By Michael K. Reynolds
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a roll and hopes are high again which means for the time being everyone is playing nice-nice with the coaches. But that doesn’t mean we let them entirely off the hook, especially with a 5-6 record still looming.
For there remain some real head-scratchers when it comes to gridiron strategy and Coach Mike Tomlin‘s stubbornness has been both his strength and weakness through the years.
These are great unsolved mysteries in the same category as the origins of the Loch Ness Monster, the existence of the Sasquatch and trying to figure out whatever happened to Hannah Montana.
Chief among these is this: Why is Felix Jones still returning kickoffs for the team?
He may have once inspired fear in the hearts of opposing special team coaches but probably not since his rookie year at Dallas. Even the untrained, uneducated eye can tell Felix just doesn’t seem all that excited about the role.
And bless his heart…I don’t blame him one bit. The thought of running headlong into eleven over-sized, high speed sides-of-beef while tens of thousands of uncaring observers munch on nachos is no way to make a living.
But, perhaps there is someone else on the roster who is young and naive enough to put a little more oomph into the task?
Like Exhibit A, Cameron Heyward. Both of his returns this year have produced more thrills than all of Felix’s combined. Heyward flashed his Pop’s straight arm technique during his fumble return against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday and who doesn’t love a big man with a little dance in his shoes? Even if he only manages to make it out to the twenty yard line we would be no worse off, and it would be a joy to watch him bowl down the wedge.
What about Jonathan Dwyer, Coach Tomlin? If you won’t give him a hand-off, why not a kickoff? If you haven’t noticed, the young man is dying to gain some yards for the team and his growing legion of fans.
Or if we’re going to insist on taking a knee on every kickoff, then why not get some promotional value for the Steelers marketing department? At home games, we could have the 50,000th fan in the end zone be the honorary squat down artist.
Why not Emmanuel Sanders? Sure, he’s got a bum wheel, but wouldn’t we rather see him hopping out of the end zone on one leg than merely waving the white flag?
My favorite option should have happened last Sunday. After the Steelers clobbered the Browns, someone could have grabbed Reggie Dunn (now on their practice squad) and thrown him on the team bus. He may not have been able to catch punts in the pre-season, but I betcha he would have already had a kickoff return TD or two to his name if the Steelers would have given him a shot.
Contrary to popular opinion, the kick return has not gone the way of the dinosaur…yet. Although there are more touchbacks these days than in the past, games are still lost and won with hundred yard returns. This year we’ve had to take on the likes of Cordarrelle Patterson, Devin Hester and Jacoby Jones. Why not fight back with a little shake and bake of our own?
Maybe it’s not Felix’s fault at all. Maybe they are telling him to play it safe. But, come on Coach Tomlin. You’ve forgot you’re in the entertainment business.
Let’s put the thrill back into kickoff returns.