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Steelers notebook: Trey Williams delivers in punt-return role

Chris Adamski
| Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, 9:27 p.m.
The Steelers' Jerald Hawkins and Jake Rodgers celebrate with Trey Williams after his third-quarter punt return for a touchdown against the Falcons Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Jerald Hawkins and Jake Rodgers celebrate with Trey Williams after his third-quarter punt return for a touchdown against the Falcons Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Steelers return man Trey Williams dives into the end zone past Falcons linebacker Josh Harris on the way to a 64-yard punter return for a third-quarter touchdown Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers return man Trey Williams dives into the end zone past Falcons linebacker Josh Harris on the way to a 64-yard punter return for a third-quarter touchdown Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Steelers punt returner Trey Williams breaks into open field past Falcons defenders for a 64 yard punter return for a third-quarter touchdown Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers punt returner Trey Williams breaks into open field past Falcons defenders for a 64 yard punter return for a third-quarter touchdown Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017 at Heinz Field.

Before Sunday, Trey Williams had not returned a punt in a game since 2011.

At Dekaney High School in Harris County, Texas.

“I decided (this summer), ‘Hey, I wanna play punt returner,' ” Williams said. “And that's what I did. And I got better at it. I got better at it and more comfortable at it.”

Comfortable enough to reach the end zone on just his third return for the Steelers.

Williams had a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown during the third quarter of the Steelers' 17-13 win at Heinz Field.

Williams, a five-star recruit out of high school, left Texas A&M after his junior year and went undrafted despite running a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. He spent time with the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts before the Steelers signed him this winter. He appeared only two NFL regular-season games (both with Indianapolis in 2015) and has two career carries.

In what might be his final pro shot, Williams approached special teams coach Danny Smith to volunteer for punt-return duty. He got his first shot Sunday.

“Forget what he did once he had the ball (Sunday),” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He did a good job of judgment and decision-making and fielding the ball today, for a guy with very little experience in that area.”

Williams had five attempts — two fair catches, returns for 6 and 7 yards but it was the touchdown that will be remembered.

Williams made a defender miss, split two more Falcons coverage men, accelerated up field, cut to his left and carried two defenders into the end zone.

The Steelers have long sought a replacement for Antonio Brown as a punt returner because of Brown's value as a receiver but it has yet top happen. The most recent Steelers regular-season punt-return touchdown by someone other than Brown came from Santonio Holmes in 2006.

Harrison announced, doesn't play

James Harrison was in uniform Sunday at Heinz Field. The 39-year-old linebacker was announced as the 12th defensive starter, too.

But Harrison joined a long list of Steelers veterans who did not play. Among players joining Harrison were Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and Mike Mitchell.

Tomlin previously announced Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown would not play.

Hargrave out

Nose tackle Javon Hargrave left the game in the first quarter because of a concussion.

It was the third time Hargrave was evaluated for a possible concussion in the past nine games he played. This is his second confirmed concussion. His first came during a Dec. 4 game last season against the Giants (he missed the following week's game at Buffalo).

Infirmary room

Backups who sat out because of injury included rookies JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton and Keion Adams, quarterback Landry Jones, receiver Demarcus Ayers and cornerback Senquez Golson.

Linebacker Steven Johnson left the game during the first half and did return because of a left hamstring injury.

Cornerback Greg Ducre suffered an ankle injury tracking down a punt and did not return.

In the booth

After years of calling plays from the sidelines, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been performing his duties from the pressbox this preseason.

“They changed that rule the other year where the playcaller can be in the box. We wanted to turn over all the stones in our preparation for the year,” Tomlin said. “We decided to look at it. It remains to be seen whether that remains our personality. We're open to exploring all the functions of trying to maximize our efficiency and, of course, play.”

Tomlin said the move is in “the analysis phase.”

Will they do the same come the regular season?

“Don't ask me before the opener because I ain't telling you,” he said. “Just come to the game.”

Chris Adamski is Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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