The job of kick and punt returner for the New Orleans Saints remained a mystery through much of training camp and preseason, with several players auditioning for the parts. Entering the third week of the regular season, there remains an element of mystery involved.
For Sunday's game against the Falcons (1-1) in Atlanta, the Saints (1-1) will be using their second kick and punt returner, the former by choice and the second, by necessity.
Coach Sean Payton and the special team coaches wanted to get a look at backup quarterback Taysom Hill as a kick returner as an alternative to receiver Tommylee Lewis, and Hill didn't disappoint against Cleveland, racing 47 yards on his first NFL return.
But when Lewis injured his knee on a second quarter punt return against the Browns, that opened the door for someone else to step in. Lewis was placed on injured reserve Wednesday; running back Alvin Kamara assumed the responsibility for the remainder of Sunday's game, and didn't have a chance for a return. He is among the candidates to take over.
"(Receiver) Ted Ginn has done it, Alvin Kamara has done it, (receiver) Austin Carr has done it," Payton said Thursday morning. "Those guys have all taken snaps at it and we'll look at the type of returns we want to run and then have a plan accordingly. Those guys caught punts throughout camp and are guys that are comfortable doing it."
In addition to readying a new returner, there's this factor: Payton said that Atlanta punter Matt Bosher led the league in hang time last year, so that can make it difficult even to construct a return. Last year, Bosher forced 23 fair catches on 53 punts, and 22 returns by opponents produced 179 yards.
Ginn, perhaps, will have the first shot. By far, the 12-year veteran is the most experienced punt returner on the roster. Ginn has 257 career punt returns, for 2,600 yards and four touchdowns. Last year, he returned 19 punts for 103 yards.
"I know I'm comfortable with Alvin back there," Payton said. "Ted Ginn is someone who has done it; we've just got to get that gas can in his locker and get him going, because he's someone that can give you some juice in that area. And then pay attention to the other guys we're working with and then other guys that are outside the building."
TEDDY'S READY: Payton said that Teddy Bridgewater is prepared to play if the backup quarterback is pressed into duty. "He was our backup Week 1. He's a quick study. I think the room is doing well. Right away, you could tell that he got comfortable with what we're calling things, protections. He's doing well."
COMBO PLATTER: If it appears that a cornerback, or cornerbacks, has or have struggled, it usually is the culmination of several factors. That's the case with Ken Crawley, and the rest of the secondary. "There's been some big plays and it all kind of goes together," Payton said. "You want your hurries and your sack numbers and your quarterback pressures to go up, and when you do that, you're going to like how the corners play. If the quarterback is able to come back and take two or three hitches, it's going to be hard to cover some of those things. I think he himself would say he wants to improve and feels like he can play better. But I think collectively, I think the group needs to and I think you'll see the numbers for the corner improve."
NEXT MAN UP: The Falcons will be missing a major offensive contributor Sunday, with running back Devonta Freeman (knee) unable to play. But Atlanta still has Tevin Coleman, who ran 16 times for 107 yards in the Falcons' victory over Carolina last Sunday. "He is a fast, slashing-type runner with real good straight-line speed," Payton said. "They do a great job of aggressively denting the defense with one cut. They run that wide zone play well. It suits his skill set and he can get the play outside and circle a defense. He's got tremendous speed and athleticism."