There are plenty of battles to be had this year at Bucs training camp, but one of the bigger battles has to be the one at kick returner.
Jaydon Mickens is the Bucs incumbent at the position, but he will have plenty of competition during training camp and the preseason. The next few weeks will go a long way in determining -if not completely determining- who gets the gig.
It appears to be a two-man show
Many are assuming this battle will come down to just Mickens and rookie fourth-round receiver Jaelon Darden. And rightfully so. As mentioned earlier, Mickens was the starter in 2020. Meanwhile, Darden returned 35 punts for 310 yards and a touchdown and 17 kicks for 299 yards in college. His game is perfect for the position. He just needs to get acclimated to NFL speed.
One of these guys will get the job if everything breaks like it’s supposed to.
But there’s an outside factor that could have a hand in determining which one of these guys returns kicks for the Bucs, as well.
Mickens facing misdemeanor charges ahead of Bucs training camp
The fifth-year receiver was pulled over on March 5 because his window tint was too dark. He was later arrested after police found a concealed firearm in his car.
Per TMZ.com, Mickens now faces two misdemeanor charges. His court date hasn’t been mentioned, but he could face jail time if found guilty.
The Bucs have said they are monitoring the situation ever since the arrest. This latest news could prompt the Bucs to go in another direction despite what happens during training camp.
Who could surprise the Bucs during training camp?
If something does in fact happen to where Mickens is no longer on the roster, then the Bucs would be dumb to just hand the job to Darden or another player. So, who else can make their case for the job?
He should have a big third-down role on offense, but could Bernard also serve as the team’s kick returner? He has returned a few kicks during his time in the NFL, so he has experience.
Grayson returned one kick for 20 yards in 2020. His tape wasn’t very impressive, but there’s a reason why players continue to work at their craft. Who knows how much he’s improved since.
Pope has the most recent NFL experience returning kicks after Mickens. Will it be enough to possibly win him the starting job?
This is the best way for Vaughn to guarantee himself playing time and he has the skill set to make it as a kick returner. It just all depends on how well he can see/set up his blocks.
The versatile defender returned four kicks for 24.8 yards per kick in college and was a very effective player on special teams.
No matter who wins the job, the Bucs need a spark in the return game
This is the one topic of discussion that really isn’t up for debate.
The Bucs finished with the 19th-best kick return average and the ninth-worst punt return average in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, Mickens finished with the eighth-highest kick return average among returners with at least 12 attempts. He didn’t fare so well with punt returns, however, finishing 20th out of 23 eligible players with just 6.2 yards per return.
There’s little reason to think Mickens can’t take a step forward this year, but his off-field issues could spell doom. The trick here, however, is the Bucs may not have a guy who can handle both punts and kicks like Mickens does. If that turns out to be the case, but the Bucs may have to use an extra (and valuable) roster spot on one of the returner positions.
This is certainly one of the more interesting battles during Bucs training camp and who knows, it may even stretch on into the regular season.
Who do you think wins the kick returner gig during Bucs training camp? Let us know in the comment section below!