Stop The Punt Returner Madness

Took notice of this commentary from PennLive's Joe Hermitt advocating against Evan Royster as punt returner:

Is it just me, or does this seem like a disaster waiting to happen? Royster, a second team All-Big Ten choice in 2008 as well as a 1,200 yard rusher, is arguably the Lions' second most valuable offensive player, behind quarterback Daryll Clark. The valuable Royster has already taken one cheap shot fielding a punt against Akron, drawing a 15 yard penalty. Unlike carrying the ball from the running back position, fielding punts, with gunners flying down the field at breakneck speed, leaves the returner more vulnerable.

According to the Patriot-News Penn State beat reporter Bob Flounders, Paterno said "Right now, Royster's the best one we have" While that may be true, several others seem like they could fill the role--speedy wide out Chaz Powell, cornerback A.J. Wallace or lightning-fast freshman Devon Smith. Paterno has historically chosen more experienced, sure handed guys to stick back there (remember Calvin Lowery?) so don't look for the exciting Smith anytime soon.

It's time for a little common sense here.  The 15-yard penalty mentioned was an Akron player delivering a late shot and leading with his helmet.  That has nothing to do with the action during a punt return -- it was just a guy making a stupid decision around the pile, which can happen on any play.  It wasn't like Royster was looking skyward at the descending punt and was blasted between the numbers with a helmet.

Additionally, yes, we can name a number of players who are faster than Royster.  Powell and Devon Smith have questionable hands, and did not perform well on punt returning duties in practice.  A.J. Wallace dropped a relatively easy interception last week.  These are not people who should be returning punts.  Catching a punt takes a special kind of talent -- try it sometime.  It's a hell of a lot different than catching a kickoff, both in trajectory and the distance between the point of catch and oncoming tacklers.  It's not a position for the inexperienced or butterfingered.

If the coaches determine that Royster is the best guy for the job, why is anyone questioning it?  What happened to the theory of getting the ball in the hands of your best players?  Dez Bryant and Jeremy Maclin returned punts for Okie State and Missouri last year.  They were pretty important to their teams.  Same with Arrelious Benn at Illinois and Kyle Wilson (WAC 1st team CB) at Boise State. 

Please, let's stop pretending that Joe Paterno is using a beefy fullback as a punt returner.  It's an all-conference tailback who set up his blocks and has the best vision of any Penn State running back of the past 20 years.  If other guys earn the coaches' trust and can catch the ball, they'll eventually get a shot.  Relax.

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