I can sense what you’re thinking: a special teams depth chart?
Yes! One does exist actually. Each week the Pittsburgh Steelers name six specialists to their depth chart. When taking into account the most recent roster news, I felt it was worth looking into the special teams standouts and seeing where changes could be made.
|KR||Knile Davis||Sammie Coates|
|PR||Eli Rogers||Antonio Brown|
Chris Boswell and Jordan Berry
Berry wears two hats on specials teams as the punter and the holder for field goals. He and Chris Boswell both had individual bests in different franchise special teams categories last season, seemingly arriving on the scene at the right time when both of their positions were in turmoil. The Steelers were seeking a replacement kicker when the reliable Shaun Suisham went down with a knee injury in the 2015 preseason, while the team suffered through a number of woeful punters before bringing Berry to camp the same season.
While the club didn’t bring in another kicker to compete with Boswell in camp, they did sign A.J. Hughes to at least provide some punting competition with Berry. (They did the same by bringing in Duke punter Will Monday last season.)
Hughes figures to be a long shot who may handle some of the punting duties in the first few weeks of the preseason, if anything, to keep Berry fresh for the regular season.
In other words, don’t expect any changes at either position for 2017.
When I started to write this article, I was going to give a few reasons why the Steelers decided to draft a long snapper.
Then the team released Greg Warren (pictured), which made those points moot.
Warren was a rock in the center of special teams play, and Holba figures to be his heir apparent without any camp battle now. The Louisville product can place the ball on a dime, as well as cover downfield. He should provide stability at the position for the foreseeable future.
The Steelers haven’t done well with this position over the last few seasons. Mike Tomlin refuses to use defensive backs as returners, therefore, this season should be no different. I would expect to see Sammie Coates return to his special teams role, but Fitzgerald Toussaint, a potential camp casualty, should be replaced by fellow running back and free agent addition Knile Davis.
Combine Davis’ two returns for touchdowns in each of his first two NFL seasons, and things are already looking up for the Steelers special teams unit.
Antonio Brown returning punts is always a hot button topic, even though it shouldn’t be. AB is a game changer at the position and capable of once again being the “man” on the punt return unit, but something tells me that the Steelers will once again toy with the idea of putting someone else back there instead of 84.
That someone else will be last year’s tryout, Eli Rogers. Rogers was the Steelers punt returner to start the season until he was sidelined with a foot injury which kept him out of a few games. Brown resumed his previous role and never gave it up.
Could it be playing with fire in terms of potential injuries? Sure. But the reward outweighs the risk, and it’s not as if other teams don’t have high profile players returning punts. Hall of Fame WR Tim Brown did so his entire career as well.
Look for Rogers to test the waters, but AB to take over again later in the season.
The Steelers should be set with their kicking and punting units. The return unit should see an improvement with Knile Davis, and giving Rogers a shot won’t hurt either.
I’m looking forward to seeing how these young players gel, and improve, in 2017.