Bill Cowher apparently was all talk about special teams. That’s what the players are saying after getting a taste of what Mike Tomlin means when he says special teams are a third of the game.
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Clark
has a warning for fans traveling to St. Vincent College to watch practice this summer.
“It’s terrible as a spectator to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers
practice in 2007,” Clark said. “I can’t imagine the fans are going to be happy.”
“There are a million more special teams,” he said as the Steelers’ special-teams-driven Organized Team Activities reached the halfway point of the spring schedule.
“We actually didn’t even have special teams at OTAs last year – at all,” Clark said. “We did a little bit at walk-through. But it makes practices a lot longer and a lot harder.”
And a lot more boring to watch. The Steelers warm up, they stretch, and then they scrimmage for a bit. They’ll break for at least 20 minutes of special-teams work, scrimmage some more, then break for more special-teams work.
As much as the Steelers talked up the importance of special teams under Bill Cowher, they never backed it up with this kind of action on the practice field.
“Oh, for this time of year it’s definitely a lot more,” said special-teams co-captain Clint Kriewaldt
. “From what I remember I don’t think we even did any at this time. Maybe in OTAs we’d do a punt or something like that, but in minicamps we never had any time for special-teams stuff. It’s different now. We have 20-minute meetings and then at least 20 minutes on the field. We get it before and during. It’s definitely a lot more than what we’re used to.”
The Steelers have two special-teams coaches this year: Bob Ligashesky and assistant Amos Jones. Ligashesky will work, for instance, two segments of a 20-minute period with the interior of the punt protection, while Jones works with the gunners and the holdup men. They coach how to, for example, take on the first line of blockers and then they coach how to take the next step and then the next step. After the slightest of details are covered, the coaches bring the players together to run the entire play a couple of times.
Kriewaldt was asked if all of the nuance work is helpful or perhaps overkill.
“I plead the fifth on that one,” he said.
So, it’s overkill?
“We’re doing a lot of, like you said, very detailed stuff, and in my mind special teams isn’t about that,” Kriewaldt said. “It’s about having guys who want to run down there and make plays.”
Ligashesky, the 44-year-old Pittsburgh native with 22 years of coaching experience, had a logical response.
“If you can execute and ‘Go kill,’ it will make you that much more effective,” he said. “Why can’t we do both of those at the highest level? That’s the whole theory about ‘Go kill.’ You can execute with that mentality without having to think about it – unconscious confidence, if you will.”
Ligashesky (lig-a-SHES-kee) was an assistant special-teams coach in Jacksonville in 2004 before becoming the special-teams coach in St. Louis. After the 2005 season, he was one of only three assistants retained by new Coach Scott Linehan, but Ligashesky’s contract wasn’t renewed following the 2006 season, when the Rams finished 25th in punt return, 26th in kickoff return and 28th in kickoff coverage. Those statistics are about the norm for a Rams team that’s on its fifth special teams coach since the 2000 season.
The Dallas Morning News
, using 22 categories in the kicking game, ranked the Rams’ special teams 25th in the league last year. The Steelers, under Bill Cowher and special-teams coach Kevin Spencer, ranked 30th.
“I love Coach Spencer,” said Kriewaldt. “A lot of people don’t realize he didn’t have any time in minicamps. He wasn’t allowed. He would’ve loved to have as much time as we have now. I think we only had 10 or 15 minutes during practice even during the season and he tried to cram everything in there. He had a limited amount of time, and a lot of people don’t know that Coach Cowher overruled a lot of stuff. He was basically the special-teams coach, too. Everything had to go through him.”
Because of Tomlin’s “vision,” as Ligashesky put it, the Steelers now have two coaches to discuss and map out special-teams plans only. The result is a long and boring practice that has the players wondering aloud about the payoff. But those players are buying into Ligashesky’s methods. “Losing to Atlanta, losing to Cincinnati here, those games came down to one or two plays,” said Clark. “If you’d have focused on fundamentals and technique, you might make those plays, and those plays can make a difference in the game. I think it’s going to really help.” “Their communication in the meetings and on the field has been really good,” said Ligashesky. “Again, the standard that they’ve developed here is outstanding, the way that they make the other guys say, ‘Hey, you need to make sure you know what you’re doing when we’re on the field or in the meetings.’ You can see where that’s one of the strengths.
By Jim Wexell
Posted Jun 2, 2007