In the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Divisional Round playoff win over the Kansas City Chiefs we were once again treated to seeing cornerback Justin Gilbert being used deep as a kickoff returner alongside wide receiver Sammie Coates as running back Fitzgerald Toussaint missed the contest due to a concussion.
During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked how he thought Gilbert performed in Sunday’s game as a returner and if he’ll continue in that roll in the upcoming AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Tomlin said of Gilbert. “That’s yet to be determined (if he’ll remain on the kickoff return). We’ll make decisions for this week relative to this week, and what puts us in the very best position to be successful. What New England does [and] the people at our disposal are variables of the equation.”
Gilbert, who had returned a few kickoffs earlier in the season, returned two more Sunday against the Chiefs with two drastic results. His first return came during the opening kickoff and he returned the football 28 yards to the Steelers 30-yard-line and that certainly was a welcome sight.
Gilbert’s second and final kickoff return came very late in the game and after the Chiefs had closed the score to just two points. On that return, Gilbert fielded the football at the Steelers 5-yard-line and after initially breaking forward behind a defending front line that included hands team players, he cut to his right and was eventually tackled for a 2-yard loss.
Tomlin didn’t provide much of an outlook on Toussaint on Tuesday outside of saying he’s still in concussion protocol and so we’ll have to wait and see if he’s able to practice fully on Wednesday. Should Toussaint ultimately be unable to play again this coming Sunday in the Steelers game against the Patriots, it’s easy to speculate that Gilbert will be back deep once again with Coates, who also returned a kickoff Sunday against the Chiefs to the Steelers 30-yard-line.
Even if Toussaint is ultimately deemed healthy enough to play Sunday against the Patriots, hopefully Tomlin will decide to keep Gilbert on the field for kickoffs instead of the team’s No. 3 running back.