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Returning Returners


After practice each day, three rookie minicampers field kicks, balls sent flying high and deep from a machine.

Down at the other end of the field stand Cody Pearcy, James Rodgers and Marcus Jackson fielding the kicks. First they catch one ball. Then try to catch two, one after the other. Then they attempt three. Rodgers is the first on Saturday to catch three balls at once, catching two first, then throwing one into the air as he catches the final kick before catching that ball as well.

They all have returner experience and they're in rookie minicamp to prove they have a shot at a job that is possibly open with the exit of last-year's returner, Eric Weems. James Rodgers has perhaps the best resume as a returner, filling the role for a few seasons at Oregon State, returning both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.

Although rookie minicamp is about competition, head coach Mike Smith isn't so sure the replacement for Weems will come from the ranks of the college free agents.

"There are a couple of guys that have done it," Smith said. "We're giving some guys some opportunities here to catch some balls, but I don't know if there's anybody right now that would be a guy that we'd be looking at. There's guys on our squad that have done it in the past. Dominique Franks and Harry Douglas, those are the two guys right now that would probably be the leading candidates to return punts. We've got a number of guys that have returned kickoffs that are on our squad as well."

The odds are always stacked for any college free agent entering camp so Smith's admission shouldn't come as a surprise. However, as long as they employ an attitude like Pearcy's, there's always a chance something truly interesting can happen.

"I'm here to do whatever they feel like I need to do," Pearcy said. "If they want me to be a backup, I'll  be a backup. If they want me to be a gunner, I'll be a gunner. I'm here to do whatever this teams needs and to help them get better."

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