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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Coughlin hopes for improved return game

By Kieran Darcy

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Giants are the defending Super Bowl champions, but they definitely have some areas for improvement.

One of the most glaring is their punt return game. The Giants were third-to-last in the NFL in punt return yardage last season, with 171 yards. Only the Jaguars (148) and the Colts (108) were worse.

The Cardinals, in comparison, led the NFL with 696 punt return yards.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin has had several players return punts during the first two days of this week's three-day minicamp, and you can expect to see that continue as we move forward to training camp at the end of July.

"We would like to have a committee of guys (returning punts)," Coughlin said Wednesday.

During Wednesday afternoon's practice, four players were on the punt-return line: veteran wide receiver Domenik Hixon, second-year wideout Jerrel Jernigan, and rookies Rueben Randle (WR) and Jayron Hosley (CB).

Starting wide receiver Victor Cruz was also among that group at Tuesday's practice.

"It's a matter of having three, four, five guys that can do it, and that would allow us to have not just one individual back there," said Coughlin. "We have four or five guys, we wanna keep working those guys."

The Giants lost their primary punt returner from last season, cornerback Aaron Ross, and their primary kick returner, wide receiver Devin Thomas, via free agency. So those jobs are very much up for grabs.

Keep your eye on Jernigan, who the Giants drafted in the third round last year, in part because he was a dynamic return man in college at Troy. He did not catch a pass or return a punt in his rookie season, but he did have eight kick returns for 186 yards (23.3 average), and possesses excellent speed.

When asked if that experience will help him this season, Jernigan said, "Without a doubt. It just gives you a little (taste of the) action, of what you’re gonna get next year, and how fast the game is going, just stuff like that."

"I’m going in thinking I’m the No. 1 guy to kick return and punt return," he added. "They’re still open, and we’re still competing."