NFL Nation: David Gilreath

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have competition at running back and outside linebacker this year, although I believe rookies Le'Veon Bell and Jarvis Jones will win those jobs. The most wide-open battle in Pittsburgh is in the return game.

The release of Chris Rainey in January forces the Steelers to find another kickoff returner, and the promotion of Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders to the No. 1 and No. 2 wide receiver spots, respectively, likely means Pittsburgh will go with a new punt returner.

As the Steelers get ready to take the field for the first of three voluntary minicamps this week, you could make the case for around 10 players to compete over bringing back kicks and punts. But, when looking closely at the candidates, I see four as serious contenders to become the new returners.

On kickoff returns, running back and free-agent addition LaRod Stephens-Howling has to be considered the favorite. His role as a returner decreased the past two seasons in Arizona, but he averaged 25.7 yards and scored three touchdowns on kickoffs in his first two seasons in the NFL.

The one returner who could unseat him is undrafted rookie Reggie Dunn from Utah. He set the NCAA record for career 100-yard returns (five) and single-game 100-yard kickoff returns (two).

“He is an exciting player. He ran in the 4.3s on his pro day,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said of Dunn at a recent fan forum with season-ticke holders. “We’re excited because the speed (is something) you can’t teach. You have to give that young man the opportunity to prove what he can or can’t do on the field.”

Colbert said he's anxious to see how Dunn can handle punts. According to Colbert, Dunn didn't return many punts in college because Utah had others who were "quite honestly, better during his time there."

The other players who should get the opportunity to return punts are rookie sixth-round pick Justin Brown and David Gilreath. Brown averaged 13.5 yards per punt at Oklahoma and scored a touchdown. Gilreath, who holds the Big Ten for career kickoff returns, also ranked sixth in the Big Ten with an 8.8-yard average on punt returns before going undrafted in 2011. Last season, he returned two punts for a total of eight yards.

There's not as much mystery at returner around the AFC North. The Ravens kept Jacoby Jones and the Bengals re-signed Brandon Tate, but Adam Jones and Onterio McCalebb will push Tate. The Browns are expected to replace Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs with Travis Benjamin on punts and Dion Lewis on kickoffs.
CLEVELAND -- The Pittsburgh Steelers announced wide receivers Antonio Brown (ankle) and Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) are out for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, which could elevate recently signed Plaxico Burress to the No. 3 receiver spot.

The only healthy receivers for the Steelers are Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, David Gilreath and Burress. Brown was listed as questionable for this game.

For the Browns, the only surprise inactive was backup receiver Josh Cooper. He had been active for four of the past five games, catching seven passes for 98 yards. Cooper had one catch for six yards last Sunday at Dallas.

STEELERS: QB Ben Roethlisberger, QB Byron Leftwich, WR Antonio Brown, WR Jerricho Cotchery, OT Marcus Gilbert, S Troy Polamalu and CB DeMarcus Van Dyke.

BROWNS: CB Dimitri Patterson, RB Brandon Jackson, S Ray Ventrone, FB Owen Marecic, DL Ronnie Cameron, OL Jarrod Shaw and WR Josh Cooper.
Click here for the complete list of Pittsburgh Steelers' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Steelers are going with undrafted rookie Drew Butler (son of former NFL kicker Kevin Butler) as their punter. Injuries essentially forced this move. Pittsburgh parted ways with Daniel Sepulveda in the offseason because he couldn't stay healthy and waived Jeremy Kapinos on Friday after a back issue sidelined him this summer. Butler averaged 45.9 yards a punt this preseason and placed six of his 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. The other noteworthy move was keeping Charlie Batch, who was not expected to see his 11th season with Pittsburgh after Byron Leftwich won the backup job. The Steelers decided to keep three quarterbacks and just four wide receivers. Chris Rainey, who has lined up in the slot this preseason, is a hybrid running back-receiver.

Onward and upward: Pittsburgh should have no problem signing David Gilreath to the practice squad. If the Steelers went with a fifth receiver, it would have been Gilreath. He separated himself from an undistinguished group of reserve receivers with four catches for 78 yards in the second preseason game. The other benefit of keeping Gilreath is his ability as a returner. He led Wisconsin in punt and kickoff returns two years ago and could be promoted if Rainey got injured. Receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders can return kicks as well.

What's next: The Steelers may address depth at inside linebacker after placing rookie third-round pick Sean Spence on injured reserve Friday. With Stevenson Sylvester out for a couple of weeks with a torn MCL, Pittsburgh is down to former Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson as the top backup inside. The Steelers could bring back Trai Essex, after cutting the eight-year veteran Friday, when they place first-round pick David DeCastro on injured reserve Tuesday, allowing the team to activate DeCastro after eight weeks under the new IR rule. Pittsburgh is expected to waive rookie tight end David Paulson after Weslye Saunders serves his four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Kerry Collins does fine in Colts debut

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
10:26
PM ET
Quarterback Kerry Collins first game as a member of the Indianapolis Colts was not about the stats as much as it was whether he could show that he was comfortable.

And while five-for-10 for 45 yards hardly made for a big evening, he looked like he knew what to do and where to go with the ball.

Twice he got hit by Michael Johnson. The Cincinnati defensive end got pushed wide by Indy rookie tackle Anthony Castonzo, but kept working and managed to land a meaningful swipe on Collins anyway. The first time hit forced a red-zone incompletion and the second resulted in a lost fumble.

Collins made a great deep throw down the middle for David Gilreath on his first snap and drew a pass interference penalty. And later he hit Chris Brooks deep on the left side, a pass that was dropped.

The quarterback didn’t get a completion or yardage for either.

After Collins yielded to Dan Orlovsky, owner Jim Irsay tweeted: “#5 looked good 2nite,gonna help us if #18 needs a few more weeks getting ready...but Peyton is improving rapidly..steady progress!”

Collins is No. 5 while No. 18, of course, is Peyton Manning.

I think it has to be considered an encouraging start for the backup, He could play in the season opener on Sept. 11 in Houston if Manning isn’t sufficiently recovered from the May neck surgery that kept him out of action until a recent return to limited practice.

And hey, the Colts actually won a preseason game, 17-13. It was their first preseason win since August 20, 2009.

One defensive note: Linebacker Philip Wheeler started with Kavell Conner and Ernie Sims.

Wheeler seemed a prime culprit in the Colts’ struggles against the run, getting run through on multiple occasions. Brian Leonard ranks as Cincinnati’s third back, but got the early work and managed 5.2 yards a carry.

And running back Cedric Peerman stiff-armed Wheeler after a short catch, watched him slip off and ran for more yards.

Wheeler did make a nice play tracking and dragging down Jermaine Gresham after a short catch.

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