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Camp Competition: The Returners

Terrence Wilkins   T.J. Rushing

If you look at the numbers, it almost goes without saying: the punt and kick returners for the 2005 Colts sucked!

Now, I've heard Colts fans on a few message boards say that former punt returner Troy Walters (who defected to Arizona along with Edgerrin James this past off-season) was a solid punt returner.

Solid?

I guess 7.6 yards per return (ranked 20th of 32 in the whole NFL, with the longest punt return going for only 29 yards) for some means "solid." To me, that means he stunk. Usually, when asked to define was a "solid" returner is, football people usually say it means someone who doesn't turn the ball over. This describes Walters. In 24 punts he returned last season, he fumbled 0 of them. However, for someone like me, the fact that you've never fumbled a punt return doesn't make you a good or even a solid punt returner.

When you don't royally screw up your job, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are good at it.

Punt returners who fumble suck, and they shouldn't have handled the punts in the first place. So, while I do appreciate that Troy did not fumble away the ball last year, I fully expect the next person who handles the punt return duties to be equally efficient at NOT FUMBLING, because if he fumbles the ball on a regular basis, or at a crucial time in a game, someone should be fired (hint, hint- the special teams coach).

With Walters gone to sunny Arizona, the Colts have a hole at the returner position. This hole widened when Edgerrin James left and last year's kick returner, Dominic Rhodes, was promoted to the full-time starter at running back. To remedy this, the Colts drafted T.J. Rushing from Stanford in the 7th round. They actually traded to get the pick because they wanted Rushing so badly.

Rushing stands 5'11'' and averaged 27.4 a return with 2 TDs at Stanford last year. He's fast, quick, and known for his breakaway ability. In Rushing, the Colts may have found the game-breaking returner they've lacked since the days of Clarence Verdin.

While Rushing has tremendous upside (as a returner only), the Colts were not comfortable trusting their ENTIRE return game to a friggin' 7th round rookie. Re-enter Terrence Wilkins in his third stint with the Colts.

Wilkins, like Dominic Rhodes, is a real NFL success story. He was undrafted out of Virginia, and stands all of 5'10'' as a wide receiver. The Colts picked him up in 1999 as an undrafted free agent rookie. In 2000, he beat out favorites Jerome Pathon and E.G. Green to lineup as the #2 wide receiver with Marvin Harrison. He caught 43 balls for 569 yards and 3 TDs that year.

Terrence is known for his hard work, toughness, and durability. While guys like E.G. Green could never stay healthy, Wilkins was always there to fill in. He was also the team's kick and punt returner from 1999-2002. Terrence was traded to the Rams in 2002, where he sucked so bad Rams fans wondered aloud whether then-coach Mike Martz was an idiot for trading for him (turns out he was a idiot, but for other reasons). Terrence had trouble understanding Mike Martz's over-rated and overly complicated passing game. Heck, St. Louis fans had trouble understanding Martz's offense, especially in Super Bowl XLI when he refused to run Marshall Faulk at the Patriots.

Photo: Mike Martz- complete moron

Now, Wilkins is back (again), liberated from the oppressive hijinks of Mike Martz. He'll get the chance to return kicks for the Colts this year, and potentially punts if Rushing is a deer-in-the-headlights handling the punts. Either way, both are upgrades over Walters and Rhodes. It will be interesting to see who gets the job. If Rushing does well in training camp, the job is his. However, the Colts will most likely keep Wilkins for insurance going into the season anyway.