Steelers Return Job Up for Grabs

Posted by Steelbltz
June 20, 2012

In 2011 Antonio Brown was named the Steelers MVP for his work as a kick returner and wide receiver. He totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards and became a go-to receiver during the second half of the season after teams turned their attention to Mike Wallace. Although Brown held double-duty during the 2011 season there wasn’t much surprise when Mike Tomlin said that Brown would no longer return kicks in 2012. Kick returners are put at a higher injury risk; gunners are coming at the returner full-speed. The Steelers want to keep Brown healthy and make sure he is one-hundred percent focused on becoming a great wide receiver.

Some candidates to take the job:

Emmanuel Sanders: Sanders has returned kicks for the Steelers in the past and will have a shot to win the job. However, given his injury issues the Steelers may keep him focused on offense. There’s no reason to put Sanders at a higher risk of injury if there is another capable returner on the roster.

Chris Rainey: Rainey is an all-purpose player. He can return kicks, play wide receiver and running back, but he will have to prove he can do it in the NFL during training camp. Rainey’s camp and pre-season will determine his playing time. If he impresses coaches he could be the Steelers return specialist as well as a contributor on offense as a rookie.

Marquis Maze: Maze is an undrafted rookie free agent hoping for a chance. He may get one as a returner. The Steelers typically don’t keep one-dimensional players, however, so Maze will need to prove himself as a returner and wide receiver. If he can produce anything like he did at Alabama he could push some others for a roster spot.

Sanders, Rainey, and Maze all have a chance to be the Steelers returner in 2012. They will be competing during training camp and the pre-season for a spot. Antonio Brown will likely still be seen in one returner role. As the most experienced NFL returner on the team, and with the departure of Mewelde Moore, Brown will likely be the “safety net.”

Tomlin would often send Moore in on punt returns inside the 20 yard line because he trusted him to make the right decision. Brown will likely hold that role in 2012 as a situational returner behind one the full-time returner.

No matter who wins the job, by week one of the 2012 season, one thing is certain: The Steelers will hope they can bring similar production as Antonio Brown in 2011.