One of the big surprises in the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday night was that wide receiver Antonio Brown returned punts in the game instead of rookie running back Chris Rainey. Perhaps this was just head coach Mike Tomlin and special teams coach Amos Jones sending the rookie some sort of a message early in the season as the decision appeared to catch the Florida product off guard on game day.
Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Thursday morning that Rainey said that he was disappointed in being bumped. “It was his (Jones\’) call, so that\’s him,” said Raney. “I was disappointed because I\’m a competitor. I know I\’m a playmaker and a rookie, too. I was on the sideline asking myself if I did anything wrong. Coach just said it was a sudden change that happened real quick.”
Brown returned two punts in the game for 23 yards and Rainey didn\’t get a chance to return any kickoffs thanks to the thin Denver air and the strong leg of Broncos kicker Matt Prater. He tried on one, but his back foot stepped out of the back of the endzone, which was probably a good thing, as he likely had no business returning that one anyways.
Tomlin takes special precautions with his rookie skilled position players, so his decision to go with the experienced Brown over Rainey was not one that should be regarded as shocking. With that being said, my guess is that this week Rainey will get a shot at returning both punts and kicks against the New York Jets on Sunday, especially after both Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were dinged last week. Both took shots to the head on offense and they each had to leave the game briefly as a result.
Unnecessary contact on special teams would be advisable for both Brown and Sanders right now being as the Steelers are currently only carrying four wide receivers on the 53 man roster to start the season. Besides, Rainey looked solid in the preseason finale and deserves a chance to work his magic Sunday against the Jets.