Ever since Pharoh Coopers all-pro special teams season in 2017, the Rams have struggled in the punt/kick return department. Now with JoJo Natson released, who will the Rams newly hired Coach Bonamego turn over those duties to in the 2020 season? We explored some of the possible options for what the team might be looking to do.
Will it be a veteran?
In 2019 Rams punt returner JoJo Natson got sidelined for 5 weeks due to injury to his hamstring, giving an opportunity for Nsimba Webster to show the organization that he can provide versatility as a dual-threat player. A sure-handed wide receiver and also someone who you could rely on for Punt/Kick return duties. However, the games where he appeared, it wasn’t the flashiest. In Websters 5 games played in the punt return game, Webster had 7 returns for 18 yards while averaging 2.6 yards a return. In the kick return game, he had 2 returns for 57 yards total with a long of 30 yards. We should give Webster the benefit of the doubt though as that’s not much of a sample size. If he were to be given this whole offseason with starting repetitions in practice, I am sure he would excel in that position for the team.
Will it be a rookie?
Earnest Edwards was a dynamic football player at Maine. Edwards led the team in several different categories such as receptions, receiving yards, and all-purpose yards in 2019. In 2018 Edwards was recognized for his spectacular special teams play by being named to the 2018 New England Football Writers all New England team as a kick return specialist. He was also an All-CAA first team kick return specialist. Edwards returned kicks all 4 years at Maine and racked up a total of 2,247 yards in his collegiate football career. While he didn’t have many attempts as a punt returner, I am sure he could get the role down quickly given his success with the kick returns. Edward’s resume has it all and he could give Webster a run for his money this offseason.
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In Maine's CAA Title clinching win over Elon, Earnest Edwards returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Edwards, whose TDs totaled 95 and 93-yds, respectively, became the first Black Bear in history to notch a pair of kickoff return TDs in the same game.#BlackBearNation pic.twitter.com/o9ddosVqkP
— Maine Football (@BlackBearsFB) January 18, 2019
While Easop Winston wasn’t known for his special team efforts in college and doesn’t have the resume Edwards provides for that role, he is an absolute playmaker and knows how to get the ball into the endzone as he recorded 11 touchdowns in 2019. If you thought JoJo Natson was fast, Winston is faster as he ran a 4.42 40 time at his virtual pro day. With that speed and ability to catch the ball, I don’t see why Winston wouldn’t be given a shot at trying to win that job in camp.
Could it be a returning face?
Yep, I said it, Tavon Austin. Austin is currently a free agent still and while we know he didn’t show much success as the Rams first-round wide receiver draft pick, we all know he can be electric in the return game. If the Rams could offer the vet minimum and if he’d be willing to accept that, I’d be welcome to a return. But this acquisition will be unlikely given Austin’s former team the Dallas Cowboys hired the Rams long time special teams coordinator John Fassel this offseason and I am sure coach bones will want Austin back with the star on his helmet.
While we don’t have an idea of what Coach Bonamego is game-planning of doing for these roles, these are some viable options that could be expected to give it a go during training camp and we should all feel confident with these players. Also, With Hard Knocks premiering on Tuesday, August 11th, we might get more of a visual of who and how are they’re allocating these repetitions to.