I was asked during a radio appearance on 105.3 The Fan yesterday, would I allow Morris Claiborne or Dez Bryant to return punts if I was in charge? Thankfully for Cowboys fans I am not in charge, but it allowed me to give this answer.
The veteran NFL scout in me would tell Jerry Jones that if either one of those players got hurt and were lost for the season, I cannot replace them with a player that was at their talent level. I am sorry but as good as I think I am at finding players, I just wouldn't take that chance. I remember several years back sitting at Giants Stadium during a preseason game when the Giants starting cornerback Jason Sehorn tore his knee up on a meaningless kickoff return. For the remainder of that season, the Giants struggled to play pass defense all because Sehorn got hurt and there was not a suitable replacement. In the Cowboys' case they might be able to get away with it for Claiborne because you have Mike Jenkins to fall back on, but not Bryant. There is no Laurent Robinson waiting to make those emergency starts like he did last season.
On the flip side, If I was just a fan, by all means, get your best players in the lineup with a chance to make game changing plays. There is no doubt that Claiborne or Bryant can be difference makers with the ball in their hands. If they get hurt, well just plug someone else in. Pretty simple right?
Trust me, I understand where the fan is coming from but you also have to think about the big picture. Is it really worth it to have starters you need for 65 snaps a game on offense and defense to be returning punts? In my view, it isn't. Claiborne and Bryant are much too valuable to be exposing them to getting injured on a punt return. I know that everyone that is reading this is saying, 'Well Broaddus, they could get hurt playing offensive or defensive snaps.' This is true and I can live with that because it's offensive and defensive snaps. What I can't live with is knowing that one of my starters is lost for the season because he blew out his knee because he got twisted up in a pile for a two-yard gain or got a concussion because one of our guys on the outside didn't touch a soul and the opponent's gunner crushed our returner as he received the ball. I am not going to put my star players in harm's way over one play when I need them for those 65.
It's the scout's job to find players that can function as a return specialist. In Green Bay, we had Desmond Howard. It was his job just to return kicks and punts. In Dallas, the front office has never been afraid to carry that extra kicker; why can't they carry a return specialist on the 53-man roster so you don't have to use Claiborne or Bryant? In OTA's, Dwayne Harris has looked like a different player with his movement and quickness. Maybe Saalim Hakim will show something in training camp, but regardless, I am doing everything in my power not have to use Claiborne or Bryant as a returner because I don't have anyone on my emergency board that could replace them. The fan in me understands, but the scout in me sees the big picture.