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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?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I say let him start as the punt returner and see how many teams would dare punt to him. From a field position stand-point, it could work well in our favor. Go dawgs!

Mark O

Slick Nick said...

Honestly, I'd like to see Carlton Thomas returning... he's something special. But Knowshon would work just fine with me. I can't really see how Richard Samuel would be any good at returning though... he's more of a Ronnie Brown type, fast and bruising, definitely not shifty.

Darryl Strawberry said...

Here is what (i think) we are going to do. And it is EXACTLY what the 2004 Auburn Tigers did with Cadillac.

Carlton Thomas will be our punt returner. He will return punts against GaSouthern, CMU, etc. Knowshon will get spot returns in the most important games. All depending on field position of course.

If you recall, the 04 Auburn game was a beating. Not only because Borges out-coached Willie, but also because we kept punting the ball to Cadillac. It drove me crazy. According to georgiadogs.com, Auburn had 4 punt returns for 77 yards with a long of 40.

Cadillac continuously gave them great field position, however he wasnt the punt returner for every punt. Just when Tubbs found it necessary.

This is what i hope we do with Knowshon. It sure would suck to see him get hurt returning the first punt of the season...or a punt against Vandy.

Hobnail_Boot said...

If it gives us the best chance to win, it's a no-brainer.

Scott said...

Way to go, dude...you jinxed Charles White.



Kidding, but he did leave the field today with an Achilles, per Dash.

David Hale said...

I saw, and I completely blame myself. I will withhold from interviewing Knowshon, Stafford and Ellerbe now, just in case.