Ray-Ray McClould’s only been a Pittsburgh Steeler for a short time. But he’s already turning heads and finding ways to make plays seemingly every practice.
According to Thursday night’s pool report assembled by local media, McCloud had a kick return touchdown during the special teams session of practice. Per the report from the team website:
“On McCloud’s first rep, he took the kick, worked upfield, made one cut in the hole and ran to daylight, much to the pleasure of the players standing on the sideline.”
What makes that extra unusual is that it was a full-contact, live-tackling session. Which if you’ve never been to camp before, is entirely unheard of. In all my years at St. Vincent, the Steelers have never conducted a live-tackle special teams session. Nothing even remotely close to it. Too much risk of injury, too many potential car crashes.
But this year required a different approach. Unlike past seasons, there aren’t any preseason games to offer kick and punt returns. The only chance to actually work on it before the games count is during training camp. So the Steelers seem to be taking a calculated risk. And McCloud is running – literally – with the opportunity.
It’s no secret the Pittsburgh has had a miserable kick return game for several consecutive years. Over the past three seasons, they’ve finished with a bottom five unit and been 31st the past two seasons, the only team to have either of those dubious streaks.
Those issues don’t fall entirely on the returner. In fact, it’s often been the opposite. A poor scheme or ugly blocking making the return man a sitting duck once he crosses the 20 (or sometimes the 15…or ten). Taking a knee in the end zone has been the team’s most effective approach, a sad state of affairs even knowing the adjustments the league has made to curtail kick returns. McCloud won’t solve all those things but if he can land a spot on the 53, he may bring a spark.
Making the 53 still isn’t guaranteed. Ryan Switzer’s roster spot seems secure unless his foot injury is serious. That would leave one potential wide receiver spot remaining. McClould’s best path would be Switzer’s unavailability or landing on the practice squad and waiting for an in-season call-up. Should that happen, he’ll have to take care of the ball better in Pittsburgh than he did in Carolina. Fumbles are what got him cut last season.