The kick returner position last year for the Indianapolis Colts was a revolving door.
Over the course of 16 games, eight different players returned kickoffs with 10 returns being the highest for any of the Colts returnees (Cassius Vaughn).
The unit finally struck gold in the final week of the regular season when Deji Karim, three weeks removed from valet parking cars, took a kickoff back 101 yards against the Houston Texans.
Returns like that are something head coach Chuck Pagano wants to see at a more frequent rate in 2013 and the Colts took a step in that direction late in April’s NFL Draft.
Kerwynn Williams accounted for 3,392 kickoff returns yards in his first three seasons at Utah State and that electricity will undoubtedly be tried on special teams over the next few months.
“(Williams) had I think (135) returns and the next closest guy that we evaluated was at like 90, and he averaged over 25 yards per kickoff return,” Pagano said following the selection of Williams in the seventh round.
“We saw last game of the year what a kickoff return can do for you in the Houston game. It turned that whole thing around and blew that thing open when Deji returned that and this kid (Williams) can do that all day.”
In his first year as a starting running back at Utah State, Williams, who played behind a pair of future NFL running backs, did it all.
He rushed for 1,512 yards and also caught 45 passes for 697 yards and a total of 20 touchdowns.
Kickoff return duties had to be given up in 2012, in order to carry the load offensively, but Williams knows what will get him onto the Colts roster this fall.
“I can contribute on special teams so I think that’s a big thing that I want to look to establish myself on and I’m definitely excited to have the opportunity to come up there,” Williams said.
“I’m just looking to get up there and help the team in any way I can, whether it be returning kicks or covering kicks. I’m just trying to do my part to help make the team better.”
During the draft process, the Colts sent members of their personnel department and assistant special teams coach Brant Boyer out west to scout the elusive Williams.
It was a surprise to many in the Colts war room that Williams, Indianapolis’ No. 1 kick returner, was available come pick No. 230.
This weekend all the coaches will get a first hand look at what exactly goes into one of college football’s most dynamic playmakers.
“He brings a wrinkle to this team that could really help us and that’s as a returner. He’s exciting to watch as a runner and as a returner,” Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson said.
“We’re happy to get him because he fills a tremendous need and he’s also got some real value on third down.”
Tags: Brant Boyer, chuck pagano, Deji Karim, kerwynn williams, ryan grigson
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The Indianapolis Colts are 3-3 and a big reason behind that record is a group that doesn’t usually get too much attention unless something goes wrong. The Colts coverage teams have been faced with stopping some of the game’s best return men in their six games this season. To this point, they’ve been up to the challenge.
In six games, the Colts have had to deal with Chicago’s Devin Hester, Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, the Jets’ Joe McKnight, and on Sunday, Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. Each of these return men have produced highlight-reel returns during their career and are a threat to change the game any time they get their hands on the ball.
Not only have none of opposing returners scored on the Colts, but the return units have kept them largely contained, preventing them from changing field position. Indianapolis ranks fourth overall in the NFL in net punting average at 44.4 yards per attempt and tenth overall in yards per return, allowing just 7.5 yards per return. The kickoff return average isn’t as good, ranking in the league’s bottom third, but has yet to yield a score. The longest return allowed thus far was to Randall Cobb of the Packers who returned a kick 50 yards against the Colts in week four. With Pat McAfee booming more than half his kicks deep enough for touchbacks, that relieves the return unit of more pressure.
McAfee raved about his coverage teams after the game yesterday:
“We’ve had quite a lineup of return guys we’ve had to face and our coverage guys have answered the bell every single week.”
McAfee also credited the efforts of new special teams coaches, Marwan Maalouff and Brant Boyer. McAfee says the two have changed the attitude of special teams this season:
“We’re letting people know we’re going to affect the game, not just be a part of it.”
Last year the Colts were last in the NFL in kick coverage, surrendering over 30 yards per return, which often put the defense in a hole with regard to field position. The punt return average thus far this season is allowing almost four full yards fewer than last season.
Special teams player Justin Hickman is one that welcomes the challenge of facing the league’s best each week:
“I think it helps you focus when you know you’re going into a week when you know they have an explosive guy back there who can take it to the house on every touch. You know every kickoff, every punt, they’re going to bring it out because they want to get something done.”
The Colts have been outstanding at limiting those opportunities for their opponents which has translated into longer fields for their opponents, which in turn helps the defense.
The coverage units won’t get a rest next week when they face Tennessee’s Darius Reynaud. The Titans’ rookie is averaging over 26 yards per kick return and already has taken one 105 yards for a score. For Justin Hickman and the rest of the Colts coverage teams, it will be just another day at the office.
Chuck Chapman is entering his second season as the editor and lead writer for Colts 101. He also covered the Cincinnati Bengals for the Sports Media 101. Chuck and his family are originally from Ohio, but have settled in Central Indiana and become big Colts fans. You can read Chuck’s other writing about the Colts at www.colts101.com.
Tags: Brant Boyer, Justin Hickman, Marwaan Maalouf, pat mcafee
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LaVon Brazill wasn’t expecting to hear his name get called.
With 4:28 left in the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Colts punted and stopped Pro Bowl returner Josh Cribbs for a four-yard gain.
However, a holding penalty forced a tired punt coverage group to have to head back down the field in hopes of neutralizing Cribbs one more time on Sunday.
As the unit made the trek back to the Indianapolis 19-yard line, Brazill heard his name get called on the sideline.
Brazill is a backup gunner for the Colts but admitted on Monday afternoon that he hasn’t seen a rep on the punt coverage unit in a long time.
Special teams coaches Marwan Maalouf and Brant Boyer inserted Brazill in for a winded Joe Lefeged as the Colts gunner lined up to the right side of the line of scrimmage.
It looked as if the Colts special teams were going to get off the field but now they would have to kick to Cribbs one more time without their special teams leading tackler.
“I was thinking man I’m tired,” linebacker Justin Hickman said on Monday. “We just knew in that situation, with the point we were at in the game, it was probably the biggest play on special teams all day and we just had to bust our (butts) to get down there and make sure (Cribbs) couldn’t bust anything.”
“I was thinking this was a situation where it can come back to bite you in the (butt). You go down and cover it good the first time and then you get a penalty. The second time he normally busts it loose. On TV that’s how you normally see it happen.”
Brazill made sure the Colts punt coverage unit wouldn’t find their way onto any future Cribbs highlight reel.
Prior to the snap, Browns cornerbacks Johnson Bademosi and Joe Haden lined up across from the Colts rookie.
Bademosi eventually slid inside to rush punter Pat McAfee but Haden, an All-Pro cornerback, still shadowed Brazill.
Knowing that Haden was winded from the first punt, Brazill made a move to the outside and immediately found himself barring down on Cribbs with Haden trailing him.
As Cribbs fielded the punt at the Browns 29-yard line, there was Brazill ready to make a vital stop.
“They had me doubled than one of the guys dropped down so my plan was beating (Haden) and go down there was to make up fair catch but Josh Cribbs is a great player so in his eyes he wanted to make a great play,” Brazill said. “I just broke down and wrapped up and held on.”
The Colts defense eventually forced a turnover on downs on the following possession thus preserving the 17-13 victory over the Browns.
McAfee was one of the first of many Colts teammates to congratulate Brazill and appreciates a coverage unit that held one of the league’s finest returners to just two attempts for 12 yards.
“We have an amazing group of gunners. Sergio (Brown) and Joe Lefeged have done amazing but after one rep, it’s all out so Joe was a little gassed,” McAfee said following the game.
“Marwann Maloouf and Brant Boyer decided to put in a fresh guy LaVon Brazill, who has been working all week for his chance. It was his fresh legs and a smart decision to put him in that really affected the game. That was a huge play and Brazill did an amazing job tackling one of the hardest guys in the league to tackle.”
Tags: Brant Boyer, Joe Lefeged, Justin Hickman, LaVon Brazill, Marwan Maalouf, pat mcafee
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