As we wrote yesterday, Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers were the two notable names in the team’s punt return lineup. That’s going to be a notable battle to watch because according to Rogers, the team’s goal is to take Antonio Brown off punt return duty.
The news was reported by several reporters at practice today. Here’s a tweet from Ray Fittipaldo on Rogers.
Eli Rogers said today the Steelers are trying to replace Antonio Brown as the punt returner. Rogers and rookie Demarcus Ayers are candidates
— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) May 26, 2016
The idea shouldn’t come as much of a shock considering, as we’ve said many times, Ayers was drafted specifically as a return man and someone Danny Smith considered to be the best punt returner coming out of this year’s class. Rogers’ numbers were less eye-popping but he has the background to be in the mix.
In a sense, this is the one piece of good news to come from the Martavis Bryant suspension. If Bryant was still on the roster, it’d be difficult to see the team being able to carry six receivers on their 53, much less on Sunday’s.
But it’s hard to see Ayers and Rogers being handed the job, even if the team desires it. Brown is one of the league’s best return men, producing splash plays while earning the full trust of the coaching staff to make good decisions and judgment calls.
To take that job away from him will require someone making a big impression. The chances to do so are limited, too. There’s only so much you can learn from on air drills in the spring and training camp. What Ayers and Rogers show in games during the preseason will be the most important, even moreso than any other position.
And you can bet Brown won’t exactly be happy about being pushed by two young players who are objectively worse options. Smith said Brown – nor Smith – was happy about Jacoby Jones replacing him in 2015, a move which obviously fell flat on its face.