Steelers hope newcomer Jacoby Jones can boost return game
''He's one of the all-time great kick returners,'' cornerback Antwon Blake said. ''It's exciting to know he'll be on our side.''
The Steelers claimed Jones off waivers from the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, trying to boost a struggling part of their game. Though he was not at practice Friday, the 31-year-old is expected to be in uniform Sunday when the Oakland Raiders visit Heinz Field.
Jones averaged just 21.4 yards on kickoff returns and minus-0.8 yards on punt returns for the Chargers after signing a two-year, $5.5-million contract in free agency. Last season, his averages were 30.6 and 9.2 for the Baltimore Ravens.
In nine career games against the Steelers, primarily playing for the AFC North-rival Ravens, Jones has averaged 35.7 yards on kickoff returns and 11.9 yards on punts.. He scored a touchdown both ways.
Jones has nine return touchdowns in his nine-year career, five on kickoffs and four on punts. He scored on a 108-yard kickoff return against San Francisco in the Super Bowl three seasons ago, and also caught a touchdown pass for the Ravens in that win.
''He's the type of guy who can take it back 103 yards for a score,'' Blake said. ''We've seen it happen before. We know what he can do.''
Jones' most famous return against the Steelers, though, came on a play in which he didn't score.
That came on Thanksgiving night in 2013 in Baltimore when Jones seemed on his way to returning a kickoff for a touchdown. He was forced to cut inside from the sideline, however, to avoid Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had stepped onto the field.
Jones was eventually tackled at the Pittsburgh 27 and said he would have scored if not for Tomlin forcing him to change directions. Though Tomlin denied intentionally trying to interfere with Jones, he smiled when watching the replay on the video board and was fined $100,000 by the NFL.
The Steelers are 21st in the NFL in kickoff returns with a 22.1-yard average.
Dri Archer, who was released to open a roster spot for Jones, had been Pittsburgh's primary kickoff returner and averaged 25.3 yards per return. He totaled just 34 yards on two returns in last week's loss to Cincinnati, getting tackled inside the Steelers' 20 both times.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown is expected to continue as the primary punt returner for the Steelers, who are 14th in the league with an 8.9-yard average.
NOTES: LB Terence Garvin (knee) and TE Matt Spaeth (knee) have been ruled out of Sunday's game. . S Will Allen (ankle) and DE Stephon Tuitt (knee) are listed as probable. Allen missed the last three games and Tuitt sat out the last two. . Also probable are WR Martavis Bryant (illness), S Mike Mitchell (concussion), QB Michael Vick (hamstring) and WR Markus Wheaton (ankle).