Training camp is right around the corner, and as always, there are several key storylines to keep an eye on at this point in the offseason.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll highlight some of the more noteworthy ones set to play out at Jack Hammett Sports Complex as well as during the preseason.
Who Returns Kickoffs?
Desmond King II was a stud returner last year.
In fact, the cornerback earned AP Second-Team All-Pro honors as a punt returner, averaging 13.8 yards per return on 23 attempts. He notably recorded a pivotal 73-yard punt return touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking home Week 13’s AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors in the process. In addition, King also authored a pick-six vs. the Seattle Seahawks, becoming the first player since 2011 to return a punt and interception for touchdowns in the same season. He’s also only the seventh player since 2000 to accomplish that feat as well.
“Desmond’s progression, in terms of a punt returner, has been outstanding,” Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator George Stewart said. “He’s a strong runner. I think he was a second-team All-Pro in that area last year. We continue to look for Desmond to do big things for us, as well.”
While King’s punt return prowess certainly comes to mind, he also proved to be a solid kickoff returner as well. He brought back 22 kickoffs, averaging 23.7 yards per attempt with a long of 40. In the playoffs, he began the second half by returning a kickoff 72 yards against the Baltimore Ravens.
Clearly, King made an impact in the return game, and will be looked upon to provide a boost once again.
However, Stewart noted that while he likes King as a kickoff returner, he’s not the only one who may line up back there in 2019.
“Desmond is our guy as well — but again, you look at the guys that (General Manager) Tom (Telesco) has brought in the past few years,” he said. “Austin Ekeler could be back there this year. You look at Detrez (Newsome) could be back there this year. We just signed a young man, (Jeremy) Cox, who was a great return guy back in college. We’re looking at different combinations, but right now, Desmond is that featured guy. He averaged about (just under) 24 yards a year ago. The kick return team, I think, was in the top-10 or just barely out of the top-10. He’s done a good job as well.”
Fans are familiar with the pair of running backs mentioned as Ekeler returned kickoffs for the Bolts in 2017 while Newsome flashed in that role last preseason with a 63-yard return. Meanwhile, Cox is an undrafted free agent who signed with the Bolts after averaging 24.5 yards per kickoff return with a long of 68 during his collegiate career at Old Dominion.