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Steelers place Cole Holcomb on IR, activate RB Anthony McFarland

The Steelers get back their starting kick returner.

Cole Holcomb #55 of the Pittsburgh Steelers is carted off the field with an injury in the first quarter against the Tennessee Titans at Acrisure Stadium on November 02, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a couple of roster moves coming off of the long weekend following their Week 9 Thursday Night Football victory over the Tennessee Titans, the team announced Monday. They’ve officially placed ILB Cole Holcomb on injured reserve, while activating RB Anthony McFarland from IR, having been placed on the list back on September 18 with a knee injury.

Though McFarland hasn’t made an impact as a rusher since being selected in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, he was in a spot to make a big mark on special teams, having earned the role as the team’s starting kick returner headed into the season. In just one game, he was effective, averaging 30.3 yards per kick return, while the rest of the team has averaged just 20.5 yards per return in his absence.

McFarland’s 4.44 40-yard dash coming out of Maryland ranks in the 85th percentile for running backs — a quality that could help amplify this special teams unit in a big way to set up the offense with improved field position, thereby putting them in a better position to score.

Holcomb’s loss is significant, too, having been a key acquisition in free agency in the 2023 offseason. Before the injury, Holcomb had played 74% or more of snaps on defense in each game so far this season, tied for a team-high 54 combined tackles, including four for a loss, two quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and one recovery.

In Holcomb’s absence, the team may move veteran Kwon Alexander into more of an every-down role, coming off a season-high 86% of snaps in Week 9, with a potential increase in snaps for Elandon Roberts as well. Both of these contributors were signed in the 2023 offseason, with Alexander being the most recent signing, having joined the team during training camp.