Confident Switzer Another Option in Backfield

Steelers versatile WR returns to Oakland Sunday

Josh Rowntree
December 07, 2018 - 5:09 pm
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Ryan Switzer (10) returns a kick-off against the Los Angeles Chargers during the third quarter at Heinz Field. Los Angeles won 33-30.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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All-purpose. That’s how you should describe Ryan Switzer. 

At least that’s what the Steelers’ second-year receiver will have you believing. It’s what he’s been able to convince Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner of, as well. 

As the season has progressed, Switzer’s role has grown. Now up to 29 catches for 223 yards and a touchdown, Switzer has become a more reliable option as a receiver than many people expected when Pittsburgh traded for him in August. 

“Leaps and bounds since the first day,” Switzer said of his growth. “I didn’t know anything about the offense or any of the guys. But I feel like I’m a part of this team now. I feel like one of the guys. I feel like I’ve got a grasp on what they’re asking me to do and my role has increased, week-by-week. I enjoy seeing that and I embrace that.”

Fichtner is in agreement.

“He’s grown because he’s really a sharp young man,” he said. “He cares, he studies and he has the capability of learning. Every day is kind of a new one for him, because he really hasn’t been a receiver, full time, in his short period in the League. 

“He was punt returner, special teamer. When given the opportunity, he’s been where we need him to be, he’s made plays when we’ve asked him to make and it’s refreshing because he does it with such a great attitude. He’s fun.”

Switzer’s abilities as a special teams returner have been evident. Once a dynamic return man at North Carolina, Switzer is quick to remind anyone that he can play the receiver position, too. And he’s not surprised by his use in the passing game.

“I expected that,” said Switzer, who carries with him a noticeable sense of confidence. “I don’t just return kicks or punts for a living. I was an all-ACC guy in college, as a receiver. I feel comfortable at that position. 

“Obviously, I’m still young at that position. I’m still learning and growing. But I think that’s the good thing about being here, being around guys like [Antonio Brown], catching passes from a guy like Ben [Roethlisberger], who has seen it all. Those guys have helped my growth tremendously.”

Switzer's versatility is something that stuck out to his coaches right away and, in all likelihood, is what made him attractive to Steelers brass in the offseason. 

“He’s a capable guy,” Fichtner said. “We talk to him all the time about being the emergency quarterback, too. Someone would have to do that if, heaven forbid, you ever got two quarterbacks injured in a game. They’re not going to stop the game, so he understands his role in that regards, too.”

“I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” said Switzer, when asked about the potential of playing quarterback. “But I pray to God that [Roethlisberger] and Josh [Dobbs] never go down.”

In addition to his coaches, Switzer’s teammates have taken notice of his talents around the field.

“The guy does kickoff and punt returns, he does it all,” wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “But not only that, on offense, he’s our No. 3 [wide receiver]. He’s goes inside, he can play outside a little and is able to be in the backfield a little bit, too. The kid can do it all.

Switzer has been described as ‘diminutive,’ something he certainly is not fond of hearing. He stands at 5-foot-8 and is listed at 185 pounds. But, with James Conner set to miss Sunday’s game at Oakland, Switzer, who has carried the ball five times this season, could be in line to get a couple of carries from the backfield. 

“He will tell you, and he likes to continually tell you he was, at one time, maybe the all-time leading rusher in the state of West Virginia high school football,” Fichtner said.

“Still am,” Switzer confirmed of his high school rushing accomplishments. “You know, I’ve got to throw that out there, kind of mess with him a little bit, keep him sharp. He’s got to remind me that I’m a receiver. But I play big.

“He thinks he can do everything and I’m like ‘dude, you’re little, those guys are big and I don’t want you up in there too often,’” Fichtner joked while acknowledging that he has drawn up five rushing plays for Switzer this year. “He’s more than willing, because he’s capable. We’ll have some fun with him with certain things.”

An extra element for Switzer, this week, is his return to Oakland, which felt little enough of him to send him to the Steelers for a fifth-round pick. Oakland also threw in a sixth-round selection for incentive in the deal. Switzer never played in a regular season game for the Raiders. He was traded to Oakland after one season with the Cowboys last year. 

He does not seem particularly fond of his short time in Oakland.

“I just expect to see another NFL team,” she said of the reunion. “I don’t really have any thoughts or feelings on my time there. I love being with the Steelers, but I’m excited. It’s an AFC road game and it’s a big game.”

Switzer was officially cleared Friday to play Sunday following a stint in concussion protocol, a result of a brutal, penalized, helmet-to-helmet hit by Chargers linebacker Jatavis Brown in Sunday’s 33-30 Steelers loss to Los Angeles. 

A week later, he’ll have a chance to make up for it against another AFC West foe and, possibly, could do so as a factor in the backfield, with veteran running back Stevan Ridley, rookie Jaylen Samuels, and second-year back Trey Edmunds.

“I feel fine,“ Switzer said. “I’m all for getting the ball in my hands. Obviously I don’t look like a running back, but I know how to run with the ball and I know how to see the field. I know the spaces and how to work in them.

Ultimately, his biggest concern is the outcome, as the Steelers come in at 7-4-1 and leading the AFC North by just a half-game.

“We’re on a two-game losing streak right now, we’re going into a great environment, so we’ve got to be ready.”