Setup: Mike McCoy has made it clear that the kickoff and punt return positions are wide open.  The Chargers have been searching for a dynamic return man since the “lightning bug”, Darren Sproles, left for the Crescent City in 2011.  The two seasons preceding Sproles departure was filled with the sub par replacement and underachiever, Richard-not so-Goodman.

Last year, six different players gave a stab at kick and punt returns.  Three of those men Lavelle Hawkins, Fozzy Whittaker and Ronnie Brown are no longer with the team, while the other three, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Eddie Royal are all integral parts of the Chargers offense.   It would be beneficial to the team to take pressure off of Allen, Woodhead and Royal to focus solely on the offensive playbook and relieve them of the return duties.

Meanwhile, the Bolts will search for a return man within camp who can set Rivers up with something less than an 80 yard drive.  One of the most exciting battles at training camp this year is going to be who will earn the rights to the kickoff and punt return duties.  It just so happens, this job is a three-horse race but not one of the candidates has played a day in the NFL.

Marion Grice

Analysis: Grice! Grice! Baby! While doing most of his damage at ASU as a running back, San Diego’s 6th round pick Marion Grice also returned kicks for the Sun Devils as well.  In 2013, Grice totaled 507 yards on 21 kickoff attempts with no touchdowns. Grice never returned a punt while he was in college and I don’t see him doing it in the pros either.

He ran a 4.67 40 time at his Pro Day and is great in the open field but lacks that elite quickness.  Marion picks his spots and has burst through the holes which helps him at running back and helped his team play with a short field in college too.  Another huge plus is that Grice does not fumble the football, he fumbled once in two seasons at Arizona State.

Tevin Reese

Analysis: The Chargers 7th round pick, Tevin Reese, primarily played wide receiver at Baylor and made a killing in his 4 years, making 87 catches for over 3,102 yards and 24 touchdowns.  He has blazing fast speed clocking a 4.46 40, which was top 3rd among WR’s at this year’s combine. Additionally, he tied for first with  an 11 ft. broad jump and came in first with a 41 inch vertical jump at the combine.

There is one small problem, Tevin Reese only returned one kickoff in his freshmen year of college for 23 yards.  He didn’t field any more kicks the rest of his college career because his coach wouldn’t use his starters in the return game.  However, Reese did field both kick and punt returns in high school.  Reese’s pieces and intangibles fit the bill for either returner slot but other than bulking up what remains to be seen is if he has the vision and will he consistently field the ball well.

Chris Davis

Analysis: Chris Davis (no not the Orioles first baseman) you probably know best as “Kick Six”, the Auburn cornerback who had the single greatest play in Iron Bowl History and has a real shot to contribute on special teams.  As a punt returner last year, Davis finished 3rd in the nation in punt return average and 9th in the country in total return yards. Though he wasn’t selected in this year’s draft, Davis is another man on this team that has big play ability.

At yesterday’s press conference McCoy had some good things to say about Chris Davis in OTA’s, “playing out there on an island often and you’ve seen him make some nice plays throughout the early part of OTA’s.”  When referring to what attracted him to Chris Davis, McCoy added “Seeing him play week in and week out against the best in the country, the success he had not only on defense but on special teams it was an easy decision for us to make, we’re fortunate to have him.”

Camp Battle: Tevin Reese is set up to win the return job on not only his ability to make the big play but he is also in the best situation.  Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal are all locks to make the roster but after that it is a toss-up.  Reese will be battling Vincent Brown who was a ghost last season, as well as Seyi Ajirotutu.

Even with that said, all five receivers could make the team and the Chargers could decide to bring on Tevin Reese as a part of the special teams group.  Chris Davis will have to force his way into a crowded secondary and most likely have to win the spot over Brandon Taylor to make it on this team. Marion Grice finds himself in the same predicament.  Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead are all ahead of him on the depth chart. But with Mathews and Woodhead in the final year of their contracts, the Chargers can hedge their bet here by keeping Grice on the roster and have him contribute on special teams as a rookie.

Bold Prediction: All three make the team.  In preseason Marion Grice will be returning the majority of the kickoffs and Tevin Reese will be returning the bulk of the punts.  Chris Davis will beat out Brandon Taylor for a roster spot and will get his shot on special teams but Reese will win the punt returner duties.  I believe that Tevin Reese will be our kickoff and punt return specialist week one of the upcoming season.



Garrett Sisti

5 Responses to The Battle for the Return Duties in San Diego

  • Jamie Hoyle says:

    I think Davis beats out Crezdon Butler (as opposed to a safety) for a couple reasons. First, Davis’ strength is playing zone defense. He’s not overly physical, but he excelled in zone coverage in college and, as we know, the Chargers play perhaps the softest zone schemes in the NFL. It would help to have someone who actually understand that zone doesn’t mean “wait for him to catch it, then make a tackle”. Second, obviously, would be his return skills.

    Grice is the safe pick to return kicks, Reese the sexy pick. Grice is smart, patient and sets up his blocks well, something most young returners don’t do real well. He also doesn’t fumble.

    I would guess the Chargers, who have placed an emphasis on protecting the ball above all else, will probably start the year with Grice returning kicks and Davis returning punts. They’ll eventually work Reese into the mix and he’ll probably wind up returning punts of he proves he can protect the ball.

    • BoogaP
      BoogaP says:

      Davis is not very good. Neither is Crezdon Butler. I don’t think either make the 53. Davis might make the PS.

  • OPBolt says:

    Sorry for the gripe, but why not at least cover all the possibilities? No one really knows who will step up in training and exhibition games and no one knows who will be injured. For example, Brelan Chancellor, the 2013 Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year for his efforts as a kick and punt returner, would at least seem to me to be a possibility. Now, if you think he is not likely to make the team for any number of reasons, at least lay them out.

    I think that if McCoy can identify a new consistent and dynamic KR &/or PR, he will make room for them, even if they are no better than 3rd team at their position. I think we have some candidates for release that would allow room for them (English, Mouton, etc.). Like you, I suspect that McCoy would prefer that he not have to use his starting WRs, RBs, or DBs in these roles (e.g., Allen, Royal, Woodhead, Weddle).

    • Garrett Sisti says:

      Gripe away OPBolt you have an opinion & I welcome anything & everything. Whether you agree with me or not is irrelevant you should challenge the writers on here & I encourage you to do so. Before I wrote this article I watched not only tape on the three I mentioned but on Brelan Chancellor as well and though I know of his resume I didn’t think he had much of a shot above Grice, Reese & Davis of making this roster. Reese doesn’t have the return stats obviously but Chancellor has all the same assets as Resse but just a little bit worse. Chancellor is 1 inch shorter, his arms are 1 inch shorter, ran .10 slower than Reese did etc. Nobody knows what injures will occur, that is true, but as of today all I can say is what I see on tape and project my opinions from there.

      Now the reason I didn’t mention Brelan was because as I said I thought this was a “three-horse race” and I wanted to get to the breakdown of these guys. Now though I thought about it, I decided not to chew on the fat too long with all the players who had a “shot” at PR/KR and decided to get to the meat of my story which were the top 3 vying for that spot. Just an editing choice, that’s all but I do see your point.

  • Garrett Sisti says:

    Forgot to mention Javontee Herndon as well. That’s another player I looked at but left off because again I don’t think they have a shot at making the team.

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