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2020 South Side Questions: Will Anthony McFarland Get Some Return Work If Diontae Johnson Misses Time?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.

Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will the Steelers give Anthony McFarland an opportunity to contribute in the return game if Diontae Johnson misses time due to his concussion?

The Steelers finally started to get Anthony McFarland involved on Sunday in their win over the Houston Texans, giving him seven touches on offense, including a 20-yard run. He is also listed as a co-starter at kick returner along with Ray-Ray McCloud.

McCloud is the Steelers’ backup punt returner to Diontae Johnson, who left Sunday’s game in the middle of the second quarter after sustaining what was later evaluated as a concussion while attempting an end-around run. McCloud would return two punts after Johnson left, while another went out of bounds.

He also returned two kicks, including a long of 28 (his shorted ‘long’ return of the season so far), and by and large he has looked good as a return man in his first season with the Steelers, displaying some tantalizing explosiveness.

He also has a history of putting the ball on the ground, if the Steelers want to tempt fate in case he has to handle double duty next week in the event that Johnson misses time. Would they try to take some of the load off of him by giving McFarland some work as the kick returner?

The only other player who is listed on the depth chart for returns is rookie college free agent cornerback James Pierre, whom I’m guessing we’re not going to see returning anything. So either they let McCloud handle all returns, or McFarland gets a crack or two.

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