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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Many Happy Returns?

It sounds like Asher Allen is the clear starter at kick returner, but the more interesting question -- as it has been throughout camp -- is who will return punts.

Obviously a lot has been made about the possibility of Knowshon Moreno being the guy. This could take several forms, with Moreno either being the returner every time out or filling more of a Reggie Bush role, where he returns punts during only the most crucial moments.

Or, given that he will be the focal point of the offense, Moreno may not return punts at all. It's hard to say.

Coach Jon Fabris said Tuesday his biggest concern is simply having a guy who can field the kick cleanly, which Knowshon should be able to do. As for who the starter may be, Fabris said he had no idea.

For his part, Moreno said it's a role he's happy to fill.

"If that's where they want me, I'll play that position," Moreno said. "If they want me at center, I'll play center. Anything to help the team out, really."

(As a side note, a reporter then asked him if he thought he could beat out Josh Davis, to which Knowshon responded with an emphatic, "No.")

If Moreno doesn't return the punts, the next two options look to be redshirt freshman QB Logan Gray and true freshman RB Carlton Thomas.

Gray seems an unlikely choice simply because of he is a QB, and the coaching staff may not want to risk getting their third-stringer injured. Of course, if it gets to a point where both Matthew Stafford and Joe Cox can't play, that may not matter anyway.

Thomas could be the guy, and his speed and elusiveness make him a good fit. Still, head coach Mark Richt and RBs coach Tony Ball both said they would be unlikely to burn a redshirt season for any of their freshman running backs unless they were likely to contribute on offense, too. As it stands, Thomas is -- at best -- fourth on the depth chart at RB behind Moreno, Richard Samuel and Caleb King.

Now, if Thomas were to serve as both the primary punt returner and secondary kick returner, that may be enough to avoid the redshirt, but even that seems unlikely. Samuel is also in line to return kicks (behind Allen) and play on offense, so why burn the redshirt for both he and Thomas? And Richt already said at the beginning of camp it was unlikely for Samuel to return punts, so that option would be out, too.

So, while it's possible a wild card could emerge, I think it's looking more and more likely that Moreno may actually be the man at punt returner after all.

The upside is obvious: He's a clear game-changer. And it's far from unprecedented. From Desmond Howard to Rocket Ismael to Bush, teams have been using Heisman candidates in the return game for years -- with great success.

Moreno said he returned punts in high school, but hadn't really given it much thought in college until coaches approached him with the possibility this summer.

"I did in high school, but in college, I never really thought about it," Moreno said. "But I like the idea of it."

Fans may not be so sure about sending their Heisman hopeful out into special teams traffic, but even Moreno says the idea has plenty of merit. After all, he said he was pretty good at the job in high school.

When asked how many TD returns he had during his prep career, Moreno leaned back with his typical confident smile.

"I had a few," he said. "But then they stopped kicking to me."

So, dear readers, who would you like to see returning punts this season? Is the idea of Moreno running punts back more exciting or troubling? If you were Richt, how would you use him?


Steve said...

I would love to see Moreno returning punts. Richt can't be afraid of getting guys hurt. He has to put the best player at each position. If Moreno is the best punt returner, then he needs to be back there.

Anonymous said...

People sometimes underestimate the importance of special teams. Your opponent is rarely more vulnerable than when they're kicking or punting to you, and a guy like Moreno could really change a game with a big return. I'm all for putting him back there, but the other guys better make their blocks!

Erajh said...

I'd like to see Remarcus return punts if he can stop fumbling. Or Sanders Commings.

Jim Ludes- Grundy/ Will County REALTOR said...

Agree with the others...your best player has to go back there. The logic coaches use is so flawed in this're telling me a guy is more likely to get hurt on 4 returns than he is on 25 carries where 300 pounders and falling all over him? Come on- at very least it's a wash....if you play to not get hurt- you're going to get hurt.