The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to expand the role of wide-receiver Antonio Brown this season, at least initially. Head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters this morning that Brown will be used as the teams punt returner again this season. Many believed that the addition of Dri Archer in the draft would take that responsibility away from Brown. Tomlin stated that Archer would be along side Brown.
Brown has returned punts for the Steelers every year since his arrival in 2010. He has 108 punt returns for 1078 yards and two touchdowns. He averages just under 10 yards per return. His longest? 67 yards.
“He is a pro bowl caliber return man, so that’s how you play him” – Coach Tomlin on @AntonioBrown84
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 2, 2014
Of course when a starting wide-receiver is used on special teams there is a concern for injury. The NFL has tried to lessen the concerns over the years but season ending injuries still occur in the kick return game. While Tomlin didn’t say Brown would see his role reduced as the season wears on, it’s likely that Brown will eventually play a reduced roll as the rookie gets more acclimated to the NFL.
The Steelers will open their season this weekend against the Cleveland Browns who have a solid defense and special teams unit. It will be interesting to see if the Brown is the only player to return punts all game long. Last season he returned 32 punts. In his career he has also returned kicks as well.
Last season Brown returned one kick-off and in 2012 he recorded not kick-off returns. In his first two seasons he saw a lot of kick-off returns and notched his lone career kick-off for a touchdown. It’s highly unlikely that Brown returns any kick-offs this season.