By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots appear to lack stability at the punt returner spot. But Bill Belichick doesn’t sound too concerned about it. He might even do it himself.
Speaking at his Friday press conference, Belichick spoke at length about the differences between catching a punt and catching a kick return. Among other factors, there’s a lot more movement involved in punts for both the ball and the players. Belichick explained those nuances, as well as the coachability of the position.
In the process, Belichick put a pretty amusing picture in everyone’s mind.
“I feel like I can catch punts, just because I know where the ball is going to go,” Belichick joked during his Friday press conference at Gillette Stadium. “Well, I might drop it. But I can pick up the direction, I can get under the ball. I think it can be a learned skill. I don’t think you have to have had a lot of experience doing it. But I think once you understand where the ball’s going to go, where you need to be to catch it, then it’s a matter of concentration and being able to catch it.”
When asked if that means we might see him back there as the punt returner, Belichick joked “No, we don’t want that.” He has, however, caught hundreds of punts in practices over the years. His point is that punt returning can be a “teachable skill,” citing Julian Edelman’s total lack of experience in the role upon arriving in the NFL.
Ultimately, Edelman may resolve the punt return issue simply when he’s back in the lineup in Week 5.
The Patriots enter Sunday’s AFC Championship rematch against the Jacksonville Jaguars with someone new fielding punts, after the now-released Riley McCarron muffed a late attempt against the Houston Texans. Kenjon Barner, who just signed with the Patriots on Wednesday, has by far the most punt return experience of anyone on the active roster. So he’s the most likely choice. Barner has returned 30 punts in his career.
Safety Patrick Chung? Three. But there’s also a chance he has to field one at some point against the Jags. He realizes that his main job, should Belichick assign him punt return duties, is to take care of the football.
“Yeah, just good decisions,” Chung said on Thursday. “You don’t want to force it. That’s kind of a general rule and if you are able to get the opportunity to try to make a play, make a play. Protect the ball, call it a day.”
We’ll see if Belichick tries to coach up someone unexpected to be a punt returner in the coming weeks. Cordarrelle Patterson looms, but he’s almost exclusively been a kick returner in his career. For now, expect Barner to be back there. Maybe Chung. Definitely not Belichick.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.