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Punt and Kickoff Returners 2009 (1 Viewer)

Mike Herman

Another year of punt and kickoff returners, the second most intriguing position in the game. Another year of playoffs, free agency, the draft, minicamps, training camp battles, injuries, and all things returner related...

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Of the top five fantasy returners from 2008, only Sproles (SD) is in the NFL playoffs.

From year-end Returnerguys article: LINK

1. Johnnie Lee Higgins, OAK - His inconsistency had his coaches considering alternatives. He eventually did give way to Justin Miller on kickoff returns. Nonetheless, Higgins finished as the top returner for 2008. He had every punt return for the Raiders, including three for scores. He led the league in punt return yardage.

2. Will Blackmon, GB - He earned the Packers' return specialist role during the 2007 preseason, but various injuries derailed his 2007 regular season. In 2008 he remained healthy. He had a combined 91 returns, most in the NFL. He scored twice on punt returns.

3. Clifton Smith, TB - Despite not taking over return duties until week 8, Smith still managed to finish third. He had a healthy average on both punt and kickoff returns, and scored twice.

4. Darren Sproles, SD - Sproles handled both punt and kickoff returns, however his fourth place finish was largely a result of his kickoff return yardage. He also scored a TD on a kickoff return.

5. Leon Washington, NYJ - After finishing fifth last year, Washington repeated the finish this year. His numbers were a balanced combination, as he finished 10th in punt return yards and 10th in kickoff return yards.

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Special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was noncommittal when asked if Tom Zbikowski would return kickoffs again Sunday now that return specialist Yamon Figurs has recovered from a concussion that forced him out last week. Rosburg said that Ray Rice has also been returning kickoffs this week in practice and is in the mix for playing time on special teams. "That kind of depends on what the roster looks like on Sunday," Rosburg said. "We haven't gotten to that point yet, so we're practicing more than one returner in preparation for that."

Chris Carr had a modest goal heading into the season: average 27 yards for each kickoff return. He not only did that, but also helped the Titans finish the regular season ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns. "It means we were consistent all year and consistently gave our offense good field position," Carr said. "Now we just have to try and take it to the next step.'' Carr, signed in April as a restricted free agent from the Raiders, finished with a 28.1-yard average, which was fourth best in the NFL. The Titans finished first as a team with a 25.4-yard average. It was a huge improvement from last season when the Titans ranked 27th with 21.1 yards per return. "He knows exactly how and where to push the ball,'' coach Jeff Fisher said. "He is really smart. Of all the returners we've been around he ranks up there at the top from instincts and intelligence and understanding and decision making, and he has great vision.'' Now Carr is preparing for his first playoff game. "In the playoffs, everybody has a good defense, so you want to help the offense out,'' he said. "So our job is even more important now. Hopefully we can keep it going.''
Some quick news updates in case you missed them...


Rookie safety Tom Zbikowski has replaced WR Yamon Figurs as the lead kickoff returner.


Released CB Adam Jones, who is currently battling ESPN. WR Isaiah Stanback had shoulder surgery last week.


Leon Washington is the kick returner on the Associated Press 2008 NFL All-Pro Team roster.


Darren Sproles had a good game last week.


Eric Mangini is rounding up the old gang from New England to coach the Cleveland Browns. Mangini, who took over in Cleveland only a week after being fired by the New York Jets, has hired Brian Daboll as his offensive co-ordinator, Rob Ryan as defensive co-ordinator and Brad Seely as special teams coach. Seely, who is replacing Ted Dasher, has been an NFL assistant for 20 years and has three Super Bowl rings from his time with the Patriots. This season, New England ranked third in the league in average starting position on kickoffs and kicker Stephen Gostkowski made the Pro Bowl with a league-leading 148 points and 36 field goals. "Eric and I have forged a relationship over the last 10 years and I look forward to continuing that with the Browns," said Seely. "The Browns are very special. Having been in the NFL for many years, I am very aware of how important the team is to the city of Cleveland and its place in the NFL."

New Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell will not renew the contract of special teams coach Russ Purnell, Caldwell's second significant move in as many days. Purnell, 60, has held the position since 2002. His contract expires Jan. 31. "It's been a real privilege to work for a first-class organization and a hall of fame man and a future Hall of Fame coach in Tony Dungy,'' Purnell said Wednesday. The Colts routinely ranked near the bottom of the NFL in kickoff and punt coverage the past several seasons. During a 30-game stretch spanning 2006 and '07, they yielded eight returns for touchdowns, including a 92-yarder by Chicago's Devin Hester to open Super Bowl XLI. That remains the only opening-kickoff TD return in Super Bowl history. Last season, the Colts ranked 15th in punt coverage and 24th in kickoff coverage, with no TDs allowed, and 13th in average drive-start position following opponent kickoffs (26.5-yard line). However, they ranked 32nd -- last -- in punt returns as injuries forced them to use several returners.

I haven't had a chance to verify this list, so if anyone sees an error please let me know...

RB J.J. Arrington UFA Arizona Cardinals

RB Correll Buckhalter UFA Philadelphia Eagles

RB Andre Hall ERFA Denver Broncos

RB Travis Minor UFA St. Louis Rams

RB Dominic Rhodes UFA Indianapolis Colts

RB Darren Sproles UFA San Diego Chargers

RB Aaron Stecker UFA New Orleans Saints

RB Derrick Ward UFA New York Giants

WR Miles Austin RFA Dallas Cowboys

WR Shaun Bodiford RFA Green Bay Packers

WR Bobby Engram UFA Seattle Seahawks

WR Dante' Hall UFA St. Louis Rams

WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh UFA Cincinnati Bengals

WR Dane Looker UFA St. Louis Rams

WR Shaun McDonald UFA Detroit Lions

WR Ben Obomanu RFA Seattle Seahawks

WR Koren Robinson UFA Seattle Seahawks

CB Phillip Buchanon UFA Tampa Bay Buccaneers

CB Cortland Finnegan RFA Tennessee Titans

CB Charles Gordon RFA Minnesota Vikings

CB Adam Jones UFA (Cut) Dallas Cowboys

CB R.W. McQuarters UFA New York Giants

CB Justin Miller UFA Oakland Raiders

CB Allen Rossum UFA San Francisco 49ers

CB Tramon Williams ERFA Green Bay Packers

two junior CBs/returnerguys that declared for the draft...

D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt

Averaged 14.4 yards per punt return in 2008

Moore is an explosive cover corner with shut down ability. He plays the run effectively, and despite his size, he’s deceptively strong. He has great instincts, possesses outstanding ball skills and can instantly turn defense into offense. He transitions well with receivers and gets vertical adjusting to defend deep passes. He’s also a dynamic return specialist.
linkJairus Byrd, Oregon

Byrd said he had been told through the feedback process by the NFL that he was projected as “probably a first-day or maybe a third-round pick” although he realized that the draft is “a crap shoot so you never know what is going to happen.” The Clayton, Mo., standout and three-year starter earned first-team Pacific-10 Conference all-league honors this season after finishing as the team’s fourth-leading tackler (83) and sharing the team-leading in interceptions (5). Byrd also finished second in the conference in passes defended (19) and third in punt returns (12.3 avg.). Included was an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown at Purdue. His 17 career interceptions stand only one shy of Oregon’s career record (18, George Shaw, 1951-54), and he would have ranked as the NCAA’s active leader in interceptions had he chosen to return for his senior year. He ended his Oregon career on a high note, posting nine tackles and returning an interception 39 yards in the Ducks’ 42-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl to be named the defensive player of the game.
The following seniors had multiple scores on returns in 2008...

Derrick Williams, WR, Penn State

scored twice on kickoff returns and once on a punt return

averaged 25.8 yards on kickoff returns and 9.4 yards on punt returns

Derrick Williams' performance in the Senior Bowl proved what the player's former coach already knew: He's two or three players for the price of one. Despite Williams' North squad losing to the South, 35-18, at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., on Saturday in the 2009 Under Armour Senior Bowl, the former Penn State wide receiver had a game-high 124 all-purpose yards with his catching, rushing and returning. One play that caught the attention of NFL draft analysts was Williams' 44-yard kick return that set up the North's first touchdown. Scout.com NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber likened Williams to the Philadelphia Eagles' DeSean Jackson. He said both are multi-dimensional athletes and Williams can be used in the Wildcat formation and take direct snaps and be used on bubble screens. The all-around talent combined with Williams' receiving abilities has Steuber thinking he has a chance to be taken in the second round. But he added his exact selection might depend on Williams' 40-yard dash time at February's NFL Combine. "With a guy like Derrick, speed is his game," Steuber said. "If he runs a low 4.5 and maybe should run a low 4.4, it could drop him back a round. But Derrick is among the top [receivers] at this point."
linkJoe Burnett, DB, UCF

scored twice on kickoff returns

averaged 28.7 yards on kickoff returns

Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati

scored twice on kickoff returns

averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns

Michael Thomas, WR, Arizona

scored twice on punt returns

averaged 13.5 yards on punt returns

Tristan Davis, RB, Auburn

scored twice on kickoff returns

averaged 27.4 yards on kickoff returns

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Any idea what the Dolphins will do with Ginn? Last year they seemed up and down on his returns...he was a huge disappointment for a lot of us but if he does both next year (returns and receiver) he's got a great chance to be a top ten wr.


The Buffalo Bills have gone the entire 2000 decade without a playoff appearance. Don't blame their special teams. The 7-9 Bills finished 25th in the NFL in offense and 14th in defense this season but first in special teams, according to rankings compiled annually by The Dallas Morning News.

It was the third time in the last five years the Bills have fielded the NFL's best special teams. They wrested the honor from the Chicago Bears, who finished No. 1 in 2006 and 2007. The Bears slid to eighth in large part because of the diminished impact of Devin Hester. He went to the Pro Bowl after each of his first two years, scoring a combined 11 touchdowns on kick returns those seasons. But the Bears used Hester more as a wide receiver in 2008. He started eight games and caught 51 passes, and the increased workload made him a pedestrian kick returner. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoffs and 6.2 yards on punts and did not score a touchdown on special teams for the first season in his three-year career.

The league's 32 teams are ranked in 22 categories and assigned points according to their standing – 1 for best, 32 for worst. The Bills won with a composite score of 254 – 14.5 points better than runner-up Tennessee.

The teams with the two top seeds in the playoffs, the Titans in the AFC and the New York Giants in the NFC, finished in the top four in special teams. Fellow division winners Carolina and San Diego also finished in the top 15, as did NFC wild cards Atlanta and Philadelphia. But Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh finished 20th and NFC champion Arizona 28th. The Cardinals had the lowest-ranked special teams ever in a Super Bowl, and the Steelers had the second-worst special teams for a champion after the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. The Cowboys checked in at 27th – their worst finish of the Jerry Jones era.

The Bills led the NFL in only two special teams categories, punt returns and kickoff starting point. But Buffalo finished in the top five in five other categories and in the top 10 in yet another seven. Under the supervision of special teams coach Bobby April, the Bills scored touchdowns on a 98-yard kickoff return, a 63-yard punt return and a fake field goal attempt.

Other notable statistics from the 2008 season: Oakland led the league with five special teams touchdowns, Chicago blocked four kicks, and Detroit forced five turnovers. Also, Atlanta allowed only 2.5 yards per punt return, the best figure of the decade. The Raiders, under the direction of Brian Schneider, staged the biggest jump in the rankings, from 26th to fifth. Oakland dominated the punting categories with Pro Bowler Shane Lechler, and Johnnie Lee Higgins returned three punts for touchdowns. Lechler is from Texas A&M, Higgins from UTEP.

1. Buffalo Bills 254

2. Tennessee Titans 268.5

3. Cleveland Browns 269

4. New York Giants 269.5

5. Oakland Raiders 274.5

6. San Francisco 49ers 283

7. New England Patriots 287

8. Chicago Bears 288.5

9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 318.5

10 (tie). Atlanta Falcons 324

10 (tie). San Diego Chargers 324

12 (tie). Carolina Panthers 329.5

12 (tie). Philadelphia Eagles 329.5

14. New York Jets 351.5

15. Seattle Seahawks 369

16. Jacksonville Jaguars 376.5

17. St. Louis Rams 377

18. New Orleans Saints 381

19. Detroit Lions 381.5

20. Pittsburgh Steelers 382.5

21. Houston Texans 383

22. Baltimore Ravens 389

23. Washington Redskins 394

24. Cincinnati Bengals 421.5

25. Minnesota Vikings 422

26. Green Bay Packers 430

27. Dallas Cowboys 431.5

28. Arizona Cardinals 433.5

29. Kansas City Chiefs 456

30. Miami Dolphins 463.5

31. Denver Broncos 472.5

32. Indianapolis Colts 481
No love for Leodis Mckelvin???? he was a STUD DB in my league because he also was a returner. I got him off the WW this year and plan on keeping him for the future.

Does Eddie Royal do Punts and Kicks?
Not after he jumped into the starting lineup. He's a part time PN returner......until further notice.
Eddie Royal was a starter all season, from Round 1.
Within 24 hours of last year's draft, Royal was designated by the coaching staff as the starting punt and kickoff returner. As the preseason progressed, it became apparent that he would also be a starting wide receiver for the team. Consequently kickoff returns were removed from his workload at the beginning of the regular season, however he did remain the starting punt returner. As the regular season progressed, the various kickoff returners were either ineffective and/or landed on injured reserve (e.g. Andre Hall, Selvin Young; Chad Jackson, Peyton Hillis, Cliff Russell). Consequently, Royal resumed handling kickoffs for the later part of the year. His 26.1 yard average on kickoff returns led the team.

2. Jeremy Maclin, Missouri: The electrifying all-purpose playmaker terrorized Big 12 opponents throughout his two-year career, and he enters the draft as the college game's most explosive offensive weapon. Featured as a runner/receiver in the Tigers' spread offense, Maclin averaged an astonishing 10.9 yards per touch during his career and scored 28 touchdowns. Additionally, Maclin added five scores on kick and punt returns while amassing over 5,600 all-purpose yards in two seasons. With such a diverse set of skills, scouts envision Maclin impacting the game in multiple phases.

8. Derrick Williams, Penn State: The diminutive talent is an intriguing receiver/return specialist who opened some eyes with a solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl. Williams has a knack for turning short passes into big gains. Though his size will prevent him from making solid contributions as a full-time receiver, his outstanding return skills (18.5 yard punt return average with three career touchdowns) makes him an interesting prospect for teams in desperate need of a boost in the kicking game.

10. Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma: While Iglesias isn't a blazer, he is quick enough to run away from defenders on short and intermediate. Additionally, he shows good running skills with the ball in his hands, and is an above average returner in the kicking game. Though he won't crack the lineup as a starter, he has the potential to carve out a nice career as a third receiver/return specialist.
Derrick Williams, Penn State

With 1,412 all-purpose yards during his senior year at Penn State, wide receiver Derrick Williams showed the world that he can do much more than catch passes. And now that he's gearing up for this week's NFL Scouting Combine, he's getting closer to becoming a quadruple threat in the pro ranks. Since he left Mobile, Alabama back in January following the Senior Bowl game, Derrick Williams' total focus over the past few weeks has been on preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine evaluations in Indianapolis that will help determine when his name is called this April during NFL Draft weekend. A playmaker in every sense of the word, Williams rolled up 1,412 all-purpose yards in 2008 for Penn State, topping his 1,121 yards during his junior year. In addition to catching passes and returning punts and kicks, Williams ran the ball from the line of scrimmage 16 times, averaging 7.8 yards per carry. And he scored practically every way possible, rushing for one touchdown, catching four touchdown passes, and returning two kickoffs and three punts for scores.

Williams' ability to contribute immediately on special teams was a hot topic when NFL team representatives from across the league chatted with him in January during Senior Bowl week. "They definitely noticed the special teams package that I can bring to a team," he said. "You can give the offense a boost and you can definitely change the game on any big special teams play you can provide. There are a lot of things that can go wrong on special teams, but there are one or two things that, if it goes right, it can change the game. Especially on punt returns, if you can make one guy miss, you can take it all the way."

At the pro level, Williams has the straight-line speed to be a deep threat, but he also has the quickness off the line to run short routes out of the slot. The 6-foot tall, 193-pound receiver not only believes that he can be effective at either position, he's also certain that he's capable of performing at an even higher level as he continues his development. "One thing a lot of people don't know about me is that I'm still learning a lot as a receiver," Williams said. "I played quarterback my entire life, so my college years were my first years playing receiver. So every day I try to take in something new that somebody tells me about playing receiver that can help my game. I'm willing to learn and I'm willing to do everything that is going to make me the best receiver there is."

As NFL teams get to know the former Nittany Lions team captain, they'll be impressed with his candor, confidence and will undoubtedly see him as a highly likeable and respectful individual. But they'll be just as impressed by his well-rounded skill set, raw talent, and his absolute determination to be a top contributor to a team's success. "During my rookie year, I want to be the best receiver and be the best player I can be, and help the team in any way I can," Williams said. "And if that includes special teams, which I love to do, that's what I plan on doing. This whole thing is like a dream come true. Even when I do my workouts, I always sit and try to think of how many people would like to be in my spot, so I try to take full advantage of it. There's going to be a day when you can't play football anymore, a day when people don't know who you are, a day when people don't ask for your autograph, so you might as well take advantage of it when you can. Everything happening right now is amazing."
Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma

Thompson: You finished third all-time at Oklahoma in all-purpose yards. That should play well with NFL teams who are looking to boost their special teams.

Iglesias: I think the return game and special teams helps get you on the field. My ability to return the ball and make yards after the catch is one thing that can help me. Teams are looking at everything that can help you and hurt you at the next level, and that's one of the things I take pride in and I think are some of the best parts of my game. I run after the catch, I've got good vision, and I know where to run and where not to run.
Some quick news updates in case you missed them...


Released Maurice Hicks.


Darren Sproles franchise tagged.

D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt, CB

A "do-it-all" playmaker with exceptional cover skills, Moore is an instinctive corner who shows outstanding footwork and instincts in coverage. He reads routes well and flashes a tremendous closing burst to the ball. He attacks the ball like a receiver, and his 12 interceptions reflect his prowess as a ball hawk. Moore's outstanding athleticism also shined when he filled in as a receiver/returner for the Commodores. As a skilled two-way player, Moore shows big play ability with the ball in his hands, and his potential to produce game-changing plays makes him an intriguing possibility as a corner/return specialist. While Moore lacks the household name recognition of some of the others on the board, he has skills and potential to be an all-star as a pro.

2. Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest. 5’8.5”, 193 pounds, 4.46 40

Played some slot WR and has some return ability.

3. D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt. 5’10”, 182 pounds, 4.48 40

Brings added value as a kick return man and has starting potential there too. Has played some zone coverage and thrived in it. Played some WR and looked surprisingly good at it.

5. Coye Francies, San Jose State. 6’0.5”, 177 pounds, 4.36 40

Very good on returns, both off picks and on PR/KR duty.

6. Asher Allen, Georgia. 5’10”, 198 pounds, 4.50 40

Has dynamic potential as a return man.

8. Jairus Byrd, Oregon. 6’0”, 208 pounds, 4.5 40

Has some PR ability.

13. Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina. 5’9”, 185 pounds, 4.36 40

Good in the locker room and has some PR/KR ability.

Joe Burnett, Central Florida

Brings as much to the table as a return man (where he has major potential) as he does at corner, but has enough raw coverage skills to stick as a slot/nickel back.

Derek Cox, William & Mary

Excelled as a return man and might get drafted in the 7th round because of it.
I got a question about Leon Washington. Is this guy a lock to be the Punt and Kickoff return guy next season? I now he had top numbers just wondering if maybe he is becoming to important to hold both roles. Anyone have any info on that.


Joshua Cribbs' agents were scheduled to meet with Browns General Manager George Kokinis on Friday night and again today to talk about a new deal. "We'll discuss a lot of different scenarios with a lot of our clients and Josh is at the top of that list," said agent Peter Schaffer. "Josh had a fantastic 2008 season and showed that 2007 was not an aberration, that it's going to be a continuing pattern. I think everyone's on the same page in making sure that he's fairly compensated for what he does." Cribbs signed a six-year contract extension in 2006 worth $6 million, including a $2 million signing bonus. But that was before he became a Pro Bowler and one of the top special-teamers in the game. Cribbs and his reps are using Bears specialist Devin Hester's new deal as a reference point. Last off-season, Hester received a four-year deal worth $40 million, including $15 million guaranteed. "We want to hear them out," said J.R. Rickert, Cribbs' other agent. "If they truly believe this is a situation that needs to be addressed, then we want to hear what the plan is to address it. Then, Peter and I will put our heads together and decide if that's a fair way to address it or not." Rickert declined to say if Cribbs, a Pro Bowl alternate after last season, would resort to holding out for a new deal. "We hope it never comes to that," said Rickert. "We're going to go at it with a positive approach. We're going to try to bring it to closure in a manner that's fair for Joshua." Coach Eric Mangini's plans to try Cribbs as a defensive back will undoubtedly also be part of the bargaining process.

It's all about the measurables at the scouting combine. Everyone wants to know how tall you are, how fast you can run and how much you weigh. Some, such as Bucs rookie return man Clifton Smith, never quite measure up. Viewed as too small by most scouts, Smith was overlooked on draft day last year. He won't be overlooked again. The Bucs, in fact, are planning to take a hard look at Smith in the capacity that made him a draft prospect in the first place - his ability to make big yards as a running back. "We're really fired up about him," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of Smith, who joined Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent last summer and proceeded to earn a Pro Bowl berth after only half a season returning kicks and punts. "I mean, you don't make a mistake and fall into the Pro Bowl as a return man," Morris said, "so you better give a guy like that a chance and see if he can go to the Pro Bowl as a back, too." Morris didn't say what role Smith might fill but with Cadillac Williams coming off another knee injury and Warrick Dunn nearing the end of his career, a role as the top complement to lead back Earnest Graham is a possibility. Smith's background suggests he could adequately fill such a role. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry during his college career at Fresno State and averaged 5 yards per carry, albeit on eight carries, with the Bucs last season. At 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, though, one has to wonder if Smith can maintain those production levels. As Morris noted, however, at least one back has already proved it possible. "Darren Sproles just got franchised and that's a pretty good back that's Smith's size," Morris said, referring to the 5-6, 180-pound Chargers back. "And I don't know if he's as fast as Smith."

Titans return man Chris Carr is preparing for free agency, his agent said Sunday. Carr, who signed with the Titans last year as a restricted free agent from the Raiders, was a key player in the 13-3 regular season. The Titans led the NFL in kickoff returns and he played well as a reserve cornerback. The Titans and Carr's agent, Buddy Baker, are far from agreeing to terms on a long-term contract. "Chris has proven himself whenever given the opportunity. His versatility is almost unparalleled,'' Baker said at the NFL Combine. "He really likes Tennessee and likes the coaching staff and his teammates and thinks it's a great organization from top to bottom. "But you have to balance that with free agency is just five days and it's hard not to test the market when you know there are a lot of teams that could have a high level of interest.'' Last offseason Carr visited five teams before signing a one-year deal with the Titans.

Cornerback Charles Gordon has agreed to a one-year deal with the Vikings, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. He had been set to become a restricted free agent at 11 p.m. Thursday. Gordon's 2008 season came to an end in the Vikings' 28-27 victory over Green Bay on Nov. 9 when he suffered a gruesome injury to his left ankle on a punt return at the Metrodome. Gordon, who averaged 4.4 yards on 15 returns, also had been used as the Vikings nickelback in passing situations. Gordon had surgery to repair his leg -- he suffered a broken fibula and ligament damage -- in late November in North Carolina. Coach Brad Childress said at the time that Gordon could be back at full speed in five months and Gordon expressed confidence he would return to full strength. Gordon, signed by the Vikings in 2006 as a free agent out of Kansas, played in all 16 games in 2007 and had three starts. He started two of the nine games in which he played last season. Gordon is expected to receive a base salary of about $530,000, with a chance to earn another $500,000 in incentives.

Former Troy Trojan Leodis McKelvin burst onto the NFL scene this past season as a rookie. The first round draft pick made his presence felt in his first year. McKelvin was on the campus of Troy-Dothan Tuesday for an alumni meeting. McKelvin started six games last season at defensive back. He also spent extended time on special teams. McKelvin's season highlights included a long interception return for a touchdown against the Chiefs and a 98-yard kick return for a score against the Browns.

Chris Carr, a free-agent return specialist and backup cornerback, has reached an agreement in principle with the Ravens, a league source confirmed today. Carr, 25, will sign a two-year, $5 million contract on Monday at Ravens headquarters. He will provide depth at cornerback and could replace Yamon Figurs as a kick returner. Last season with the Tennessee Titans, Carr was third in kickoff-return average (28.1 yards) and eighth in punt-return average (10.1) in the AFC. Carr played under Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano when both were with the Oakland Raiders. The addition of Carr will come on the day when the Ravens are expected to finalize the release of cornerback Samari Rolle.

Chris Carr, a free-agent return specialist and backup cornerback, has reached an agreement in principle with the Ravens, a league source confirmed today. Carr, 25, will sign a two-year, $5 million contract on Monday at Ravens headquarters. He will provide depth at cornerback and could replace Yamon Figurs as a kick returner. Last season with the Tennessee Titans, Carr was third in kickoff-return average (28.1 yards) and eighth in punt-return average (10.1) in the AFC. Carr played under Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano when both were with the Oakland Raiders. The addition of Carr will come on the day when the Ravens are expected to finalize the release of cornerback Samari Rolle.
I noticed last yr that Figurs was getting a lot of slot work. Maybe this signing means they want him more in the offense.

It seems the Raiders have been busier in free agency than they care to say. With no fanfare, with fanfare meaning any sort of announcement, the Raiders re-signed former Pro Bowl kick returner Justin Miller to a two-year contract. Like, um, more than a week ago. "They must not have it out there yet, I guess," Miller said as he arrived at team headquarters Monday for the first day of offseason workouts.... Miller's signing should be considered a boon. A Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2006, he joined the Raiders midway through last season and immediately made a splash with two touchdown returns in seven games. He averaged 24.8 yards on 32 returns while allowing Johnnie Lee Higgins to focus on punt returns after struggling with ball security on kicks. Miller visited with the Titans on March 4 before signing with the Raiders, who claimed him off waivers in November when the Jets cut him. Rookie safety Tyvon Branch won the kick return job in training camp but was sidelined by hand and shoulder injuries. Miller and Branch will likely compete for the kick return job in camp.

Chris Carr, a free-agent return specialist and backup cornerback, has reached an agreement in principle with the Ravens, a league source confirmed today. Carr, 25, will sign a two-year, $5 million contract on Monday at Ravens headquarters. He will provide depth at cornerback and could replace Yamon Figurs as a kick returner. Last season with the Tennessee Titans, Carr was third in kickoff-return average (28.1 yards) and eighth in punt-return average (10.1) in the AFC. Carr played under Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano when both were with the Oakland Raiders. The addition of Carr will come on the day when the Ravens are expected to finalize the release of cornerback Samari Rolle.
I noticed last yr that Figurs was getting a lot of slot work. Maybe this signing means they want him more in the offense.
Between ineffectiveness and injury, Figurs also managed to lose a hold on the return roles last year. Jim Leonhard handled punt returns during the latter part of the season, and then in the playoffs Tom Zbikowski was handling kickoff returns.
Brandon Tate, North Carolina

Brandon Tate wasn't registering on the scouts' stopwatches Tuesday morning during the NFL pro timing day on the North Carolina campus. But the receiver and return specialist sure feels like he's on the clock. Once perhaps in the conversation as a first-round selection in next month's NFL Draft, Tate is trying to make his case that he has recovered from torn knee ligaments suffered last season in a game with Notre Dame. So Tate's routine mostly included running in a straight line off to the side in the chilly air, but he figures he was being closely watched nonetheless. "I was just trying to show the scouts I was gradually getting back," Tate said. "My whole mentality is to focus on getting my knee back."

North Carolina coach Butch Davis said Tate, a Cummings High School graduate from Burlington, might be a couple of months away from running at full speed. By then, the draft will have come and gone. "He's clearly on track and maybe a little ahead of schedule," Davis said. "(The scouts here) will get a chance in their mind to draw conclusions as to where he as of this day." Davis said he's confident that Tate will be picked no later than the middle rounds. "He may fall a little bit, but I don't think he'll fall as far as some people thought he might," said Davis, a former coach with the Cleveland Browns. "He has a great body of work in college." Tate, who said he's about 85 percent recovered from October knee surgery, took Davis' advice during the rehabilitation. He said he has followed doctors' orders precisely. "(Davis) promised me that I would be playing football again," Tate said. "Now they've (seen) me run, I could go back up the charts." Tate opted not to attend January's Senior Bowl as he would have been limited to off-field activities, but he took part in interviews last month at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

The Titans have agreed to terms with Mark Jones, a free agent receiver and return man from the Carolina Panthers. Terms of the deal are not immediately available. Jones, a five-year pro, will help the Titans recover from the loss of free agent return man Chris Carr, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens. The Titans also lost free agent reserve cornerback Eric King to the Detroit Lions. Jones, a seventh-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, played college football at the University of Tennessee before starting an NFL career which has taken him from the New York Giants (2004), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2005-07) and last season with the San Diego Chargers (training camp) and Carolina. In 2008, Jones averaged 11.4 yards on punt returns – seventh best in the NFL. He also averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns.

Chris Carr, a free-agent return specialist and backup cornerback, has reached an agreement in principle with the Ravens, a league source confirmed today. Carr, 25, will sign a two-year, $5 million contract on Monday at Ravens headquarters. He will provide depth at cornerback and could replace Yamon Figurs as a kick returner. Last season with the Tennessee Titans, Carr was third in kickoff-return average (28.1 yards) and eighth in punt-return average (10.1) in the AFC. Carr played under Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano when both were with the Oakland Raiders. The addition of Carr will come on the day when the Ravens are expected to finalize the release of cornerback Samari Rolle.
I noticed last yr that Figurs was getting a lot of slot work. Maybe this signing means they want him more in the offense.
Between ineffectiveness and injury, Figurs also managed to lose a hold on the return roles last year. Jim Leonhard handled punt returns during the latter part of the season, and then in the playoffs Tom Zbikowski was handling kickoff returns.
I can tell you right now Figures is useless and no threat to Carr in the return game. Live in Baltimore and Figures has no shot at the return job
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Even though nearly half of last season's overtime games ended with the team winning the coin toss scoring on its first possession, the NFL will not make any adjustment to its rules for the 2009 season. After surveying players and management, the league's competition committee will not have a rule change proposal for owners to vote on at next week's league meetings in Dana Point, Calif.... Several proposed rule changes deal with player safety, including eliminating the bunch formation on kickoff coverage; eliminating wedges on kickoff returns of more than two players; penalizing helmet-to-helmet contact on a blind-side block; eliminating initial contact to the head area of a defenseless receiver.

The news that the Vikings signed a wide receiver named Holt perked up the ears of a lot of fans, but it wasn’t the Holt that many expected or at least hoped for. The team has signed wide receiver Glenn Holt, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals, to a one-year contract. Although his signing may not on face value be viewed as significant, it could have more far-reaching consequences for the draft. Holt’s contribution to the team likely won’t be as a wide receiver, but rather as a return specialist. An undrafted free agent out of Kentucky in 2006, in three seasons he has caught just 20 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns. However, he has averaged 24.3 yards on 122 kick returns during his three-year career with the Bengals and will likely be one of the top competitors for the primary kick returner with the Vikings. That role on the team was left vacant when the team’s leading kick returner in 2008 – running back Maurice Hicks – was released. It may also fill a void that some thought might be filled in the draft with the selection of one of the top speed receivers potentially available, like Jeremy Maclin of Missouri oR Percy Harvin of Florida. While the Holt signing doesn’t preclude the Vikings from going after one of the top wide receivers in the first round of draft, it could reduce the chances that the Vikings will go in that direction on draft day as a means to help their kick-return unit.

The kickoff return spot for the Vikings has been an annual kiss of death for the player who has had it. If Holt remains healthy and becomes the full-time returner, he will be the 12th different player in the last 12 years to lead the team in kickoff returns. The last time the Vikings had a player lead the team in kickoff returns two years in a row was David Palmer in 1997-98. Since Palmer led the team in ’98, the last 10 years have seen the team leader change from Palmer to Robert Tate, Troy Walters, Nate Jacquet, Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith, Kelly Campbell, Koren Robinson, Bethel Johnson, Aundrae Allison and Hicks. It seems only fitting that Holt signed just a one-year contract.

Marinelli didn’t put a premium on return men. His priority was not taking penalties on special teams. “That was Bill Walsh’s philosophy,” Schwartz said. “Those big-time offensive coaches would say, ‘All we’re looking for is for you not to make a mistake on special teams.’ I’m of a different mind on that. “I think there’s ways that you can impact the game. When you talk about building a team, there’s positions there that you can get better quickly. That’s a little bit of my Jeff Fisher, Bill Belichick upbringing.” Buchanon can return punts. Aveion Cason can return kicks. Adam Jennings is in the mix for both jobs. On special teams in general, Schwartz won’t be afraid to use starters. “I would expect just about everybody to have something they can contribute on special teams,” Schwartz said.

See also the rule changes thread.

The lights in the offices of special teams coaches across the NFL will be on a bit later at night than usual this offseason, because their jobs just became much more challenging. When owners voted last week to eliminate a wedge on kickoff returns that includes more than two players, citing safety concerns, some called it a minor alteration. But it's far from that to special teams coaches, who now are forced to rewrite significant portions of their playbooks because of how prominent the wedge had become. The wedge is a human wall, often including 300-pound linemen who line up closest to the returner and whose job it is to take on coverage players who have built up great velocity from surging down the field. They usually absorb the most violent hits on each return, and this will limit those collisions.

Teams like the Redskins and Giants figure to be most affected, as they regularly run powerful four-man wedges. A couple of teams occasionally run a five-man wedge. "Most everybody runs a three or a four, and has for years," said Bills special teams coach Bobby April, whose units annually rank near the top of the NFL. "I told my wife, with these rules I just added a lot more work hours because we run that and we've run that for a long time and been successful with it. It's going to take a lot of work and a lot of ingenuity to come up with a different offense, because basically a kickoff return is an offensive play. This might be too dramatic, but if we ran the wishbone and all of a sudden they said, 'You can't run the wishbone anymore,' that offensive staff is going to have to come up with something. We're on a smaller scale because certainly there are less kickoff returns, but all of us are going to have to come up with something different, because across the board almost everybody is affected by this."

First-year Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien concurred. Once he learns more about how officials plan to interpret all aspects of the rule, he'll head back to the drawing board. "The wedge has been around as long as I can remember, where you utilized it or had to deal with it one way or another, so it's going to force everybody now to re-create their return schemes and have a different look on how to defend those returns," O'Brien said.

In search of improvements for the Cardinals' return game in 2009, special teams coach Kevin Spencer recently put together footage of the four-man wedges of the Redskins and Giants. Spencer had planned to adopt more of that style, but he's since changed course. "I wanted to study it and was thinking that was maybe a way I should go from a teaching and repetition standpoint. Now I'll have to go look at other things," Spencer said. "At least we're not finding out in June and scrambling to get your playbook ready for July, when you have to teach the guys. Coaches are paid to coach and be creative, so we're doing what we're paid to do."

Although they will be breaking from tradition, April, O'Brien, and Spencer favor the change if it means player safety will be enhanced. While some teams might still have a couple of bigger linemen leading the returner as part of a two-man wedge, all three coaches anticipate that kickoff return teams will now feature more players with a different body type. Thus, there is likely to be a trickle-down effect in how head coaches determine their 45-man game-day rosters - a backup lineman who might be in the wedge could turn out to be a luxury that is no longer feasible. "Now you could be eliminating them," O'Brien said. "You could find a lot more smaller athletes on the field both ways because they're one-on-one and you have to be able to play in space. I think it will create a little more excitement that way in terms of the matchups we have on the field."

More teams figure to adopt what is often referred to as a "match" or "man" return, which April describes as "when you literally match up 10 against 10 and guys single block." Former Patriots special teams coach Brad Seely was considered among his colleagues to be a master of coaching the "match" return when he was with the Panthers in the 1990s and had explosive returner Michael Bates. Seely, who joined the Browns this year, became more of a wedge coach in recent years in New England. "But you might see that kind of matchup scheme come back into vogue," Spencer said. "You don't ever really get rid of stuff, it just sort of comes and goes, and that might be something you see come back. It will depend on each coach's philosophy and what type of personnel you have."

The change might appear subtle to the casual fan - and perhaps not noticed - but it's already a big topic among special teams coaches. "I don't think the fans will be shortchanged, I think you'll still see some big returns," April said. "It's going to take some ingenuity and creativity to come up with different things for teams who strictly run that style of [wedge] attack, but I don't think it will take away from the excellence or the beauty of the kicking game."

With Jason Wright replacing J.J. Arrington on the roster, the Cards now are missing a kickoff returner. Wright can likely fill in a pinch, but he’s probably not a candidate for every return. Steve Breaston handled punt returns and a lot of kickoff returns, but Spencer said “we can’t afford to lose Steven” and said the Cards will be careful with their third 1,000-yard receiver. Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be intriguing as a return man “but that’s not going to happen,” Spencer said, not with DRC so important on defense and the injury risk on returns. For now, Spencer will sift through the current roster and watch the Cards’ rookie haul – drafted and undrafted – to see what might come out of it.
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri

There is no doubt about it. Jeremy Maclin is definitely on the NFL's most-wanted list. Scout.com has learned that Maclin has already visited with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he is scheduled for official visits with the Detroit Lions, the New York Jets, the St. Louis Rams and the Cleveland Browns so far. He's also scheduled for a private workout with the Oakland Raiders this week. The multi-talented wide receiver out of Missouri is the third player in NCAA history to average over 200 all-purpose yards per game during a career, posting an incredible 5,609 all-purpose yards in just 28 games. He averaged 82.6 yards per game receiving, 73.1 yards per game gained on kickoff returns, 20.6 yards on punt returns and 23.8 yards rushing. As a kickoff returner, he fell just two yards short of setting a single-season record in 2007 with 1,346 yards.

And while he always had to be accounted for before the snap of every play when the Tigers had the ball, the two-time First-Team All-American was simply electrifying on punt and kickoff returns. "I'm always getting positive yards. I'm always creating that spark," he explained when asked about his skills as a punt returner. "I break through that first wave and get you 10 or 15 yards. And a lot of times, if I can get that much, I'll break it." The Tigers took full advantage of Maclin's speed and change-of-direction skills by implementing special teams schemes that were similar to what the Chicago Bears had been using to get Devin Hester out into open field. And it paid off handsomely as Maclin rolled for 577 yards on punt returns and 2,049 yards on kickoff returns, scoring a combined five touchdowns as a return specialist by end of his sophomore season.

The days of three linemen and a tight end lining up hip-to-hip to form the wedge on kickoff returns ended last month when NFL owners voted to allow only two-player wedges. But special teams coaches, including Washington's Danny Smith, are still figuring out some of the nuances of the rule and are waiting for the league to send out explanatory video. "This is strictly a player safety thing," Smith said. "To me, though, it's so far-fetched in this sense - the old days about the maniac taking on the wedge and blasting the guy head-on and knocking heads like two rams and getting concussions, you don't see that anymore. I tell my guys, 'You can give a guy a concussion, but he wins because he got the block.' I watch about every play of every game in the offseason, and I don't see [concussions being an issue]." If the return team uses a wedge that includes more than two players, the penalty is 15 yards or half the distance to the goal line from the spot of the foul. The Redskins had employed a four-man wedge about 10 to 12 yards in front of the return man.

The gray area for Smith is if he sets up a two-man wedge and has one player on each side with a crease between them and the wedge. Are the outside players allowed to close the opening when a player attacks the wedge? The league has told him that's legal. "What have we solved?" Smith said. "Is that a change? Not really." Depending on how it's enforced, the rule could affect which personnel are used on kickoff returns. "If you have a guy playing in space, he better have good feet because he'll have to move to make the block," Smith said.

Brian Witherspoon, 5-10, 175, heard all the whispers during last preseason about his size, toughness and whether he could make it in the NFL. The former three-sport standout at Stillman College was a highlight show in the preseason returning kicks, but success in August for a rookie free agent does not guarantee a spot in the regular season. “I was in the hotel room and very nervous,” Witherspoon said about the day the final cuts were to be announced. “I didn’t answer the phone. My parents were calling me but I didn’t answer.” He didn’t have to worry as he became one of only two undrafted rookies to make the opening day roster. In his first NFL game, Witherspoon took the opening kickoff at Tennessee and raced 49 yards down the sideline, and added a 51-yard return later in the game. “I was really nervous, first NFL game,” Witherspoon said. “I wanted to get out of the gate early.”

He admits his body started to wear down as the season progressed, and he battled injuries that forced him to miss two games. He still managed to set the franchise single-season record for kickoff returns (52) and kickoff return yards (1,250). He finished with an 11.3-yard punt return average and a 24.0 kickoff return average. In the last three games, Witherspoon began to see action at cornerback. He hopes to impress the coaching staff this offseason so he has a chance to earn consistent action in the secondary. “I’m getting stronger, putting on more muscle and getting more flexible,” Witherspoon said. “I’m in a lot better shape. It was really important for me to get my feet wet and get some quality time (at cornerback). I wish I could have gotten in there a little earlier because the game was still a little fast for me. I’m ready to come in this year and take my game to the next level.”

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