Jaguars' return game is lacking in opportunities to start the season

The Jaguars have yet to break out in the return game on special teams. Through six games, Jacksonville has only returned seven kickoffs (tied for 24th in the NFL) and six punts (32nd). 

Opposing kickers don't want running back Corey Grant returning their kickoffs. Opposing punters are producing directional punts with enough hang time to make the Jaguars' returners irrelevant.

The return game - especially on kickoffs - isn't a weakness for the Jaguars. It's more of a non-entity at this point.

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"We really haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities [on kickoffs]," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. "Corey, we know [we're] good back there. We feel very comfortable with him. We haven’t really gotten many opportunities and we have to be smart. We have to be smart where we are taking the ball out and what we are doing. I think we have done a good job of that."

Grant has returned four kickoffs this season, averaging 23.5 yards per attempt. He has yet to have the opportunity to break a big return. His career high in the regular season was a 42-yard return as a rookie in 2015.

The last time Grant scored a touchdown on a kickoff was during his senior year at Auburn. However, he has shown the ability to make big plays on special teams in the preseason.

Through six weeks, he has just been waiting for the time to strike.

"[I'm] very anxious," Grant said last week. "We haven't been getting any kicks in the field of play. Most of them been in the end zone so to get that one kick and do something with it, I've been dreaming of it. Just trying to picture it when it happens."

Much like on kickoffs, opposing teams have done a good job of limiting the punt returns for the Jaguars. The team is averaging just 2.2 yards per attempt on a league-low six returns. 

The team has since moved on from Marqise Lee as the punt returner and replaced him with fellow wide receiver Max McCaffrey.

"In the punt return, we really didn’t get off to a good start," Marrone said.

"We had Marqise Lee back there and a lot of people are nervous about him, so they are directionally kicking or they are kicking it high. The net we were getting back there when Marqise was back there was to a certain extent advantageous to us. Then once he has gone out, Max is back there, who is really an unknown to people, but now people are just going ahead to switch the field on us."

McCaffrey doesn't have a lot of experience returning punts. He is still learning the ropes with in-game action. So far, McCaffrey has returned just one punt for no gain.

"I'm still new to it," McCaffrey said earlier this month. "Still trying to figure out how to do it. It was nice to get in [against Pittsburgh]. I got in a bunch in the preseason. I've been doing it for the last year or so."

Marrone has been patient with the return game. While he and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis made the change at punt returner, the blocking group has largely remained the same for both units.

The coaching staff has faith that when an opportunity presents itself, the Jaguars' return unit will take advantage.

"My experience has been, blocking is important, but it is more of the dynamic type returner that you have back there," Marrone said.

"When you look at, and I have talked to Joe about this, before we even met, when we were interviewing Joe – my experience in special teams and I do have a background in it is when you study the NFL, the teams that are really good return teams it is not a matter of them having ten great blockers and an average returner. They usually have an outstanding returner and guys that can block.”

The Jaguars' kick return drought may last past Week 7. The Indianapolis Colts aren't prone to allowing much in that regard. 

Indianapolis punter Rigoberto Sanchez has only had eight punts returned for 36 yards (4.5 yards per attempt) this season. 

Sanchez also handles kickoffs for the Colts. The coverage unit has only allowed 11 kickoffs for an average of 18.5 yards per attempt (ranked third in the NFL). 

Still, it only takes one special teams slip up for a returner to take advantage. If Grant or McCaffrey see an opening, a big play could be on the way.

Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.

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