Each year Oklahoma special teams coach Jay Boulware has knocked one part of the return game out of the park. Whether it was punt returning (Jalen Saunders) in 2013 or kick returning (Alex Ross) in 2014 or coverage units in 2015.
It’s the last one most forget about because fans want to see the big-time return game. It’s not like Boulware disagrees with that, but he’s still trying to find that guy.
“Our return game has got to get better,” Boulware said. “That comes two-fold. One, we've got to have returners step up this year, and two, we've gotta be good with the other 10 members.
“I'm looking forward to it. We've got a lot of guys. This staff has done a great job recruiting. There's a bunch of new faces out there right now. I've got some guys who want to do it who didn't want to do it last year.”
That makes sense. Last year everything was pretty much set in stone with Ross and Durron Neal returning kicks and Shepard and Zack Sanchez returning punts if Shepard couldn’t do so.
This year? Oh, it’s wide open. And when you say wide open, that means you could have some freshmen enter the ranks. It’s something Boulware is not at all hesitant to do.
“I'm not afraid of freshmen at all,” he said. “If freshmen can do a job for us, if he's shown an ability to control the football, let's go. Makes you a little bit nervous on punts, but if he can do it, he can do it. If he's comfortable back there doing it, I've started a freshman before, probably a couple years. They grow, and usually, you can have somebody pretty special.”
Looking at the 2016 class and guys like Abdul Adams, Mykel Jones and Parrish Cobb immediately come to mind. Joe Mixon is someone who has been talked about as a returner, and Jarvis Baxter seems to epitomize what you want from that spot.
Options galore, at least heading into camp. OU fans are looking for that answer. But you know what? So too is Boulware.
“I'm looking forward to seeing who we're going to pick,” he said. “I can't wait. I think we're going to have an opportunity to at least operate better than we did the year before.”