The Pittsburgh Steelers made five trades during the preseason a year ago. This year, they only made one, and that was to bring in second-year wide receiver Ryan Switzer, whom they hope will become a mainstay as their return man. His first opportunity to make an impact comes this afternoon as the team is hosted by the Cleveland Browns in the regular season opener for both clubs.
Switzer, a fourth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, is already on his third team of the offseason. Dallas traded him to the Oakland Raiders for 2016 second-round defensive end Jihad Ward. The Raiders months later turned around and traded him and a sixth-round pick for the Steelers’ fifth-round pick. The Cowboys ended up cutting Ward, by the way.
While both of his former teams would seem to have moved on just fine without him, the Steelers are hoping to make the most out of their newest resource. The return position is an area of the team that General Manager Kevin Colbert suggested was a target for improvement for some time after the trade was made.
What is actually amusing to me is the fact that Switzer has actually gotten more work in the preseason this year as a kick returner than did the Steelers’ kick returners from a year ago, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Terrell Watson—and even Martavis Bryant. None of them returned kicks during the preseason, and then the former two opened up in that capacity to start the regular season.
So at least Switzer got a chance to get into a game and work on an actual return once already, for as little preparation as that might be. He of course only arrived in Pittsburgh a couple of days prior to that, and only had the opportunity to go through one practice session.
With a full week of practice, the entire return units—both for kickoffs and punts, since he will be asked to do both—should be more in sync than they were before, though there will be an adjustment period in working with a new player throughout the year.
And that is not even to mention the monkey wrench thrown into the proceedings by the new kickoff rules.
Don’t be surprised if you see Switzer get a few looks on offense as well. Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked during his pre-game press conference if he believed that the wide receiver could get up to speed enough in a week to contribute on offense, and he seemed pretty confident that he could, and that it was something they would explore.
He will pretty much have to be a contributor at some point, with a wide receiver likely to be inactive most weeks and Darrius Heyward-Bey not really registering on the offensive radar at this point in his career.
But the focus for today will be to see what kind of spark he can provide in the return game—a spark the team has been missing, at least in the kick return game, since removing Antonio Brown from that role in 2012.