Steeler Nation , Its easy to get caught up in the offense and defense but there is a third important phase of the game that many times gets overlooked . That phase is special teams .
Many times during a season, a game can be won or lost depending on a special teams play. One big play on special teams can make or break a team . Whether it be a return for a touchdown , a hit causing a turnover, or just the battle of field position during a game one must never underestimate the importance of special teams.
Over the years many future Steeler star players began their careers playing special teams. Hines Ward , Brett Keisel and James Harrison are just a few players that started their careers on special teams.
This off-season the Steelers have acquired a few players with great special teams potential .
Lets start with first round pick linebacker Jarvis Jones . Jones began his career at Georgia as a key special teams player and no doubt will contribute on special teams his first year as a Steeler. Jones has a knack for finding the ball carrier and making plays ,that should bode well in his special teams play.
Another player that seems destined to make an impact on special teams is 4th round pick rookie safety Shamarko Thomas. Thomas has experience on both coverage units and has the speed and hitting ability to excel on special teams. Thomas will most likely work his way up playing special teams while learning his craft as an NFL safety.
Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton taken in the third round of the draft has speed and plays with the tenacity that is needed on special teams. He may see some time there while growing into his role as a wide receiver.
The Steelers drafted another interesting candidate in the 5th round defensive back Terry Hawthorne . Hawthorne has good size ( 6.0 190) , good speed (4.4 speed) and is known as a physical defender. These attributes may make him a prime candidate to make the team starting out on special teams.
Inside linebacker Vince Williams was taken in the 6th round of this years draft. Williams learnt all the coverage team positions while playing at Florida State. Here is a quote when asked about special teams after the draft …
“I think I would be a tremendous attribute on all special teams. I actually played all of them at Florida State. My special teams coach taught me all of them. We only focused on a few. He didn’t want a starting linebacker running down there on kickoffs.”
Also the Steelers took wide receiver Justin Brown in the 6th round. Brown will have to show he has the skills to contribute on special teams to make the Steelers roster. Brown had 71 career punt returns (9.0 avg.) with one touchdown during his college career.
The Steelers also addressed special teams after the draft picking up undrafted free agent wide receiver Reggie Dunn. Dunn (5-9 178) is a return specialist out of Utah . Dunn has blazing speed. He ran an astonishing 4.22 40 time at his Pro day and Dunn set NCAA records for kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season (four), 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns in a career (five), and 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns in a game (two). It will be interesting to see if Dunn’s speed and success on kick offs will carry over to the NFL.
The Steelers acquired running back LaRod Stephens-Howling off the free agent market . Howling formally of the Arizona Cardinals has experience as a kick returner with three returns going for touchdowns in his career. Howling may be a key player in the return game.
In April, the Steelers signed free-agent punter Brian Moorman, a two-time Pro-Bowler and a member of the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s. Moorman 37 has a good resume and will if nothing else offer good competition for Steeler Punter Drew Butler.
Steeler Nation ,new Steeler special teams coach Danny Smith should have plenty of talent to work with heading into the 2013 season . It will be very interesting to see if the moves the Steelers made this off-season will have a positive effect on the Steelers special teams this coming season. By all indications the Steelers have some players with special potential and that may add up to more wins in 2013.