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The Bucs have used rookie Jaelon Darden as their main kick and punt returner since Week 7, replacing Jaydon Mickens, who just signed with the Jaguars off the practice squad a week ago. There might be two different players taking the kicks and punts this week, however, depending on Darden’s status for Sunday.

Darden left the game in the second half of the Bucs’ 38-31 win over the Colts after sustaining a concussion. Bruce Arians gave an update on him the following day.

“He’s in the [concussion] protocol,” Arians said. “So we’ll just wait and see how that goes.”

Each concussion situation is different for every player due to severity and recovery time. The Bucs lost Antoine Winfield, Jr. for two games in Weeks 5 and 6 as he recovered from the same injury.

It’s too early to determine whether Darden can play on Sunday when the Bucs travel to play the Falcons, but there needs to be a plan in place in the case that he can’t go. Since he does both kick and punt returns, Arians listed two players that would handle each responsibility.

“Obviously, if he clears the protocols, he’ll be the guy back there,” Arians said. “If not, ‘Gio’ (Giovani Bernard) would take over the kickoff return and Scotty Miller will probably do the punt returns.”

Having Bernard as a kick returner makes sense. He’s a veteran player that could handle that role. Bernard has actually returned three kicks this year on shorter kickoffs, returning them for a total of 53 yards.

The idea of Miller on punt return is an intriguing and tempting one. Since getting drafted by the Bucs, the thought of Miller fielding punts has been floated around, but he’s never done it in a regular season game. He regularly catches them at the start of practice to get reps in.

It would make sense to have Miller in that role, as he is one of the fastest players on the team. Tampa Bay recently implemented him as a gunner on punt coverage, where he recovered a fumble after a botched fair catch in the Bucs’ latest win. Maybe he’s found a niche getting involved on special teams.

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About the Author: Matt Matera

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1 month ago

Might be for the better. we need a veteran presence back there. He’s a rookie and he’s not doing a good job. As the pressure increases we don’t need a rookie making a critical mistake.

Reply to  Buc76
1 month ago

Agreed. He’s been terrible on punt returns and looks scared of contact.

Reply to  chefboho
1 month ago

I concur but I think he looks worse on kickoff returns. I think the other teams feel the same way which is why he is fielding so many kickoffs right at the goal line.If he gets lucky he gets to the 20 and I can’t even when he ever got to the 25.

Reply to  drdneast
1 month ago

I think all of this is so silly lol. 20 combined career punt and kick returns with middling averages, on a team who’s consistently had poor return units, and he sucks? He has the longest punt return in the league this year, along with two 30+ yard kickoff returns that have gotten us started at our 30 or better. The expectations for him are apparently foolishly high among Bucs faithful on the whole. We’re talking an absurdly small sample size here, and he’s had at least three (maybe more? I may be forgetting one or two) really strong plays within… Read more »

1 month ago

The ‘speedy’ Darden not able to play maybe a blessing in disguise for us. The one play where he tried to go outside was one the slowest developing play, maybe he was looking for holes to developed.

1 month ago

So far Darden hasn’t really locked up the return role anyway. I’d love to see Scooter get a shot back there and we already know Gio is a solid option. He hasn’t been used much now that FOURnette has been playing just about every down, so it’ll be good to get him involved in other ways.

1 month ago

Solid contingency plan. May be better than the starter. This Darden kid is starting to remind me of that other, fast, smaller kid we had a couple of years ago. That kid never could produce. I do kind of hold my breath a bit when he is actually fielding a kick. I’ve never seen a kid fall down as much… well except from that kid I mentioned earlier from the Bucs. That kid was billed as fast, elusive too. Didn’t translate in the pros. I feel that this might be Darden’s fate as well. Hope not.

1 month ago

Miller has never seemed fast with the ball in his hands. It’s weird that a player as quick and fast as he is is so ordinary in the screen game. So idk, I wouldn’t expect much from him as a returner. For a player with his long speed, it just seems like there’s a certain lack of instant explosiveness in his first couple steps. But, I’m sure he can at least get the job done – catch the ball, avoid any major mistakes and all that. Really hope Darden can go. Bucs fans seem to want him to step in… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by toofamiliar17
1 month ago

Man, the across the board negativity for Darden blows my mind here. Just unreal. You’d think the guy was losing 5 yards every time he fielded a punt or kick. Tough crowd, sheesh. Among returners with at least 10 punt returns (his number), Darden has the 10th best average return in the league. Among kick returners with at least 10 returns (his number), he’s 20th. Not great there, and we’d like it to be better, but that’s just marginally below the median with that volume cutoff, and successful returns come down to a whole lot more than just the returner.… Read more »

Reply to  toofamiliar17
1 month ago

Welcome to Bucville Too Familiar. Often perception overrules reality. Cherry-picking to satisfy an agenda frequently takes priority over analyzing the entirety of the performance. Bucs players and coaches are held to a much higher expectation than the rest of the league. No grading on a curve in this classroom. Folks here only expect one thing……”perfection”. The reality, as you pointed out, is that Darden is only a rookie 4th round Draft pick. Even though he didn’t return many kicks in college, the Bucs believed he possessed those skills due to his athleticism and decent, not elite, speed. I suspect he’s… Read more »

Reply to  scubog
1 month ago

Yea, agreed. I’m not saying he’s a stud right now, but I think the kid has done a fine job, and he’s flashed real big play potential. I mean, to put it into perspective, his first punt return as a Buc went for longer than any Jaydon Mickens EVER had in Tampa. I think people need to slow their rolls on making up their minds.

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