Rookie Dri Archer is out and veteran LeGarrette Blount is in for the Pittsburgh Steelers on kickoff returns in a change meant to boost its special teams results.
The Steelers rank next-to-last in the NFL in average starting field position after kickoffs and 30th in average yards per return.
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The Steelers (4-3) also conducted more live reps in practice to simulate game conditions as they prepare to face the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) on Sunday. But the most drastic change was choosing the bruising Blount over the speedy Archer to return kicks.
"Things didn’t work out as well as they wanted before, so they switched it up," Blount said Friday. "(And) I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. We’re hoping that we can get everything done the way that we want to get it done, and we hope that we can be effective with it so we can keep it going."
Blount has had just two kickoff returns this season for 38 yards, but he got those when Archer missed two early games with a knee injury. The past four games since Archer returned, Blount has been a lead blocker and helped tell Archer when to down the ball in the end zone.
Several times in recent games, Archer has brought the ball out and not reached the 20-yard line.
"We have to keep being aggressive," Archer said. "It’s going to come, so coach said we just have to be patient. We know it’s going to happen sooner or later."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he didn’t know whether the blockers or returners were to be blamed for the lack of production. But "it hasn’t been great. (And) we have to get better at it," Tomlin said.
Special teams coordinator Danny Smith said Colts punter and kickoff specialist Pat McAfee will dictate whether the Steelers are able to return punts at all.
"If he wants us to return them, he’ll have us," Smith said. "If he doesn’t want us to, he won’t because he’s got that capability."
Blount is well aware of McAfee’s assets as a punter and on kickoffs.
"McAfee pins a team back," Blount said. "He kicks the ball well. He’s had 42 kickoffs, so they score a lot of points. And he puts it out of the end zone a lot of times, but maybe he’ll mishit one or something and I’ll get a chance. Then, I have to take advantage of it."
Notes: The Steelers have ruled out NT Steve McLendon (right shoulder), CB Ike Taylor (right forearm) and S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring), while OT Marcus Gilbert (concussion) is doubtful. . Gilbert did not practice all week, so Mike Adams will start at right tackle against the Colts. . Rookie ILB Ryan Shazier (right knee sprain) split first-team reps with Sean Spence Friday and is listed as probable. Even if he doesn’t regain his starting spot, Shazier should play.