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Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Let Dez Bryant return punts

By Calvin Watkins

The owner of the Dallas Cowboys was talking, we think, like the general manager of the Cowboys.

Jerry Jones, who is actually the GM and owner said he's concerned about using Dez Bryant, one of his dynamic playmakers, on punt returns. It's pretty interesting to note that Jones has praised Bryant's ability to return punts where he took two back for touchdowns last year.

But in the 2011 season opener, Bryant injured a thigh forcing him to miss one game and play gimpy in another. He's healthy now, as evident of his performance on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. Bryant was running routes almost pain free and he was trying to break tackles almost at will. Bryant plays the game with passion. He doesn't give up anything on the football field. You can tell he likes playing football. He's into every play on offense and defense. He doesn't stop talking on the sidelines. He's talking to himself, his teammates, opponents, the coaches and the fans.

It's why Jason Garrett likes Bryant and wants him on the field at all times.

Yet, Garrett is placed in this interesting situation of deciding what to do with Bryant thanks to what Jones, the GM said. See, if Jones, the owner were talking, Bryant is still returning punts with no problems.

Jones, the GM, sees potential problems here. Injuries.

But Garrett has no real threats in the punt return game. He could put Kevin Ogletree back there, but he hasn't returned a punt since he was playing high school football back in Queens, N.Y. Terence Newman has done it, but has fielded only six punts since 2007.

There is Dwayne Harris, the rookie from East Carolina. But he's currently on the practice squad and to elevate him to the 53-man roster again, the Cowboys have to make a roster move. And when Harris did it, he averaged just 6.6 yards per return.

Jones wants one of his best players on the field for the offensive snaps. That's understandable. But Bryant can do so much more with the return game. Garrett talked last week about not having starters play extended time on offense get time on special teams.

It's a balance he's trying to find with Bryant and other starters such as linebacker Sean Lee.

Garrett isn't the only coach with this problem.

One of the best returners in the NFL is Chicago's Devin Hester. He's averaging 14.6 yards per return and has scored once this year. As a receiver, Hester is second on the team with 21 catches with one touchdown.

We understand the need to protect your best players, but football is a game of risk. If you don't want somebody to get hurt, don't use them. Trade him. Cut him.

If you don't want to do that, play them.

“Now, the game is one that you risk injury on every play, but because he just refuses to go down – which is a great thing about him – then you’ve got to watch using that in situations like kick returns,” Jones said on his weekly radio show Tuesday morning. “We’ll monitor that as the year goes. We’ll play that by ear as to when he’ll actually return the ball. We’ve got to watch him."

Bryant should stay on punt returns, that simple. It's not easy to find a good returner.

“I’m not going to say he’s injury prone," Jones said of Bryant, "but I will say he’s more subject to getting hit and hurt with the way he stands up and fights it than probably any player we’ve got.”

Jones has a right to be concerned. If he's bothered by it get Garrett somebody else to use.