By Michael Cohodes Payant
Special to 710Sports.com
With the Seahawks’ opener just two weeks away, few questions remain as unsettled as who will replace Golden Tate as the team’s punt returner. Speaking on 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob and Groz” Tuesday, wide receiver Doug Baldwin said the team is still far from a decision on who will return punts this season.
“I will just go ahead and say this, we need to find a punt returner,” Baldwin said. “I think that we got a long ways to go before we can replace Golden.”
Tate signed with the Lions this offseason in free agency, leaving a void for the team to fill not only at receiver but on special teams as well. His 11.5 yards-per-return average ranked ninth in the NFL among qualifying players last season and his 585 total punt return yards were second in the league behind only Kansas City’s Dexter McCluster.
Among the candidates to fill Tate’s role are Baldwin, free safety Earl Thomas, cornerback Richard Sherman and wide receivers Percy Harvin and Bryan Walters.
So far this preseason, Thomas has gotten the bulk of the action returning punts while Sherman is also among those taking reps at practice. Baldwin doesn’t think either of the two – each of whom are viewed as among the best at their respective positions – should be returning punts.
“As much as I love Earl, he doesn’t need to be back there,” Baldwin joked. “He’s awful at it and Sherm is even worse.”
Unlike many who are skeptical of the decision to potentially use one of the team’s defensive stars on punt returns, Baldwin doesn’t view the risk of injury as a deterring factor.
“I get the sentiment about that, that they’re worried about Sherm or Earl getting hurt because they’re tops at their position,” Baldwin said. “That punt return rep is going to be crucial to us somewhere along the line and we need the best guy back there as well as the best guys up there blocking for them.”
The fear of injury also applies to Harvin, who is expected to be the team’s primary kickoff returner but is also in consideration to return punts.
Perhaps the most intriguing candidate for the position is Walters, a player vying to make the team at one of its most competitive positions. If Walters were to emerge as the best candidate, it would help his case for a roster spot.
Baldwin, who has also taken some reps at punt returner during practice, says he’s a “fantastic” returner, but expects his status as “self-proclaimed one of the best blockers on punt returns” removes him from consideration.