Although the moves were a bit “under the radar,” I must say that I was pleased when I saw that the Steelers inked Zoltan Mesko and Antwon Blake on Monday afternoon. As excited as I was to see Mesko inked, the addition of Blake should pay huge dividends for some of the Steelers’ most problematic units in recent years: their kickoff and punt return coverage teams.
In an article on the team’s website by Teresa Varley, Blake said the following about the type of experience he gained on special teams last year with Jacksonville:
I have been told I have a knack for special teams and that is my niche in my career, … I can play any special teams position, except kicker and punter. I take special teams as another defensive snap for me. I am going to go out and compete and play hard and make plays for this team.
Blake was one of the Jaguars’ best special teams players in 2012, and he led the team with 12 tackles covering kicks and punts last fall. Thankfully, the cornerback’s versatility and effectiveness as a special teamer can do nothing except the Steelers fix some of their most problematic units.
Last year, Pittsburgh finished 22nd in yards per punt return allowed (10.2), 17th in yards per kickoff return allowed (24.0), and 21st in total kickoff return yards allowed (1103). Last year’s collective performance led to then-special teams coach Amos Jones’ exit after only one year on the job.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh and their new special teams coach Danny Smith, the play of the coverage units during this past preseason did little to inspire hope. The biggest mistakes of course came on Knile Davis’ kickoff return of 109 yards for a touchdown two weeks ago, and the blocked punt by Damontre Moore during the Steelers’ first preseason game.
Pittsburgh and Smith still need more consistency and competency from their kickoff and punt teams, and a team with so many question marks like the Steelers can ill-afford to give up free points and yards on those units this year. Thus, I hope that Blake’s arrival can help Pittsburgh’s special teams head in the right direction.
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