Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas earned a reputation as a talented young punt returner with the Falcons as a rookie in 2008. When he assumed the job around the halfway mark during his rookie year, he quickly showed the Falcons coaching staff they weren't going to need to find anyone else for the job.
In Week 12 against the Panthers, Douglas became the 10th player in franchise history to return a punt for a touchdown. His 61-yard return was one of the highlights of the '08 season and it earned him NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. It also gave the Falcons a reason to believe Douglas would be their returner for seasons to come.
An injury in his second season during training camp derailed a promising career, but now two full seasons removed from that he's begun to reemerge as a wide receiver weapon on offense and the exit of former returner Eric Weems has reopened the job for Douglas.
Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said during June's minicamp that the returner's job is an open competition and will remain that way into training camp. Along with Douglas, there are a few other players on the roster that have a shot at winning the punt returner's job, as well as the kick returner's.
"(Douglas is) obviously a threat to score," Armstrong said. "He has a pretty good chance to be our punt returner. Dominique Franks has the ability to become a punt returner. He did a nice job in college at Oklahoma. James Rodgers, Jacquizz (Rodgers)' brother, has also been pretty solid out here catching the ball clean. He has some experience as a punt returner. It'll be interesting to see what goes on between those three guys."
Douglas shared recently a fact that had long been forgotten since he's come into the league and impressed. During his college career at Louisville, he wasn't a full-time returner. He was used in the role situationally and it wasn't his priority job. Once he began doing it regularly with the Falcons, he realized more than that he was good at the job.
"I love it," he said. "I did it my rookie year here. I actually fell in love with it. I'm pretty sure whoever they pick to get the job it's going to be in great hands."
Douglas has a great chance to earn the job again this year. While James Rodgers, a rookie, has logged some practice time at the position, Falcons head coach Mike Smith said earlier in the year that he felt the job would go to a player with experience doing the job returning to the roster from previous seasons.
Whether he has the inside track or not, Douglas is willing to continue to do whatever is asked of him, just like in '08 when he began doing a job somewhat unfamiliar to him.
"I'm a team guy so I'll do whatever they ask me to do," he said. "Whether it's block, catch punts, catch footballs or help people, I'm here to do whatever the coaches want me to do."
He said "catch punts" with a chuckle, exposing to anyone listening that he's telling the truth when he says it's something he loves to do.