Saturday, July 07, 2007

Unhappy Returns?

Yesterday, the Steelers claimed KR Dan Sheldon off waivers, a day after having been cut by the Atlanta Falcons. Both the Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles put in a claim for the former Cologne Centurion (NFL Europe), but Sheldon went to Pittsburgh because the Eagles posted a better record than the Steelers in 2006.

The claim might indicate that Pittsburgh is concerned ith the state of its return game, or the team might simply be looking for a player who can raise the level of competition in training camp. Another possibility is that the coaches wanted an extra body to take reps in camp and return kicks during the club's five preseason games, thereby preserving the limited options the team has at kick returner. After all, Sheldon has never played in a regular-season NFL game (and may have injury concerns of his own), so he's probably a longshot to make the team.

Ideally, second-year WR Willie Reid will be the Steelers' primary kickoff and punt returner in 2007, but foot injuries threaten to derail Reid's career before it even gets started. Fellow wideout Santonio Holmes could excel as a returner, but as the #2 wide receiver the coaches would probably prefer not to expose him to injury on special teams. That leaves backup RB Najeh Davenport as the next best option on kickoff returns (21.5 yards per return in 2006), with veteran receiver Cedrick Wilson a possible stopgap option on either punts or kickoffs. But if Reid can't play the Steelers may be forced to make a trade to bring in a veteran return man.

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