While there are a number of viable candidates that have joined the Falcons offseason roster as college free agents, during the rookie minicamp early in May, Falcons head coach Mike Smith said the open kick and punt returner's job will likely be filled by someone with experience already on the roster.
Of the college free agents, James Rodgers is the best-suited candidate. Based on experience in past seasons, Dominique Franks, Brent Grimes and Harry Douglas are the players the job may come down to. Second-year running back Jacquizz Rodgers is a name that has been mentioned as well in recent weeks.
Douglas performed the role of punt returner with excellent results as a rookie in 2008. An injury in 2009 that saw him miss the entire season has sidetracked him and he's not worked as a returner since. Franks got some work in as a returner during the preseason last year. A quality return man in college at Oklahoma, the third-year corner said he continued to work on the craft last year before and after practice during the season. Holding down a consistent returner's job in the NFL is one of his dreams.
"I always returned kicks in high school and I did it in college," he said. "It'd be a great honor to do it in the NFL. I just have to come out here and catch all the kicks as I can and get as much practice as I can fielding so when we get in the game it'll just come natural and I don't have to think about people coming down at you. I can just focus on catching the ball."
Catching the ball is the key to a good returner, Franks said. While athletic ability, speed and quickness are all necessary, it all comes after the primary job of simply making the catch. He said catching the ball is his primary objective and he believes in the schemes that special teams coach Keith Armstrong uses in returns. With the schemes in place, he believes he's got a good chance to return one for a touchdown every time, as long as everyone is doing their job.
Catch the ball and find the hole is how he describes the job. With the real work of the offseason just beginning, Franks knows he's got a job to do and hopefully win. He said the coaches didn't tell him he'd be in the mix once last year's return man, Eric Weems, left town. They just told him to hit the field.
"The coaches know what guys they want to put back there and who has the opportunity, just to help the team win," he said. "Whoever goes back there is going to help the team win and give us great field position. It's all in the coaches' hands. We just have to go out there and know we're going to be accountable back there."