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Special Teams Priorities

There's been plenty of drooling over Daniel Sepulveda, the Baylor punter drafted by the Steelers in the 4th Round of last weekend's draft. Check out Ed Bouchette's article if you haven't already done so. And while I'm excited that we finally have a punter who can kick the ball more than 40 yards and travel in the air for more than .8 seconds, I'm more concerned about shoring up other areas of our special teams.

Enter Bob Ligashesky, hired this past January to improve a unit that was 3rd to last in the NFL , as measured by Football Outsider's DVOA metric. We disected FO's advanced metrics some last year, and will continue to do so this offseason and in 2007, but for now, let's just realize that there was a problem last year. And it wasn't just because we had a bad punter. We surrendered disadvantageous field position far too often last year on kickoff and punt return coverage, while making an inadequate number of big return plays ourselves.

Bob Ligashesky grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and attended games at Three Rivers Stadium as a kid. He knows what Steeler football means to the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding area, and he's determined to help the Steelers rebound immediately following the disappointment of last yaer. One thing Ligashesky will make sure of his that his players 'out-will' their opponents on special teams:

"And I think that's the mentality of this area of the country, whether it's football or working in the mills. We're going to out-work you, and we're going to out-tough you, and I think that's the mentality that you grow up here with from your parents."

Having the right attitude is one thing, but having the personnel is just as, if not more important. Head Coach Mike Tomlin insists that starters from both sides of the ball will be asked to play special teams. We will still rely heavily on our special teams ace, Chidi Iwuoma, but we'll hopefully get valuable contributions from full-time starters like rookie Lawrence Timmons. By the way, how bad ass would it be to see Troy Polamalu play special teams?? Can you imagine him flying down field to make a hit?

Anyway, talk is one thing, results are another. Ligashesky did a poor job with the St. Louis Rams' special teams the past two years. There was a reason he was out of work this spring after all. But still, he seems to have the right attitude, the right determination, and the commitment of the head coach to help give the Steelers the edge in the phase of the game that is most often overlooked.