Lost among the New England Patriots’ struggles on defense most of the season and the recent struggles on offense are the struggles on special teams, namely in the return game. The Patriots haven’t gotten much of a spark from their kick returners and generally have started around the 20-yard line or worse. Danny Woodhead, Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater have all had opportunities at returning kicks. Yesterday, the Patriots signed Tiquan Underwood, a receiver who was with the team late in the preseason and is primarily a kick returner. He could provide a spark to the return game. Another possibility floated around by Bill Belichick is using Devin McCourty more to return kicks.
“Devin is ready to go on that every week,” said Belichick. “He’s done it for us in the past. He’s one of our fastest and most explosive players. It’s something that he’s always ready to do; he works on every week. We feel like there’s the right situation for him in there, whether that’s doing it for a game or doing it for a play or whatever it happens to be. I’m sure he’ll be ready if he’s called upon and he’s done a good job for us doing that in the past. It will just depend on the game situation and what type of return game plan is for that particular game. I wouldn’t expect to see him as our regular kickoff returner but could he be back there situationally? Sure.”
That, in my view, would be an awful idea.
We all know that Bill Belichick places a premium on special teams, as he should. It is a valuable part of football that can change the momentum in a game in an instant. However, using your best corner, even situationally, is a recipe for disaster. It’s not only that McCourty is the team’s best corner, but the team only has four corners total. The other corners are Kyle Arrington, Antwaun Molden, and Phillip Adams. You could count Sterling Moore as a fifth corner, but he is likely to be used more at safety.
What happens if McCourty is injured on a kick return? Your starting corners are now Arrington and Molden/Adams? I know injuries can happen on any play, but can you imagine the backlash if McCourty is injured on special teams? The venom directed at Belichick already would become 100 times more poisonous. If the Pats had more depth a corner that would be one thing, but with the current situation there, losing McCourty would be a fatal blow.