PITTSBURGH — In the CFL, there's no place for a kick returner to hide. No fair catches, no kickoffs downed in the end zone. It's run with the football when it's kicked, or else.
Ex-B.C. Lions wide receiver Stefan Logan is bringing that approach to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won the Super Bowl last season despite having one of the NFL's worst return units.
Logan appears to have significantly upgraded the Steelers in one of their weakest areas - returning punts. He averaged 15.8 yards on four returns during a 17-0 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night, a week after he averaged 12 yards on four punt returns and had 207 yards on kick returns against the Redskins.
"Looking at him on tape and what he's doing on the field, he's been very impressive," cornerback Ike Taylor said.
Logan seems likely to begin the season as the Steelers' returner; he has been competing with rookie Joe Burnett, who had two fumbles in his first two games. If he does, Logan is looking to run, not to play it safe.
"I feel pretty good out there," Logan said. "As long as you have confidence, Coach will gain confidence in you."
Indeed, coach Mike Tomlin seems to like knowing that the Steelers may finally have found some returners with the ability to break some long gains. Rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace, one of the fastest players in team history, has been taking most of the kickoff returns, but Logan can return kickoffs, too.
"He has earned the right to be watched," Tomlin said of Logan, who set South Dakota school records for rushing and all-purpose yardage despite not playing for two seasons after his only high school season in Miami. "I think he has our attention. We will take him down to Charlotte (for Thursday night's game) and see what he has down there."
Getting the NFL's attention previously was a problem for the five-foot-seven, 180-pound Logan, partly because of his size.
Despite rushing for 5,958 yards at South Dakota, he wasn't drafted out of college and didn't stick after attending a New York Giants minicamp. He spent several weeks on the Miami Dolphins' practice squad in 2007, but wasn't activated.
Despite his size, the Steelers noticed him after he ran for 889 yards and caught 52 passes for 477 yards for the Lions last season and gave him a two-year contract.
The Steelers signalled they planned on upgrading their returners by drafting Wallace on the third round and Burnett in the fifth, yet it may be a non-drafted player who fields most of the kicks.
The game is different on the longer and wider field in Canada, although Logan believes that helped prepare him for the NFL.
"There is no fair catch in the Canadian Football League," said Logan. "They have to give you a five-yard halo, once you get the ball you have to return it every time. Even on kickoff returns, there are no touchbacks. It goes into the end zone, it is a point for the other team. So you have a chance to catch the ball and make some good yards."
For the Steelers, any yards are good yards on kick returns.
Despite winning the Super Bowl, they were next to last in the league in punt returns with a 6 yards per return average that was well below Buffalo's league-leading 15.5 average. The Steelers were fourth from the bottom in kickoff returns, averaging 20.3 yards.
Because of Logan's CFL background as a receiver, they also might use him on some extra-receiver sets.
"I don't know what direction they want to go in," Logan said. "Hopefully a good direction and I'll be on the field."
The direction the Steelers want to see him going is upfield, and in a hurry. As fast as running back Willie Parker is, he nearly lost to Logan during an impromptu training camp race.
"I was glad we didn't have five more yards to go," Parker said. "He was blowing past me."