Kicking game gets special attention
By Mike Prisuta
Thursday, July 26, 2007
The Steelers have gone to the mattresses.
Not the "Godfather"/Tony Soprano mattresses, but the big pads designed to soften the blow for those giving their all trying to block an imaginary punt.
We'd seen that before at St. Vincent College.
Ron Zook used them when he was coaching the special teams back in the mid-to-late 1990s.
It was either Zook or Bobby April.
April was the special teams coach who replaced John Guy and preceded Zook.
Bill Cowher went through so many special teams coaches (one every three years, on average) it's difficult to recall who was responsible for what innovation.
From Guy to April to Zook to Jay Hayes to Kevin Spencer, they all had an angle.
What they didn't have was time.
The Steelers practiced special teams with regularity under Cowher, who began his climb up the ladder running Marty Schottenheimer's special teams in Cleveland and always paid enthusiastic lip service to their importance after becoming a head coach.
But they never devoted the time to the kicking game they have since Mike Tomlin took over.
Tomlin arrived with not one but two kicking game gurus, special teams coach Bob Ligashesky and assistant special teams coach Amos Jones.
They were busy men during the minicamps and organized team activities.
Tomlin suggested then that the seemingly endless special teams drilling would be curtailed once the Steelers hit Latrobe.
But there they were on Wednesday morning, conducting a one-hour workout devoted to nothing but "teams."
More of those are in store.
And the mattresses aren't the only toys in the special teams shed.
The Steelers have footballs attached to sticks used to simulate snaps that jump-start players who are trying to block imaginary punts.
They have a skinny post (not the one Hines Ward scored on against New England, but a thinner set of uprights, presumably designed to hone kicker Jeff Reed's accuracy).
They have a long-snapping net (presumably to hone long snapper Greg Warren's accuracy).
They have volleyballs.
They have Nerf balls.
And the time they're spending on special teams is estimated by linebacker/special teams captain Clint Kriewaldt to be about three times what they devoted to special teams a year ago.
There was some grumbling at first about the painstaking attention to detail and technique.
But with the arrival of the preseason, that initial chafing has seemingly been replaced by a new appreciation for special teams preparation.
"Hopefully, guys' attitudes are right," Kriewaldt said. "We're out here working, and I like where we're going. Coach Tomlin's a big special teams guy, and he's backing it up by giving us this time, the meeting time, the practice time, everything.
"We're going to be good. You think about how many games are won and lost on that phase and how important it is and how little time we used to put in and how little other teams put in, I understand why we're doing it."
Spencer had neither the time nor the influence on personnel necessary to avert a special teams disaster last season.
Ligashesky had an hour with which to work yesterday and an appointment with Tomlin to review film afterward.
"We're trying to give it its just due," Tomlin said.
That explains why the Steelers practiced special teams again yesterday afternoon.