In Friday's practice, rookies Denarius Moore and Taiwan Jones fielded punts and kicks while the team's usual return man, Nick Miller watched. The team is hoping the two rookies can step into the punt and kick return roles this Sunday and give a boost to the struggling unit.
In practice it was Taiwan Jones handling kickoff duties. Jacoby Ford would normally be returning kicks but he is out injured. Nick Miller took over those duties last week in addition to his punt return duties. In turn it was Denarius Moore who was returning punts. Miller stood by watching the rookie taking his job.
Nick Miller has not had a punt return for more than 12 yards. His return average is among the worst in the league. He replaced the injured Jacoby Ford on kick returns last week and he was unable to return a single kickoff past the 18 yard line. He fell down on one return and didn't make it past the 12 yard line. His final kick return average for the game was 15 yards which is unacceptable.
His punt returns were just as poor. He has returned just two punts and averaged less than ten yards per return. He also made a poor decision in the week one game in Denver in which he opted not to field a punt at the 15 yard line that was downed by the coverage team at the two yard line.
Miller is the seventh receiver on this roster and his presence is for the sole purpose of returning punts and kicks. It appears his duties in that regard have now been handed over to the rookies. The Raider receiving corps is short handed with the injuries to Louis Murphy, Jacoby Ford, and Darrius Heyward-Bey which means that Nick is still valuable for the time being as a reserve wide receiver.
The Raiders gain a great deal of speed with Moore and Jones in the return game. Taiwan has looked quite adept in the role in practices. Moore excels as well but the worry with him is ball security. The team tried him as a return man in the preseason and he fumbled it on his first return. He has hopefully learned from that experience, leading to keeping the ball high and tight. He also muffed a few punts early in Friday's practice which may cause some concern.
While Taiwan returning kicks is a foregone conclusion, Denarius taking on the punt return duties is not yet certain. Hue Jackson, of course, would not name either of them as the new return specialist this week, though he did say that if he were to do it, a home game would be the ideal time.
Denarius may also be making a second straight start at receiver in this game. He had 144 yards receiving and a touchdown last week against the Bills and the Raiders will look to him again to see if he can continue his fine play. With the Raiders fielding just four receivers, he may be asked to focus on that part of his game. There is also the concern that he could get injured on returns which would leave the team with a skeleton crew at wide receiver.
If the Raiders hope to win their home opener, they will need every facet of their team to play well. The return game is the one area that has yet to show up this season and the team is hoping these two rookie phenoms can change that.
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