From the sounds of it, Antonio Brown may have been the biggest cheerleader for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most recent third-round draft selection, Dri Archer.
Archer, a 5’8” running back slash wide receiver, is also a skilled return man, having returned four kickoffs for touchdowns over his last two college seasons.
While he didn’t return many punts last year, he was set to before suffering an ankle injury, which prompted the coaches to decide to pull him out of that job in an effort to save him some wear and tear throughout the course of the season.
That’s what Brown is hoping that Archer will do for him this year.
Despite emerging as a record-setting wide receiver, the Steelers still had Brown fielding punts last year, simply because they didn’t have anybody else so skilled at the job, exposing one of their most significant commodities on either side of the ball to added risk.
He returned 32 punts for a nearly 13-yard average last season, including one touchdown, the third return touchdown of his career.
But as Mike Prisuta notes, he also fair caught 23 others, and there were “other numerous instances in which Brown watched the ball bounce and roll”.
Prisuta interprets that this “betrayed his obvious distaste for having to subject himself to punishment while doing something other than setting receiving records”.
During OTAs this week, Brown was asked who would be returning punts this season. He said, “that’s always a good question”, and advised that it be directed to head coach Mike Tomlin.
That doesn’t mean he’s not willing to do it, however. “I’m always willing to do whatever I gotta do to help the team”, he said. “I’ll let coach decide. If that’s a position I gotta do, that’s what I have to do”.
With Archer first out sick and then slated to attend a rookie event this week, he hasn’t been there during OTAs to field punts. That meant that Brown was back out there himself.
Also back fielding punts were contingency plans Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Kashif Moore, and Danny Coale.
After losing both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery following a season during which Brown set an NFL record by catching at least five passes for at least 50 yards in every game, the Steelers understand more than ever just how valuable a commodity he is at wide receiver.
Accordingly, they seem more set than ever on taking him out of his return responsibilities entering his fifth season, but Brown is still skeptical. According to him, “they say that every year, man, and I’m back there”, adding, “we’ll see”.