Thursday night in the Pittsburgh Steelers 17-16 preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers it was the Chris Rainey show. Well, almost.
The Steelers rookie fifth round draft pick out of Florida had touchdown punt returns of 78 and 90 yards nullified by penalties, but it didn\’t take away from the nice cuts that Rainey had in the process. Several Panthers players that looked like they broke their ankles on those returns would likely agree as well.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was impressed after calling out the speedster in a recent interview with Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove.
I thought he did some nice things in terms of making unblocked guys miss, Tomlin said during his post game press conference. “I think that any reputable punt returner is capable of making those first one to two potential tacklers miss. He showed that tonight.”
The fact that there both were called back by penalties didn\’t bother Tomlin either. “Obviously, those didn’t count so we don’t look at them as touchdowns,” the coach said. “It is what it is. Flags were thrown. But it is encouraging to see him make the first one to two tacklers miss. I think that’s a sign of any credible NFL return man.”
In the recent interview with Hillgrove, Tomlin was asked if he was comfortable with the decision making of Rainey as a punter returner. “I’ll let you know in a couple of months,” said Tomlin. “That’s life in the National Football League. A few years ago, I wasn’t real comfortable with a guy named Antonio Brown, who was unproven. Over the course of a couple of months, he made me comfortable, and Chris better do the same.”
At the end of the night Rainey finished with an official punt return stat line of 40 yards on two punt returns and also added 23 yards on his one kickoff return. Regardless of those numbers, Tomlin has to be more comfortable now with him as a return man than he was heading into the Thursday night game. That couple of months that Tomlin talked about has likely had a few weeks taken off of it. Sure, it was only one game, but the big play ability that Rainey offers on special teams figures to impact several games this upcoming season.