Special Teams: Snap, Tackle, Punt

The Steelers allowed a few loose scampers against the Philadelphia Eagles, but coordinator Al Everest has a plan and he's sticking to it. Here's the complete rundown:

LATROBE – The opening kickoff in Philadelphia was returned for 38 yards by the Eagles, and a late third-quarter kickoff was returned for 24 yards.

No doubt you've heard about these two Eagles returns from the "Nervous Nellies" among Steelers fans. But Al Everest stands by the performance of his units after the first outing of the summer.

"The preseason to me should be first of all to truly evaluate people you don't know much about," said Everest, who enters his third season as the Steelers' special teams coordinator.

"We know what Marquis Maze is like as a kick returner and a punt returner, but we don't know what he's like as a two on kickoff coverage. We don't know what he's like as a gunner. We don't know if David Gilreath can be a gunner and a safety on kickoff coverage. We're going to find those things out. That's part of it.

"Our starting groups, the people we're playing right now, are set up so that we can give guys a fair evaluation to see that we're not missing something. We know a lot about the Ryan Mundys, the Will Allens, those kinds of guys we know a lot about. We want to learn about the rest as early in the preseason as we can."

And so Everest provided us with a breakdown per unit:


"Both of them did a nice job last week," Everest said. "They were 100 percent with 11 points. It was nice to see Danny (Hrapmann) make that 43-yarder at the end. It was good to see. They iced him, too, [two-minute warning] so that was impressive. I think you're going to see in the preseason more balls being run out eight and nine yards deep like the first one run out against us, which is fine. It gives us more chances to cover. You've got to work on that. We didn't do a good job on the first one and we learned from it. We made several mistakes there. We've got to continue to grow in that area.

"At punter, Drew Butler did a nice job. We netted 46.5. My nets include penalties for us or against us. I'm only interested in where the ball started and where they started. It's the same with us on punt returns. Some of it won't match the paper (44.3), but mine are in actuality the starting points. So I thought he did a nice job there."

Butler is an undrafted rookie – a former Ray Guy Award winner – who has taken on full-time duties with veteran punter Jeremy Kapinos out with back trouble.

"Jeremy's making some really good progress in his rehab. We're taking it day to day and he's making some good progress," Everest said. "To me, Drew's not competing with Jeremy. He's competing to prove he belongs in the NFL. Drew's hoping Jeremy can get well. He can't control that, but what he controls is he's going to do the best job he can. If he's second-best here, he still might be the best on 31 other teams." Everest, a veteran of 39 years of coaching, admitted that he coached Butler's father, Kevin, with the Arizona Cardinals.

"The kid's a smart kid," Everest said. "I coached his dad in '97. I guess that's telling my age, that I coached a dad and a son. But this kid's very mature, very smart, pays attention, and he's gradually improving all the time, which is what we're looking for. We're happy there and we're looking forward to getting Jeremy back."


"The snapper situation is great," Everest said of eighth-year Steelers veteran Greg Warren and eighth-year NFL veteran Matt Katula. "I think both of them are NFL caliber. Part of it is when they went to the 90-man roster it gave coach an opportunity to bring in extra specialists. The best thing is we liked what Matt had done, we like him as a person and what he's contributed to the team. We'll continue to snap them like we did in the last game and let them both prove they belong in the NFL."


"I'm glad to get Dave Gilreath back this week," Everest said. "He had the cyst last week but he's back and we'll find out between him and Chris Rainey and Maze which of these young studs is the best. They all look pretty good to me. I like what I'm seeing there."

Against the Eagles, Rainey averaged 6.7 yards per punt return. Maze averaged 2.5 per punt return and handled the team's only kickoff return for 28 yards.

"We've still got Emmanuel (Sanders) and we've still got AB (Antonio Brown)," Everest said. "I've never been on a team in 16 years that had that much depth, quality-type players, as return guys, whether it's punt or kickoff. So that's nice to see. Even Jerricho Cotchery can be a catch-the-ball guy. He did that for the Jets."


"I think we have good competition at the linebacker spots to see who's going to make this football team. We've got some good competition at the safety spots, the corner spots. That's really good. It's good to see."

Everest was asked to name names. And he did.

"The addition of Brandon Johnson has been a good veteran push," he said. "He's the real deal. He's busting his butt and doing a great job for us. Guys like Mortty Ivy have done it for us and have continued. Marshall Mcfadden's pushing the pile. Adrian Robinson's pushing the pile. I like Brandon Hicks. It's a good group and all of them know they have to continue to improve if they want to be here and be active."


"As I said, right now the important thing for us is to identify the talent and know what each of them can and can't do," Everest said. "The third game generally is when you begin simulating who you believe at this point are your core special-teams players, because you're going to play the O and the D into the second half.

"This second game will be a great game for us to explore and find out. Hopefully we'll get some reps at it to see. You want to win everything, but what you really want to win is making the right decisions for your football players, giving them a fair opportunity if they've earned that right, which most of them have."

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