Earlier this summer, I wrote about how Casey Skowron and Drew Rigglemen will help continue to bring success to Arizona. Casey Skowron really pulled through in key moments last season for the 'Cats, and we all have to put the USC ending in the past. Drew Riggleman was among the best punters in the nation and will continue to help Arizona win the field position battle. The kicking game will be fine, and could be even better in 2015, but it'll be the horrendous kick returning that must improve.
Arizona had just one kick return go the distance, and it was Cayleb Jones on an onside kick at Washington State. Coincidentally, the only punt return taken to the house was also against Washington State, with DaVonte' Neal going 81 yards for the first strike of the game.
Key Losses: None
Key Returners: Casey Skowron, Drew Riggleman, DaVonte' Neal, Tyrell Johnson
Key Newcomers: Shun Brown
The frustrating part about the return game is the fact that Arizona has the playmakers back there returning the kicks, it just comes down to missing crucial blocks or missing key reads. Rich Rodriguez has said that DaVonte' Neal is still the primary return guy on punts for now, which baffles many. Neal has to be the most frustrating and nerve-racking player to watch on the field. If a punt starts taking a bounce on the field, count on Neal to follow it all the way through until the opposing team touches it. I can't remember the last time I wasn't nervous on a punt return.
With that being said, Rich Rodriguez has said that there are a few who could challenge Neal.
Didn't sound like a lock for DaVonte' Neal to stay as primary return man this year. Some names to watch: Denson, Grant and Shun Brown.— Daniel Berk (@DSBerk) July 31, 2015
Cam Denson is an interesting candidate here, as he was an explosive playmaker back in his Salpointe days. Samajie Grant wouldn't be a bad thought either, although it might be safer to just keep him at receiver, limiting his risk. Shun Brown has been impressive in camp and will likely be one of a few true freshman who play this year. Johnny Jackson was a solid punt returner back in the 2013 season, and is still on the roster, waiting to find reps at safety. Why not give him a go?
As far as kick returners go, Tyrell Johnson will take the bulk of the load if he is healthy, with possibly Jared Baker or Jonathan Haden being the second return guy. Tyrell Johnson at times is too fast for his own good on the return, but it's only a matter of time until he breaks a few loose with sheer speed alone. Jon Haden might be more likely, simply because he won't have an extensive role in the offense like Baker. With the need to keep as many guys healthy as possibly, Haden wouldn't be a bad option here. But Jared Baker has returned quite a few kicks in the past, which gives him some much-needed experience in reading blocks on the return.
Expect Skowron and Riggleman to excel in their role, and maybe, hopefully, be involved in some more trick plays a la Casey Skowron vs. Washington. Should either go down, Josh Pollack seems to be the next guy in line at both kicker and punter.