By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers had an excellent regular season and are enjoying their week off before having to prepare for their yet-to-be-determined opponent in the AFC divisional round. Still, there is plenty of news surrounding the team.
Smith-Schuster named AFC special teamer of the week
JuJu Schuster-Smith was named the AFC Special Team’s Player of the Week on Jan. 3. The award was the rookie wide receiver’s second weekly award of the year.
Schuster-Smith is being honored for his work as kick returner against the Cleveland Browns in Week 17. He racked up 122 yards on two attempts, with most of those yards coming on a key third quarter return. Following an early third quarter Browns touchdown, Smith-Schuster fielded the subsequent kickoff at the Steelers’ 4 and quickly broke up the sideline for a 96-yard return to give Pittsburgh a 28-21 lead.
His first kickoff return on the opening series of the game got the Steelers going as they scored a touchdown following his 26-yard return. Prior to last week’s game, Smith-Schuster had accumulated 118 yards on seven returns (16.8 yards per return).
The former USC Trojan was also named AFC Player of Week for his enormous game against the Detroit Lions in Week 8.
Mike Munchak to be interviewed by Arizona
In his weekly Tuesday news conference on Jan. 2, head coach Mike Tomlin said that offensive line coach Mike Munchak has been granted permission to interview for the Arizona Cardinals’ vacant head coaching position. The Cards are in the market for a head coach following Bruce Arians’ retirement.
Munchak has been in his current position with the Steelers since 2014. Pittsburgh’s offensive line ranked seventh in run blocking and first in pass blocking this past year and tied for permitting the third fewest sacks in the league. The O-line had 19 penalties assessed against them this year, with 2017 Pro Bowl selection David DeCastro leading the way with six penalties.
Munchak has previous head coaching experience. He was the top man with the Tennesee Ttians for three years (2011-13), posting a 22-26 record. The Titans’ best season under Munchak was when they went 9-7 in his inaugural campaign.
Munchak is not the only member of the Steelers coaching staff that may get interviewed for another position.
“We have and we will,” said Tomlin said when asked if the team would allow other assistants to be interviewed as well. “There are a lot of things that get done this time of year, particularly for teams in our position, and that’s one of them. That’s the fruit of the labor if you will. We’re not going to be resistant to that. We’re going to be supportive of that and do what’s appropriate.”
Alan Faneca Finalist for HOF once again
Former guard Alan Faneca was named one of the 15 Finalists for the Pro Football Hall Of Fame 2018 Class. This is the third straight year Faneca has been a finalist.
“You have to take it in stride and enjoy the process,” Faneca told Steelers.com about the selection process being better after going through it before. “There is nothing you can do except keep moving along with what you are doing every day.”
Faneca, selected by the Steelers in the first round of 1998, spent 10 of his 13-year NFL career with the Black and Gold. He was a six-time All-Pro selection and was named to the Steelers’ All-Time Team in 2007 and the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team.
Joining Faneca as finalists are Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Mawae, tackles Joe Jacoby, Rony Boselli, Isaac Bruce,Terrell Owens, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins, Edgerrin James, Ty Law and Everson Walls.
Steelers great Hines Ward (1998-2011) once again failed to reach the finals stage of the process. Ward was a Hall of Fame semifinalist in 2017. There are 24 Steelers currently in the Hall of Fame, with Jerome Bettis (2015) and Kevin Greene (2016) being the latest.
The Class of 2018 will be selected during the annual meeting on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 in Minneapolis.