Who Should Return Punts For The Seattle Seahawks?

In 24:  Live Another Day, you’ve got another of the ol’ tropes alive and well.  When they take you out of the field RIGHT BEFORE a big assignment where they’re going to go somewhere with guns to attack some bad guys, possibly with more guns, it ALWAYS means that assignment is going to be a huge, explosive failure.  In this case, Cute Blonde C.I.A. agent gets shackled to the office while the C.I.A. head Benjamin Bratt and his lead officer both go out to supposedly bring in the main terrorist lady.  Except, in this case, SURPRISE!  They’re at the wrong house, and there’s a bomb, and EXPLOSION, and now some are dead and some are not.  All in a day’s work in the world of 24.  With some bigtime cast members either killed or knocked out for the rest of the day, it’s only a matter of time before Jack Bauer is reinstated and put out into the field with Cute Blonde.  For sexy times and ass-kickery, just break glass …

File this under:  Slow News Week.

Yesterday, the local media just about crapped their pants when they heard Pete Carroll tell everyone that Earl Thomas would be the starting punt returner if the season started today.

This is news??? has turned into THIS IS NEWS!!! because it’s the end of May and absolutely nothing important is going on in the world of local sports.  And because I’m no different, here’s my two cents.

For the last couple of years, Golden Tate returned punts.  He was good at it.  Prior to that, Leon Washington returned punts.  He was really good at it.  As far back as I can remember, from Bobby Engram to Joey Galloway, it seems like the Seahawks have always had quality punt returners.

I tend to like the more conservative, veteran guys, who lean towards fair catching a punt, because the worst case scenario with any return is muffing it and letting the other team recover.  I’d rather just secure the possession, because really, what are the odds you’re going to break a punt return for a TD?  What’s the average punt return anyway?  I bet it’s less than 10 yards.  Is it worth it to gamble the health of a valuable part of your offense or defense just to see if you can improve on a very small number?

Yes, I loved having Golden Tate back there returning punts, even though he took what some deemed foolish risks.  And yes, Golden Tate was also a very valuable member of our offense – at wide receiver, where we weren’t necessarily the deepest.  And, of course, on any play, anyone – even your most important player – can be injured.  Hell, Russell Wilson could be standing on the sideline talking to a teammate during a kickoff return when someone rolls up on him suddenly, without him expecting it!  That’s the football equivalent of walking out of your home and getting hit by a bus.  If you sit around waiting for the worst to happen, what kind of a way is that to live?

Fast forward to 2014:  Golden Tate is a Detroit Lion.  Apparently, the only other person who ever returned a punt for the Seahawks in 2013 is Richard Sherman, who had one return for -6 yards, and I’ll be damned if I remember when THAT happened.  No one on the 2014 squad really has any significant punt returning experience, so someone will have to step up.

The obvious choice is Percy Harvin – who is slated to return kickoffs for us.  He’s an experienced kickoff returner, and an elite one, so how much harder could it be for him to take in punts?

Other options include Earl Thomas and the aforementioned Richard Sherman.  I’m less interested in Richard Sherman returning punts, because I think there’s no chance in Hell he wins that job.  My hunch is, he’s throwing his hat into the ring because he heard Patrick Peterson talk all of his shit about being the more complete player and wants to show him that it doesn’t take much to be a punt returner in this league (which it doesn’t, for the record).

I’m more interested in Earl Thomas, especially because he’s the supposed front-runner.

Earl Thomas has elite speed.  He just LOOKS like the kind of guy who would thrive in the punt returning job.  Elusive, able to cut on a dime, able to get around the edge while also running right over you.  If he wasn’t so integral to the defense, I’d put my 100% stamp of approval on this move right now and move on with my life.

But, you can’t remove risk/reward from the situation.  Yes, as stated above, there’s risk on any football play.  There’s risk in every second of your everyday life!  But, not all moments are created equal.  Earl Thomas, flying around in the field, playing free safety, trying to remove the torsos from the bodies of ball-handlers is not the same thing as one man, isolated, with 11 snarling beasts bearing down on him while 10 of his teammates backpedal in a hopeless attempt to prevent bodily harm.

In one scenario, Earl Thomas is the aggressor:  he chooses where he’s going to hit and how hard that impact is going to be.  In the other scenario, Earl Thomas is on the defensive:  he could get smashed head-on, or he could get rolled up from behind.  Or, any other injury in-between.  It’s a vulnerable position being the punt returner, just as it is being the kick returner.  Why do you think they’ve been talking about all these rule changes with kickoffs?  They moved the kickoff line once and almost did it again!  They want to eliminate kickoffs because they’re so dangerous.  As are punt returns.

You could argue that Golden Tate was pretty important, but he was nowhere NEAR the level of Earl Thomas.  Without Thomas, our defense changes drastically.  Without Tate, it would’ve been tough, but our offense would’ve essentially continued as it did, with just the next man up replacing him.

I know Bryan Walters is being tossed around as an option, but I wouldn’t make him the punt returner unless he’s also a clear winner of a roster spot as just a wide receiver.  I see no point in keeping a guy on the team to JUST return punts.

What about Terrelle Pryor?  This team seems hell-bent on keeping him as a quarterback, which is a damn shame, because I’d LOVE to see what he could do returning punts.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing Doug Baldwin back there, but it doesn’t sound like the team is considering it.

If the Seahawks really want to go dynamic, why not use Paul Richardson?  As a rookie, you don’t expect a whole lot out of him on offense, so it’d be nice to get some value out of him in special teams.  Of course, with any rookie, you have to worry about inopportune fumbles in such a role.  Probably not something the team would be comfortable with (especially considering I’m not so sure he has any experience in that role).

If you ask me, I’d say we just go with Jermaine Kearse.  He has proved to be reliable with the ball in his hands, elusive-enough in open space, and tough enough to endure the types of hits he’d have to endure.  With his role looking to be diminished with the additions of rookies Richardson and Kevin Norwood, it might be a good way to establish some more value, especially if the team decides they don’t want to extend him beyond whenever his contract ends.

Either that, or just stick with Percy Harvin and have him return both kickoffs and punts.  If we’re already risking his health in one arena (or, I guess two arenas, if you count the actual offense), then why not go full bore?  He’s obviously the best candidate, and he’s NOT as important as Earl Thomas.

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