Auditions for punt returner continued Monday with safety Cooper Taylor, A-back Embry Peeples and wideout Daniel McKayhan getting their shots.
The front-runners still appear to be A-back Roddy Jones and cornerback Jerrard Tarrant.
Tech is trying to improve a unit that ranked ninth in the ACC, averaging 6.7 yards per return.
(Quick aside on kickoff returns, which were also sub-par. Tech ranked 10th in the league, 19.6 yards per return. The candidates for that job include Jones, Tarrant and Marcus Wright.)
Talking to wide receivers coach Al “Buzz” Preston, who also coaches punt returners, it was clear that ball security will be the most important factor in choosing a punt returner. He kept going back to it.
Tech lost fumbles on three punt returns last season: Tyler Melton at Boston College, Roddy Jones at UNC, and Andrew Smith vs. LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“No. 1, catch the ball and don’t fumble it,” Preston said. “If your guy can catch it, make quality decisions and get north, you’ve got a chance to be pretty good.
“No. 1, catch it. No. 2, good decisions, being able to know when to make a call to get everybody out of there, when to catch it, fair-catch it, not catch it – the decision-making process.
“Then the ability to make something happen after the catch.”
Improving the punt-return unit is critical.
“You’re talking field position, you’re talking turnovers,” Preston said.
So far in spring practice, Preston said, “Tarrant and Roddy have looked pretty good. Those guys are probably the two leaders right now. Roddy’s done it. And Tarrant, he was somebody that we thought was going to be special but we didn’t have him last year.”
Jones returned six punts last year for 53 yards, a healthy 8.8-yard average. (The average would have been good for fourth in the conference if he had more attempts).
So who would you like to see return punts?