Who is going to be returning kicks for the San Diego Chargers?
A battle that has been has been on the back burner at Chargers camp is the one at kick returner. San Diego has been experimenting with a number of players at the position, and there doesn’t seem to be a sure-fire starter for Week 1.
Quickly, I have to clarify that I am going to assume that free-agent acquisition Travis Benjamin will probably be the punt returner, so I will be focusing solely on kickoff returners.
San Diego has been one of the worst kick returning teams in the NFL for a while and will have to find a spark. The new NFL rules may cause the return game to be of little importance, but when it is used, it can’t be a weakness for the Bolts. The Lightning Round’s Garrett Sisti listed who was returning kicks during Monday’s practice:
Oliver/Woodhead/Burse/Reaves/Gordon all taking kickoffs. In that order.
— Garrett Sisti (@GarrettSisti) August 8, 2016
Currently, there are a plethora of players that have a chance to win the returner role. Wide receivers and running backs alike are all trying to get a roster spot to become a return specialist.
First things first, there is a chance that Benjamin can be returning both kicks and punts. I am strongly against this. The team made a major investment in Benjamin, a four-year, $24 million one to be exact. Putting him at risk for injury is not a good look.
Benjamin has been successful as a punt returner in the past, and if the Chargers want to keep him there, that’s fine. They shouldn’t extend his duties to the kickoffs though, it’s far too risky.
During training camp this past Friday, Melvin Gordon was returning kicks. Truthfully, this makes little sense. Gordon could barely stay afloat his rookie year. All of his concentration should be on running the football. He shouldn’t be getting lessons on how to return kicks. Hopefully, this means nothing.
Last season, both Javontee Herndon and Branden Oliver saw some time as the Chargers’ kick returner. Oliver is a solid returner who may rarely break a play open but is intelligent and makes few mistakes. Herndon is a better returner who has the speed and agility to take it to the house.
Both Herndon and Oliver could be solid options as the kick returner. Oliver is sure to have a roster spot at running back, so he wouldn’t take up a spot for just one role. Herndon, on the other hand, is nowhere near a lock to make the roster. He has missed some time due to injury and isn’t the best receiver. Players like Tyrell Williams and fellow returner Isaiah Burse have shown more promise as a receiver so far in camp.
Nov 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Isaiah Burse (19) returns a kick during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos won 29-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
The final three players in this discussion are Danny Woodhead, DeAndre Reaves and Burse.
Woodhead has been on the kickoff team since he arrived in San Diego but hasn’t done much returning. He probably wouldn’t provide big plays, but like Oliver, he is a smart player on special teams. Currently, he has been the primary backup to Oliver at the kick returner spot. This will probably be his role all season regardless of who is returning kicks.
When it comes to Burse or Reaves, they are much more unknown. If either of these players are going to win the battle at kick returner, they are going to have to make the roster as a receiver. That position is filling up quickly. Keenan Allen, James Jones, Benjamin and Williams are going to make this team, leaving at most two spots open on the depth chart.
With the depth chart so crowded at the receiver position, Burse, Reaves or Herndon are going to have to make the most of their plays catching the football to make this team. However, if one of them can show they have a spark to add to the kick-return game, that could set one of them apart.
Personally, if Burse or one of the receivers can earn their way onto the roster through mainly their receiver play, I wouldn’t be against one of them being the returner. However, if that isn’t the case, I would want to see Oliver returning kicks. No starter should be in that situation, and Oliver has been a master at excelling at whatever he has been asked to do by the coaching staff.
Things have been moving quickly in regards to the return battle and it is pointing in about a dozen directions right now. The Chargers’ first preseason game is against Tennessee on Aug. 13 and it is going to be the first chance we get to see if one of these players can make something happen on kickoffs.