Finding a capable kick and punt returner has been quite a task for the Raiders the past couple seasons. After several futile attempts, and choosing between a rogue's gallery of subpar options, they made finding someone to carry the rock in the return game a priority this off-season.
There has been a hoard of different potential return men fielding punts and kick-offs this off-season and training camp. That competition has narrowed to a few finalists for the job.
"It hasn't been determined," Allen said of the punt return duties. "I think both [T.J. Carrie] and Denarius Moore have done a nice job. Both of them had effective returns in the game the other night. We're going to continue look at both of those guys as potential punt return options, and again we've got a couple more games to look at that, but I feel more comfortable now with where we're at from a punt return standpoint than I did coming into training camp, that's for sure."
Carrie in particular had a fantastic return in the game. The punt landed short and bounded toward him along the right sideline. He let it bounce into his arms, waiting for his blocks to set up, and then shot up the field for a 50-yard return to the Lions' 23-yard line. It was probably the longest return this coaching staff has seen in their two years with the team. He also had a 13-yard return to the 32-yard line in the game.
For Denarius Moore's part, he had one for 11 yards, but he escaped what looked to be a sure tackle, made a few nifty moves, and ran about 30 yards to pick up those 11 yards.
Then there's the matter of the kick return duties.
"The two guys we're looking at right now as primary options would be Latavius Murray and Kory Sheets," said Allen. "Both those guys should get some opportunities in the game."
Murray and Sheets got two kick returns each last week. Sheets outperformed him with a total of 57 yards and a long of 30 yards. Murray had a total of 35 yards with a long of 18 yards. Sheets is certainly more ideal as a kick returner. He is quicker than Murray. He also has a lot more experience doing it. The decision could come down to who they prefer as the third running back. Murray and Sheets are currently competing for that job as well.
The other big question is where this leaves Taiwan Jones. He was the standout last season in coverage but is also expected to handle kick return duties this season. He received a contract extension prior to last season as a standout special teams player.
Jones has not played this preseason. It's uncertain what is actual injury is, Dennis Allen said only that he was "banged up" and expects him to return for the season opener. Once he returns (so to speak), he should factor into this competition as well. It's even possible Murray and Sheets are placeholders until Jones comes back.
Having options and real competition instead of plugging in the lesser of the evils is a positive step for the Raiders return game.