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Steelers notebook: Tomlin taking a look at struggling kickoff return team

Joe Rutter
| Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, 4:18 p.m.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin admitted he will “look hard” this week at potential changes in the kickoff return unit after the team had poor field position following three returns in the first half Sunday.

Teams have started kicking the ball short of the end zone to prevent the Steelers from taking a knee and getting possession at the 25.

Drives began at the Steelers 15, 17 and 18 following two returns by Fitzgerald Toussaint and one by Sammie Coates, who brought the ball out of the end zone for 22 yards.

The Steelers ranked 17th in the NFL during the regular season, averaging 21.5 yards per return. But in the past three games, including the wild-card game, the Steelers averaged 16.3 yards on nine returns (not counting an onside kick recovery vs. the Dolphins).

“We have to do a better job,” Tomlin said. “We have not been special in special teams. A lot has to do with circumstances.”

Tomlin mentioned injuries to core special teams players Anthony Chickillo, Robert Golden and Justin Gilbert. He also cited Shamarko Thomas, who is on season-ending injured reserve.

“In some instances, those guys aren't coming back,” Tomlin said. “We have to put our guys in a better position to execute and when we do, they have to execute better than they've been executing.”

Toussaint is the newest member of the injury report. Tomlin said Toussaint reported concussion symptoms Monday and has been placed in the concussion protocol.

Injury report

Asked if tight end Ladarius Green suffered a setback last week in his return from a concussion, Tomlin said, “I guess you could describe it as that.” He said Green remains in concussion protocol.

Green practiced Wednesday and Thursday last week but did not participate Friday. He did not play for the third consecutive game.

Tomlin said he'll continue to monitor Chickillo (ankle), Golden (ankle), defensive end Ricardo Mathews (ankle) and linebacker Vince Williams (shoulder). Williams was the only player among that group to play against the Dolphins. He logged 11 snaps on special teams.

Tomlin said running back Le'Veon Bell has occasionally rested.

Safety Sean Davis is being monitored for a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for a play against the Dolphins.

Reading material

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger characterized the recent Sports Illustrated cover story on him as a “witch hunt” but also admitted on his weekly 93.7 FM radio segment that he hasn't read the story.

The cover headline calls Roethlisberger the NFL's “most polarizing” player.

Roethlisberger made light of the accusation.

“I guess if I'm going home and changing diapers, playing Play-Doh, playing dolls and playing catch (with my kids) is polarizing, guilty.”

Defending Kelce

Tomlin said the Steelers might employ a sixth defensive back to counter the Chiefs' Travis Kelce, whose 1,125 receiving yards led all NFL tight ends. His 85 receptions ranked second.

“It's a matchup issue,” Tomlin said. “He's too athletic for a linebacker, too big and strong oftentimes for secondary people. It could require a combination of both.”

Tomlin said the Steelers used Gilbert occasionally to shadow Kelce when the teams met Oct. 2 at Heinz Field. Kelce had five catches for 23 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint avoids the Browns' Tramon Williams Sr. in the third quarter Sunday, Jan. 1, 2016 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint avoids the Browns' Tramon Williams Sr. in the third quarter Sunday, Jan. 1, 2016 at Heinz Field.
Steelers running back Fitz Toussaint breaks into the open against the Eagles in the first quarter Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Fitz Toussaint breaks into the open against the Eagles in the first quarter Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, at Heinz Field.
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