WVU Still Trying to Figure Out What’s Wrong on Punt Return
West Virginia hasn’t managed to average double digits on punt returns since 2012, when Tavon Austin was wearing Gold and Blue.
Better safe than sorry is the way coach Dana Holgorsen looks at special teams, especially punt return.
“Can I remind you of what happened four years ago,” Holgorsen said referring to the revolving door of return men that led to muffed punts and many mishaps.
What some call a lack of explosiveness, Holgorsen considers the consistency of punt returner and wide receiver Gary Jennings Jr. comforting: 21 punt returns and Jennings gained 39 yards, averaging 1.9 yards a return. Underwhelming to say the least, but Holgorsen has not lost faith in his return guy.
“Gary does a good job,” Holgorsen said. “Gary is as reliable as reliable gets and he is going to get better at it next year.”
Holgorsen is not the only one singing Jennings praises. Special teams coach Mark Scott told reporters without hesitation, “Obviously, Gary is dependable.”
Accountability and reliability are great attributes to have in a player, but more and more every year it seems like the Mountaineers do not have a play maker or game changer that puts everyone on the edge of their seats and say this is the one.
Punt return has become a drag and obvious weak spot, and this is not as of recent. The Mountaineers have not managed to average double digit return numbers since 2012, when Tavon Austin was in Morgantown. Since 2012, 11 different players have returned a punt for the Mountaineers. Talk about stability:
As a result of the last five years, you can see why Holgorsen and Scott enjoy the consistency of Jennings, but that does not mean other options are not being explored.
“David Sills is a guy who is very similar to Gary in terms of dependability. Then, you have (sophomore receiver) Marcus Simms and (freshman running back) Tevin Bush that are electric with the ball in their hands,” Coach Scott told reporters.
Those are a handful of options to be confident in. Though they are options, Scott nor Holgorsen have lost faith in Jennings despite minuscule production last season. If you ask Holgosen, it is not Jennings fault for the lack of production.
“We have to focus in on the line of scrimmage. It has nothing to do with the actual returner. I have had average players be great punt returners because they have space,” Holgosen said. “That is what we have to get better at. It’s not Gary, it is what is going on in front of him.”
Jennings believes there will be a big difference in punt return this season.
“We’ve been putting in new strategies in order to get better yardage on punt return, I can see the success moving forward,” the Junior receiver said. Jennings’ offseason seems to have benefited him well, as coaches have spoken highly of his improvements.
“So far, he has taken his game to the next level both at receiver and I think he feels more comfortable, more confident in catching the ball and going on punt returns,” Coach Scott said of Jennings.
Expect Jennings to be the guy again this season at punt return, and hopefully better results, but Coach Scott said it best himself: “We’ve been working different guys the entire time. Depending on who we’re playing, what their scheme is and the situation of the game, we feel comfortable.”
It’s Jennings job to lose, and the staff will keep their options open.