The Pittsburgh Steelers offered up a couple of surprises coming out of training camp this year on their 53-man roster at the wide receiver position. One of them was the fact that they chose to carry only five wide receivers on the roster. The other was the fact that the fifth wide receiver was Ray-Ray McCloud, who was only signed during training camp.
Within the first four weeks of the regular season, however, it’s become evident what they saw in the former sixth-round pick. He has been a dynamic presence in the kick return game, and has stepped up as a punt returner as well when Diontae Johnson has missed time due to injuries.
But like with Ryan Switzer a few years ago when the was acquired for the purposes of being a return man, it didn’t take long for the team to start working him into the offense. Two games ago, they started giving McCloud a few snaps, using him as a motion man.
Yesterday, they actually gave him the ball, and in fact he wound up with five touches on offense during the game—which is nearly as many total career offensive touches he had coming into the season. Obviously, the notable play was a 58-yard sweep, but he had a few successful plays.
Even though he came late to the team, the Steelers are finding ways to get him involved—even if the time he sees in practice often isn’t with Ben Roethlisberger. The veteran typically takes Wednesday practices off. Lately, some wide receivers have been held out on Wednesdays as well, and that has given McCloud some more opportunities to get in work.
“Throughout practice on Wednesdays, I get a lot of the reps. Ben’s not there, or some of the vets, and I get a lot of the first-team reps”, he told reporters earlier today. “A lot of the stuff I get a chance to run”, he added, referring to the final touchdown on which Roethlisberger said after the game they had not run with that personnel, “but in the game it was just second nature, and just, ‘oh, we ran that in practice’. I was in a different spot at the time, but I knew the whole concept of the play”.
McCloud was taken 187th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2018 out of Clemson. He has been primarily a return man throughout his career, spending the 2019 season with the Carolina Panthers, but he struggled to find a home largely because he exhibited concerning ball security issues.
So far through the first four games of his Steelers tenure, he has been free of such concerns, but it is something to be monitored and remembered. In the meantime, he is averaging 27.4 yards per kick return and 12.5 yards per punt return.