JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Who will be returning punts for the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday?
The player they drafted to do it, or the guy they signed in the final days of the preseason?
Coach Gus Bradley isn’t saying just yet, mainly because he wants to wait and see how the team’s injury situation at cornerback clears over the next two days. It may not be until Sunday afternoon that he chooses between Ace Sanders and Will Blackmon.
It appears the issue is this: The Jaguars are already down one starting cornerback in Dwayne Gratz (high ankle sprain), and could be without the other starter, too, because Alan Ball has been battling a groin injury late in the week.
Blackmon will start in place of Gratz. If Ball can’t play, the team will start rookie seventh-round pick Demetrius McCray on the other side. Bradley would then be reluctant to use Blackmon to return punts because that would put too much on Blackmon’s shoulders and expose him to additional risk of injury.
Losing Blackmon would be devastating to the secondary, which would be left with Mike Harris as the only other cornerback on the active roster. The team probably would promote rookie Marcus Burley from the practice squad.
Sanders would then get the nod on punt returns over Blackmon, who was the Jaguars’ returner in the final preseason game and returned one punt for no gain against Kansas City last week.
But if Ball is able to play, Bradley then has a little more leeway in the secondary and likely would tab Blackmon as the returner.
Of course, he could also be overthinking things, too.
"It could be somebody else, but you’d like to get one of those two out there," Bradley said. "I don’t want to run scared because what happens if something happens to Will Blackmon? What happens if something happens to Ace Sanders?"
The Jaguars drafted Sanders, who averaged 11.2 yards per punt return and returned three touchdowns in his career at South Carolina, in the fourth round to be the team’s punt returner. He worked as the returner throughout camp, but against Kansas City the Jaguars went with Blackmon, a seven-year veteran who has returned 68 punts in his career.
And while Bradley didn’t name anyone specifically when he said earlier in the week that he felt some players played against the Chiefs as if the game were too big for them, it’s clear that Sanders was one of those guys.
After being electric with the ball in his hands in camp and during the four preseason games -- seven catches for 82 yards and two punt returns for 22 yards -- Sanders caught just three passes for 14 yards against the Chiefs.
He’s expected to settle down this week, but Bradley may still opt to go with the steady Blackmon provided the injury situation clears.