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Tim Benz: Why questions about Ryan Switzer could be good for Steelers

September 23, 2018
Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer goes through drill Tuesday Aug. 28, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Steelers receiver Ryan Switzer goes through drill Tuesday Aug. 28, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

The questions were swirling around Ryan Switzer.

Is he going to play Thursday? Is he going to play in the regular-season opener? Is he just going to be a return man? Can he help in the slot? How come he was traded twice in the same offseason? What happens to all those other receivers battling for a roster spot?

Some of those questions he could answer.

Others? Well, your guess is as good as his.

The newly acquired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver was just getting his bearings after his first Steelers practice. Within a few hours after landing on a red-eye from Oakland after being traded here, the second-year player was bombarded with those inquiries from reporters.

So let’s start with the first two questions and go from there.

Yes, Switzer says he’ll likely be suited up for Thursday night’s preseason finale against Carolina. He expects to be used as both a returner and in the offense.

As far as returning goes, coach Mike Tomlin expects Switzer to have no issues with transitioning from Dallas to Oakland to Pittsburgh.

“That guy has been a returner all his life,” Tomlin said. “I would imagine it’s like breathing or swimming or riding a bike.”

Learning the Steelers offense will likely be more complicated, but Switzer seemed confident he could pick it up quickly.

“Everyone calls everything different in the league,” the North Carolina product said. “But this is my third offense now. And I’m realizing concepts are very similar.”

Which brings up the next query. Why is it his third offense in two years? For a fourth-round pick — with some promise — just last year, how come Dallas and Oakland gave up on him so quickly?

Among qualified punt returners, Switzer was 12th in the league at 8.8 yards per attempt and had Dallas’ first punt-return touchdown in four years. He was seventh in total yards.

Among qualified kick returners, his 25-yard average ranked third.

Those accomplishments seemed to be in line for a guy who had seven punt-return touchdowns in college — including two at Heinz Field against Pitt — for the fourth highest total in the history of college football.

“I watched every rep in Dallas,” special teams coach Danny Smith said. “He’s a real competitor. He’s a tough kid. He’s got great quickness.”

It seems like Switzer was pushed out in both of his first two pro stops. The Cowboys decided to acquire West Virginia product Tavon Austin, who can serve many of those same roles. Then they drafted two receivers as well. So they traded Switzer to Oakland for defensive lineman Jihad Ward.

At the start of camp, Raiders coach Jon Gruden was gushing about Switzer. But he was passed on the depth chart by Seth Roberts and Griff Whalen. Strangely, it was then reported that Whalen is suffering from turf toe and may take a few weeks to recover.

“All you can do in this league is work hard and give it what you got,” Switzer said. “It’s not ideal getting traded twice in an offseason. But I feel like I’m here for a reason.”

Perhaps it’s believed Switzer simply can’t get it done as a receiver on offense. He caught a preseason touchdown with Oakland against Detroit, but he had only four receptions as a rookie in Dallas.

It’s not like Switzer was strictly a return threat in college. He had 2,903 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns at UNC.

“I’m a good football player,” Switzer said, sounding somewhat confused himself. “I had a great college career. I had a great rookie year.

“Hopefully I’ve found a home.”

If he has, then that means some others may get kicked out of the house.

Which brings us to those other questions: Why did Tomlin and Kevin Colbert bring him here, and what does that mean for other receivers on the roster?

Because, as cut down day nears, Switzer being a slot recover and return man could cause multiple receivers to lose spots so that the Steelers can keep players at other positions.

Eli Rogers is still hurt and is now facing a one-game suspension. Marcus Tucker just got banged up and didn’t look particularly good against the Titans. Quadree Henderson has yet to distinguish himself as the return specialist and gadget option the Steelers hoped he’d be coming out of Pitt.

Meanwhile, all three tight ends are injured to one degree or another, so Randy Fichtner may like another option with middle-of-the-field capabilities for Ben Roethlisberger.

To this point, Switzer’s career has been full of questions. Now his presence in Pittsburgh is causing more.

And that may be a good thing.

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