Odell Beckham eager to try his hand on punt returns
As the Giants prepare for a rare interconference showdown at Pittsburgh this weekend, inquiring minds want to know: Will the G-Men unleash Odell Beckham on punt returns as the Steelers do with their own All-Pro wide receiver, Antonio Brown?
With primary punt returner Dwayne Harris battling a wrist injury and backup Bobby Rainey benched for fumbling, coach Ben McAdoo turned to Beckham in the second half of last week’s victory over the Browns.
Beckham was officially credited with 35 yards on three returns. That doesn’t begin to tell the full story. Penalties on two of those three plays nullified a 26-yard return as well as a scintillating 59-yard touchdown.
“I like when he has an opportunity to get his hands on the ball,” McAdoo said after the game. “He’s sure-handed back there and he’s electric with the ball in his hands.”
As colleges already know, Beckham is a natural on punt returns. In three seasons at LSU, he returned two of 62 punts for touchdowns, showcasing the same sharp cuts and rare suddenness that make him one of the NFL’s most intimidating assignments for cornerbacks.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will have his special teams prepared in the event that Beckham moonlights on punt returns again this week.
“He needs no endorsement from me, he looks like a dangerous guy,” Tomlin acknowledged. “Guys like him, they’re capable of distinguishing themselves regardless of what you ask them to do. He’s a competitor, a skilled athlete, a playmaker, and that’s what they do.”
Although Harris’ wrist injury is improving this week, McAdoo isn’t tipping his hand regarding the plan at punt returner.
For what it’s worth, Beckham is eager to try another round of returns.
“Hopefully we get another chance to run some back,” Beckham said Wednesday, via the Associated Press. “… It’s a lot of fun. It’s something that I do enjoy. Hopefully I can help this team out in that way or whatever way I can.”
Is McAdoo willing to follow Tomlin’s lead with Brown, risking his best player on one of the most dangerous plays in football?
Brown has returned nearly 30 punts per season over the last six years, avoiding major injury. Since entering the league in 2014, Beckham has shown a tendency to get nicked up every few games handling offensive responsibilities alone.
At what point does the risk simply outweigh the reward? Seahawks coach Pete Carroll experimented with All-Pro safety Earl Thomas on punt returns two years ago, only to pull the plug after one game. Similarly, coach Bruce Arians has relieved Patrick Peterson of his duties as the Cardinals‘ primary punt returner.
Moss took a lot of pride in his kick-return prowess, which eventually led to a Division I-A award named in his honor.
As the most dangerous wide receiver in the NFL, though, he understood that the injury risk was a threat to his Hall of Fame career. Beckham, on the other hand, is undaunted by the prospect of 10 tacklers racing toward him on returns.
“You could do that playing football or crossing the street,” Beckham explained. “It’s part of life. I don’t really worry about being hurt at all. It’s in God’s hands.
“I put the best preparation in my body that I can and take care of it the best that I can in order to go out there and not get hurt. Me being back there on punt return, getting hurt or anything like that is not really something I’m worried about. It can happen on any play.”
As the league’s superlative athlete in the prime of his career, Beckham’s bravado is understandable.
McAdoo is operating from a more conservative standpoint, aware that his team’s playoff odds wither if his most valuable player goes down.