Plenty of options

Danny Smith is getting ready for his 10th season coordinating special teams for the Steelers with no thoughts whatsoever about when his 27-year run in the NFL might be coming to an end.

"I'm a lifer, man," Smith, 68, maintained. "I got no hobbies, I really don't. I'm not a golfer. I'm not a traveler, that's a pain in the (neck) any more.

"I don't know what the hell I'd do if I didn't have this place and football. You're probably gonna see me crawl off one day. I'm good to go, man, I love it. I prepare for it. I'm forever, that's just my mentality."

Smith's coaching resume dates back to Dan Marino's time … at Pittsburgh's Central Catholic High School (Smith tutored defensive backs for the Vikings in 1977 and 1978, Marino's junior and senior seasons as Central's quarterback).

Smith has coached college ball at Edinboro, Clemson, William & Mary (1980-83, well before Mike Tomlin arrived as a wide receiver in 1990), The Citadel and Georgia Tech. Smith broke into the NFL with Philadelphia in 1995 and made stops in Detroit, Buffalo and Washington before joining Tomlin's Steelers staff in January of 2013.

So Smith has been around the NFL block.

Enough times, apparently, to realize the void in the return game created when wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud left via free agency is going to take some time to sort out before it eventually gets filled.

McCloud finished sixth in the NFL in 2021 with a 9.7-yard average on 38 punt returns and 14th in the league with a 22.2 average on 35 kickoff returns.

Wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, a free agent addition from New England, has experience returning kicks and punts and led the NFL in punt return yards (346) and average (17.1) in 2020.

Olszewski was named a First-Team All-Pro punt returner for his work with the Patriots that season. But so far, at least, he's one of several candidates to replace McCloud returning punts for the Steelers.

"We have more choices than we've had," Smith said. "We've been a little low in our numbers as far as numbers of choices there, we really have, since I've been here. We'll sort that out. You could say this guy has an advantage or that guy has an advantage. I don't really look at it like that at this point because I haven't been in-game with some of these guys yet. But we have more choices than we've had with the rookie (fourth-round wide receiver Calvin Austin III), with Gunner.

"I hate mentioning names any time because you leave somebody out and they say, 'What about me, Coach?' (First-year wide receiver) Tyler Vaughns is gonna come to me if this gets out, 'what about me?' It's their nature, so I hesitate to use names. I'm just saying we have more choices than we've had."

It's the same in terms of replacing McCloud the kickoff returner.

"We got a lot of guys," Smith continued. "Our returner last year is gone so it is open. I don't have an answer at this point."

Smith also knows he doesn't need the answers at this point.

And he's experienced enough to let the process play out until he gets them.

"When we get closer to the first preseason game, I'll tell you who those guys are that are gonna play in that game, that deserve first crack," he said. "But our returner's gone so it's wide open."