In an effort to reduce the workload of second-year cornerback Pacman Jones in 2006, Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher will likely remove the team's 2005 first-round draft choice from the punt return unit for the upcoming season.
Barring a change in plans, Jones will continue to return kickoffs, in addition to starting at right cornerback. But the punt return duties probably will be assumed by three-year veteran wide receiver Bobby Wade, who was claimed on waivers late last season after the Chicago Bears released him.
"Whatever they feel is best, that's fine with me, but I'm still a guy who wants to get my hands on the ball as much as possible," Jones said. "I'm confident I can make plays, whether it's at cornerback or on special teams. I don't feel like I wore down any [last season]."
Still, Jones started at cornerback in 13 of his 15 appearances. And while he recorded 12 passes defensed, he did not have an interception. The former West Virginia star, selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft, registered 43 kickoff returns and 29 punt returns, not counting eight fair catches.
While the Titans coaches realize the potential of Jones to make some explosive plays in the kicking game -- he averaged 26.2 yards per kickoff return in 2005, fourth-best in the league, and had five runbacks of 40 yards or more -- his primary value is as an aggressive cover defender. And the feeling is that Jones will more quickly fulfill his potential on defense, where the Tennessee coaches feel he can become an elite shut-down cornerback, if he is used less on special teams.
As a team, the Titans averaged 9.3 yards per punt return in 2005, seventh-best in the league. Tennessee might sacrifice some big-play potential by removing Jones from the punt return team, but the coaches feel the tradeoff, with him being able to concentrate more on the defensive side, is a good one.
The plans could change, of course, if Wade struggles, as he did with the Bears in 2005.
Wade combined for nine fumbles or "muffs" on punt returns last season and his propensity for miscues far overshadowed his 9.6-yard return average and 75-yard runback for a touchdown. In two late-year games in which he appeared for the Titans, after being claimed on waivers, Wade did not return punts. He is anxious, though, to resume his old job.
"My confidence isn't shaken at all," said Wade, who feels that escaping the adverse weather conditions and tricky winds in Chicago will help him move beyond last season's struggles. "I want to be back there."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.