Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown says that he still would like to return punts in 2012.
Brown, who made history last year when he became the first NFL player to compile both 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 total return yards in the same season, said in a recent Q&A segment on steelers.com that he would like to go after his record this year.
“I definitely want to do punt returns. I want to get another record to match my receiving and return numbers,” said Brown, when asked by a fan if he still wants to return punts this season.
There certainly is nothing wrong with the desire of Brown to remain the Steelers punt returner, but it is unlikely to happen because of his importance now to the Steelers offense following his breakout sophomore season. Currently the job belongs to fellow wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who reportedly was the first team kick and punt returner during the offseason practices.
During his first two years in the league, Sanders has returned just 7 punts for 82 yards and 24 kick-offs for 721 yards. He hasn\’t been the picture of health though after undergoing surgeries on both his feet last offseason.
With the durability of Sanders now in question moving forward, fifth round draft pick Chris Rainey and undrafted free agent Marquis Maze are both likely to get a few opportunities during the preseason to show their return abilities. Maze is a long shot to make the roster though, while Rainey is a near lock to make it as back up running back and an emergency wide receiver. Rainey is also is adept at blocking punts after blocking six during his career at Florida.
While Brown might not get his wish to return punts on a full-time basis like he did last year, there is always the opportunity that he could get a return opportunity here and there should the Steelers need a spark or Sanders misses time again with injuries. For now, though, it seems the Steelers would like to lessen the amount of wear and tear on their 2010 sixth round draft steal out of Central Michigan.
As we inch closer to the start of training camp, Brown will likely have to forget about making a run at his record from last year and take solace in it being recently rewarded by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That reward consists of a game worn jersey of his from last season now being displayed in Canton. It is record that is likely to stand for a little while.
We have heard Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin say more than once, “The more you can, the more you can do.” In the case of Brown in 2012, that “more”, will be in the form of more catches and more receiving yards hopefully.