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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stewart The Kick Returner?

At the Charlotte Touchdown Club luncheon today (5/14), John Fox praised a portion of Jonathan Stewart's game that most have overlooked - kick returning.

Yes, it's odd to draft a player top 15 and have him return kicks. It's an odd marriage that, in Cam Cameron fashion, you don't want to overplay. You don't want to be the guy defending a pick because he can help out in special teams. Stewart did, however, excel at it in school including as a starting player; he is a primary KR, but doesn't return punts, so he doesn't necessarily void out the need for Ryne Robinson.

Carolina finished 31st in KR last year, barely edging out rock bottom with an improving Robinson in the last few games. Robinson was a guy who the team took last year as a return man, noting he was an excellent punt returner and only an average kick returner; he struggled at both but was unable to get much going at KR (he finished 12th in raw yards at PR, 17th at KR, but rated low at both). They had previously signed Ricardo Colclough, a backup corner and return man, to fight for the position. Stewart, an expert KR in college, had become an afterthought on special teams until Fox mentioned him.

So, what's it mean?

Carolina has never hesitated to use high picks that can compete in various phases. Chris Gamble did some returning, as did Richard Marshall; Steve Smith was a Pro Bowl receiver still running down punts for a time, and Williams was a kick returner as well before last year. Stewart wasn't drafted to return kicks, but for a year or two, he may be able to improve that spot for the team.

It also probably means that Deangelo Williams is going to be the starter. He'll know the offense, he has two years experience, and the starting back has always been the elder for Fox's two back system. Williams has more burst for 3rd down, and will probably give up a few more early carries in a series to Stewart, who will also return kicks if comfortable. Robinson, provided he continues to grow as a receiver, will be the 4th WR and will return punts.
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