What is so special about the Special teams?
Nick Maddox returns a kick at FSU
Nick Maddox returns a kick at FSU

Posted Jul 2, 2003


If we were to ask what was so special about special teams last year your answer would be absolutely nothing. The most prolific kick returner in Charger History Ronnie Jenkins was handcuffed in the Coaches dog house most of the year. A man who had broken the San Diego Chargers Record for kick Returns two years in a row was basically no where to be seen. He only had one good run of 50 yards or more and was not as effective as he had been. Many felt it was Jenkins…

I felt it was the design and I know a few of you out there agree with me. Tim Dwight was no longer returning punts and Tamarack Van”Over”s reign as the Punt/Kick returner ended in the middle of the season last year, although it never really began.

Fast forward to this year – Ronnie Jenkins is no longer the return specialist for the Chargers; he is now with the Oakland Raiders. Tim Dwight is now going be back returning punts again this year. There is a battle now at the main special team’s positions, and I will like to take a look at each spot.

First, let’s start out at Return specialist, and you did not read that wrong. Ronnie Jenkins is and was a return specialist. This is a position that more teams are looking for, you don’t think the Raiders took him for his ability to play running back??? No, they took him because he has the ability to score every time he touches the ball on kickoff. He is able to read special team coverage’s and find that seam to break through.

We don’t have to look further than the Washington Redskins who offered a tender to ace return man, and now a former NY Jet, Chad Morton. The Skins realize how important special teams is and went for perhaps the best return man in the game today.

Tim Dwight, for the longest time till he came to the Chargers, was a special teams stand out and a Punt/Kick return specialist for Atlanta. There was no one better for the longest time. In the Falcons Super Bowl he ran back a 94 yard Kickoff. He was the first rookie to ever return a kick off for a TD in the Super Bowl and holds the highest kick off return average of 42.0 Yards. He has received more time at WR with San Diego and has become a 3rd down specialist as well.

The Chargers are looking to replace both Dwight (To keep him healthy for the season) and Jenkins as their return specialists. They have some viable candidates for that Position. I am going to talk about the few people I think can replace them.

I am going to quote one of writers here at Chargers Update, Kenny Williams.

The Chargers might have found “Sump-thing” special in Brian Sump. I have said it before; he is like Tim Dwight with hair, only taller. This kid is lightning fast and gives 110 percent every time the ball touches his hands. In Special teams work out at camp He seemed to always get at least 20 yards every time he touched the ball and was able to read his blocks well.

On one play in particular, I saw Sump take the ball on the fly and sprint up field cutting just behind one of his 4 blockers. He put on a burst of speed that netted him at least 25 to 30 yards before he was touched. Can you imagine the Chargers starting at the 35 to 45 yard line whenever they’re on offense? Especially with this new offense and the explosiveness it provides. I can, and I believe Brian Sump can bring that to the table. Playing as a return specialist might be the only way he makes this team. The Top 4 receiver’s spots are taken and the Chargers are looking for a tall receiver to be # 5.

Nick Maddox is another person who could make this team Returning Punts and would make a good 3rd down back like we had in Terrell Fletcher and Ronnie Harmon. He has nice, soft hands that make him handling Punts a beautiful thing. He also has deceptional speed and looks a lot quicker then his 4.49 postings. The good thing about him is that he can give Dwight that much need rest and make all of us forget about the misgivings of the Van”Over” experiment.

He is capable of breaking it for the long Return and gain much needed yardage. He to might only get a chance to make this team as a 3rd down back or specialist, giving LaDainian Tomlinson the break in long yardage situations.

Drayton Florence also looked good returning Kickoffs. My only concern with putting Florence back there is I think he is needed more at CB. To put him back there as a Kick Returner, and just seeing what happened to Philip Buchanan (of the Raiders) last year makes me want to put him back there even less.

I know many think that a Return specialist is a wasted spot, but how many of you thought that when Ronnie Jenkins was back there the last two years being one of the tops in the NFL?

I am sure none of you were too concerned about that Roster spot then.

Now let’s get to where the battles heat up, Kicker and Punter. The Chargers need a kicker in the worst way. How many times did we watch our boys drive down to within field goal range just to watch Darren Bennett jog on to the field to try and pooch punt it? I don’t know what was more frustrating – the Bolts not going for it or the fact we had no one they could trust to do the Job.

Steve Christie was at one time Mr. Clutch, one of the best in the business, and inside 40 yards he is very accurate. My problem is that when we are outside the 40 he is not as accurate and we give up the good position to mount some points way too much.

I am not even going to start on Wade Richey, err, Wide Righty. The Chargers brought in Mackenzie Hoambrecker to challenge the veteran this offseason. Hoambrecker was also known as Mr. Clutch in college and is prolific inside the 40 and even better from the 40 yards or more. He needs work on his kickoffs however. He may have been nervous but he shanked two kickoffs back to back during the mini camp sessions, despite booming them in warm ups. I could see Hoambrecker winning the kicking job as long as he gets beyond his nervousness and does what he proved he can do in college and that is make the kicks.

The punting situation is intriguing. Darren Bennett, Mr. Aussie, is the best punter the Chargers have ever had and he could easily still play on any team in this league. So why would the Chargers bring in another punter?

Two reasons, Mike Scifres has a 43.45 career average and he also can do kickoffs. He has a 4.08 second hang time average allowing his teammates to get down the field and keep the ball within the 20 yard boundary. The only real drawback to Scifres is he has a tendency to shank kicks. But when he gets a hold of it, his kicks sail within 10 yards of the goal line on almost every shot. Of either of the kickers to be beat out, Scifres has the biggest chance.

It is not unknown of to carry two rookie Kickers and it could be done by the Chargers this season. Both rookie kickers have a chance of making an impact and helping to improve this special teams unit. Scifres needs to pay special attention to how Bennett’s Aussie kick (as I like to call it) where he drops the nose of the ball and pooch’s it within the 20.

All I know is the special teams cannot be any worse then last year, where we went from one of the best in the league to mediocre at best. This unit needs improvement and they need another Ronnie Jenkins, who was dangerous whenever he touched the ball. They have a few players that can be that way, it is if they are willing to step up to the plate and take on the challenge. We will see, maybe this year we will put the word “special” back in to our special teams.

Tom Criswell (the controversial one) can be reached at: tcrisswell@cox.net or via the following link: Tom Criswell
Chargers Update.com
http://chargers.theinsiders.com


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