Stick ball

Danny Smith never speaks softly, but he still wants his special teams to carry a big stick.

Linebackers Tyler Matakevich and Anthony Chickillo are doing so this week, and as a result they'll represent the Steelers' special teams during the coin toss prior to Sunday afternoon's hosting of Minnesota.

"We only give it after wins," Smith explained regarding "The Stick," the trophy for kicking game excellence he's awarded since his arrival as special teams coordinator in 2013. "We've taken it to another level. Whoever gets "The Stick" will be a captain the following week."

"The Stick" is nothing more than a walking stick that's been painted black and gold, but it might as well be made of gold given the way the players covet its possession.

"You gotta take some pride in it," Matakevich said. "If you're not trying to get that stick every week, what are we doing?"

Smith prefers not to have two winners if he can help it.

Occasionally, circumstances and performance dictate otherwise.

Matakevich and Chickillo were recognized this week for the punt Matakevich blocked and the end zone recovery by Chickillo in last Sunday's season-opening, 21-18 win at Cleveland.

The date of the game, the opponent and each player's name are now displayed on "The Stick."

At season's end, the player whose name appears more than any other gets to keep "The Stick."

Linebacker Vince Williams won it in 2016.

Getting off to a fast start in this year's competition is a big deal to Matakevich.

The touchdown the special teams produced in Cleveland is an even bigger deal.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.

"To steal a possession on special teams, I don't think people understand how hard that is," Matakevich said. "To score on it too? That's unbelievable."

Both players credited Smith for his role in scripting the play.

"Danny made a good call on it," Chickillo insisted. "Tyler made a great play. I just ran to the ball and jumped on it."

Added Matakevich: "Danny always says you gotta expect to come free. You can't jog through and then be like, 'Oh, man, I'm free.' You gotta come off like you're going to block it the whole time.

"We've been practicing that since OTAs."

Smith might lead the NFL in combined decibels and syllables during special teams periods in NFL practices since then, but he wasn't interested in taking any of the credit.

"It's all about execution," he insisted. "I draw up stuff week in and week out. Sometimes it hits and sometimes it doesn't.

"Don't get confused by good intentions; it's about the execution and those guys executed it to its finest."

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