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Rookie Quadree Henderson will be Steelers’ starting kick and punt returner for preseason opener

Undrafted, rookie free-agent signing Quadree Henderson will have the first opportunity to prove he can take the punt-return job away from Antonio Brown on Thursday night against the Eagles.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers-Minicamp Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While the Pittsburgh Steelers arguably haven’t had a dependable return man since they parted ways with Stefan Logan after the 2009 season, the one player they do have on the roster capable of doing the job is one they’d rather not use. Antonio Brown has been an effective punt returner for the past eight season, but he hasn’t been a part of the kick-return game since 2011, and the coaching staff would rather not use the league’s best wide receiver on special teams if they could help it.

If the Steelers are to find someone to replace Brown on punt returns this season, one of the best candidates available to them might undrafted, rookie free agent Quadree Henderson. And it appears the team will be giving him every chance to impress on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. As he told Chris Adamski of TribLive.

“I just found out I’ll be the starting punt returner and starting kick returner, No. 1 up there for right now. It’s a big opportunity for me to go out there and showcase my skill.”

Signed as much for his return skills than anything else coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, Henderson averaged 26.6 yards on 73 kick returns and 13.4 yards on 37 punt returns for his college career. Four kick returns for touchdowns and three punt returns for touchdowns for the Panthers suggests Henderson might even have the big play capability the Steelers are looking for.

Changes to the rules surrounding kickoffs should open up the game for the return men a little bit more this year and it could benefit Pittsburgh to have a genuine threat at the position. With the exception of JuJu Smith-Schuster last year, fans have not see much excitement from the kick return game in several years and a strong showing from Henderson against Philadelphia could go a long way to securing his place on the final 53-man roster come opening day.