By John Grupp
Sunday, September 10, 2006
They are the mistakes that turn field position into fraught position.
The Steelers' special-teams miscues carried over from the preseason into the regular-season opener, leaving only the promise of improvement.
"We've always had great special teams," punt returner Ricardo Colclough said before Thursday's 28-17 season-opening win over the Miami Dolphins. "We had a missed assignment here and missed assignment there. We just can't quite break it. We're trying back there, and hopefully, this year, we can get the kick returning going."
While the Steelers prevailed Thursday, the return teams had little to do with the victory. The Steelers averaged 1.7 yards on three punt returns and 25 yards on three kickoff returns.
Prior to the Miami game, special teams coach Kevin Spencer said the unit would develop more continuity. Since last season, he lost Antwaan Randle El (sixth in the NFL in punt returns last year) to free agency and Quincy Morgan (eighth in kickoff returns) to a roster cut.
"We just used a combination of a lot of different guys -- and I'm not trying to make excuses -- but what do you do?" he said. "Do you keep your front-line guys in there and get good at it, or do you take the time to evaluate people?
"The bottom line is that, now that we have our group and our corps, we have to hope we can pick up where we left off last year and even do a little bit better."
Colclough and rookie Santonio Holmes returned kickoffs and punts against the Dolphins. Rookie Willie Reid, whom coach Bill Cowher hinted would handle punt returns, was inactive.
"Once we get going, we'll be OK," Colclough said.