Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Archer, Kick-Return Team Feel Heat

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Archer, Kick-Return Team Feel Heat

Article excerpt

"I'm ready to see Dri Archer do something. I'm excited for him. We need to go past the 15 on kickoff returns. That would be awesome."

Center Maurkice Pouncey uttered those words one week ago when the Steelers reported to training camp, but any member of the Steelers fan base likely said the same thing on any number of occasions Archer attempted to return a kickoff in 2014.

Pouncey was exaggerating, but only by a little. According to Football Outsiders, the average starting field position for the Steelers last season was the 25.2, third worst in the league.

Archer, drafted in 2014 as a return specialist, heard the message loud and clear.

"The farther you can get the ball up the field the better position you put your offense to drive down the field," Archer said. "It's a goal of ours to improve."

It has been a point of emphasis this offseason for special teams coach Danny Smith. It's the one area on special teams he believes must improve the most.

"We need to improve our kickoff-return stuff," Smith said. "We got off to a real slow start. We were bad early. We got decent, which made it just a below-average year. But we were awful early. We improved. That was a good thing. We have to continue that. We have to get better field position for our offense in that phase."

Archer, the team's 2014 third-round selection, was given the chance to return kicks early in the season, but he only averaged 17.9 yards per return on nine attempts. He was benched in favor of Markus Wheaton, who averaged 24.7 yards on 20 attempts. The Steelers finished 26th in the league with a 21.7 average.

Even though Archer was drafted for his return prowess, Smith said he has to earn the job again this season. He is competing with Wheaton and others in training camp.

"We're going to play the best player," Smith said. "It's always been a Steelers philosophy. And I love that. There are some other guys in that mix. We'll see who can do it and who can't. With the five preseason games, that will give us a good indication.

"I'm high on Dri. I think Dri is going to be fabulous. I love Markus Wheaton, too.

"He's a heck of a player. …

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