The journey toward the 2017 season is now in full swing with the Pittsburgh Steelers having reported to Latrobe for their annual training camp at Saint Vincent College, where they have held their camps for over half a century now.
This is surely the time more than any other in which we find ourselves full of questions that we are looking to get answered, and this also tends to be the best time to get answers to those questions that have been building up over the course of time since the 2016 season ended.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the training camp and the preseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Could Cameron Sutton end up taking the punt return job?
The Steelers have been looking for a punt returner to get Antonio Brown off of that job for years now. They have drafted players that they thought might do it. They even experimented with Jacoby Jones, claiming him off waivers and plugging him in immediately, even though he showed no indication that year that he was still the same player.
I do think that if they find somebody that they like enough, they will take Brown off of punt returns. Remember, early last season, they were rotating between Brown and Eli Rogers in returning punts. That was a big step, even though it ultimately didn’t work out.
This year, Rogers is back, and Demarcus Ayers is in a better spot to compete than he was last season. But there is another rookie in the picture that is hoping to make a case for himself, and that would be third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton.
One strike against him already is the fact that he plays on the defensive side of the ball, and Mike Tomlin has a history of favoring offensive skill position players to serve as his return men because they have more experience handling the football on a regular basis.
But I read good things about how Sutton looked returning punts during the spring, and he does have the college statistics to show that he is capable. He recorded 46 punt returns for 657 yards and three touchdowns at Tennessee, averaging 14.3 yards per punt. The bulk of that came in 2015, when he returned 26 punts for 467 yards and two touchdowns for an 18-yard average.
While the rookie currently has his hands full working in both the slot and outside on defense, I am hopeful that he is going to be given a legitimate opportunity to throw his hat in the ring to assume at least partial return duties this year, especially if he does not garner immediate playing time on defense.