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Bucs have numerous options in return game

TAMPA — From one perspective, the new-look Bucs have a familiar option for their return game in receiver Eric Page, who handled punts and kickoffs last year, quietly helping the team finish eighth and 13th in the league in those categories, respectively.

On the other hand, only four players in the NFL had more returns last year without scoring a touchdown. The Bucs haven't returned a kick for a touchdown since November 2010 — only the Redskins have gone longer — which is why both the return jobs are wide open entering preseason camp.

Here are the many options coach Lovie Smith has, starting with the incumbent, who has stayed in the rotation of returners throughout offseason minicamp workouts.

Eric Page, WR: His overall averages were solid, ranking in the top 12 for punts and kickoffs among players with at least 20 returns. But none of his returns went longer than 44 yards, and his fair-catch frequency was among the league's highest. He played just 55 snaps on offense, so he'll make or miss the roster on special teams.

Skye Dawson, WR: He returned three kickoffs last year, averaging 22.3 yards, and took one punt return for 17 yards. He too has speed in the open field and could perhaps contribute more as a reserve receiver, though he showed little more than deep routes and drawing pass interference penalties in limited playing time as a rookie.

Solomon Patton, WR: The undrafted rookie left Florida as the Gators' career leader in kickoff returns — his average of 27.7 yards is the best for any player with 30-plus returns. That included a 100-yard return against Missouri, but he only had one year as a productive receiver at UF, so his contributions could be limited to returns.

Jeff Demps, RB: The Olympic sprinter fielded four kickoffs last year before he injured his groin, averaging 23.3 yards. His speed is unquestionable, but his hands and his durability will be question marks as his two NFL seasons have been cut short by injuries.

Charles Sims, RB: The rookie is known for his hands, and Smith made a point to try him out on returns in the spring, even though he had little experience in college. A key special teams role could complement his use as a backup running back.

Robert Herron, WR: The sixth-rounder impressed in the spring, and Smith sent him back on returns in spring workouts even though he hadn't fielded them since high school. He has shown promising speed, so he could get a look in preseason.

Bucs have numerous options in return game 07/22/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:33pm]
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