We’ve already had a lot of great discussion on training camp battles next month and we’ll formally delve into those as we get closer to Latrobe’s report date. Outside linebacker. Cornerback. Tight end. But one that hasn’t gotten much publicity is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ kick return competition.
That’s assuming there is one but it’s hard for me to envision there will be no challengers for Knile Davis. Davis was certainly brought in for that purpose, making him the obvious favorite, but his play has rapidly declined. Even as a returner. In nine returns for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, he averaged just 21 yards per return. Only one went for 30 yards. Far below his career average of nearly 27 yards per return.
It leaves open the door for someone else to come in. Who? That’s a better question and there aren’t loads of obvious names. Sammie Coates should give him a push, used there throughout last season. He finished with a modest six returns for a respectable 25 yards per chance.
Coates will be Davis’ biggest competition. Demarcus Ayers could be a darkhorse. Brought in as a punt returner, if he can show well there, his main path to making the team, maybe the team looks to expand his role to kicks, too. In his freshman year at Houston, he averaged over 27 yards with a touchdown.
You could also argue names like Cobi Hamilton and Cameron Sutton but they are far less likely. Hamilton’s odds of making the roster aren’t good – though to his credit, he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff – and Sutton doesn’t have a kick return background. Not to mention the notion of a rookie defensive back returning kicks is enough to make Mike Tomlin queasy.
It’s rare for a low-level free agent to come in and simply be handed any type of job. Davis will have to earn it and prove it and that shouldn’t be without competition, even if he’s still the favorite. It’s an area Davis has to play especially well, given that it’s unlikely he’s helping out elsewhere on the roster. That’s no guarantee given recent history; the Steelers signing was rolling the dice on the earlier-career version of Davis, not the recent one.
Don’t be shocked to see Sammie Coates returning the opening kickoff Week One against the Cleveland Browns.