantly different on Special Teams in two or three key areas in 2012. It’s already been made clear that Antonio Brown will focus more on being a number two receiver and will be used less in the return game. This means Emmanuel Sanders will pick up the lion’s share of those duties.

Sanders does a nice job returning kicks but Brown is clearly better and more explosive. When Santonio Holmes was still with the Steelers he was back there any time a crucial return was needed, even if just for the sake of catching it in tough conditions. You may see something similar to this with Brown and Sanders.

You’d be foolish to think the Steelers won’t look for kick return ability in the draft. If there is a cornerback or receiver with the potential to return and see time in other areas of special teams then I would suggest the possibility is quite strong. This more than likely will be a player in the middle rounds of the draft but you just never know. Could be earlier, could be later.

With Punter Daniel Sepulveda suffering another season-ending injury, it’s highly doubtful the strong-legged lefty from Baylor will be brought back. Sepulveda is currently not under contract. His replacement Jeremy Kapinos performed admirably for the second time in his fill-in role. He could easily return to do the punting duties but he will face challengers in training camp to be sure.

The place kicking job is going to be interesting although it really shouldn’t be. Shaun Suisham has spent nearly two years with the Steelers after he came in to replace a failing Jeff Reed in the 2010 season. Suisham was excellent in the seven games he played in going 14 for 15 in field goal attempts, but his shank of a 52-yarder in Super Bowl XLV is unfortunately what many remember about him. Debating whether he should have been on the field to attempt it is a whole other article…

Last season, Suisham connected on 23 of 31 field goal tries while booming 28 kickoffs for touchbacks. He had only two in the previous year so clearly the new kickoff rule helped him tremendously.

Let’s be honest though. Watching ‘Sushi’ line up for anything over 40 yards out had the vast majority of Steelers Nation reaching for some Tums, some alcohol or a defibrillator and not necessarily in that order. You want your kickers to be consistent, no doubt about it, but you also need to have a guy that can boom one from 52 or 53 yards when necessary and Suisham is just not that guy.

There is no doubt you will see an open competition for kicker on this team when they report to Latrobe later this summer. Who Suisham’s competition will be is anyone’s guess but don’t be surprised if the Steelers draft a kicker in the mid to late rounds of the draft. Never before have kickers been so vital to a team’s success; ask Ravens’ fans about Billy Cundiff for example.

In all likelihood, you’ll need a program to keep track of the goings-on with the Steelers Special Teams’ units this fall. Things have’t been bad by any means but there is always room for improvement in an area that can be so crucial to the outcome of a professional football game.

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