One of the most overlooked aspects of a game of football is special teams. I think that just about everyone is guilty of not paying enough attention to this phase of the game, unless you are a special teams coach. I know for certain that I am guilty of it. The Atlanta Falcons kick/punt returner over the past few seasons, Eric Weems, was a major part of the Falcons special teams. Over the years he has returned a pair of kickoffs and a couple punts for touchdowns, and those are very valuable plays. The most important thing that he brings to the table though, was that he was able to consistently put the Falcons in good field position. The best example of this that I saw was in the 2010 regular season matchup against the Green Bay Packers. The Falcons could easily have played for overtime in that game, but on the strength of a terrific kick return by Weems, the Falcons only needed to move the ball about 20 yards to get into field goal range and go for the win. Even if a returner doesn’t take the ball back for six points, he can still be a huge asset.
Here is the problem for the 2012 Falcons: Eric Weems is no longer with the team. After the 2011 season, Weems became a free agent, and signed a contract with the Chicago Bears. That puts the Bears in a great position from a special teams standpoint, but it leaves the Falcons is quite a bind.
Who will replace Weems as the Falcons kick returner? Here is my list of candidates for the position. This is in no way comprehensive or authoritative, but here are some of the people competing for the job:
- Dominique Franks. Franks is a 4th or 5th string cornerback on the Falcons 2012 roster, and he could be a valuable contributor in special teams. He has only had 1 punt return in the NFL, but he did it a good bit in college. He may not be a kick returner, but I could see him as a punt returner.
- Harry Douglas. I think that Douglas has a great chance at being the kickoff return man, as well as a shot at returning punts. Douglas is very fast, very quick, has experience returning at both the NFL and college levels. Hopefully he can take over as a dominant special teams player, without it adversely affecting his role in the offense.
- Jacquizz Rodgers. Perhaps not as fast as he is quick, his high level of maneuverability makes his a potential weapon for the Falcons in the return game. He does have a good amount of speed, but more importantly he can make a man miss, and isn’t likely to get caught from behind. Yet another individual who could certainly contribute for the Falcons on special teams.
There are other players who doubtless could contribute that I haven’t mentioned, but as far as the return game, these are three of the best options that are already on the roster. Hopefully the Falcons get their return game figured out quickly, as beginning with poor field position is a heavy burden to bear.