On the Steelers: Cover boys (they're not)
Cincinnati's Bernard Scott was No. 3 on the list of four to victimize the Steelers' kickoff-coverage team.
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Since the Steelers and their coaches have worked on their kickoff "coverage" team over the past five weeks and it's only gotten worse, here are some suggestions that could not hurt. After all, how could you get any worse than four kickoff returns over the past five games? That ties an NFL record and they still have six games to go.
Would it surprise anyone if Baltimore rookie Lardarius Webb returned the opening kickoff tonight for a touchdown? He already has one. It's also interesting that rookies are having so much success returning kickoffs, especially when they play the Steelers.
The Steelers have not had a good rookie return man of note since Antwaan Randle El in 2002. Santonio Holmes did a decent job returning punts as a rookie in 2006. Every April they draft one or two fellows and heap praise on him as a return man. Mike Wallace and Joe Burnett were among those this season. Wallace set the Mississippi record for single game, season and career kickoff return yards. He's returned one kickoff this season. Burnett returned kickoffs or punts for five touchdowns in college. He has no returns for the Steelers. Both players have dressed for every game except the opener when Burnett was inactive.
Game: Steelers (6-4) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5).
When: 8:20 p.m.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Md.
Radio: WDVE-FM (102.5), WBGG-AM (970).
Mike Tomlin and his special-teams coaches seem to prefer the veteran return man. Look at who has returned for them the past three seasons -- Najeh Davenport, Gary Russell, Allen Rossum and now Stefan Logan, 28 and formerly of the CFL. The only exception was Holmes. Such is their lack of confidence in Logan's hands or decision-making that they usually insert Mewelde Moore on punt returns that will go deep in their own territory. It's not just Tomlin's staff, either, who have virtually failed to find return men this side of Randle El. Remember Willie Reid and Ricardo Colclough?
Now for those suggestions for their kickoff-coverage unit.
One would be merely to have Jeff Reed pound the ball out of bounds (stop with the negative thoughts that he would not get it there) and let the opponent start its series at its 40. That would be 60 yards deeper than four of their kickoffs ended the past five games.
Short of that, they could at least outfit each kickoff "coverage" member with bicycle horns so they could both look and sound the part as they run down field. Or as they run under the ball they could at least be instructed to shout a Three Stooges signature war cry of "woo, woo, woo, woo!" You could get 10 volunteers from the stands who could give up fewer than four touchdown returns over five games.
It is probably too late for this next suggestion -- although the way they're throwing players overboard, it might not be -- but if this ineptitude continues, next spring or summer Tomlin and his staff could conduct tryouts for special-teams players. All comers, all ages, yes both sexes.
This is an old idea that goes back to 1976 and Philadelphia rookie coach Dick Vermeil, who supposedly held an open contest, inviting all comers to try out for the Eagles. One made it, Vince Papale, an Eagles season-ticket holder, a 30-year-old part-time school teacher and bartender who never played college football. His story was embellished but it did become a successful Disney movie, "Invincible," starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale and Greg Kinnear as Vermeil.
The Steelers now have a Hollywood producer as an owner, Thomas Tull, so maybe if it's successful, we could have "Invincible II" on this side of the state.
Ludicrous? Of course, but is anything more absurd than those four kickoff returns for touchdowns over the past five games?
Here's some good news for Steelers fans around the country who can pull in Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh: It was sold by Liberty Sports to Direct TV last week.
Direct TV plans to add more Steelers programming. Who knows, it may even bring back Stan Savran's popular daily show that Liberty inexplicably eliminated. Liberty gutted FSN, laying people off, cutting back programming and almost eliminating their Steelers coverage. The long-time local all-sports channel was reduced to carrying Penguins and Pirates games with little other programming other than pre- and postgame shows for those two sports.
The only Steelers coverage they provided was the Mike Tomlin press conference and the Mike Tomlin Show. They did not even send crews to training camp to cover the Super Bowl champs.
Because it has been bought by Direct TV, it also may be available to a wider audience throughout the country, which can be nothing but good news to those not living in the Pittsburgh area who also cannot get FSN now.
Paul Zeise, who covers Pitt for the Post-Gazette, wrote an insightful story last week about how Pitt's offense is a throwback: a power offense with a true blocking fullback who can also run. He showed how that offense rarely exists in the college game anymore as teams have fallen in love with the spread.
Dave Wannstedt told Zeise about how that style of offense has become a good recruiting tool for them because Pitt uses the "pro-style" offense and players can go there and get a jump on the game as it is played in the NFL.
The only problem with that, as we've seen dramatically unfold with the Steelers over the past two seasons, is the pro game is turning into the college game with all the spread offenses, empty sets and no fullbacks. It's a natural because the colleges are producing those types of players and, as college coaches enter the NFL ranks, they bring the philosophy with them.
When the pros started having trouble finding fullbacks, they merely eliminated them as Bruce Arians has done with the Steelers.
First Published November 29, 2009 12:00 am