On Saturday afternoon the Pittsburgh Steelers waived punter Corliss Waitman, thereby definitively answering the question as to who will be the team’s punter on Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. Many observers—including Mark Kaboly, who covers the Steelers for The Athletic—expected that head coach Mike Tomlin would go back to Waitman after rookie Pressley Harvin III struggled in last week’s regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. But the Steelers are sticking with Harvin in what beat reporter Brooke Pryor (ESPN) described as a “vote of confidence.”
Never mind the fact that Waitman shined during the two games he played while Harvin was on bereavement leave in the wake of his father’s death. Specifically, Waitman punted seven times for 365 yards, an average of 52.1 yards per punt, which would be good enough to lead the league if he had enough punts to qualify for the rankings. (His net average of 42.6 yards per kick would also place him among the league leaders.)
It remains to be seen if the Steelers will be able to re-sign Waitman to compete with Harvin for the job next season, now that other teams have witnessed his booming punts in two different games.
In the meantime, the Steelers have to hope that Harvin is able to elevate his performance in the postseason. During the regular season he punted 70 times and averaged just 42.6 yards per kick, with a net average of 38.0 yards. Last week he really struggled, punting eight times with an average of 37.3 yards per kick. If he replicates those numbers against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, it will make things that much harder for a Steelers defense that needs all the help it can get in terms of slowing down Kansas City’s offense.
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Steelers Activate JuJu Smith-Schuster Off Injured Reserve
Of course, the reason the Steelers waived Waitman is that they needed a roster spot to accommodate the surprise return of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who returned to practice three days ago after missing three months with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
“God answered my prayers & I’ve recovered from my season-ending shoulder injury earlier than expected,” Smith-Schuster tweeted on Saturday afternoon. “I can’t believe I get another chance to take the field with this team and play in a playoff game to keep our season alive.”
Smith-Schuster hasn’t played since Week 5 against the Denver Broncos. Prior to getting hurt, Smith-Schuster had 15 catches for 129 yards. In the time since, wide receiver/kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud has demonstrated the ability to produce as a slot receiver, responsible for 39 catches and 277 yards during the regular-season.
Najee Harris Expected to Start Against the Chiefs
In another injury-related development from Saturday afternoon, the Steelers removed the injury designation from rookie running back Najee Harris.
Harris missed the majority of last Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Ravens after suffering an elbow injury on the first drive of the game. He missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday but returned as a full participant on Friday January 14.
According to Steelers.com, Harris “is expected to play and has no status designation for Sunday night’s game vs. the Chiefs.”
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