Punt v. Kick Returner

What different qualities do coaches look for when choosing punt returners as compared to kick returners?

I could see where sure handedness would be more important for punt returners. True? What else?

I think a kick returner needs to have a lot of top-end speed and good vision. That’s why I think you see a lot of running backs work out there. Hands are important, but you can drop a ball and still have enough time to pick it up. The return probably won’t be as good, but you’re not looking at a turnover.

The ones working at kick return right now are some of the fastest on the team - Jones, Reed and Hammonds. I wonder if Deon Stewart may get a look. He is supposedly the fastest player on the roster.

For a punt returner, the No. 1 trait is to be able to catch the ball. That’s why I think you see more receivers there. You also have to have good lateral speed to side step the gunners. That’s why someone like Joe Adams did so well. He didn’t have the best 40-time, but he was very quick moving side to side. I think shorter players are a little better there, too, because they are typically harder to tackle.

Jared Cornelius fits that mold.

Punt returners need to be shiftier, able to make people miss (think Joe Adams against Tennessee for what I mean). KOR is more straight line speed, hit the crease hard.

Number 1 for both is to still have the ball when the play is over. After that comes different type runners. I agree with the comments above about those. Both also need to be able to make sound decisions such as to fair catch or not, to let the punt go into Ezone or field it (remember Florida Championship game?), and is the ball brought out or take it on the 25. Very important that the right choice is made.

Great insight. Thanks, folks!

To add on to what others have said, consider that there’s catching the ball, and then there’s catching it when someone is running full speed and arriving at approximately the same time the ball arrives. That’s what a punt returner often has to deal with. That’s a LOT different than fielding a kickoff, for which (UNLESS it’s a short pooch kick landing at the 20-25), there is usually no one within 20 yards of you when you catch the ball.

So, job #1 AND job #2 of a punt returner is to consistently field the ball. Secondary to that, but still very important, is to have the good judgement to (a) know when to catch it and when to let it go (see Reggie Fish in the 2006 SEC Championship game). This skill also involves catching the ball at say, the 30, instead of letting it hit and roll inside the 10.

AFTER those skills, there’s speed and elusiveness. That’s why you’ve seen guys like Peyton Hilliis, Rossi Morreale, Steadman Campbell and Jerell Norton field punts instead of their much faster and more exciting teammates over the years. Some years you have an “exciting” guy who has those ball catching and judgement skills (Gary Anderson, Joe Adams, etc.); some years, you don’t.

Funny story. I was walking across campus one day and saw Reggie. He was wearing a 2006 SEC championship game T-shirt. :shock:

I am still convinced Arkansas would have won that game if it had not been for that play.