Demarcus Ayers is healthy right now, which is definitely the good part, but exiting training camp last year was a different story.
Good nugget of info uncovered by PennLive’s Jacob Klinger. Ayers told him he suffered a torn ligament in his right foot last preseason, hindering his play and perhaps ultimately shuttling him to the practice squad.
“Ayers said he tore a ligament in his right foot last preseason, which he felt contributed to his not making the initial 53-man roster and struggling to contribute on punt returns.”
As far as I’m aware, there hadn’t been a report about Ayers suffered a foot injury. For what it’s worth, we did note some sort of foot/ankle injury he suffered on the fifth day of training camp last year, though it’s obviously unclear if those two things are related.
From what I wrote at the time.
“In-practice, couple of blips. Demarcus Ayers began by going through the punt return drill but curiously let one bounce two feet in front of him. He looked frustrated, walked back, and rolled his right ankle a couple times. With a bit of a limp, he bowed out of the return drill, chatted up Alan Faneca and Todd Haley before finally getting his ankle taped up by a trainer.
He returned with heavy tape around his ankle and right shoe and attempted to go through individual drills after the stretch line. I watched him run one speed out, moving gingerly and slow, and then his day was done.”
We do know Ayers suffered a double-hernia injury late in the season, causing him to be scratched for the AFC Title game against the New England Patriots. He underwent surgery in early February and appears to be fully recovered. That certainly makes for a bumpy rookie season but when he was on the field, a late-season call-up, he was productive out of the slot while showing effort as a blocker.
Ayers confirmed to Klinger he is in the mix to be the starting punt returner. He did note he is not doing any work in the kick return game. Though I floated the idea the other day, it makes sense. The Steelers prefer their returns to be on the bigger side, putting priority in toughness to run through the teeth of the coverage unit.
Perhaps this is why the team, specifically Mike Tomlin, sounds so high on Ayers. He still made contributions to the team while dealing with multiple injuries. In April, Tomlin said he anticipated the receiver to make a big jump.
“I’m also excited about guys like Demarcus Ayers, who worked his way through the practice squad to the active roster to contributing in some ways at the end.”
That was Tomlin turning a question about the “Big Three” rookies – Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave – into praise for Ayers. It’s why I think Ayers has a puncher’s chance to make this roster.