Steelers Look at New Kick Returner

With Fitzgerald Toussaint in the concussion protocol, the Steelers looked at another kickoff return man. That and more in the Thursday notebook.

PITTSBURGH -- A former Oklahoma State player could play a key role in Sunday's playoff game as a kickoff returner, but it might not be the one everyone expects.

Justin Gilbert, a former first-round draft pick out of OSU, worked Thursday as the Steelers' kickoff return man next to Sammie Coates.

And when the Steelers worked on kickoff coverage, they worked on stopping Gilbert's replacement at OSU, Tyreek Hill, who'll be the fastest player on any unit Sunday in Kansas City.

Hill has been one of the Chiefs' key players during their run to the playoffs, but the celebrated rookie isn't the one with the OSU record for kickoff return average.

That belongs to Gilbert, who averaged 26.3 yards per his 102 kickoff returns in college. And in the NFL, with the Cleveland Browns, he averaged 28.3 per his 12 kickoff returns.

Gilbert has returned three kickoffs with the Steelers this year with an average of 23 yards per return, and he could be thrust into that role Sunday if Fitzgerald Toussaint doesn't come back from his concussion.

Toussaint practiced in a limited capacity Thursday, leaving the return work to Gilbert.

"It's looking like it, me and Sammie back there," said Gilbert.

The move would represent a change for Mike Tomlin, who seems to prefer offensive players in the role. Of the 27 spots filled over the last 10 seasons by players with more than three kickoff returns, 26 were offensive players. The last defensive player with more than three returns in a season was Allen Rossum in 2007, Tomlin's first season.

Gilbert, of course, is a defensive player.

"That's something I've done all my life," Gilbert said. "I consider myself an offensive weapon. I grew up playing quarterback and I just moved to defense for college. I'm used to carrying the ball."

Gilbert was a quarterback at Huntsville (Tx.) High and rushed for 1,061 yards his senior season before moving on to OSU. He held the KR spot there until Hill transferred from a junior college to replace Gilbert after he left.

"We could've been back there together," Gilbert said.

Of course, Hill is the more publicized player coming into Sunday's playoff game with his 27.4 average. Gilbert, if he plays, would be the lesser known light in this game.

"Just how I like it," he said.

BEN'S BEST O-LINE?

Ben Roethlisberger has never been protected better. He was sacked only 17 times this regular season, or once every 30 dropbacks. Both are career bests.

Is this his best offensive line?

"I like to say arguably the best, as a group," said Roethlisberger. "We've had individuals who were good. I may even have had groups I was closer with, in terms of friendships. But as a group, and the way they play together, it's hard to argue against this one."

Ramon Foster took that as a great compliment, but made a case against his group with one big statistic.

"He can't say the best line is us, and you know why?" Foster asked. "Because those other two lines -- the (Alan) Faneca line, the Willie Colon line -- they've got rings. That's the separator.

"Personally, that's why I want to be in Houston with this group. They say, 'Yeah this is the highest paid O-line in Steeler history,' but what the (heck) did they do? Did they get a ring? Or did they just get paid?'"

So in spite of allowing the fewest number of sacks in Roethlisberger's career, and paving the way for a second 1,250-plus rushing season by Le'Veon Bell, the only stat that counts is ...

"Rings," Foster said. "That last era gave up probably the most sacks, but they got the hardware. I want that hardware. Period."

PORTER CHARGES REDUCED DRAMATICALLY

After an altercation Sunday night with a South Side doorman, charges against Steelers outside linebackers coach Joey Porter were reduced to summary public drunkeness and disorderly conduct. 

Dropped were charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and trespassing. Charges of making terroristic threats had been dropped earlier. The altercation occurred after Porter was refused admittance to a bar in which a former Steelers player was hosting a gathering on the second floor.

The office of the Allegheny County District Attorney issued the following statement on Thursday:

"Today our office was able to view surveillance video showing multiple angles of the events that led to the arrest of Steelers coach Joey Porter. Following that review it is the position of the office that the only charges supported by the video are summary disorderly conduct and summary public drunkenness. Our office will proceed on those charges and barring any additional evidence that is brought forward, we will withdraw the other charges at the appropriate time."

Porter is expected to return to his coaching duties in time to make the trip to Kansas City.

INJURY REPORT

It's becoming likely that TE Ladarius Green will miss his fourth consecutive game with a concussion after he missed Thursday's practice. Also out were defensive reserves Anthony Chickillo (ankle) and Ricardo Mathews (ankle).

Limited for the Steelers were OLB Bud Dupree (shin) and Toussaint.

The Chiefs had full participation from all 53 players.


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