Last year, wide receiver Brandon Tate was picked up on waivers from the New England Patriots on the final day of roster cuts. He wasn't asked to contribute on offense at all, with only a handful of snaps at wide receiver and zero targets, but rather to become the team's primary kick and punt returner. Now, Tate has moved on to become a leading candidate to take the second wide receiver spot.
This year, a host of elusive, speedy players are on the team fighting for either of the two starting return positions. Head coach Marvin Lewis listed the candidates in a chat with Cincinnati.com last Wednesday:
Adam Jones will have an opportunity as well as Brandon Tate and Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins as punt returners. Tate, Hawkins and Aaron Brown, [Kashif] Moore and [Taveon] Rogers will get plenty of looks in kickoff returns.
Cornerback Adam Jones said earlier in the offseason that he really wants the punt return job.
"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."
Adam Jones definitely has the vision and physical capabilities to be an elite punt returner in this league, but the big question is his injury history. If the Bengals need Jones to play significant snaps at cornerback as well, he might not be given the opportunity to return punts in the regular season.
It's good to see Andrew Hawkins on both lists. His agility and quickness is among the best in the league. Mohamed Sanu and Jordan Shipley, who both have a successful history as return men, however, were not listed.
It's also interesting that four of the five players Lewis listed for kick returns are bubble players that might not make the team. Hawkins is in a battle to become the sixth wide receiver on the roster, while running back Aaron Brown is considered an outsider to beat out Cedric Peerman and Boom Herron for the fourth running back spot. Taveon Rogers and Kashif Moore are both undrafted wide receivers who will have an even harder time making this team than Hawkins.