Steelers News

Anthony McFarland Looking To Make Impact On Special Teams, ‘Fighting For A Kick Returner Job’

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed former New England Patriots wide receiver Gunner Olszewski as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, doing so shortly after Ray-Ray McCloud left via free agency to pursue a more lucrative offer from the San Francisco 49ers offered than he would have found to stay in Pittsburgh.

Given the timing and their relative playing histories, it has been taken as a given that Olszewski was brought in to replace McCloud as their return man for both punts and kicks. That is the prevailing assumption, and with good reason, but he should expect competition as the job changes hands.

One person who needs that job as much as he does is third-year running back Anthony McFarland, who knows he is on thin ice after offering very little productivity in his first two seasons in the NFL since being drafted in the fourth round out of Maryland in 2020.

Speaking to reporters recently during the Steelers’ spring drills, he talked candidly and openly about his approach moving forward, and showed a clear understanding of where his path lies. “It starts with finding my way on special teams, fighting for a kick returner job”, he said, via 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Limberg. “Everything on offense will just come”.

While he has very little in-game experience as a return man, either at the college or professional level (he returned three kickoffs last season), the Steelers have talked about him as a potential returner since he was drafted, and so, too, did his college coach, who pointed out that he always worked returns in practice.

The Steelers didn’t add a running back in free agency or the draft, and they also did not re-sign Kalen Ballage, who was one of their four running backs in 2021, but they do have depth in that room and at tight end with the likes of Connor Heyward, Kevin Rader, and Jace Sternberger competing for opportunities to crack the 53-man roster.

Pittsburgh did sign two running backs as college free agents in Mateo Durant and Jaylen Warren, and they agreed to sign here because they saw a legitimate path to a spot on the 53-man roster. That path would take them through McFarland’s roster spot, most likely, if they were to make the team.

McFarland can make himself much more useful if he can show that he should be the Steelers’ return man in at least one phase, regardless of what that might mean for Olszewski, who continues to insist that he is also, and was signed to be, a wide receiver who will contribute on offense.

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