How long will it take before Mike Tomlin finally fills the voids on his coaching staff?
Could still be some time yet, but this morning Ed Bouchette tweeted about some possible movement on that front:
#Steelers get permission from Redskins to talk to their ST coach Danny Smith a Pgh native— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) January 28, 2013
The quick overview of Danny Smith is that he has been the special teams coordinator for the Washington Redskins since 2004, prior to which he had stints with the Bills, Lions, and Eagles in various capacities. Smith's bio on Redskins.com has plenty of positive things to say about him, including:
In 2011, Smith's special teams unit ranked first in the NFC in kick return average allowed (20.8 yards) for the second consecutive season. Additionally, the unit ranked fifth in the NFC in opponents' average starting position (21.8-yard line on kickoffs).
He also helped Brandon Banks become one of the league's most consistent return specialists. Banks finished the season with career highs in kick returns and kick return yards with 51 kick returns for 1,174 yards, which led the NFL in both categories....
In 2010, Smith's unit ranked first in the NFC in kick return average allowed (19.0 yards) and second in the NFC in opponents' average starting position (23.7-yard line on kickoffs).
That all sounds great, but there's no way the team website is going to give the full picture.
To learn more about Danny Smith, I talked to Kevin Ewoldt - the friendly managing editor of Hogs Haven, SB Nation's Redskins site:
If you ask Redskins fans, they generally are not too fond of Danny Smith. He consistently beat the drum for Brandon Banks to be the starting KR/PR in 2010, 2011, and 2012, which was a coveted roster spot since Banks couldn't play WR really. Well, that did not pay off as it is now three full seasons with Banks and he only has one career TD in all returns. ESPN and Yahoo! only have one career fumble for Banks, but he has many more than that (none lost though).
In light of the boneheaded ball security issues that plagued Steelers running backs and receivers this past season, the account of Banks' fumbling is particularly disconcerting. Aside from that, Banks' status as the full-time kick/punt returner, combined with his diminutive stature at 5'7, might have some parallels with the Steelers' 2009 experiment with the 5'6 Stefan Logan.
Ewoldt went on to say:
While Danny Smith has been very successful in preventing special teams TDs, the past few years have been a revolving door of punters and kickers. Shaun Suisham, Graham Gano, Billy Cundiff, Derrick Frost, it goes on and on. The Redskins allowed five blocked FGs in 2011. That's outrageous. Players vehemently defended Danny Smith saying it was poor execution, which the film validated with missed assignments, but someone has to take blame, right? The players would miss Danny Smith, but fans would not. Kai Forbath and Sav Rocca brought stability in the kicking game, but the returns are bottom in the league, which of course is crucial in helping out in the field position battle.
Good to hear that about the great coverage teams again, but that is a remarkable turnover of kicking specialists. And isn't it funny how one of them went from being the Redskins' goat to the Steelers' goat to a revelation of consistency this past year? Suisham is still far from the strongest leg in the league, but he was a legitimate candidate for the Pro Bowl.
I can't say whether Brandon Banks' lack of game-changing influence for Washington has been due to his own limitations, or the blocking scheme/execution by the rest of the return teams. If Banks was the weak link and the blocking was solid, then I have to believe that the Steelers return units should improve if Smith takes over coaching here. The performance of the returners themselves was decent for the most part (although the void from Chris Rainey's pending release will have to be addressed), while it was the blockers on the units that kept erasing good returns with dumb holding penalties. A good coach should be able to fix that. But on the flip-side, if the blocking on the Redskins' return units was deficient (which is not out of the question given the poor execution by their field goal unit in 2011, plus two blocked punts at the start of this past season), then the Steelers' return game could be right back where it is.
However, the detail in all of this that speaks the most to me is how much respect there is for Danny Smith around the league.
Ewoldt mentioned how much the players like Smith, but this also is not the first time that teams have tried to lure Smith away from Washington. Just a few years ago, at least five teams (including Pittsburgh) sought permission to interview Smith, but all were denied because the Redskins were intent on keeping him.
The Steelers could be coming along at the right time now - while the Redskins may not be as gung-ho about retaining Smith's services.