By Dale Grdnic
Photo: David Hague — Inside Pittsburgh Sports
LATROBE, Pa. — With all the issues the Pittsburgh Steelers had on special teams last year, in particular allowing a handful of game-turning touchdown returns, changes had to be made going into this season.
So, the Steelers fired their special teams coordinator and hired nearly 40-year coaching veteran Al Everest, who was not retained by the San Francisco 49ers after three seasons. He has also has held the same role with the New Orleans Saints (2000-05) and Arizona Cardinals (1996-99).
“I worked with Coach Al before in San Francisco, so I know what he’s trying to do out there,” Arnaz Battle said. “He’s been coaching special teams for a long time, and he has a scheme that’s been proven to be successful and has put a lot of guys into the Pro Bowl while using it.
“It’s very exciting to be part of it again. I believe that Pittsburgh made an excellent choice to bring him here, and I know they will see a transformation in their special teams. What I can do is bring versatility to the group. This is my eighth year now, and I’ve done it all. So, that experience should help.
“I’ve been on coverage teams and the return teams, and I’ve run the ball and caught it in this league,” Battle added. “You only have 53 guys and 47 dress each week, so numbers are limited. I believe I fit into that final group because of what I can do and the different ways I can do it to this football team.”
Everest appears to have a simple philosophy about special teams, and the Steelers appear to need something like that this season.
“The first rule is to look forward and not back,” Everest said. “Obviously, I’m here for a reason, to help the Steelers special teams be successful. It’s not about talent. It’s about coming together with everyone working together.
“I also want to the guys to have fun, but that’s not being loosey goosey. That’s being good, so we’re going to work toward being good. … It all starts with personnel, and the Rooneys, Kevin Colbert and the scouts did a nice job getting guys who are mobile, hostile and agile. And those guys will help this team.”
Stefan Logan, all 5-foot-6 and 180 pounds (soaking wet) of him, handled both the punt- and kickoff-return duties for the Steelers last season.
Logan said his best position is running back, but he has been working with the wideouts since the spring and has made steady progress. But it’s going to be tough for him to make it as a receiver, in the opinion of most media members.
So, Logan must dazzle everyone on special teams once again.
“We drafted two talented guys at wide receiver who have return capabilities, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, so I just want to be focused out here, ” Logan said. “And I want to be technically sound all the time. I also have been getting some tips from Randle El, ever since he came back, so that has to help.”
“And he told me it was my job to keep, as long as I didn’t do something to lose it. I just have to make sure I get positive yardage every time I touch the ball. We don’t want to see anything negative. So, I’m working hard to get better every day, and hopefully I’ll be able to show what I can do in the games.”
Everest discussed Logan’s credentials.
“Ball security has been a focus for us, and Stefan has done a great job handling the ball,” Everest said. “No. 2, he’s shown an ability to make somebody miss, and the third thing he can do is break arm tackles. He’s a small guy, but he’s sturdy and can break some tackles. So, he’s getting better every day.
“We want to accomplish four things. No. 1, ball security. No. 2, make positive yardage and not stupid mistakes. No. 3, get into scoring position, which (Logan) did several times last season. And No. 4, score touchdowns. And if we do the first three successfully, then the fourth one will happen, too.”
Still, isn’t it basically a luxury to keep a guy like Logan on the roster when other guys can fill multiple roles. And Logan is just a return man.
“Well, when you’re talking about a guy who has the ball in his hands every time the opponent kicks it, I don’t know how you can call him a luxury,” Everest said. “If you’re talking about the quarterback on offense, first and foremost.
“Then, it’s the running backs and receivers. They all get the ball, so if it’s a luxury to have any of them, OK. But I don’t see how you can say it’s a luxury to keep a good return man when he has the ball in his hands a lot. And if he’s our best guy, then he needs to be part of this football team for sure.”
That will be determined in the next couple weeks.