DAVIE — Fifteen times last season, Antonio Brown returned a punt for the Steelers.
Fifteen more times, he opted to fair catch.
Combined, that’s 30 times Brown was back there (not counting punts he let roll), performing one of the most dangerous roles in the NFL.
No one can dispute that Brown is one of the best receivers in the league, and by extension a guy no team would want to be without. Hopefully this won’t happen, but if Brown should sustain a serious injury returning a punt, there would be an outcry from Monday morning quarterbacks.
Sort of like what’s happening in Miami now.
No, the Dolphins didn’t lose Jarvis Landry is such a fashion, but their No. 2 draft pick, Raekwon McMillan, saw his season last a dozen or so seconds before he blew out a knee covering a punt against Atlanta. Coach Adam Gase hasn’t pushed many wrong buttons since arriving, but today, fans question why the risk involving McMillan.
After all, the Dolphins were counting on McMillan as their middle linebacker and calling signals, whenever they went with a three-linebacker set including Kiko Alonso and Lawrence Timmons. Which means they were counting on McMillan to be a key component in run defense.
Gase isn’t looking back. His answer as to why McMillan was out there was no surprise.
“Because he was going to play it this year,” Gase said. “How many snaps at nickel are we going to play this year? We’re going to play 600-plus. We’re going to play 300 snaps at base, probably. He was going to play base. You’ve only got 46 guys on the roster that are going to play (on game day), so somebody has got to play it. We’re not just going to trot out eight guys because you can’t play any starters.”
It’s easy to watch all those aqua jerseys run out of the tunnel on Sundays and trick yourself into believing there are plenty of “other guys” who can be relegated to special teams. Subtract three specialists (punter, kicker, snapper), then divide by two (offense/defense) and you’ll quickly see the number of players who dress is frighteningly lean, especially if you’re hit with multiple injuries at a position. And don’t forget the significant number of players you’d never want to use on special teams (quarterbacks, aging veterans, etc.).
So, as Gase said, somebody has got to play it.
“When you’re a rookie, you have to experience this stuff,” Gase said. “It’s unfortunate. We had a lot of high hopes for him because we felt like we drafted a really good player. I hate to see that happen to him, especially a guy that has never been hurt in his career. That’s the NFL.
“ … You have to go out there and do it because we throw him in a real game and he has never done it in a real game before, it’s not going to be a good result.”
What happened to Raekwon McMillan was a terrible result.
But, to borrow again from Gase, that’s the NFL.
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