In the last few weeks of the 2012 season, I was feeling pretty good about the new kick returner the Colts had. Heck, he even delivered a game-changing 101-yard kickoff return in the Colts big win over the Texans in week 17.
And then, this offseason, the Colts let him walk.
Back to square one?
Deji Karim is gone, and his departure brings many questions to the Colts about who will handle the kick return duties this season.
The team drafted running back Kerwynn Williams out of Utah State, and the Colts are very hopeful that he can handle the kick return duties.
Ryan Grigson said after they drafted him that "our special teams coaches had him rated as one of the best returners in this draft." Chuck Pagano added that, "we saw, last game of the season, what a kickoff return can do for you. Turned the whole thing around and blew that thing open. This kid can do that all day."
As you can tell, the team is really counting on the rookie being able to handle the return duties. And, because of that, he likely will get the majority of the time there when the team practices it and during preseason. But, as we’re used to with the Colts, this could be a position that is pretty fluid and one that, really, isn’t settled for a while.
Last year, four guys currently on the team returned kicks for the Colts, and zero of them were that impressive. Cassius Vaughn returned 10 kicks for 209 yards (20.9 average). T.Y. Hilton returned 7 for 118 yards (16.9), Joe Lefeged 4 for 68 yards (17.0) and LaVon Brazill returned 3 kicks for 50 yards (16.7 average).
By comparison, in his career at Utah State, Williams returned 135 kicks for a 25.2 average.
If Williams can do that for the Colts, then this discussion is useless and the rookie will absolutely be the returner. And really, that’s probably going to be the case no matter if he does that or not. They just don’t have many options that are that appealing, and Williams is the only one that fans likely will get excited about.
While I think the battle at kick returner won’t amount to much outside of Williams, the battle at punt returner could be more interesting. T.Y. Hilton returned 26 punts last year, totaling 300 yards (11.5 yard average) and scored on a 75-yard touchdown against the Bills. He did well enough at the spot that I think he will likely enter camp as the "starter," but the hope is that Williams could return punts as well. He will play a much less significant role in the offense than Hilton, so if the production is roughly the same I’d expect Williams to get the nod.
In college, Williams returned 11 punts for 135 yards (12.3 yard average).
Obviously, the biggest key for anybody contending for a returner spot is DON’T FUMBLE THE FREAKING FOOTBALL. If you fumble in preseason, you’re pretty much done. You have to be a special returner to be excused from that offense. So, let me just offer some advice to the returner hopefuls: DON’T FUMBLE!
This is a battle that we watch every camp and preseason, and it won’t be any different this year. We’ll look at multiple guys that get a shot to return, and in the end, we’re likely going to end up not loving any of them. But, if it does happen that there is a returner who really impresses, it will be Kerwynn Williams. I’m hopeful but cautious. It’s something that I will definitely be watching during camp and preseason and something that I’m sure many of you will be watching as well.
For more on the Colts’ kick returner battle, check out Andrew Mishler’s article on the subject here.