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Danny Smith Suggests Unorthodox Player to Use on Kickoffs



Pittsburgh Steelers Bears QB Justin Fields

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren revealed an off the wall idea from special teams coordinator Danny Smith. According to Warren, there’s been discussions about having Justin Fields return kickoffs under the new kickoff rule.

“Our special teams coordinator was talking about Justin Fields being back there. We were like hold up. We looked at him like, ‘Justin Fields about to be back there?'” Warren said during an appearance on the Not Just Football podcast with Cam Heyward at the Steelers Draft Party last Saturday.

Since 2022, Fields has the most rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,800 yards and 6.3 yards per carry. Both figures are higher than Lamar Jackson’s. Fields is a dynamic runner, but it would be risky to put him on kickoffs, as he could be exposed to an injury. It would be coaching negligence to have a backup quarterback return kickoffs.

I’d imagine that Smith was joking or said that in jest. The Steelers signed All-Pro Cordarrelle Patterson for a reason, and that’s to return kicks. That move was made, coincidentally, on the same day where kickoff returns are being brought back to prominence.

The rule is based on one the XFL used for the last two springs. The ball is kicked off from the 35-yard line, like it is now, but instead of the kick coverage team being placed alongside the kicker, they are on the opposing 40-yard line. The blockers are lined up between the 30 and 35-yard line, 10 to 15 yards away.

Kicks must land inside the 20-yard line, and balls kicked into the end zone will now come all the way out to the 30-yard line, incentivizing teams to try to get the ball returned. Players can’t move until the ball is caught or hit the ground. Here’s an example of a touchdown returned by the San Antonio Brahmas last year.

Patterson is one of the best, if not the best, kickoff returners of all-time. He has had nine such kickoff returns throughout his career, and he averages 29.3 yards per kickoff return. That is likely where the onus of this move is coming from, as Patterson should fill that role immediately. Mike Tomlin noted there would be a change in body type on these kickoffs, but not just that, returners themselves had to be more than just pure speed, but have excellent vision. Patterson checks that box.

“Body types might change. How’s it going to affect field positioning and thus scoring. Roster building, you know, the importance of the return,” Tomlin said. “It’s the ramifications, the seeing around corners, the unintended consequences.”

As for what Cordarrelle Patterson does on offense, he worked with new Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in Atlanta, so that connection is obvious. But he has been a wide receiver and running back in the past. Patterson should be the third running back behind Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris while adding a gadget play element.

He only had 50 rushes for 181 yards a year ago, though the season before that, Patterson added 695 rushing yards on 144 carries, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Regardless, he is a versatile weapon that the team can work into their gameplan, and will certainly allow for some ingenuity with the new kickoff rules in place.