Ok, I know I went on a rant yesterday of how Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers screwed up handling Cam Sutton and the punt return situation. And I stand by that, 100%.
But the man who did get the chance in the 2nd half Thursday night, Quadree Henderson, disappointed.
I want to start with the good. Henderson had a nice kick return in the 3rd quarter, making one cut and picking up 27 yards, returning it past the 25 yard line, a net win for the return team. And to his credit, his ball security has been excellent; anything worse than that is an automatic death sentence.
Still, Henderson has missed out on chances to make plays. That’s his only path to making this roster. Do something so coaches have to notice you. Tomlin admitted as much earlier in the week in an interview on 93.7 The Fan, as transcribed by Dave Bryan.
“I think return guys always force themselves on you. You’re never actually looking for them, they just run their way onto your football team. Stefan Logan ran his way onto our football team a number of years ago, so he’ll be given an opportunity to do that. That’s the chief means of him getting on the bus or making the football team. He knows that, we understand that. The other things supplement that effort.”
Aside from that one kick return, Henderson fielded two punts. Both times, he signaled for a fair catch. Here’s how the coverage looked on each.
The first one, you could argue as a good decision. You don’t see it in the photo but the rush did slow up as Henderson waved his hand in the air. But the second? A clear opportunity to make a play happen, to show something that, as Tomlin said, grabs the team’s attention and screams, “keep me!”
Now, Dave and I have disagreed slightly on what Henderson’s mentality should be. I understand that a returner can’t run it back every single time. Trust is just as important as big plays. Making good decisions, getting square to the ball, fielding it cleanly, earning the confidence of the coaching staff not to do anything costly.
But Henderson can’t fair catch his way to a roster spot. He has to make a play and honestly, probably more than one. Running back Trey Williams returned a punt for a touchdown against Atlanta last season and it still didn’t allow him to stick around. It’s not like he has value elsewhere. He hasn’t seen any time at receiver the first two weeks and if I had to guess, logged about 20 snaps there during training camp. Solely a returner in an era where those guys are on the endangered species list.
Clock’s ticking for Henderson to show why leaving school a year early was a good decision. Even if he doesn’t stick in Pittsburgh, putting on good tape is critical for him to stay in the league and land somewhere else. But right now, all coaches are seeing is a whole lot of standing around.