The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: It’s time for the Steelers to make a change at the returner positions.
Explanation: Through the first six weeks of the season, the Steelers are yet again among the worst teams in the league in terms of punt and kick returns, and Ryan Switzer has been the primary returner, though they have dabbled with Johnny Holton and Diontae Johnson as alternatives.
Frankly, Switzer’s performance between special teams and offense has shown him to be expendable. He doesn’t need to have a place on the 53-man roster. I’m not even sure that should the Steelers waive him, he would be claimed. They might even be able to let him go and re-sign him to the practice squad. He isn’t contributing anything of note right now.
While the alternatives aren’t much better, at least those currently available, there are some advantages. Holton at least has some speed, and a bigger frame, so he is more of a threat for a big play, and more likely to be able to make somebody miss. Johnson was a successful punt returner in college. Eli Rogers could be brought back as somebody who can contribute in multiple phases.
First of all, the special teams units haven’t been at full strength. Roosevelt Nix has missed almost all of the season, as has Anthony Chickillo, just working his way back. The group is still adjusting to life without Darrius Heyward-Bey, L.J. Fort, and other key players they had last year, while incorporating new faces like Benny Snell. It’s a process that takes time, and kneejerk reactions won’t suddenly make the return game more effective.
Secondly, the alternatives are not very encouraging. Holton has not had a single good return that I can recall either in the regular season or in the preseason, and in fact frequently has gotten stopped inside of the 20 on kick returns.
As for Johnson, now that he is the number two receiver, effectively, it would be asking too much of him to take on a full-time returner role. I would like to bring Rogers back anyway, but even then, he doesn’t return kicks.