Thursday, August 13, 2009

Redskins Punt Returners Part II: Eloi, Hagans and Dorsey Get Their Shot

Like a lightning bolt from the sky, Jim Zorn's been zapped with the realization that Antwaan Randle El stinks. Only 6.8 yds/punt return in '08 (which ranked 20th 0f 26 regular punt returners) and 6.1 yds/return in '07 (23rd of 24) with nary a TD or gamebreaking play. Santana Moss is great as a punt returner, but counting on your only capable receiver and his wonky hamstring for return duties is what's known in the business as "poor planning."

It's time to dig into the free agent barrel and pull out a punt returner who won't bounce around like a Mexican jumping bean for 5 yard losses setting up critical posessions. The 'Skins will audition 3 free agents for the role tonight against the Ravens: Rookie WR Keith Eloi, WR Marques Hagans and rookie-via-CFL RB Dominque Dorsey. So grab your chin and look diagonally towards the sky and wonder with me: can any of these guys nab the full-time punt returning duties in '09?

WR Keith Eloi
Height: 5-10 Weight: 190 Age: 24
College: Nebraska-Omaha
40 time: 4.4 (as of 2006)

Punt Returning Experience
None. He was a kick returner at UNO, averaging 25.1 yards/return his senior season with a long of 43. Return highlights here, starting at the 5:20 mark.

What's good
Eloi has made a name for himself on these interwebz with his insane feats of verticality. While jumping out of a pool backwards and hopping into the bed of a Ford F150 from a standstill is impressive, just wait until he double backflips his way into the Ravens' endzone tonight.

What's not
There's only one receiver spot available and 4 dudes fighting for it. Only 50% of Moss, Randle El, D. Thomas, M. Kelly are serviceable NFL receivers, so the 'Skins badly need production from that 5th guy. Eloi could return three punts to the house tonight but it won't mean anything if he can't show Zorn Star something. If he gets cut, though, he can always cash in his millions of theoretical internet dollars for those jumping vids. So don't worry your pretty little faces folks, Keith Eloi will be just fine.

Odds: 2 out of 10.

WR Marques Hagans
Height: 5-10 Weight: 205 Age: 26
College: Virginia
40-time: 4.8 (2006 combine)

Punt Returning Experience
Muffed his only career punt return in 2007 with the Rams. He has averaged 18.8 yards in 7 kick returns over 6 games with the Rams and Chiefs.

What's good
Hagans earned a chance as an NFL punt returner before (Rams in '07), which is more than you can say for the rest of the contenders. And unlike Eloi, Hagans has NFL experience and proven receiver ability, in a way: 9 receptions for 108 yards over 6 career games is something at least. He signed onto the practice squad in December so he's also got a leg up on the playbook.

What's not
He likes to dip his hands in axle grease before games. 2 fumbles in 8 combined kick/punt returns sucks more than his sucky last name. And unless he's on 'roids now he's too damned slow for the gamebreaker role the 'Skins seek.

Odds: 3 out of 10.

RB Dominique Dorsey
Height: 5-7 Weight: 175 Age: 26
College: UNLV
40-time: 4.35 (as of '04)

Punt Return Experience
Dorsey has been an all-purpose type throughout his 4 year CFL career, busting out to lead the league with 2,892 all-purpose yards in 2008. He tied a record with a 129-yard (!) missed-FG return in '07 and has been a returning dynamo for the Toronto Argonauts the past CFL season and a half and earned the John Agro Special Teams award for his efforts.

What's good
129-yard plays and the world-renowned John Agro award - what's not to like? Seriously, this is your darkhorse candidate for the punt return and change-of-pace back the 'Skins are looking for. He has blazing speed and skills in the return game plus he averaged 6.4 yards/carry and caught 15 passes last season, at an impressive 19.1 yards/catch. He's one of the fringe guys I'm actually looking forward to watching.

What's not
The John Agro award for outstanding CFL special teamer isn't exactly an indicator of future success, though I've heard 1999 winner Jimmy Cunningham runs one hell of a tire shop in Saskatchewan. Starting tonight, Dorsey will have to really impress to justify keeping a 4th RB on the roster. Rock Cartwright is too invaluable to cut - then again don't put it past the 'Skins to drop a heart and soul guy like Rock. Dorsey's also got a mild case fumble-itis, and he's teeny.

Odds: 6 out of 10.


With injuries piling up on the offensive line, carrying an extra receiver or back is a luxury the 'Skins might not be able to afford. Dorsey likely has the best shot as a Sproles-type guy the Redskins can throw out on third downs; they all have lots to prove to unseat Randle El and his albatross contract. Here's hoping one of them can.

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