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this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; As the coaches watch intently, Lance Moore heads a list of would-be kick and punt returners to replace Michael Lewis. Thursday, August 02, 2007 By Jimmy Smith JACKSON, MISS. -- It was such an important question one week ago that ...

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Old 08-02-2007, 08:11 PM   #1
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As the coaches watch intently, Lance Moore heads a list of would-be kick and punt returners to replace Michael Lewis.

Thursday, August 02, 2007
By Jimmy Smith

JACKSON, MISS. -- It was such an important question one week ago that Saints Coach Sean Payton mentioned it in the opening press conference of training camp, the day before the team's first official summer practice: Who's going to take Michael Lewis' place as kick returner?

In two practices devoted primarily to special teams, Payton has watched intently, bent over, hands on his knees, when the Saints have executed kickoff- and punt-return drills.

Payton has seen the same thing as special teams coordinator John Bonamago: Answers are being formulated rather quickly.

"I think you've definitely got to put Lance up there," Bonamago said this week, referring to receiver Lance Moore. "He's definitely got the inside track. After that, I think it's wide open. It could be a number of combinations. On kickoff returns, (Aaron) Stecker has been back there. So Lance Moore, Aaron Stecker, and after that, it's really going to depend on a lot of things."

Most of all, whether Payton allows tailback Reggie Bush to become as involved in the return game as Bush is hoping. Earlier this week, Payton said Bush "has been lobbying" for more kick-return work, although injury exposure is the primary concern. Bush had none in 2006 to go with 26 punt returns, including the winning touchdown against Tampa Bay.

"I'm not necessarily lobbying hard for it," Bush said. "But I just want to find another dimension to my game, and I think I can be a threat in the kick-return game. Not necessarily the starting kick returner, but just some situations, maybe the way (Carolina's) Steve Smith is used, that kind of thing."

Bonamago smiled at the possibility of teaming Bush, who clocked a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at Southern California's pro day workouts before last year's draft, with Moore's 4.4 speed.

"As a member of this staff, or a fan of the Saints, I think you've got to be excited any time Reggie Bush has the ball in his hands," Bonamago said. "Yes, definitely, we'd love to have Reggie ready to go back there. That's what makes Reggie Reggie. He wants the ball, and he's an electrifying player when he has it. Yeah, we'll take him. But we've still got to get some other guys ready."

To that end, Bonamago has worked many players into the practice rotation returning kicks (Moore, Bush, Stecker, Jamal Jones) and punts (Moore, Bush, free-agent Tramain Hall).

But so far, Moore has been the most consistent and impressive, hitting up through the kickoff wedge with a burst that made long-time returner and fan favorite Lewis easily expendable as the Saints ended their offseason training activities in mid-June.

And Moore has done the same on punt returns.

"I think I'm performing pretty well," said Moore, entering his third year with the Saints (the first two were spent mostly on the practice squad) out of Toledo and NFL Europe. "It's not perfect by any means, but it's early in camp, and we've still got a lot of time, yet. There's time to tighten up and get things better, and it should be exciting for us."

Hall, another product of the NFL's defunct European league, finds himself at the bottom of the wide-receiver depth chart but hanging around because of his special-teams and return ability. At North Carolina State, Hall had 462 career punt return yards, sixth in school history.

"I like the way things are shaping up," said Hall. "Being out there has been a real learning curve, just trying to learn the offense, keep my feet in the receiver position a little bit. But as far as special teams, I'm taking that real seriously.

"The special teams coach is great. He's working with me. I'm going in early, and we're talking about certain situations that I need to make these decisions. It's been going good for me here."

Last year, Lewis contributed 37 kickoff returns for 914 yards (a 24.7 average) and 16 punt returns for 111 yards.

Bonamago has a clear picture of what will formulate the answer to Payton's opening-day question.

"The first thing we're concerned about is ball security. So we need to have somebody back there that we trust," Bonamago said. "You've got take care of the football, make good decisions with the football and get us yardage, and not turn it over.

"We've got a great offense, so we want to make sure that any time we put a return unit on the field, whether it's punt return or kickoff return, we've talked about two acceptable outcomes: We're either going to bring the field goal team out there to kick an extra point, or the next snap is going to be Drew Brees taking a snap under center and let the offense do their work. And obviously, we're going to try to get Drew great field position."

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