Q&A: Chidi Iwuoma

PITTSBURGH -- Chidi Iwuoma has been the Steelers' punt-team gunner and one of the leaders on special teams the last three years. He's back, but once again is looking at the ugly side of the numbers game.


Should guys make it just for special teams? Can they make it just for special teams? Is it that important?
I don't think there are any special-teams guys in the league who are there just for special teams, besides the kickers and snappers. I think all guys that make it that play primarily special teams are out there busting their butts to show they can play another position. I haven't seen any guys there for the sole purpose of being a kickoff-cover guy, especially on this team. There are a lot of guys who have a lot of tools and skills to play the other positions. Those guys have to be role players as well as contribute on special teams to stick around.

Can a young guy just be thrown onto the cover teams and do a good job?
That's a sticky situation. All guys out here are athletes. There's always a degree of experience and know-how of doing that special-teams thing. You can always stick somebody in but to what degree they'll be effective is always a question mark. I think some special-teams guys such as myself try to prove year in and year out that they're there contributing. When they are special-teams players, they're actually trying to make an impact as opposed to being a guy who's just stuck out there.

Take your case. How much have you learned since you were thrown out there as a gunner?
I've gotten a lot better. There are a lot of tricks of the trade that you can pick up. The gunner position, I would personally say, is one of the toughest positions in the NFL. You've got two guys out there and you have to have some kind of game plan, some kind of know-how to try to get around them. It's not going to be 100 percent, but through the years it's something you pick up on, how you actually can beat those guys, whereas a fresh rookie or a guy who hasn't played it too much is going to get killed out there. Of course, you will learn over time but I think guys who've specialized at that position have learned how to get around those situations.

Is a top contender more likely to keep specialists such as yourself for its special teams?
I've always felt that I've had somewhat of an impact on the team primarily playing special teams. I would like to play defense, but Coach (Bill) Cowher has let us know that special teams is a position that is important on this team, so I think all our special-teams guys know there's a weight on their shoulders to get up and perform every week. It's not just 'OK, you get out there and do it.' It's a core group of guys that have pride. Even if we don't lose a game, it's always a big impact. Special teams have to play well every week and the core guys - the whole team in fact - take a lot of pride in our special teams and how they've performed over the years.

How are you feeling about the numbers situation? Will it be more difficult to make the team than it has been in the past?
I haven't even looked at the numbers. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you how it's heading up so far. I just go out there every training camp, every workout, and go 100 percent. Whatever happens happens. I'm not in control of numbers. I've been around going on five years now. You learn early on you can't count numbers or look over your shoulder. As soon as you do, you're out.

How are your skills as a cornerback coming along?
I think I excel every year here learning the system and getting more comfortable with the players. I think I've grown each and every single year. I think I've been having a couple of pretty big camps the last couple years. That's all I can do every year is work, get better, become more seasoned and wait until my number is called on. If not, make a bigger impact on special teams and try to get to the Pro Bowl. That's a big goal of mine. We've got a good core of guys: Sean Morey, Chris Gardocki, Jeff Reed. Making an impact on special teams is real big. All the guys on the team embrace that and it's a big thing. There aren't too many guys who say, 'Oh, you play special teams. Get over there.' It's a team unity thing, and if a guy makes a play on special teams it's just ridiculous in the meetings and watching film. You go in there Monday after the game and you're watching special teams, see a big hit, big play, and the whole team goes nuts. It's the greatest feeling in the world.

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