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|08-12-2009, 05:46 AM||#1|
The Virginia Hillbilly
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Galax Va
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Steelers seeking big returns from special teams
LATROBE - It's no secret that since Antwaan Randle El left after the 2005 season, the Steelers' return game has been as productive as a day spent by the pool.
Randle El had as many return touchdowns in 2005 (two), as the Steelers have had in the three regular seasons since, including none during the 2008 campaign.
They did get a spark from wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the playoffs, as the Super Bowl MVP averaged 14.7 yards on his seven postseason punt returns, including a 67-yard touchdown against San Diego, but those kind of things have been rare.
Head coach Mike Tomlin admitted upgrading a return game that ranked 31st in punt return average and 29th in kickoff return average is a priority.
Receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Joe Burnett were added in the draft. Running back Stefan Logan, a Canadian Football League standout, and wide receiver Shawn McDonald were signed.
Gone are the days of seeing 240-pound running backs like Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell returning kicks for the Steelers.
Tomlin gets his first opportunity to see if the return game is improved Thursday when the Steelers host the Arizona Cardinals in their preseason opener.
"I'm excited about watching these guys perform inside stadiums," Tomlin said Tuesday at Saint Vincent College.
"I feel very comfortable in terms of what we're looking at out here in Latrobe in terms of guys naturally being able to settle under the ball as a punt and kick returner. You really don't have an understanding with what you're working with until you get those guys in some live action."
Wallace, the second-fastest player at this year's draft combine, and Burnett, who had five returns for touchdowns at Central Florida, will get the first opportunities.
Wallace will open as the kick returner, while Burnett will handle punt returns.
"I know what they're looking for," said Wallace, a third-round pick who holds records at Mississippi for single game, season and career kickoff return yardage. "I'm just looking forward to going in and playing my role and trying to contribute early."
The Steelers would like that as well.
They would rather not use Holmes in that role again, particularly with the loss of No. 3 receiver Nate Washington to free agency.
"We got some guys that we are excited about and looking forward to watching them do it; Mike Wallace as a kick returner, Joe Burnett as a kick returner, Joe Burnett as a punt returner, and some other young guys," Tomlin said. "So we'll just continue to work those guys and hopefully they distinguish themselves."
Odds and end zones
Tomlin only ruled offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton (knee) out of Thursday's game, though it is unlikely that center Justin Hartwig, who has not participated in any contact drills since arriving at training camp with a toe injury, will play. ... With Hartwig and Stapleton out, Doug Legursky, who spent time on the team's practice squad in 2008, will start at center. ... Tomlin said he plans on using all four quarterbacks on the roster, though starter Ben Roethlisberger and other key players will likely only play two possessions. ... Nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee) and wide receiver Limas Sweed (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday. Both were injured Sunday. ... Tuesday afternoon's practice was cut short by heavy thunderstorms.
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