One tenant in Lincoln Financial Field is forced to play its best punt returner at wide receiver because (ostensibly) they don’t want to get half of the outside receiving game hurt.
The other tenant will not have that problem in 2023.
Given what DeVonta Smith did at Alabama returning punts–where he was nothing short of a magician in the open field–it has to be tempting for Nick Siranni to use him on special teams.
The Philadelphia Eagles don’t have that flexibility due the to limited numbers of receivers the NFL has.
Temple football does.
Dante Wright is no Devonte Smith on punt returns but he will definitely be Temple’s best punt returner since another Wright, Isaiah, roamed the field in 2018.
That year, Wright–who had a cup of coffee with a Washington team called the Redskins (now Commanders)–was named the AAC Special Teams Player of The Year for his ability to break a game open with returns.
This Wright could fill the same role at Temple.
One, Wright was a dynamic punt returner at Colorado State.
Two, the 2023 Owls went from only five scholarship wide receivers at the close of 2022 to what will be 10 at the start of the 2023 season due to the addition of five outstanding players, including Wright–a 2019 freshman first-team All-American at Colorado State and Richard Dandridge, who many Florida prep writers consider the No. 1 outside receiver in the state of Florida.
To me, this whole notion of wide receivers getting hurt on punt returns is overblown. They can get hurt just as easily on a five-yard out as they can returning a punt but, even given that, the Owls have receivers like Amad Anderson, Zae Baines and Dandridge who can be dangerous and productive on the outside. They added three other dynamic newcomers but none have the history of returning punts and kicks like Wright. They can afford to put someone who has the ability to take it to the house back returning kicks.
Wright is that guy.
Now head coach Stan Drayton hasn’t officially named Wright as the punt returner, but he now has that flexibility. Temple used to have the best special teams in the AAC not only because Ed Foley’s units could block kicks on a consistent basis but because they always had a returner who was capable of flipping the field on every punt.
Wright was that guy. Wright is this guy, too.
It will be nice for a Temple special team unit to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition again.
Given the additional numbers on signing day, the Owls are trending that way.
Monday: New Year’s Resolutions
Friday: Four to Score