2021 Training Camp Battles: Return Man

With training camp just around the corner, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2021 season.

Unlike last season, which was carried out through a pandemic, things should return much to normal this year, which should help provide us with clearer insights into where people stand. The return of the preseason in particular is a crucial window into operations that we lacked a year ago.

Position: Return Man

Up for Grabs: Starter/Backup

In the Mix: Ray-Ray McCloud, Mathew Sexton, Anthony McFarland

For the final training camp competition we will be discussing, we shift back to the special teams units. While it doesn’t look like Sam Sloman is going to be challenging Chris Boswell to be the Steelers’ starting kicker, there are some battles brewing, to be sure.

Chief among them is that between Pressley Harvin III, the rookie punter, and the incumbent, Jordan Berry. I don’t know if Christian Kuntz’s playing time on Thursday night is an indication of there being an open competition with Kameron Canaday. But I do think there are jobs open for return roles.

Ray-Ray McCloud made the roster after being brought in during training camp last year, so it’s possible to win the job that way. He started off on kick returns, but took over punt return duties from Diontae Johnson after the latter was injured in that role early in the year.

Presumably, McCloud is being viewed as an incumbent in that regard, and is the favorite to be the number five receiver, but that doesn’t mean somebody else can’t emerge. Anthony McFarland Jr. was given the opportunity to return kicks in the Hall of Fame game, though they went for touchbacks.

First-year wide receiver Mathew Sexton did get one punt in the second half that he had an opportunity to return, and he came pretty close to taking it to the house, if only he could shake one more defender, but he still rattled off a 36-yard gain, which is nothing to dismiss.

Perhaps the easiest way to make a roster is to bring a couple of kicks back for touchdowns during the preseason. Sexton, and whoever else might get opportunities going forward, understands that. Head coach Mike Tomlin always has the story of Stefon Logan in his back pocket to motivate them, if necessary, but really, they just have to look at how McCloud earned a spot during training camp last year.

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