Difference Maker

Danny Smith (USA TODAY Sports)

Enthusiasm is bubbling over on the South Side about the work being done this spring by Danny Smith, the Steelers' new special-teams coach.

PITTSBURGH – When Bill Nunn speaks, people listen. And they spread his word.

It spread quickly after the Superscout Emeritus – retired, but still working since 1987 – said that he liked what he saw from the Steelers' new special-teams coach on the first day of rookie minicamp.

The 87-year-old Nunn returned this week to the South Side practice facility for minicamp and confirmed that enthusiasm for coach Danny Smith. "I think he'll make a difference," said Nunn. "I like what I'm seeing. I like his approach."

Specifically, Nunn likes Smith's organizational skills, attention to detail, and his energy. And Nunn doesn't mind that the toys have been put back in the shed.

No more ball-on-a-stick or jumping through hoops, only players, coaches, and a few blocking dummies on these fields.

And, of course, attitude.

"All right, coach, get out of the way!" Smith roared as the ball barely touched the ground to indicate the end of one session and the beginning of his, the special-teams session.

"Fastest 15 (minutes) in football!" Tomlin shouted in appreciation of his scrambling assistant and his hustling unit.

"That's what I like," Nunn said. "It's just, ‘Get after it.'"

That's what Smith's doing.

"He's a get-after-em type guy," said Brett Keisel, a former special-teams demon himself. "He comes around the locker room, he has a lot of energy, and he takes that out onto the field. He demands respect and he demands organization, and that's what the special-teams unit's all about – desire, and he's got plenty of desire. You can see it when you watch them practice."

Smith comes to the Steelers off a nine-year stint as the Washington Redskins' special-teams coach. He's a local man, worked with Kevin Colbert with the Detroit Lions in 1999, and is entering his 19th NFL season. The Steelers were finally able to land him after twice being denied permission to interview him in previous years.

"I spent parts of four years with Danny in Washington. I know Danny very well," said kicker Shaun Suisham. "He's a very good football coach. I really feel like he's going to help our team win some games."

The Steelers finished 9th and 28th in kickoff and punt-return average last season, and 17th and 22nd in the respective coverage units under Amos Jones.

Suisham expressed his respect for both Jones and Al Everest, but said, "I do think a lot of Danny. He's got a unique talent set: obviously understanding the game of football, but also really, really getting guys together on special teams. Sometimes that takes a unique personality and he's got it."

"Yeah, he's organized," said long-snapper Greg Warren. "But I feel like we're always organized. He just brings a different personality to the team, something fresh and something new and the guys have really responded to this point."

Talk from the players was restrained out of respect for the former coaches here, but enthusiasm is bubbling on the periphery. Nunn is one example. Another is Tom Bradley, the former Penn State assistant who matched special-teams wits with Smith when Smith was at Georgia Tech.

"Danny Smith is a dynamite coach, just dynamite," Bradley said. "He's going to make a difference."

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