Is it really that hard? Is it really so difficult not to hold a guy or hit a guy from behind? Isn’t the old saying “if you see his name don’t hit him?” Being a special teams’ player is not easy because quite often it really does take a rare breed to do it. Right now however, the Steelers are struggling on special teams with penalties and it is potentially going to crush this team if the problem doesn’t get corrected.
Let us recall going back to training camp where Head Coach Mike Tomlin decided to part ways with Special Teams’ coach Al Everest. Parting with coaches during the season is not without precedent, but during training camp is very odd to say the least. Tomlin claimed there were ‘differences’ between the two men in terms of how special teams was proceeding and succeeding. Tomlin said he would be helping coach Amos Jones with the special teams for the remainder of the season.
While Everest wasn’t exactly the second coming of Frank Beamer in terms of his ability to get blocks on punts and field goals, the unit definitely had improved. With Antonio Brown gaining over 1,000 yards in returns last season something had to be going fairly well. Now add Chris Rainey to the mix and the Steelers have the potential to be extremely explosive on both punt and kick returns.
The perfect example of how bad the penalties are getting was on display Sunday night in Cincinnati. Both Rainey and Brown had excellent nights returning the ball, but it got so bad that Brown didn’t even have to turn around to know there was a flag on the play.
Football requires tremendous discipline and perhaps nowhere is that discipline more required than on special teams. Ask Ryan Mundy about the poor job of blocking he did against Tennessee that resulted in a blocked punt and eventual touchdown. Ask DeMarcus Van Dyke about the numerous holding calls. If you as a coach aren’t preaching discipline to your players then why would they care about lacking it on the field?
There’s a reason that guys like Bobby April and Joe Avezzano (RIP by the way) have coached special teams so long in this league and why nearly every other team employs a coach specifically for special teams. It really is the third phase of football and is often the forgotten one. Look at how many college games each week and even pro games for that matter are decided by a special teams play. Tomlin’s refusal to have an actual special teams coach reeks of arrogance in my opinion and it has already cost this team one game who knows how many more.
While the kicking game with Shaun Suisham and Drew Butler is very good for now, there is obviously much that needs to be addressed by the Steelers and it cannot wait. It has become literally hysterical to see and hear fan reaction on punt and kick returns in 2012. I think there’s more of a crowd response to when there isn’t a flag as to when there is.
Mike Tomlin has the power to take care of the problems on special teams but the question is will he? For every penalty or every blocked kick the fans will continue to look harder and harder at him and wonder why do away with the special teams coach if this is what we are getting in return. If the ‘standard is the standard’ then let’s make sure that applies to special teams as well.