The Buccaneers began the preseason schedule with Preston Parker occupying the top spot on the depth chart at both kickoff and punt return. Parker ran into some difficulty with ball security, however, and by Week Two of the regular season it was Sammie Stroughter on punts and Arrelious Benn on kickoffs.
Stroughter was a practiced hand at that former task but now, unfortunately, is on injured reserve. Benn looked promising on kickoffs in New York but that was his first-ever exposure to that job on the NFL level. Obviously, the team will be looking for somebody new for at least the punt return job, as Stroughter is unavailable and Parker is no longer with the team. Fortunately, there are several new options to consider following three new signings (or re-signings) this week to the receiving corps.
Head Coach Greg Schiano clearly wants to explore any potential opportunities to improve a return game that ranks 29th in the league on punts and 20th on kickoffs.
“We’re getting better on the kickoff return,” he said. “We continue to. Week One I was disappointed, Week Two you could see a glimmer of light, so Week Three we have a chance to improve.”
All of the new additions (or returns) to the roster have some kick return experience. Jordan Shipley was outstanding in that capacity at the University of Texas, averaging 12.5 yards and scoring three touchdowns on 30 punt returns and averaging 24.6 yards per try and one more score on kickoff returns. Tiquan Underwood was involved in the kickoff return game all four years at Rutgers and averaged 22.2 yards per attempt on 37 tries. Chris Owusu averaged an outstanding 27.3 yards and scored three times on 78 kickoff returns at Stanford.
It’s nice to have all those new options, but Head Coach Greg Schiano was actually pleased with Benn’s first go at kickoff return (Benn also got his hand in the return game at the University of Illinois), and thinks he has big-play potential. Benn showed that off with a 55-yard return to set up a field goal just after halftime.
“He’s capable of taking it [the distance] at any time,” said Schiano. “He’s got tremendous speed and the thing that I like about when he’s returning is that he is strong. So one arm tackle and he’s running through that thing. When you have that ability to run through the arm tackle and have long speed like he does you have got a chance.”