Steelers trade for return specialist Ryan Switzer
Ryan Switzer won’t exactly be eased into his surroundings when he reports to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Mike Tomlin said he plans to have Switzer, acquired Monday afternoon from the Oakland Raiders, on the practice field Tuesday and perhaps playing at Heinz Field two days later for the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.
“We’ll put him in the mix with these guys and hopefully get him ready to go Thursday night and just continue to build our football team in trying to be strong in all areas,” Tomlin said.
Switzer is a 23-year-old wide receiver/return specialist who was acquired from the Raiders in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick. The Steelers also will get a sixth-round selection in the deal.
Switzer is with his third team in five months. After spending his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, he was traded to the Raiders in April.
“One step closer to finding a home,” Switzer wrote on his verified Twitter account. “Excited to be in Pittsburgh!”
The addition of Switzer not only gives the Steelers an experienced kickoff and punt returner, he could fill the slot receiver position – one of the few remaining vacancies on the roster. Marcus Tucker and Trey Griffey were the top candidates for the slot until the trade.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Switzer set an ACC record when he returned seven career punts for touchdowns, including two in one game against Pitt, in his four years at North Carolina.
“He’s somebody that will help benefit our team,” said Steelers first-round pick Terrell Edmunds, who played against Switzer several times in college.
Switzer had five punt returns for a touchdown as a freshman and two as a junior at North Carolina.
Steelers cornerback Artie Burns was at Miami in 2015 when Switzer returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown against the Hurricanes. As a senior, Switzer became a pass-catching threat, setting a school record with 96 receptions for 1,112 yards.
“He can play offense, he can run good routes, has good hands,” Burns said. “The return game, though, he’s got good wheels on him and makes guys miss.”
Eli Rogers was the most-used punt returner on the Steelers last year, but he will open the season on the physically unable to perform list and is facing a one-week suspension. Antonio Brown has returned punts for the past eight years, but the team would like to limit his risk of injury on special teams.
In the preseason, the Steelers have tried cornerback Cameron Sutton and undrafted wide receivers Justin Thomas and Quadree Henderson on punt returns. Thomas was waived Monday to make room for Switzer on the roster.
Sutton had two returns for 15 yards and Henderson had two for 14 yards on Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. Reserve running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has served as the primary kick returner in the preseason.
Drafted in the fourth round in 2017 by the Cowboys, Switzer averaged 25 yards on 24 kickoff returns with a long of 61 yards. He returned one punt 83 yards for a touchdown and averaged 8.8 yards on 29 returns. He was little-used on offense, catching six passes for 41 yards.
“He’s shifty in the slot,” Edmunds said. “He can do a lot of good things.”
The trade could be the first of several as the Steelers prepare to cut their roster from 90 players to 53 by the 4 p.m. deadline Saturday.
Last season, general manager Kevin Colbert traded for tight end Vance McDonald and safety J.J. Wilcox while also trading away wide receiver Sammie Coates and cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.