After Sunday night’s disastrous outing, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has demoted return man Jacoby Jones off kick and punt returns for the foreseeable future. That’s the bad news for him. The good is he’s still drawing a paycheck as the Steelers didn’t release him (yet). We often wondered what sort of blackmail Dri Archer had on Tomlin in order to stay employed despite showing no discernible talent. There’s no such mystery with Jones as I suppose Tomlin feels he owes him one for tripping him on that infamous kickoff return a couple Thanksgivings ago.
With Jones riding pine, kickoff return duties now fall to Markus Wheaton. Wheaton, one may recall, was supposed to have value as a return man back when he was drafted but they never really gave him an extended look on special teams. Although he’s had the best two games of his career the past couple weeks, I don’t see any problem with putting him out there to field kicks. I was about to say he couldn’t possibly be worse than Jones then I remembered I said the same thing about Archer.
Antonio Brown is back on punt return duty with Jones’ demotion. This one I am less enthused about. As we saw against Indy, AB can be an electric return man but his value as a receiver makes risking him on special teams a dicey proposition. Regardless, a lot of really good players over the years have returned punts while playing a regular position so it’s not the most unusual thing ever. And Brown most definitely represents a huge upgrade over Jones or anybody else.
As for Jones, I have to assume they’re keeping him around simply as insurance. I don’t really see any other explanation as he’s got zero value as a receiver. For one, he hasn’t been here long enough to learn the offense and even if he did the Steelers are already four deep (AB, Wheaton, Bryant and DHB) at wide out with rookie Sammie Coates the next man up after them. If Jones isn’t playing special teams, there’s no point for him to be here. Tomlin already said Coates might be active on game day in Jones’ place which makes him sound extremely expendable.
The end result was disastrous but I don’t fault the Steelers for taking a flier on Jones. In hindsight, the fact he’s been released several times the past year was probably a giant red flag. However, it wasn’t like Archer’s “Run forward like you’ve been shot out of a cannon then fall down as soon as someone breathes on you” return style didn’t need addressed. Unfortunately, they picked up a guy who was not only as bad, he was actually way worse.
Between Jones at the debacle at kicker, I think I’ve spilled more digital ink on special teams this year than I have in the previous five combined. Let’s hope this is the last time we have to worry about it.