If there is one thing that has lagged behind in terms of the special teams units under Danny Smith for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it would be the return units. Especially the kick return group. The Steelers were toward the bottom of the league in average starting field position from kickoffs last season, though JuJu Smith-Schuster showed some potential there. I guess that’s what you would call a touchdown.
But with Smith-Schuster emerging as a starter, the team was clearly looking to go another way, and also have continued to search high and low for that elusive Anybody-But-Antonio–Brown Guy on punt returns. And they weren’t coming up with anything that they liked this offseason.
Enter Ryan Switzer, a second-year player that they scouted coming out of UNC in 2017 when they were evaluating quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. While they knew they were not going to have a shot at drafting the quarterback, they had begun to dust off their quarterback evaluation skills. Switzer was collateral in that process, kind of how James Washington was this past draft in scouting Mason Rudolph.
“We knew Ryan had a great career at the University of North Carolina. He continued that honestly last year as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys where he showed up as a kick returner, he showed up as a north-south punt returner”, Kevin Colbert said of the newest member of the team on the Starkey and Mueller Show.
“And honestly, we weren’t happy with where our return game was, so when a guy like Ryan was available at this stage of training camp, we felt it was our duty to add him”, he added. That should be implied, as most trades are going to be facilitated by the fact that there is a deficit in the roster, but it’s also good to see it clearly stated.
And Colbert went on to state it in even stronger terms later when talking about Switzer’s debut, in which he did not get a chance to produce much on returns going north and south, but drew some oohs and aahs from the crowd with his lateral movement.
“It was exciting. It was a start last night, but hopefully he’s going to do a lot of good things to establish that part of our game, which we needed to get solidified, quite honestly”, the general manager told his hosts.
The Steelers dealt a fifth-round draft pick in exchange for Switzer, also getting a sixth-rounder in return, and they are hoping that is the price they must pay to afford themselves a quality return game, which Colbert clearly indicated was an area of the team that they felt was necessary to address.