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.
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.
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.
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.