Miami Hurricanes Still Working Out Who Return Men Will Be

BOONE, NC - SEPTEMBER 17: Braxton Berrios
BOONE, NC - SEPTEMBER 17: Braxton Berrios /

The Miami Hurricanes had mixed success in the return game last season. Braxton Berrios was one of the best in the country on punt returns, but UM struggled on kickoff returns.

Miami Hurricanes special teams coach Todd Hartley spoke out today about the many options he has for return men this season. Berrios has had enough success that he should hold on to the punt return job. At the very least Berrios will handle the punt return duties in key situations.

Berrios finished 11th in the country last year with an 11.3 yard average on punt returns. Freshmen Mike Harley, Jeff Thomas and DeeJay Dallas give Hartley speed and versatility in the kick and punt return games.

Backup running back Travis Homer and backup cornerback Malek Young are also in the running for a spot as one of the two returners Hartley informed the Sun Sentinel. Hartley also told the Sentinel that it would be ideal to have one player be able to handle both duties.

The Sentinel quoted Hartley discussing the return man situation:

"“There’s a bunch of them…We actually have a two-returner system back there, so it’s not just one kick returner. There’s actually about six guys who could still rotate in and out…If you could have one guy do both, that would be awesome..But it doesn’t have to be. Devin Hester would be awesome, but you don’t have to have a guy that can do both.”"

One of the biggest upgrades on the Miami Hurricanes roster this season has been an influx of speed in the Freshman class. Harley and Thomas particularly should have an impact. Thomas caught six passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in Thursday’s scrimmage.

Hartley expects the speed from his Freshman and some of the returnees to have an impact on special teams this season. The question is how well the new return men can they handle the speed and impact of special teams. Hartley said:

"“You have a guy that, when there’s a crease, he can hit that crease with enough speed that you don’t have to block it perfectly…But the other thing you worry about sometimes with smaller guys is, can they take a hit? You’ve got 11 people coming down full-speed. It’s really not like catching a pass. You have 11 guys that can hit you at one time. You don’t know, with some of those smaller [guys]. You look back to our time at Georgia, you had Todd Gurley back there. Todd Gurley wasn’t a small dude returning kicks.”"

Most fans look at elusiveness, speed and the ability to make the big play on returns. Steadiness is another attribute the coaching staff looks for. Both Thomas and Harley are about 5’10, 170 pounds. One mistake on special teams could cost a team a game. Hartley discussed the importance of a return man giving him a consistent performance.

"“There’s a lot more that goes into catching punts than people realize…A lot more decision-making. … You’ve got to have people who have the ability, that can take it to the house, but you’ve also got to have somebody who can make a great decision. When people are in your face and that ball’s not exactly kicked like a kick is, that punt can go anywhere, you’ve got to have somebody you can trust.”"

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Hartley also told the Palm Beach Post the staff has yet to decide if the punter will be Freshman Zach Feagles or Sophomore Walk-on Jack Spicer. They seem to still be working that out with another week remaining until the opener.