When the latest Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart was released this past week, it still showed Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders being listed as the top punt and kick returners respectively. While that certainly wasn\’t a surprise, you would have to think head coach Mike Tomlin would like to have someone else step up during the preseason so that he can save the wear and tear on his two starting wide receivers.
During his Thursday press conference, Tomlin addressed the return job situation and also laid out his plans for the Saturday night preseason game against the New York Giants as it relates to it.
“Want to look at the young guys in the return game,” said Tomlin about the upcoming game against the Giants. “We know what Antonio Brown is capable of – Emmanuel Sanders – LaRod Stephens-Howling, we want to see some of the young guys. Whether it\’s [Kashif] Moore, [Reggie] Dunn or any others, we\’re going to feature those guys in the return game.”
Tomlin was later asked if rookie wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown, both draft picks, would also get a chance to return either punts or kicks, and he said that they would.
“Yes, they\’re included in that young guy group,” he said.
As far as which one of the drafts picks would return either kicks or punts, the Steelers head coach said that it all depends on how the game goes.
“Undecided,” said Tomlin. “Really just want to really look at divvying the reps up. One of the things about particularly kickoff return and punt return, likewise, you can\’t anticipate how many you\’re going to get, so we need to sit down and talk a little bit about how we\’re going to divvy those reps up.”
You all should be well aware by now what Reggie Dunn accomplished at Utah as a kick returner, so he should get a chance or two to show off that speed and elusiveness of his. His path to the 53 man roster relies solely on his ability to have several big returns during the preseason and even that might not be enough for him in the end.
Kashif Moore, who was signed to a futures contract early in the offseason, only returned eight kickoffs for 169 yards as a junior at the University of Connecticut.
Wheaton, the Steelers third-round draft pick back in April, only returned four kickoffs and three punts during his four years at Oregon State.
Brown, as I pointed out Thursday morning, is perhaps the most experienced punt returner of the young players fighting for a roster spot as he returned 71 of them for 637 yards and a touchdown during his college career.
The kickoff return job, in all likelihood, already belongs to LaRod Stephens-Howling, even though he\’s not currently atop the depth chart. Tomlin would only say on Thursday that he knows what the former University of Pittsburgh product can do, but he didn\’t indicate whether or not he would get the opportunity to return one Saturday night.