Devin and Rock: A kick-returning duo?
Second-year wide receiver Devin Thomas held his own as a kick returner against New England on Friday night. In his NFL debut in the role, he averaged 26.3 yards on three returns. That’s the highest mark of any Redskin this preseason.
Special teams coach Danny Smith, however, was coy today when asked whether Thomas will continue returning kicks.
"First time out, he did OK," Smith said. "We’ll try anything and anybody. If they can do it, we’ll put him out there."
Smith’s response wasn’t exactly surprising because this is a bit of a delicate situation.
You see, Rock Cartwright, the Redskins No. 1 return man, is a core special teamer. He’s been the top kick returner for the last three seasons, and it’s his main contribution to the team. Smith has worked closely with Cartwright throughout his entire tenure here, so he’s understandably loyal.
But there are some obvious advantages to utilizing Thomas in that role.
Most importantly, Thomas is faster and more explosive than Cartwright. This isn’t up for debate. Even just looking at Cartwright’s numbers, he has only one kickoff return for a touchdown in 183 career returns. He’s a solid return man–he ranked sixth in the NFC last season with a 25.6-yard average–but he’s not an overwhelming threat to take it to the house.
Thomas, meanwhile, had some success in the role at Michigan State. During his senior year, he ranked 11th in the country with 29.1-yard return average. He never returned one for a TD, though.
But if Thomas is stuck in the No. 4 wideout position, getting the ball in his hands on a regular basis could help him get into the flow of the game, which could in turn help him make a bigger impact as a receiver.
Coach Jim Zorn said he liked what he saw from Thomas on Friday. Not only did Thomas do well on returns, he caught three passes for 36 yards–his best receiving output of the preseason.
"On that first kickoff, had we made one more block a little bit better–he knew it, I think we all knew it–he might have been even further up the field. That sparked him to take every kickoff as hard as he could go and try to break one. I love that attitude. It transferred into his concentration level the whole game. He made some significant plays."
So it would seem to make sense to put both Cartwright and Thomas back there and see what the two of them can do.
Cartwright said he believes that arrangement could work, providing "each guy has to do their part." When the ball is kicked to one guy, the other guy is going to be accountable. I think it’s about holding each other accountable back there. If the ball is kicked to Devin and he’s back there with me, then I’ve got to block for Devin. If the ball is kicked to me, then Devin needs to block for me. You have to have each other’s back in that aspect of the game.
Cartwright added: "Any time you got a guy back there with speed like Devin has who has big play capability, it definitely can help you. I don’t plan on giving him my job, but if Danny wants to put him back there then I’m all for it."
Thomas would need more repetitions to hone his skills at the position, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back there more often, starting with Thursday’s game against Jacksonville.
Would you like to see Thomas returning kicks?