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Mike Tomlin’s Effort To Preserve ‘Established Guys’ In Return Game Failed

For anybody who watched the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Sunday night game against the Colts, it should be safe to assume that the team will be forced to make other arrangement when it comes to the return game come next week after Jacoby Jones was responsible for a lost fumble on the opening kickoff and another fumble on an attempted fair catch call on a punt.

Of course, the majority of commenters have wanted Jones gone after his first game with the team a few weeks back, if not sooner, but head coach Mike Tomlin clearly does not have as quick a trigger finger as those sitting behind a keyboard with no accountability.

For those who say that he doesn’t have one at all, of course, all you need do is dial up Josh Scobee or Dri Archer, the latter of whom Jones replaced. Both players were the subject of frequent calls for release, and both of them were shown the door. The Steelers even traded for Scobee.

That is neither here nor there, of course, at this point when it comes to the situation with the return game. I expect that Jones will be released as early as today, and would be shocked if it doesn’t come by the end of the week. But I do understand Tomlin’s desire to experiment with the veteran.

Jones had been a dangerous return man in the past who, as a division rival for three seasons, had hurt Tomlin’s team personally. He even caused the Steelers head coach public embarrassment and a fine from the league.

The nine-year veteran’s reputation had preceded him to Pittsburgh, even if he had struggled earlier in the year with San Diego, missing time due to injury. The team was not deterred by the fact that he was released and claimed him, and his salary, off waivers.

Tomlin’s motivation he let slip after the game when talking about Jones. “We have guys who are capable”, he said after he declared the veteran “done” at halftime. But he also admitted that those guys are “established guys, and you would like to preserve them in those instances if you can”.

The Steelers had been looking for a way to preserve Antonio Brown from punt return duties for a few seasons now, but had failed to do so. The thought in drafting Archer was that he could be that player, though he had limited experience returning punts. Then he even lost his job as a kick returner as a rookie.

The Steelers’ primary kick returner last year after Archer was Markus Wheaton, who figures to be the next in line, though Jordan Todman is listed as the second-team returner. But he is likely only listed as such because he serves as the up back on returns. He was inactive Sunday night.

Wheaton has established himself with a bigger offensive presence this season, currently with 28 receptions for 524 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He is also averaging a career-best 18.7 yards per reception.

It would be understandable if Tomlin wanted to keep his core wide receivers off of return duties to lessen the risk of injury. But he made the change at halftime on Sunday, saying “under the circumstance I didn’t feel like I could” preserve Brown, who returned one punt for a 71-yard touchdown.

The veteran head coach took the chance on an experienced and established return man, hoping that he could help him save some wear and tear on some of the most important members of a burgeoning offensive unit.

Tomlin gave Jones every chance he deserved, and maybe then some, in the hopes that it would work itself out. The experiment failed. It’s time to move on, even if it means exposing some more important players to potential injury as return men.

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