Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks have an interesting predicament right now, saying that the top punt return options “if the season started today” are Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Percy Harvin and Bryan Walters.
Bluff much Pete?
I just want to deliver this message to 12’s everywhere, these are not going to be your September options, there’s absolutely no way. If there are two people that opposing gunners would be willing to take out regardless of penalty in the entire league it would be the two newly minted members of the L-O-B. They call that “sitting ducks” and even today’s big fines and suspensions for cheap hits might not be enough to stop the potential head-hunting for Sherm and Thomas in-particular. Therefore, it would be utter foolishness to put them in harm’s way unnecessarily, especially in a situation where they may not see the danger coming at them.
Again, it will not happen. Ole’ Pete is not that daft. He does like a good media-play though and this seems to be right up there at that level, at least in considering the two most highly paid members of his No. 1 defense.
Percy Harvin? Meh, as great as he is when he can get the ball in open space, he’s never been asked to return punts at this level. Not that he couldn’t, but again, he’s not an expendable commodity and you’ve already had to go a season without him due to a combination of injury and concussions. Everybody on the other team knows he’s injury prone so they’ll be gunning for him. Why risk it?
And it’s doubtful that Bryan Walters is on the 53-man roster come cuts, if he makes it that far. So who, you ask, might this job go to? The Hawks do have at least two solid options and I believe either Paul Richardson or Doug Baldwin will end up taking this job. Here’s why each makes sense.
P-Rich: Well, you just drafted a play-maker and a devastating speedster at that. The Seahawks have told Richardson he’ll at least get his hands in the battle for this job and with so many receivers already in the fold this may be the money-maker for the second round pick. I am simply itching to see a scenario where the opposition has to deal with Harvin coming back at them every time they score and Richardson coming at them every time they go out on downs (which happens quite a lot with this Seattle defense).
Thanks to injuries in college and being the only valuable receiver at Colorado, he has only ever returned one punt in the past 5 years (way back in 2011 for 4 yards). But he says he would relish the opportunity and this is the perfect chance to get him the ball in space without having to design a play for him or take your main group off the field. He is extremely talented at setting up blocks and cutting back as well, a must-have to be an exceptional return-man in the NFL.
You may ask, with both having injury history, why Richardson but not a more experienced and beefed up Harvin? Simple; Harvin’s more important to this offense at this point in the game and if you watched the Super Bowl like I know you did, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, Richardson will be a critical addition, but in a different way… oh, and remember that big contract Harvin is getting? Keeping him as healthy as possible is priority number one, then you can worry about getting him the ball.
Dougie Fresh: Baldwin doesn’t have any punt return experience in his four seasons, but he has been exciting for the few times he’s touched the ball as a kickoff returner. I believe it was against the 49ers when he changed momentum back to the Hawks with an electric 37 yard return in a critical juncture.
Baldwin also just may be the toughest competitor the Hawks have in their arsenal and this may be a great opportunity for him to find more value in an increasingly impressive receiving corps.
Doug excels at every new challenge the Hawks throw at him (no pun intended), so we could expect at least decent production from him in this role. Also, I can think back to several plays last season, including the Super Bowl touchdown, where Baldwin was so incredible in tight spaces and in traffic with the ball in his hands. He knows how to (and most importantly is constantly able to) get the most out of every touch and that’s the number one job of a punt returner anyway, get what you can and worry about breaking it big after you’ve done that.
Bottom line, you won’t see a member of L-O-B returning punts in 2014. I would be somewhat shocked if Richardson doesn’t get the first crack at it, but Baldwin seems like a viable, reliable option. Outside of that, who knows what Carroll comes up with.