Punt Return Questions Must Find Answers for Spartan Football…

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There was some shock when Mark Dantonio benched PR Nick Hill and replaced him with LeVeon Bell after Hill struggled against Notre Dame and EMU. Having your Heisman caliber RB return punts has much more risk than reward.

Number two on the depth chart at the PR position (last week) was a redshirt freshman and second string WR Andre (A.J.) Sims, Jr. You may remember that in the spring draft, Sims was the first WR picked by his teammates.

I asked Dantonio why he went to Bell with Sims number two on the depth chart. He told me, “Well, we were going to go with A.J. because he's very capable. I didn't think it was fair to him to put him out there without being on the field very much as a wide receiver and say, Okay, now go catch punts. I think whoever is in there has to be a guy that is used to catching the ball. Nick has been doing it. Le'Veon certainly has his hands on the ball a lot. I think he was more accustomed to handling the pressure of the situation. I didn't want to put A.J. in that situation at that point in time. He is very capable.”

I fully expect Hill to be back returning punts against OSU. Dantonio does also. Putting Bell back there makes me nervous. Dantonio disagrees. He said of his PR situation, “I don't have any problem putting Le'Veon back there because I think he's got great hands, he can make the plays, he's confident. I also don't have a problem with Nick Hill going back there. You guys have been out at practice. I have Nick Hill doing cartwheel, then catching punts. I have him getting up off the ground, spinning around three times, catching punts. He's a confident player and he won't lose his confidence. He has to make good decisions. I think he has to fair catch some of those balls he's taking chances on.”

Dantonio went on to add, “We'll be okay with that. My anticipation is he will be our punt returner on Saturday afternoon. But we've got to try to make it as game‑like in practice as we can and have him catch 50 punts with people running down where he has to make a decision, Do I fair catch this or catch it? He's new back there. Keyshawn has been the guy the last three years.”

He continued by saying, “He's a confident player with great skills. He's an exciting player when he gets going. When he gets that first step, he's a very exciting, quick‑bodied player. That's what we want him to do. That's why we recruited him here, to be that guy. He's very capable. Again, I do think there has to be consequences if something happens. Fortunately we dodged that one, so...”

Nick Hill is a good player. So is Bell, but don���t think that passing over Sims was a slight. The young man from Georgia is a still a key factor moving forward for the Spartans. I expect Hill to get it right, but the Spartans have plenty of depth should the problems persist.