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Kickoff return unit not getting it done

Danny Smith doesn't perceive the Steelers' kickoff return game as unfixable. But the veteran special teams coach knows that, for the time being at least, it is what it is.

"If I was playing us, I wouldn't have any fear right now, to be very honest with you," Smith said. "But it only takes one. It only takes one big return to turn that corner."

Heading into Sunday's hosting of Indianapolis, the Steelers have a long kickoff return this season of 25 yards (running back LeGarrette Blount on Sept. 28 against Tampa Bay) and are averaging 16.2 yards per attempt (No. 31 in the NFL).

Primary return man Dri Archer has a long return of 23 yards (on Oct. 5 at Jacksonville) and has averaged 17.9 yards on his first nine NFL kickoff returns. That's not what the Steelers want or need from Archer, but Smith remains entrenched in the rookie running back's corner.

"I'm frustrated because it has to get better," Smith said. "The kid's played seven games. Heck no, I'm not frustrated to the point (of considering other options). I love the guy and I'll never give up on him. He works. It's important to him. He wants to do well. The football team is important to him. He's a heckuvan athlete, a heckuva a worker. He's going to be a good football player, but we're going through some growing pains.

"It's a process, to be honest with you. It's a combination of things. He's gotta do a better job selling stuff. We have to do a better job blocking. We've missed it a couple of times, and he's made some mistakes a couple of times. That's my fault, ultimately. We'll keep working at it, and I think he'll be fine. It sure hasn't shown yet, but we have to get better there."

During his injury, which included returning to minimal work this week, Ike Taylor has still been a team player. Take a look at some photos of Ike from the sidelines.

The early-season struggles have affected Archer, Smith said, to the point that he has begun to press.

"I don't think there's any doubt about that," Smith said. "I think that's human nature for any athlete, let alone an inexperienced one. Right now he thinks it's all about speed, and it's not. There are a lot of fast guys working at McDonald's who can't play this game. There are a lot of things you have to do, and he's learning those things, but it's a maturation process."

The Steelers have begun to devote "more live reps in practice," Archer said, to kickoff returns.

"I think it's helping a lot," he added.

So is the support and the advice from Smith.

"He's telling me to remain relaxed, remain calm, and it's going to come," Archer said. "I just gotta keep working and keep getting better each and every day and each and every week. He's saying just be patient and it's going to come.

"You just have to trust and believe in the coaches. That's all you can do."

OUT: Ike Taylor (forearm), Shamarko Thomas (hamstring); Steve McLendon (shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: Marcus Gilbert (concussion)
PROBABLE: Ryan Shazier (knee)

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