SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30: Brandon Tate #19 of the Cincinnati Bengals celebrates with Jeromy Miles #45 and Andrew Hawkins #16 after returning a punt for a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on October 30, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Bengals defeated the Seahawks 34-12.(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Special teams is one of the tougher prognostications because it's often a collection of leftovers from offense or defense. Yes. The varying voices echo in my mind as well, convincing this writer that special teams is one-third of the team and therefore should be taken just as seriously. Sounds nice. But it's not reality in this context. Brandon Johnson, Herana-Daze Jones were just a few players that were aces on special teams, only to have their contributions marginalized the following season. Yet they were originally placed on special teams because there wasn't a place for them on defense, rather reserve players anticipating eventual injuries.
Coach Darrin Simmons may preach continuity to the choir but the reality is that special teams is generally only developed after Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer have an idea on how their personnel packages will look, handing the rest to Simmons to find a home before they're released. Based on his contributions last year, Cedric Peerman should be a special teams lock as much as anyone. Yet his position on the roster is certainly fluid, thanks to Dan Herron who might be threatening Peerman's job security up until final cuts.
For that reason we're reluctant to go into a true special teams preview, electing a generic (and brief) look at returners and kickers, where there's a little more stability and clarity for discourse.
Kickers (2): Mike Nugent, Thomas Weber
Unless the hand of god reaches from the heavens and twists his knee, there's no reason to believe that Mike Nugent won't be kicking this year. Not with a $2.6 million franchise tag, all of which is guaranteed. Oh. Plus he was pretty good last year setting the franchise record for most points scored (132).
Punters (1): Kevin Huber
Kevin Huber, who is entering the final year under contract, could sit in during a team meeting and blow party whistles while lighting sparklers and have little fear of being replaced. Cincinnati is entering training camp with Huber, a former fifth-round selection during the 2009 NFL draft, as the only punter on the team. Despite kicking a career-high 91 punts, Huber averaged 44.2 yards/punt with a career-high net average of 39.2.
Punt/Kickoff Returners (5 or more)
This is where things could get interesting. If Brandon Tate earns a role on offense, there's a good chance that his contributions as a returner is impacted. Now you'll have to factor guys like Adam Jones, Andrew Hawkins and even Jordan Shipley, Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, who never muffed a single punt at Cal. But like we said during the introduction, those competing as a punt returner are likely leftovers from roles dictated on offense and defense.
If it makes any difference, ADAM Jones really wants the job as a punt returner.
"I want that job," he said. "I really want that job. I'll leave it at that. The [coaches] pretty much know I want to be back there on the punt return."
Kickoff return may invite more into the scope of competition, though the combatants will probably be the same.