On the 1st of June, we took a look at the Redskins options for returners as we headed into camp. That article identified Greg Stroman, Trey Quinn and Darvin Kidsy as rookies who had experience as punt returners in college. It added Danny Johnson and Martez Carter as rookies who had experience returning kickoffs.
In this article, we will look at the young players who have actually returned punts and kickoffs in the fist two preseason games; we will rank the returns from best to worst, and see what that tells us about the players involved and implications for the Redskins’ return game in 2018.
Patriots - Preseason Week 1
Three players — Greg Stroman, Maurice Harris and Danny Johnson — split punt return duties, as Stroman went back to receive three of the Patriots’ five punts, and Harris and Johnson returned one each.
Jets - Preseason Week 2
In the second preseason game against the Jets, Trey Quinn impressed with two positive punt returns for the Redskins, while Danny Johnson was the only player who returned punts in Week 1 to repeat as a punt returner in Week 2.
In all, Stroman led with 3 returns, Quinn and Johnson returned two punts each, and Mo Harris had one.
There were only four Redskin kickoff returns in the first two preseason games — two by Byron Marshall and two by Darvin Kidsy — and only one of them was really successful. Marshall had the one good kickoff return, while Kidsy gave the coaches two more reasons not to put him on the final 53-man roster at the end of the month.
Ranking and reviewing
This article aims to review those punt and kickoff returns and try to sort out who is winning the competition (and who might be falling behind) through the first two preseason games. Coaches and personnel guys will be cutting the roster from 90 to 53 players in about wo weeks. Typically, going into the third preseason game, coaches like to have a lot of the roster decisions already made. Has anyone locked down the jobs of punt returner (or backup, if coaches decide to stick with Jamison Crowder as the return man) or kick returner?
Reuniting with Gibbs4potus
Three months ago, I published a profile on every Redskin undrafted free agent. In that series of articles, the heavy lifting was done by Gibbs4potus (@westcoast_skins), who spent a lot of time to do detailed film study of every UDFA that the Redskins had under contract in May.
For this article — and for two more that will follow prior to Friday’s game against the Broncos — I again enlisted Gibbs4potus to do the hard work of looking at the two preseason games — play-by-play — in order to analyze the individual performances of the Redskin players who are competing for roster spots.
Note: While the conception of the article was to focus on the rookies in camp, a couple of players with limited veteran experience, Byron Marshall and Maurice Harris, have been included, since they were involved in the return game against the Patriots and Jets.
Today’s article focuses on the return game, but two more articles will follow in the coming days: one focused on running backs, and the other on receivers.
Let’s see what Gibbs4potus had to say following his detailed film review of the Redskins return game.
The analysis of Redskin rookie returners by Gibbs4potus
This analysis starts by ranking the 12 returns by Redskins rookies (plus Marshall & Harris) in the first two preseason games.
The Redskins have many players competing to win a job with the team as a kickoff returner or punt returner. Winning one of these jobs could ensure each player a spot on the 53 man roster. So far, Byron Marshall and Darvin Kidsy have returned kickoffs this preseason while Greg Stroman, Danny Johnson, Maurice Harris and Trey Quinn have returned punts.
The Redskins had 12 punt and kickoff returns over the first 2 preseason games. Some were nullified by penalties, but, since I was looking at them for the purposes of grading the returners’ performances, I included them here as I ranked all twelve returns from best to worst:
#1 - The BEST return of the preseason to-date
Trey Quinn punt return, Jets game, 3rd Quarter, 7:37 on the clock
Trey Quinn surprised me with a great return on his first attempt as a Redskin. Quinn got under the ball at the Redskins 10 yard line and did what I like most in returners — he caught the ball cleanly and took it directly upfield (shades of Brian Mitchell!!).
By initially returning the punt upfield, Quinn was able to set up the blocks for his teammates against his would-be tacklers.
When he reached the 17 yard line, Quinn made a great read and cut left as his blockers walled off the Jets. He ran until he was tackled at the Redskins 32 yard line.
Quinn didn’t return many punts at SMU, but, with this return, at least, he showed fans and coaches that he can probably be effective in that role in the NFL. Quinn is expected to back up Jamison Crowder as a slot receiver and he will have a good shot at backing him up as the punt returner also. If Crowder falters as a returner, the Redskins may even choose to let Quinn or another player take return opportunities away from him.
#2 - Stroman’s first punt return as a Redskin versus the Patriots, 1st Quarter, 9:25 on the clock
Greg Stroman had the first punt return of the preseason when he caught a Patriots punt at the Redskins’ 30-yard line. Stroman sprinted inside the hashmarks and turned upfield. Two Patriots whiffed on tackles before Stroman was brought down by the third tackler after a 19 yard gain, setting the Redskins offense up near mid-field.
#3 - Maurice Harris makes his only punt return count versus the Patriots, 2nd Quarter, 6:14 on the clock
Maurice Harris only returned one punt in the first 2 games but it was a very good one. He had a nice initial burst between blocks on his way to a 20 yard return. Harris could have had even more yards on his return but he had some hesitation in the form of stutter stepping in an attempt to juke tacklers.
#4 - Byron Marshall has the BEST KICKOFF return of the Redskins preseason versus the Jets, 2nd Quarter, 13:02 on the clock
Byron Marshall had the best kickoff return so far, and it came in the first half vs the Jets. He caught the ball at the 4 yard line and sprinted upfield between blocks to the 25 yard line. Marshall did lose control of the ball at the end of the play, but after being ruled a fumble on the field, the call was overturned when video showed that Marshall’s knee was down.
#5 - Quinn gets 7 yards on a punt return versus the Jets, 3rd Quarter, 2:15 on the clock
Quinn had back to back punt returns vs the Jets. He caught the second of those at the Redskins’ 33 yard line and went directly upfield before being tackled at the Redskins’ 40 yard line. Quinn stopped with a crunch of players in front of him when he should have cut around them or he could have had more yards on this return.
After the top 5, the remaining seven returns by the Redskins return men each left something to be desired.
#6 - Byron Marshall makes a poor choice on a kickoff return versus the Patriots, 3rd Quarter, 4:44 on the clock
Marshall ran a kickoff back from 8 yards deep in the end zone in the second half vs the Patriots. He showed good quickness on the return but it was not a wise choice to bring the ball out since he only reached the 18 yard line.
BiB: I posted a comment after the game, saying that I think the Redskins coaches may have asked Marshall to return this ball if he possibly could. The game was approaching the 4th quarter, and every Patriots kickoff prior to this one had been a touchback. I believe Kotwica and Gruden may have wanted to get a look at the ‘Skins ST blocking. If so, then this weak return wasn’t “on” Marshall.
#7 - UDFA Danny Johnson struggles to field the ball in his first chance to return a punt for the Redskins versus the Patriots, 2nd Quarter, 3:18 on the clock
Johnson misjudged this punt in the first half vs the Patriots. It caused him to catch the ball with bad form but he showed a great burst to get outside for 9 yards, but he couldn’t navigate the sideline well enough.
#8 - Roster long-shot Darvin Kidsy zigs when he should have zagged in a failed effort to impress on a kickoff return versus the Jets, 4th quarter, 1:52 on the clock
Darvin Kidsy took a kickoff from the goal line up to the 13 yard line but cuts right when he had blocks set up in front of him. Kidsy was tackled at the 17 yard line.
I’m sure that UDFA Kidsy can hear the clock ticking on his NFL career. While he might possibly find a spot on the practice squad, Kidsy and Shay Fields look to be battling for last place in a deep receiving group. I can’t really blame him for taking his shot at breaking a big return when he had a chance. At this point, his NFL career may be measured in days... it was worth taking the opportunity to see if he could turn it around with a bit of special teams magic. But it didn’t happen.
#9 - Stroman stumbles in his second shot at returning a punt versus the Patriots, 1st Quarter, 4:58 on the clock
In his second return of the 1st quarter in the first preseason game, Stroman made a great move to avoid a tackler on a first half punt return vs the Patriots. Unfortunately, he stumbled after a 7 yard gain.
BiB: I asked Gibbs4potus to rank the returns, and I think he generally did a good job — except for this one. I think this return should be ranked #6, and I see it as a very positive play. Stroman was contacted early, but instead of going straight down, he managed to keep his feet and use his momentum to stumble forward for a nice gain. At the time of the play, Cooley said on the radio broadcast I was listening to that Stroman had done well to maintain his balance and get a positive return. I agree.
#10 - Stroman has the worst return of the three he had in the first quarter versus the Patriots, with 5:10 on the clock
Stroman returned the second punt of the game vs the Patriots. He was slow to get to the middle of the field and was brought down after 5 yards when he cut upfield to avoid another defender. Stroman had some room and probably would have gained more yards if he had taken the punt up the sideline where he caught it.
#11 - Johnson loses ground as a punt returner when he tried to outrun coverage east-to-west versus the Jets, 1st Quarter, 7:59 on the clock
Johnson had the first punt return vs the Jets when he caught the ball along the sideline and took it upfield immediately. He made a mistake when he attempted to cross the field and gave up yardage he gained along the sideline. Johnson ended up with a 4 yard gain.
This return ended with a Jets defender being flagged for horse-collar tackle, so it’s possible that Johnson might’ve gotten away from him if not for the illegal grab. The net result for the Redskins after the penalty was pretty good, but, like many rookies, Johnson may be underestimating the speed of his opponents in the NFL.
BiB: I remember this play when I was watching it live, and saying out loud to myself: “you can’t run sideways on returns in the NFL, dude!” and thinking that he should’ve stayed along the sideline. I finished by saying out loud: “He’ll learn.”
#12 - The worst return by a Redskin in the first two preseason games was Darvin Kidsy’s first kickoff return versus the Jets, 4th Quarter, 11:02 on the clock
Before he made his ill-fated kickoff return to the 17 yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining against the Jets, Kidsy caught a kickoff 2 yards deep in the end zone early in the 4th quarter. He showed quickness coming out with the ball but indecisiveness got him tackled at the 9 yard line. Kidsy had some blockers set up in front of him but mistakenly cut to his right and was brought down.
By simply taking a knee, Kidsy would have added 16 yards to the Redskins’ field position, but, when it’s preseason, you’re near the bottom of a 90-man roster, and the coach puts you on the field with a chance to go 100-yards for a touchdown to keep your career alive for another week, it’s hard to make the decision to kneel.
Summarizing these twelve plays - what did we learn?
#1 - Byron Marshall
Byron Marshall was the better kickoff returner as he showed great burst to get upfield before defenders could get in a position to stop him. I would like to see more of him during the preseason but he will miss the last 2 games.
This may open up opportunities for other young players vying for a place on the team. Mo Harris, who has been impressing as a receiver on offense, returned some kicks in the regular season last year. He may get some looks versus Denver and Baltimore.
Darvin Kidsy (unranked)
Darvin Kidsy was way too tentative on his kickoff returns. Maybe he was just showing rookie jitters on his 2 returns. He will likely get more opportunities during the final 2 preseason games — as will other players with Marshall out with the injury.
BiB: I’m thinking that Kidsy, who has near zero-chance of making the ‘Skins roster, may get some return opportunities in Game 4 against the Ravens when Jay Gruden will have as many of his expected 53-man-roster players as possible covered in bubble wrap, but I’d expect a player or two from the anticipated regular season roster to get some opportunities to return (or simply down in the end zone) kickoffs against Denver at Mile High Stadium.
#1 - Trey Quinn
Trey Quinn looked like the best punt returner to me. His intention to get whatever yards he can by running directly upfield is the first thing I look for in a punt returner. Quinn doesn’t show the long speed of some of the other options but he is sure handed and so far appears to be the most consistent player to this point.
Mr. Relevant gives Jay Gruden another reason to put him on the regular season roster.
BiB: I want to mention that, in addition to having the best returns, on one punt by the Jets (3rd Q, 12:45) the ball hit at the Redskins 9 yard line. Quinn acted as though he was gonna field it, but pulled off late, and let the ball hit, and roll sharply right through the end zone for a touchback, giving the Redskins the ball at the 20; in effect, the equivalent of an 11-yard return. It was a smart play that coaches will note, but one that won’t show up on the stat sheet.
#2 - Maurice Harris
Mo Harris only had one punt return but it was a good one. He may be used as a kickoff returner vs Denver with Marshall out. He displayed a willingness to get the easy yards first but needs to be more decisive in traffic.
Harris’ previous experience in the NFL may, in the short term, give him an edge over the more experienced college returner, Stroman, who is still coming to grips with the speed of the NFL. Harris also seems to provide flexibility as a backup at both kickoff and punt returner positions.
#3 - Greg Stroman
Greg Stroman needs to learn that he can’t outrun everyone in the NFL. He has great shiftiness and could be a game breaker if he can get smarter as a returner. Stroman needs not to gamble so much in the effort to make a big play; he needs to get the easy yards first, and then let the play unfold.
Stroman had a lot of success as a college returner, with 127 returns for 1,108 yards (8.7 avg) on punts, and 23 kickoff returns with an average of 20.8 yards per return in his four-year career. He will need to adjust his game to the NFL. Until he does, it seems like Trey Quinn (who is, of course, faster than a speeding bullet) probably provides the safer option, and Mo Harris’ year of NFL experience pushes him above Stroman — for the moment.
Danny Johnson (unranked)
Danny Johnson showed great game breaking ability in college and the Redskins would love to see some of that during the final two preseason games. He had a punt return in each of the first two games, but both times appeared to be trying to do too much rather than taking what was there. He must show better judgement over the next two weeks if he wants to get a chance to return punts during the regular season.
Who is most likely to be standing in the end zone to field the first Cardinals kickoff in Week 1?
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Of the players listed, who is likely to have the most punt returns for the Redskins in 2018?
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