Finding New Returner Among Titans' Few Needs

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** Wanted: A fast, surehanded player needed to follow blocks and pick up yards returning kickoffs and punts. Ability to score touchdowns a plus.

That's one job the Tennessee Titans are looking to fill at this training camp after leading the NFL in kickoff return average in 2008. They did that thanks to Chris Carr who also handled all but 2 punt returns but left for Detroit this offseason in free agency.

Now the Titans need a replacement for one of the very few holes they have on a team that went 13-3.

Luckily, they have a handful of players in camp who have returned kicks and punts here or back in college. Versatility, the ability to return and play another position, will be very key.

"It's got to be an advantage just to have options," special teams coach Alan Lowry said Monday.

The Titans tried to address the hole in free agency by signing Mark Jones, who was a returner with Carolina a year ago. He ranked third in the NFC, averaging 11.4 yards per punt return, and was 11th on kickoffs with 24 yards per return and a long of 59 yards.

"That's the hope. That's why we signed him because he did have comparable numbers on punts and kickoff-return wise. I thought he got better as the year went on because he didn't start the year off as their kickoff returner. He took that over during the season. Punt return-wise, he was pretty consistent all year long," Lowry said.

But Jones has been hampered by a tight hamstring the past three days and missed Monday morning's special teams practice.

That could open the door to others.

There's Chris Davis who has worked as the third receiver most of the offseason and early in camp. Davis returned punts in college at Florida State and understands he needs to be able to help out as many ways as possible in his third NFL season.

"You never want to come in thinking it's already given to someone or you might lose an opportunity. If it's out there, I don't want to let it pass me by so I'm competing every day," Davis said.

He returned 31 punts in 2007 as a rookie but struggled to hold onto the ball, something coach Jeff Fisher -- a former punt returner himself -- doesn't easily forget. Davis believes that's no longer a problem.

"I have had my ups and downs on punt returns so I know what I want to do. I'm going to try to make the best of it, try to improve on the things I'm already good at and try to minimize the mistakes," he said.

Those getting opportunities in the special teams sessions that precede practice include Davis on punt returns along with Tanard Davis, a cornerback who already has three interceptions this camp. Receiver Lavelle Hawkins joined Davis, running back Rafael Little and rookie cornerbacks Ryan Mouton and Jason McCourty at handling kickoffs.

Mouton, the third-round pick out of Hawaii, has been returning kicks since high school and had two returns for touchdowns in college where he ranked fifth in the nation with 29.6 yards on kickoff returns as a junior. McCourty returned kicks for Rutgers as a senior and averaged 25.8 yards. Both got to catch kicks in a team drill Sunday as Lowry tried to pare down his list a bit.

"They showed pretty good instincts, made some good cuts, showed some speed," Lowry said. "They both can catch the ball naturally. Those are big pluses for them."

Mouton is eager to do whatever is necessary.

"It'd be very nice to come in and contribute and try to keep that high level where it was. Chris Carr did a great job. Now they need somebody to step in," Mouton said. "A lot of guys back there have potential to do it. Whoever gets the job, I think they'll do a great job at it."

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