In 2013, the Oakland Raiders were unable to make any big plays in the return game. The team's longest punt return was 30 yards. Something had to change to energize the return game in 2014. So the Raiders have been experimenting with different players to try to produce better results. Two players who are separating themselves in the punt returner competition are wide receiver Denarius Moore and rookie cornerback T.J. Carrie.
“You know, I think T.J. Carrie’s a guy that’s showing some signs as a punt returner,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I really think Denarius Moore’s done a nice job back there returning punts. He’s fielded the ball cleanly. He’s made good decisions.”
Carrie is a rookie seventh-round pick known for his return prowess. At Ohio, Carrie averaged 12.7 yards per punt return his senior season. That would have far exceeded any Raiders in 2014. Jacoby Ford led the team with an 8.6 yards per return average with a long of 14 yards. Oakland is hoping Carrie can continue his development as a returner so he can provide some explosiveness in that facet of the game.
In his first two seasons with the Raiders, Denarius Moore was part of the punt return stable. As a rookie, he was the team's primary punt returner and had success. Moore returned 25 punts in 2011, averaging 8.6 yards per return with a long of 34 yards. He also broke two other punts for 20 or more yards. As he assumed a larger role in the offense, his punt returning duties lessened. In 2012, he returned nine punts. Last season, he returned zero punts.
Both Moore and Carrie have the big play capabilities sought after as punt returners. The Raiders clearly need a spark in this department to improve the special team's unit. The Raiders have not been shy experimenting to benefit the return game, using both Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew fielding punts. The competition looks to be between Carrie and Moore, but there will be others given an opportunity in the preseason.
“But both of those positions, kick returner and punt returner, those are going to be positions that we’re going to have to let play out throughout the preseason before we kind of settle into where we’re going with those positions,” Allen said.
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