The answer to the Tennessee Titans punt returning job may be more clear than the early training camp battle appears.
With the Titans in need of a replacement for Chester Rogers in the return game, the team has been trying out a few different players at returner in early training camp practices, and a few of the names came as a surprise.
The most notable of the group being first round pick and rookie WR Treylon Burks.
#Titans have four players returning punts in training camp:— AtoZ Sports Nashville (@AtoZSports) July 28, 2022
WR Treylon Burks
WR Kyle Philips
WR Mason Kinsey
and WR Terry Godwin (signed today)
At one point, it seemed like the backend of the Titans wide receiver room could be determined by which player wins the job and the roster spot that comes with it.
While the punt returns in the preseason once seemed significant, we may not even need to see things play out in the preseason games to know who the answer is.
Kyle Philips is the obvious choice.
Philips has the shifty speed and footwork of a returner, with the most recent experience of the group as a return man in college. The tape speaks for itself.
Make that 3️⃣7️⃣ unanswered points for the Bruins after Kyle Philips takes this punt return 82 yards to the house!— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) November 14, 2021
UCLA 44, Colorado 20
10:10 – 4th quarter
📺: Pac-12 Network
💻: https://t.co/dFgLVloTvd#GoBruins pic.twitter.com/6OYu8pgIYw
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said earlier in training camp that he was hoping to see Burks return punts in preseason games, but I’m not sure he can bring anything to the table that Philips doesn’t already have in his bag.
You’re already relying on Burks to be one of your top pass-catchers, and while I’ve said it couldn’t hurt to utilize him in on special teams, that only applies if he’s your most dangerous weapon you have.
During Titans practice on Sunday, Burks was back taking reps with with the returners, and he dropped a couple punts, breaking rule number one for any returner.
While Burks is hard to tackle, and his physicality could pose a dangerous threat to an opponent’s punt coverage, it’s becoming clear that he’s not the best fit.
In terms of the other options, I give Philips the leg up over Kinsey or Godwin, mainly because of the roster construction.
It seems more logical to give the job to a player who will already be making the 53-man roster, rather than carving out a roster spot for someone who will solely be a returner.
Kinsey is probably next in line, and I expect him to make the practice squad (unless he gets scooped off waivers to be a punt returner/slot weapon for another team), but it’s hard for me to see a world where Kinsey is on the 53 if Racey McMath and Philips are both taking up spots.
He’s a valuable insurance policy if Philips goes down, but unless he can dazzle and clearly separate himself from the group with preseason reps, I don’t see it.
I’ll be interested in seeing who the Titans run out as the returner in Baltimore this week, but from where I’m sitting, Philips seems to be the clear cut option.
His technique is sound and he can make people miss. That’s what he was drafted to do.