WR Justin Brown in the mix for punt return duties
Pittsburgh Steelers training camp preview: Former Penn State WR Justin Brown in the mix for punt return duties
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Justin Brown (15) participates in the NFL football rookie Mini Camp on Saturday, May 4, 2013 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
By Dustin Hockensmith | [EMAIL="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/EMAIL]
on July 15, 2013
The Pittsburgh Steelers have two former Big Ten players vying for punt return duties this summer.
Wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both take on bigger roles in the offense, which could open opportunities for former Wisconsin standout David Gilreath and Justin Brown, who played at Penn State before transferring to Oklahoma last season.
Gilreath was the only Steelers player outside of Brown and Sanders to return punts last season, and he got just two attempts. As trusted return men go, Gilreath likely has an inside track, even with just one NFL season under his belt.
Still, the abilities of Brown can't be ignored. He has a combination of size -- 6-3, 209 pounds -- and speed and comes off a senior season at Oklahoma in which he ranked 12th nationally with a return average of 13.6 yards.
Pittsburgh has two special teams incumbents in kicker Shaun Suisham and punter Drew Butler who will have to fend off competition for their jobs.
Veteran LaRod Stephens-Howling was signed with an eye toward the kick return game, but must contend with undrafted rookie Reggie Dunn, who was one of the most prolific returners in NCAA history.
Competition should be spirited among the specialists in training camp, which begins on July 26. Here's a look at the key positions and projected starters.
PK Shaun Suisham: Suisham had arguably the best season of his career in 2012, making 28 of 31 field goal attempts. He made 27 of 28 kicks inside 50 yards, with his only miss coming on a botched snap. Still, he'll have to beat out Daniel Hrapmann for placekicking duties for the second straight season.
P Drew Butler: Butler handled the Steelers' punting duties as a rookie last season and averaged 43.8 yards per attempt. He ranked 26th in the NFL in average and 25th in net punting (37.. He'll compete with Brian Moorman for the starting job.
KR LaRod Stephens-Howling: Stephens-Howling, a former Pitt standout, was signed to a one-year deal in April. He'll get into the mix for time at running back, but is also the favorite to return kicks. He returned 163 kicks in four seasons with Arizona and led the NFL with 1,548 return yards in 2010.
PR David Gilreath: Gilreath was the only player outside of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to return a punt last season. He had two attempts for eight yards after serving as Wisconsin's primary punt returner as a senior in 2011.
PK Daniel Hrapmann: Hrapmann was among the first players cut during camp last summer. He was re-signed in January to compete with Suisham for placekicking duties. He was an All-America selection as a redshirt junior at Southern Mississippi, but made just 23 of 34 kicks as a senior, including 7 of 16 from 40-plus yards.
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P Brian Moorman: Moorman, 37, is a two-time Pro Bowler who ranked among the NFL's top five punters in average three times. He averaged 44.8 yards per punt in stints with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys last season.
KR Reggie Dunn: Dunn was a near-unanimous All-America selection as a kick returner, setting all kinds of NCAA records along the way. Dunn averaged 30.9 yards per return and set NCAA records with four 100-yard returns for touchdown last season and five in his career.
PR Justin Brown: Assuming Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are no longer in the picture, Brown has an outside chance to win the punt returner job. He averaged 13.6 yards per return at Oklahoma last season and was the primary punt returner at Penn State as a junior in 2011.
KR Chris Rainey: Rainey was cut in January after being arrested and accused of slapping his girlfriend. He was the team's primary kick returner, recording 39 attempts for 1,035 yards and a 26.5-yard average.
Would love to see Reggie Dunn in action during the season. He's probably the only candidate who is a threat to take it all the way anytime he gets the kick.
I'm hoping Dunn makes such an impact that he sticks but he will have to show he could be a WR & a PR IMO. I think Brown is the end or prolonging of Burress's career. He is the big body WR and if he could show he knows how to use it at this level through the preseason, it could be the end here for Burress. I'm a PSU fan and saw Brown play. He will give them that WR who could play ST and if he could show his return abilities along with his "niche" at WR...I see it very difficult to pass on him over Burress for 2013. Burress is only a "niche" WR at this point in his career so he can easily be overcome on the depth chart. Moye would be another "niche" type of WR but Brown was just more of a physical player and I think he could play ST coverage where Moye never showed me that physical abilty to do so. But hey...A Paycheck can change a person!
Situation is really interesting. If it Ends up being A Brown, Sanders, Cotchery, Wheaton, & Burress...To me that hands the return job to Howling. Which I am ok with...Howling has been productive. Looks good on paper for 2013 but a little of a concern for 2014. I assume at least one of Cotchery-Burress will be here for 2013 in any scenario. To me...A Brown, Sanders, Cotchery/Burress, Wheaton, J Brown, & Dunn (If he can show WR ability) mean the scouting department came through and the future looks good at WR even if Sanders leaves after 2013. Worst case for 2014...A Brown, Wheaton, J Brown, & Dunn remain while Sanders & Cotchery/Buress will be gone. That would be pretty good headed into the 2014 draft.
That is all speculation at this point. Lets first see if J Brown & Dunn can even play the game at this level. Right now my pick on 53 is...A Brown, Sanders, Cotchery, Wheaton, & Burress with Howling as the returner which is pretty solid. Hoping J Brown shows enough ability to push Burress off or make the PS would be "icing". Dunn making such an impact that he sticks on the 53 would be the ice cream.
Last edited by JUST-PLAIN-NASTY; 07-17-2013 at 09:34 AM.
I'm OK and hoping that Brown replaces Plaxico because I see little value for the latter this season. I think he will unfortunately stick another season because of his experience.
Originally Posted by JUST-PLAIN-NASTY
anyone besides me concerned that he catches the ball with his eyes closed?
I thought he was asleep
Originally Posted by squidkid
hoping he's on the active squad so there's the chance of this...
Originally Posted by Oviedo
First, I dont see Brown who runs like a 4.6 40 as having enough speed to be a real threat in the return game. Second, if we leave a guy like Dunn on the PS, he will get snatched up by the first team struggling in their return game. Dunn is the real deal, and worth a regular slot even if all he can do is return.
Agree 100%. Brown is not a return guy who anyone is going to worry about. However, Dunn is one that they will have to prepare for. Brown needs to be on the PS for this year. Highly unlikely there is any risk of anyone picking him up. He is destined to be a career #3 or #4 receiver. Dunn could be an elite returner and we will start to find out in just 7 days.
Originally Posted by Shawn
Last edited by Oviedo; 07-19-2013 at 08:14 AM.
You guys read too much into 40 times. His splits and cone times were solid. His 10 yard split was as good as Pattersons. He has game speed and we will have to see if it is enough. Brown's mark on the game won't be running away from people but there aren't many in the NFL that could stake that claim. He has his niche as a WR.
Your speed guys can be kick returners. Kick & punt are two different animals. Catching an uncontested ball in the air with 15-20 yards before contact isn't exactly a mastered trade. Your punt returners don't succeed solely based on speed and to be honest don't succeed if that is all they have. Good punt returners have hands, vision, toughness, change or direction...speed. That order.
I don't know who will come out on top in all of this but Dunn has a bigger uphill battle at making it as a punt returner than Brown at this level imo. Not saying it can't happen. I like Dunn better as a kick returner though. We will let it be settled on the field