The Pittsburgh Steelers special teams units were not so “special” in 2016. There were many times fans, and even coaches, were disgusted over the lack of progression from the unit that should help win football games and not lose them.
Special teams coordinator Danny Smith could very well be on the hot seat due to his coaching last season. While a new season is upon us, let me take some time to explain what exactly went wrong, and how Smith can improve in order to potentially keep his job.
1. Get Toussaint off kick return duties
Running back/special teams return man Fitzgerald Toussaint is an athlete that has no reason to return kickoffs. The former Michigan running back was an undrafted athlete and signed with Pittsburgh in 2015. Many may remember his late fumble against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round two years ago.
He is a third-string running back and may just lose that position if the team decides that Karlos Williams is a better back and is not violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. That leaves Toussaint as a special teams player and he clearly does NOT have what it takes to return the ball. Get him out of there Danny Smith!
2. Demarcus Ayers deserves a chance in the returning game
The Steelers drafted return specialist and wide receiver Demarcus Ayers in the seventh-round of the 2016 NFL draft. While this draft pick was mainly to get a return specialist, he ended up being a valuable receiver during a few games, registering six receptions for 53-yards and a touchdown in the regular season.
If Ayers was indeed drafted for special teams, why doesn’t Danny Smith have him back returning kickoffs? That is a question that should be answered immediately in 2017.
3. Develop a few players, test them in the preseason
The “change it up” type of mentality is getting old. Every single week it was a story of who is going to return the kickoffs. While it may seem like common sense, if I was Danny Smith, I would develop a few athletes and have them switch out during the preseason.
In the four preseason games it would be the perfect time to see who the best return specialist is and have them back there. The preseason makes the most sense to really test out this “change it up” mentality NOT in the playoffs!
4. Kick it out of the end zone every time
Kicker Chris Boswell is one successful NFL kicker. In two seasons with the Steelers he has made 50/57 field goals for a percentage of 87.7. Boswell single-handedly defeated the Kansas City Chiefs after nailing six field goals for 18 total points in the AFC Divisional Round. After signing a one-year contract this offseason, Boswell is here to stay in the Steel City for at least another season.
Smith needs to tell Boswell to nail all kickoffs toward the back of the endzone so it is very difficult for a return specialist to gain any return yardage. This is paramount in my opinion if Pittsburgh wants to improve their special teams unit. There have been times where this team has faced elite talent. Tyreek Hill was a prime example. If Boswell continues to kick out of the end zone, return touchdowns will be easier to prevent.
As you can see, these are just a few simple tips for special teams coordinator Danny Smith. Feel free to leave your suggestions for him in the comment section below. We are all fans of this wonderful organization and if the special teams can get cleaned up, I feel it would be a very solid start to the 2017/2018 season. Go Steelers!
Along with being a Film Room analyst on BTSC, Nathaniel is also the founder/ editor-in-chief of SteelCityReport.com. Check out more of his work HERE.