Fennelly: Beckham Angling to be Giants’ Primary Punt Returner

With the Giants’ offense stuck in neutral, averaging just 21 points per game this season, they are exploring other ways to get on the scoreboard. Last week, they scored on defense when DE Jason Pierre-Paul took a fumble to the house. They also scored when Odell Beckham, Jr., inserted at punt returner, also took one to the house. OBJ’s was a 59-yard return that was nothing short of sensational.

Unfortunately, that one was called back due to a holding penalty on Mark Herzlich, but the seed was planted in the Giants’ heads. Beckham is their best option at punt returner. But will they continue to use him there?

The memory of the Jason Sehorn debacle, you know the one where he tore up his knee (and possibly his career) returning a kickoff in a preseason game, is still on the minds of the Giants. Bill Parcells always believed in using his top players on special teams, citing that it was “one-third” of the game, so why settle for less?

The truth is clear. Dwayne Harris and Bobby Rainey may be viable options on kickoff returns, but their punt return performance is not up to snuff. They are ranked 25th in the NFL. Harris is averaging 6.4 YPR over 16 attempts and Rainey is averaging 6.5 YPR on six attempts. Beckham has an 8.8 average on the four punts he’s returned this season.

A special teams score can boost a team in many ways. Beckham had been a punt returner in college at LSU, returning 62 punts, two for touchdowns. He feels playing on special teams energizes him and provides him more opportunities to help the Giants win.

“Hopefully we get another chance to run some back,” Beckham told reporters this week. “It’s something I’ve been doing pretty much all my life. I’ve done punt return and kick return. It’s just what it is. It’s just another opportunity. They punt it and that ball is going straight to you. Your teammates are out there making the blocks. You just have to make cuts off of them…“I think it gets you going on offense. You get an opportunity to catch a ball and put one in your hands. Run, hopefully you don’t get hit but you get an opportunity to get tackled. It’s a lot of fun. It’s something that I do enjoy. Hopefully I can help this team out in that way or whatever way I can.”

Head coach Ben McAdoo does not want to openly admit that Beckham is the best man for the job and sloughed off the risk factors of using his star wideout in such a precarious role.

“I think every play that they’re out there on the field is a risk,” McAdoo said.

Mike Sullivan, the Giants’ offensive coordinator wants to see OBJ at the top of his game. If returning punts keeps his star engaged, then he’s all for it.
“He’s obviously, as well all know, a heck of a player, and a lot of good things happen when the ball is in his hands,” Sullivan said. “So, if the decision is made, hopefully that turns out well for us and we’re excited. We’ll have to wait and see. I don’t know if any decision has been made as far as whether he’s going to do that or not. Obviously, he’s a special talent and the more opportunities he has to touch the ball, that bodes well for us.”

The coach that will benefit the most is special teams coordinator Tom Quinn, who has been trying everything to get the punt return game jumpstarted.

“We need better production from our punt return game,” Quinn said. “We have to make better decisions. We had two big returns last week called back due to penalties, so we have to be smarter there.”

Harris and Rainey have both had some ball security issues on punt returns and when it comes to Beckham, the thought process is you can’t hit what you can’t catch. Beckham makes tacklers miss and that would be ideal for the Giants as they enter the crucial part of their schedule.

“He is an explosive player,” Quinn said. “Anytime he gets his hands on the ball – he has returned for us in the past, he is a punt returner, so he did that as a regular job when he first came in the league. He did it in college as a kickoff returner, punt returner and a receiver, so that was one thing that attracted him to us when we were evaluating him in the draft.”

The Giants will keep us in suspense, probably until game time, to settle on who will return punts against the Steelers. Which, by the way, brings up a valid argument to use Beckham.

Who do the Steelers have returning punts for them? Why, Pro Bowl WR Antonio Brown, that’s who.

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