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: Which player, if any, will be next to get an opportunity to return punts in the preseason?
While it should be obvious by now after years of attempting to do so, the Steelers continue to be interested in finding a candidate who can take the punt return job away from Antonio Brown, who does it well—though not so well that he can’t be replaced.
The most recent attempt to seek an alternative came last season when, during the early parts of the year, the team used Brown and Eli Rogers both to return punts, if only to take some snaps away from the All-Pro. I believe it was in the second game of the season in which Rogers even returned the majority of punts.
For whatever reason, though, that plan died relatively quickly, perhaps only shelved because they felt they were giving such a young and inexperienced player too much responsibility. He already had to digest what it takes to start in the slot on offense.
So it was that Rogers was back returning all the punts in the preseason opener on Friday. He did not too particularly well nor poorly, but he also did not have much to work with in terms of the Steelers’ punt coverage.
That should not be a surprise in the preseason, of course, especially early on. Not only do many of the coverage players no really know what they’re doing, they’re not accustomed to working with one another, and it’s hard to duplicate reps in practice.
I did, however, expect a little more diversity back there, which leads me to today’s question: will we see others back there returning punts during the preseason, or are they just going to try to feed it to Rogers to see if he can take it? With certain candidates like Demarcus Ayers and Cameron Sutton sidelined, it’s harder to get an answer to that question.