Jock Sanders is getting looks there, as is Noel Devine. The time to secure the catch and lack of immediate pressure eases the strain on kick return vs. punt work. An all-purpose athlete at St. Petersburg Catholic in Florida, Sanders returned punts and kickoffs and manned the tailback and wideout slots. He fielded punts in WVU's first two practice sessions. Devine, primarily a tailback at North Fort Myers (Fla.) could be a dual threat on special teams. His ability to exploit small cracks in a coverage team combined with his explosiveness and overall speed make him a perfect return candidiate. And, because NCAA rules now madate kickoffs from the 30-yard line instead of the 35, the tandem of return players will be a larger focus than ever before.
"You can tell there is speed on this team," said Rivers, who averaged 10.8 yards on 18 punt returns last year, including a 50-yard runback for a score at Mississippi State. "I have been on some fast teams, especially in 2005 with Chris Henry and Rasheed (Marshall) and Kay-Jay Harris. But this team is fast, especially with our newcomers. It's a fun time."
Rivers said that fellow cornerback Antonio Lewis actually ranks among the top five fastest players in terms of overall and game speed. Lewis was the only other player to return a punt last season, and he did it just eight times for 39 yards. He also returned a punt for a touchdown in 2005 at home versus East Carolina. Starting tailback Steve Slaton could also get chances for added touches via special teams, though that would come only if other players are injured, or WVU needed a big return late in a game. Slaton would then likely be paired with Reynaud.
The coaching staff will also utilize the two-man return scheme on punts. One player will stay up closer to the ball, while another drops farther back on the opposite side of the field. It allows for better ball security, as there is less yardage to cover to field the kick, but obviously lessens blocking. Rivers and Lewis were used in the formation last year, and that could be an approach that would enable Devine or Sanders to play on the punt team earlier and with less pressure – but only if the newcomers can learn the new schemes quickly enough.
"On punt return and kick return, we changed whole scheme," Rivers said. "We are trying to break through on punt return and have something special there. I can't tell you much else. We have some guys we can put back there, a lot of specialists. But I am going to do my thing.
"I think I am one of the oddballs. I have these hands that I don't have to worry about catching it. I have been fortunate enough not to fumble too many. The first priority is to catch the ball, then look at what you can do. Me, I just run up there looking for the first cut. But for new guys, especially, at this level it is hard to worry about where guys are coming from and really pick up the ball. It is kicked so high and the guys are flying. They will have to get used to that."