Why do teams have different punt and kickoff returners?

Leon Washington does it all for the Jets, averaging 29.6 yards on kickoff returns and 12.9 yards on punt returns.

Despite the fact that returning kickoffs and returning punts seem to require similar skills, most teams in the NFL employ different players for each job. This year only seven teams have a player who has fielded 15 punts and 15 kicks so far. There are, of course, some notable exceptions. Return specialists like Chicago’s Devin Hester and Buffalo’s rookie Leodis McKelvin can do it all. But most others end up concentrating on one skill or the other. Why?

“Punt return and kickoff return are two totally different things,” said veteran dual returner Allen Rostrum. “They are two totally different balls. One is a tight spiral that at times turns over and at times doesn’t. Kickoff is an easier catch because it is a spiral and you can tell where it is going to land. It’s a totally different mindset. You can run forward and catch a kickoff return. Not many people can run forward with a full head of steam and catch a punt. You have to be set with punt returns because the ball can change at any moment because of the style of kick that it is.”

It’s not just fielding the kick that is different. Kickoffs can be more dangerous because the coverage team has built up speed and the returner runs right into them (Take it from Tim Brown). On punt coverage players are more likely to slow down. This means that teams aren’t willing to risk good position players on kick return. They tend to choose straight-forward speedsters who can secure the ball well.

Punt returners have to make a lot more decisions quickly. Only about half of all punts are returned. The player must decide in a split second whether to let the punt go, to fair catch, or to try for a return. If he does go for it, he must have not have excellent footwork and agility in addition to speed. While kickoff returners need to follow their blockers, see the hole, and hit it, punt returners usually have to elude a tackler or two immediately. They cannot build up speed before they must cut left and right.

Devin Hester, by the way, has seen a great drop in return production this year, causing the Bears to replace him on kick-offs last week. Perhaps multi-tasking is impossible.

Who is the greatest returner of all time?

— Tomtom    Nov 17, 05:23 PM    #

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