There are two more preseason games to go and special teams coach Mike Priefer still isn’t sure who his full-time punt returner is. And, frankly, Priefer might not get the final call there, depending on who head coach Leslie Frazier decides to keep on his final roster.
In Friday’s game against Buffalo, Jarius Wright, Josh Robinson, Bryan Walters and Marcus Sherels all got a shot at the position. Priefer likes the big-play potential of Robinson and Wright – who is still very inexperienced at the position. But he loves the reliability of Sherels, who might not break many big returns, but can be depended on to secure the ball.
Buffalo punters did a good job, which made Priefer’s job of evaluating his returners more difficult.
“We have to solidify who that is going forward, because we’re running out of time to make that decision,” Priefer said. “I have my ideas because of practice tape. … The guy I’m most comfortable with would be Marcus, because he’s done it before and he’s very sure-handed. Josh has got some juice to him, as you’ve seen on defense as well. Walters has been there before, and Jarius is kind of in the developmental stage right now, to be honest with you. He’s getting better. He has a lot of talent as well.”
The final roster decisions will have a huge impact. Sherels handed the job full time last season, averaging 8.4 yards per return. But, with the competition more intense in the defensive backfield this year, being the punt returner might be Sherels' best chance to make the final roster.
That means Priefer could be in a situation where he might have to lobby with Frazier to get Sherels a roster spot. “Like any roster spot, returner is extremely important,” Priefer said. “At this time of the year, I have to pick and choose my battles. That’s why I watch practice and listen to the other coaches and their evaluations of the position players. It’s going to be real interesting the next couple weeks what we end up doing.”
That means the development of Robinson and Wright will be closely watched. Both have had difficulties tracking the ball, especially on kicks outside. That said, Priefer said he would also pick the sure-handed receiver.
“I’ve preached ball security since I’ve been here,” he said.
Injuries have given Brandon Fusco the starting right guard spot almost by default. But Frazier doesn’t want Fusco to get too comfortable. That’s why he’s doing everything he can to keep motivating the second-year player.
“We still have to keep giving him more opportunities to be in situations,” Frazier said. “This weekend will be a good test for him. San Diego has a good front, although it’s a 3-4. He’s been a lot more consistent than he has been in the past.”
Injuries have decreased the competition at the spot. Geoff Schwartz is out with a sports hernia, and neither Joe Berger nor Chris DeGeare has been able to unseat Fusco. Still, Frazier does not want the second-year guard to feel the position is being handed to him.
“You don’t want it to be starter by default,” Frazier said. “You want to keep putting him in situations to see how he handles things, and then make a determination on it. He’s done a good job, but he’s had a limited amount of experience.”
Passing the test
Rookie kicker Blair Walsh had a very busy night Friday against Buffalo, making five of six field goals. He made a 22-yarder first, missed a 49-yarder, then came back to hit from 47, 45, 40 and 30 yards.
Priefer said Walsh missed the 49-yarder by pushing it right. But what he liked most was the way the rookie bounced back.
“He came back and made virtually the same kick, just two yards shorter,” Priefer said. “And he drilled it. … That’s where you figure out whether or not, mentally, the guy can handle it. He responded very well.”
--Cornerback Chris Cook (concussion) is still not cleared to practice. Frazier said he hoped Cook could practice Wednesday, but that Cook would probably miss the third preseason game. That means more snaps for Robinson and Chris Carr. Frazier didn’t say which would start.
--Everson Griffen, who missed Monday’s workouts due to illness, returned to practice today. Also back on the field was linebacker Solomon Elimimian (hamstring) returned after missing two days of practice. Not practicing were Cook, receiver Jordan Kamar (hand), guard Bridger Buche, Schwartz and John Carlson (knee).
--OL DeMarcus Love looked good in practice Monday and could play in Friday’s game against San Diego.
--Frazier said he would limit the snaps for RB Toby Gerhart over the final two preseason games.