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Candidates already emerging for Bucs’ open return spots

Rookies Sean Murphy-Bunting and Scotty Miller could compete for punt return duties.

TAMPA ― The Bucs’ competition for punt and kickoff return specialists won’t truly take shape for a while, but coaches have already noticed several players who could potentially fill those roles.

Adam Humphries, who served as the team’s primary punt returner last season, is gone. So is DeSean Jackson, who also returned punts.

Rookie wide receiver Scotty Miller, a speedster selected in the sixth round out of Bowling Green, is one player who the Bucs will take a look at returning punts, and on Thursday assistant special teams coach Amos Jones mentioned that second-round pick Sean Murphy-Bunting could also compete for that spot despite little experience in college.

Related: Bucs take chance on Bowling Green wide receiver who wasn’t invited to combine

"Us special teams guys, we usually as the first question of who's a baseball player, and Bunting is a baseball player," Jones said. "He was a center fielder, which is a pretty good indicator of a guy who can track the ball in the air. I think he did it in high school."

Murphy-Bunting didn’t return any punts in his four seasons at Central Michigan. He returned one kickoff in his career there.

"Generally (it is) a job that somebody has to be developed nowadays," Jones said. "It's not really true punt returners drafted. In Pittsburgh we drafted Antonio Brown, we knew he caught punts, and Patrick (Peterson) in Arizona. But you just have got to develop that skill set as well. You might find a diamond in rough."

Related: Bucs choose Central Michigan cornerback Sean Bunting in second round of NFL draft

Dare Ogunbowale, who returned seven kickoffs last season, has already made an impression on the new staff after averaging 19.6 yards per return in 2018.

“I like the fact that he likes to get the ball up the field,” special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong said. “Doesn’t waste a whole lot of time. When there’s a crease, he hits it. Now whether he can make anybody miss in the hole or not, as long as we can knock that thing out and create drive starts and knock that ball out to the 30-yard line, that’s when you’re getting what you want.”

Armstrong said that Bobo Wilson and Shaun Wilson, both of whom returned kickoffs last season, will also compete for those duties. Undrafted free agent Bruce Anderson, a Newsome grad who returned kickoffs for four seasons at North Dakota State, is another option.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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