News: Mosley | Cowboys must pump some life into return game

Discussion in 'News Zone' started by Bluefin, Jul 20, 2004.

  1. Bluefin

    Bluefin Well-Known Member

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    Matt Mosley: Cowboys must pump some life into return game

    08:04 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 20, 2004

    Contrary to popular belief, Cowboys coach Bill Parcells’ biggest disappointment last season may not have been an anemic running game. The team was somewhat impressive in the time-of-possession category despite the fact that running back Troy Hambrick appeared to be on a treadmill.

    Parcells found ways to compensate for a poor running game. But he couldn’t find a way to compensate for an ineffective return game.

    From the start of training camp last season, Parcells seemed obsessed with special teams. Each news conference eventually turned into Special Teams 101, which allowed Parcells to reminisce about former Giants return men such as Dave Meggett and Phil McConkey.

    He brought in former Bills special teams coach Bruce DeHaven, who had a reputation for producing spectacular coverage units. Not a misprint: In 1991, the Bills allowed 53 yards in punt returns – the entire season.

    DeHaven also had a reputation for producing dynamic return units. In 2002, when DeHaven was with San Francisco, Jimmy Williams led the NFL in punt return average at 16.8 yards. And the previous season, rookie Vinny Sutherland broke the team record for most kickoff yards with 1,140 yards (22.8).

    The Chiefs, Eagles and Patriots – three of the NFL’s top teams last season – all had explosive return games. Kansas City’s Dante Hall led the league with a 16.3-yard punt return average and two touchdowns. Brian Westbrook of the Eagles was second with 15.3 yards and two touchdowns. And the Super Bowl champion Patriots’ kick return specialist, Bethel Johnson, averaged 28.2 yards per kick return, which was second in the league.

    The Cowboys averaged 7.6 yards on punt returns and 21.5 on kickoff returns. Dallas had nine players return kicks and three players return punts. The Cowboys haven't had a consistent threat in the return game since Deion Sanders in 1997-99, when he averaged 13.1 yards per punt return.

    That’s a big reason why the team spent two of its draft picks on players who could help in the return game. Northwestern Oklahoma State’s Patrick “The Comma” Crayton has played safety, quarterback and receiver. But what caught Parcells’ eye is that Crayton returned 10 punts and two kicks for touchdowns for the NAIA school.

    And Crayton said he had five touchdowns called back.

    Parcells was blunt with Crayton when he arrived for a rookie minicamp.

    “He told me they were horrible in the return game,” Crayton said. “He said, ‘You want the job?'

    “He said I had to shine above the rest to win it.”

    Crayton will be competing with fellow seventh-round pick and defensive back Nate Jones of Rutgers and second-year receiver Zuriel Smith in training camp. Jones had two 100-yard kick returns for touchdowns in 2002 and was named Big East co-Special Teams Player of the Year. Smith, who averaged 7.1 yards per punt return and 21.5 yards on kickoffs, showed some promise last season, but he fumbled too often for Parcells' liking.

    Crayton said he’s studied film of Hall and Westbrook. He also watched Brian Mitchell when he was one of the league’s top return specialists for the Eagles.

    “Mitchell was the model of consistency,” Crayton said. “All he needed was a seam. I’d have to say that I’m a mixture of those guys.”

    Crayton said one of the keys to returning punts is picking up the ball as it comes off the punter’s foot. He compared it to being an outfielder in baseball.

    “You have to know whether he got it good right away,” Crayton said. “The faster you find that out, the better head start you can have.”

    Crayton said he prefers returning punts because of the “rush” that he feels.

    “How many guys can you make miss?” Crayton said. “They’re coming full speed to try and get a kill shot on you. You don’t want them to get a clean shot.”

    And to think, you thought Parcells was the one obsessed with the return game?

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