Chris Boswell will be on everybody’s radar at Saint Vincent College, but place kicking isn’t the only aspect of the Steelers’ special teams that figures to be heavily scrutinized this summer.
Coordinator Danny Smith will have a great deal on his plate.
The kicking game variables to sort through include:
—Third-round pick Diontae Johnson as a potential kickoff and/or punt returner.
Smith: “I studied him a lot. I liked him a lot. I put together tape on him. I went over to Toledo to visit with him and meet him, I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a good player, a real good player. We’ll see how he handles all this at the next level but he’s a very good player.
“He’s got great hands. And if you look, he’s had some drops on returns. He has a technique issue that we’re working on, but he has great hands. He can stick his foot in the ground and change direction, he likes it, he wants to do it, that’s the upside on him. I’m excited.”
—Whether Johnson can handle wide receiver, punt returns and kickoff returns.
Smith: “I don’t want to bad-rap the kid, but you saw some hamstring issues early (in rookie minicamp and OTAs). So can he? I don’t know. He’s gotta be in tip-top shape. You talk about being a wide receiver, a punt returner, a kick returner in this league? Your ‘hams’ better be in pretty good shape. He’s gotta understand that. I think that’s a maturation process. I think he’s gotta learn that.
“We’ll see what kind of shape he comes back in and how much he can do them all. Can he carry that load remains to be seen.”
—Punter Jordan Berry’s quest for a more dependable game.
Smith: “Jordan has played well at times and played very average at times. He just needs to relax. He’s quite capable, but we need a consistency level from him. I’m looking for him to be more consistent.”
—The impact rookies such as third-round cornerback Justin Layne, sixth-round linebacker Sutton Smith, and sixth-round linebacker Ulysees Gilbert can have on returns and coverage.
Smith: “We got a lot of prospects. Our draft, I thought, was outstanding. We got a lot of guys, they lack experience but they have the ability and the talent level to help us. It’s my job to coach them and teach them. It’s their job to learn it, learn the skill level. We got a lot of guys in that draft we expect to be able to help, yes.
“You know the linebacker types, the defensive back types, they have the best chance. And we got some guys from last year that really didn’t play a lot of football that were on this football team that are in that same mix.
“We got a lot of prospects, we really do.”
--The impact of special teams contributions in determining the final roster.
Smith: “We have a good football team and we’ll pick a good football team and the decision-makers will make those decisions on the personnel and what 53 we carry into the season. We have good prospects for that. We’re gonna release some guys that can play this year, that’s my opinion at this point.
“We haven’t even had pads on yet, so that’s maybe speaking a little quick, too, but I expect that.”
It was a busy week for Steelers' players as they posed for all the cameras