Despite two fumbles his last three games, Ray-Ray McCloud isn’t going to play scared the rest of the season. Speaking with reporters Monday morning, McCloud said his approach to being the team’s starting return man won’t change because of his ball security issues.
“Going forward, I’m not going to take away me being aggressive back there,” he said via Steelers.com. “Because that’s what makes a great punt returner. Being aggressive. But I gotta know when to do it and when not to.”
McCloud has fumbled three times this season, and twice over the team’s last three games. One against the Cleveland Browns, thankfully recovered by CB Justin Layne. The most costly one came in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears, losing control of the ball trying to spin out of a tackle. Chicago scooped and scored, getting them back into a game that the Steelers should have won comfortably. Instead, it took until the final seconds of the game for Pittsburgh to take the lead for good. He did not fumble Sunday though he had one bobble late in the game versus the Lions.
He cited being aggressive in the wrong spots as the reason for his fumbles.
“For me, it’s not a practice thing. It’s a decision-thing. My mentality being back there, the times I have made mistakes back there, I’m trying to make the big play instead of the 10-15 [yard play]. Me and Coach Tomlin talked about it and said, let’s be unselfish and take the ten yards instead of something bigger…those times I have made mistakes in my career since I’ve been in the NFL, trying to make something out of nothing. Sometimes I’ve got to take what’s given.”
Fumbles aside, McCloud has been reasonably productive in the return game. He’s averaging 8.8 yards per punt return, eighth in the league, though the difference between seventh and 13th place is less than a yard. As a kick returner, his 23.7 average ranks tenth league-wide, with a long return of 40 yards. McCloud’s upside is the ability to return both kicks and punts, a skillset not every return man has. The traits needed to return kicks and punts are different, and McCloud is capable of occupying both hats. He also made plays as a receiver in Sunday’s tie, catching a career-high nine receptions for 63 yards, making a couple of tough sideline catches.
McCloud is right to remain confident in his abilities. Playing scared for any position, especially a return man, is only going to lead to more mistakes. But ball security matters first, second, and third in the NFL. And if his issues continue, the Steelers will have to move in a different direction.