Click here to read the original "What's So Special About Special Teams?" article.
News and notes from the first week of preseason action as it pertains to the return game…
The star of the weekend was Michael Ray Garvin of the Cardinals, who rolled up 150 return yards on four kickoff returns and three punt returns against the Steelers. Unfortunately, Garvin also tore the meniscus in his left knee and is slated for arthroscopic surgery that will sideline him for a week or two. Steve Breaston and LaRod Stephens-Howling are expected to pick up the slack while Garvin and his world-class speed are sidelined.
Jeremy Maclin moved to the fore in leagues where return yards are tallied alongside rushing and receiving yards. The first-round pick returned four kickoffs for 100 yards and two punts for 21 yards, along with two catches for 44 yards. If his role within the offense expands his return role might decline; then again, if he’s not cracking the regular receiver rotation he’ll be Philly’s primary return man. Either way, the all-purpose yards are sure to pile up.
Another potential all-purpose stud from the 2009 rookie class is Detroit’s Aaron Brown. While Kevin Smith may impede Brown from rolling up another 98 yards from scrimmage (47 rushing, 51 receiving), the return game—in which Brown brought back a pair of kickoffs for 47 more yards—appears to be his to lose. Oh, and Brown also scored a pair of touchdowns.
The Patriots’ return game, which lost Ellis Hobbs in the offseason, didn’t miss a beat. Matt Slater brought back three kickoffs for 69 yards, while Julian Edelman scored the lone return touchdown of the weekend with a 75-yard punt return. It might be tough for both backup receivers to make the roster, but it indicates that once again the Patriots’ special teams are ready for prime time.
Not sure how Alphonso Smith’s name was initially omitted from the list of IDP contributors who add value in the return game, so let’s rectify that oversight right here. Not only is Smith battling for a regular role in the Denver secondary, he also contributed 73 return yards (46 on two kickoffs plus a 27-yard punt return) to the bottom line.
One name that was mentioned last week was Mike Wallace of the Steelers, and he didn’t disappoint. In the preseason opener, Wallace caught two passes for 35 yards and brought back a kickoff for another 35 yards.
Maybe Rashad Jennings won’t be Maurice Jones-Drew’s caddy this season in Jacksonville. But there’s a chance the Jaguars choose someone to help lighten MoJo’s load, and Jennings is a candidate. He also looks like he’ll contribute in the return game, with 48 yards on two kickoff returns in the Jags’ preseason opener.
Finally, the Texans appear to have their return game in order with a variety of interchangeable parts. Darnell Jenkins broke off the second-longest kickoff return of the weekend, 42 yards, and added 14 yards on two punt returns and a 19-yard catch. Andre Davis, who’s ahead of Jenkins on the Texans’ receiver depth chart, returned a kickoff 28 yards and a punt six yards. And Jacoby Jones, who made a splash in the preseason a couple years back with a pair of punt return scores, handled just one punt for eight yards.