Steelers' Reid still bobbling opportunity

| Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

He recently talked about all that his prized first-round pick can do on a football field. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered this caveat regarding Lawrence Timmons: what the former Florida State star did at "Tallahassee" doesn't mean much anymore.

He might have delivered a similar message to wide receiver/kick returner Willie Reid on Tuesday morning.

"I challenged him in front of his peers," Tomlin said.

Reid couldn't get on the field last year because of a numbers crunch and an injury, and he won't stay on it this season if he doesn't start showing the stuff that made him one of the most dazzling return men in Florida State history.

Tomlin said Reid will be back returning punts Thursday when the Steelers visit the Carolina Panthers for their final preseason game.

That Tomlin publicly talked about calling out Reid, however, shows that he may be losing patience with the second-year pro.

Reid, the only Florida State player aside from Deion Sanders to gain 1,000 career yards in punt returns, is averaging just 4.9 yards on eight punt returns during the preseason. In Sunday's 27-13 win over the Eagles he fumbled a punt deep in Steelers territory, though he did recover it.

"I think I'm just too anxious to go out and make big plays," said Reid, a third-round pick of the Steelers in 2006. "Coaches have mentioned to me that I'm trying to hit the home run all the time instead of getting what I'm supposed to get and that will be it."

It's understandable if Reid is a little overanxious.

He didn't dress in the Steelers' first three games as a rookie last season since he was the odd man out at wide receiver. Against the San Diego Chargers, he left the game early after spraining his left foot while returning a kickoff.

The injury, which was actually a mid-foot sprain, sidelined him for the rest of the season and even caused Reid to miss some of the Steelers' offseason practices.

Reid emerged as one of the early stars of training camp, showing his toughness as a wide receiver and a burst that could be attributed to his foot being healed.

So where, Steelers fans are asking, is the player who burned Penn State for 180 yards and a touchdown on punt returns in the 2006 Orange Bowl?

"You never know when that play is going to come, and it usually comes when you least expect it, so I just think it's a matter of time," wide receiver Cedrick Wilson said. "You've got to be patient."

Wilson replaced Reid as a punt returner after the latter fumbled against the Eagles early in the second quarter. Yet both Reid and Wilson said it had been determined before the game that Reid would give way to Wilson after fielding two punts.

"My confidence is still high," Reid said. "I just had a couple of mistakes, and that's the whole story."

The story could change if Reid struggles on returns Thursday.

"We'll see what he brings," Tomlin said of the game against the Panthers, "but I expect him to bring it, because he's a competitor."

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