SCU’s 2021 Steelers Awards: Outstanding performer on special teams

Steel City Underground presents our “Steelers Awards” to players on the Pittsburgh Steelers team that had outstanding performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

Players who see most of their snaps on special teams aren’t always the guys that most people scream for on any given game day unless they do something extraordinarily memorable. Yes, the placekicker and the punter are often under the highest level of scrutiny, but the return and coverage players are often overlooked. In fact, some football fans barely see them as members of the team let alone pay attention to how many snaps they’ve played all year. So, in all the X’s and O’s, players on special teams are not usually award winners. Well, it’s time to change that.

During the offseason, the Steelers signed former Southern Utah University star of the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, Miles Killebrew. Killebrew began his NFL career with the Detroit Lions. A hybrid safety/linebacker, Killebrew showed he had the kind of athleticism to be a difference-maker on special teams. His name may not have been as big of an attention-getter as fellow special teamer Derek Watt, but following Teryl Austin to Pittsburgh proved to be fortuitous for Killebrew and the Steelers during the 2021-22 NFL season.

Killebrew didn’t stand out on the defensive stats sheet. He only played a limited number of snaps with that unit. Killebrew showed how valuable the 43 solo special teams tackles (fourth-most in the NFL since 2016) he’d made prior to joining Pittsburgh could be to field position, though. In Week 11, Killebrew illustrated why special teams players deserve to get more notice from fans.

On the road against the LA Chargers, the Steelers were shorthanded defensively, giving opportunities to several back-ups. Pittsburgh had finally initiated their first third-and-out situation, forcing Los Angeles to trot out punter Ty Long. Killebrew got a great jump and broke free to block the attempt, then try to scoop up the ball as it hopped down the field. Although he was unable to secure the football before it went out of bounds at the Chargers’ three-yard line, the heads-up play was a momentum changer.

Ben Roethlisberger found Eric Ebron for a touchdown reception five plays later that narrowed LA’s lead to 27-20. The Steelers ended up scoring 27 total points in the final quarter of the game despite a closer-than-expected 41-37 final score.

Killebrew made several tough special teams tackles throughout the season, as well, and might have been more noticeable on the field if the Steelers’ offense had been more effective and consistent when it came to turning good field position and special teams play into points on the scoreboard.

Also considered: Chris Boswell

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