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Treylon Burks Titans

Should Titans Let Treylon Burks Return Punts?

  • Justin Melo
  • July 28, 2022
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In an unexpected development, Tennessee Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel discussed the possibility of rookie wide receiver Treylon Burks returning punts during the preseason with reporters on Thursday afternoon. Vrabel noted Burks’ toughness in the open field as the reasoning behind the impending audition. 

Burks returned 12 punts as a freshman for Arkansas in 2019, totaling 130 yards (10.8 yards per punt) in the process. Burks became far too important to the success of Arkansas’ offense to continue in that role as a sophomore and junior, but the Titans will give him a chance to compete at punt returner once again.

Should they, though? 

Burks is expected to quickly claim a role in Tennessee’s revamped receiver rotation. Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook may open the season as Tennessee’s boundary receivers, but the hope is that Burks can at least claim a role via three-receiver sets immediately before eventually supplanting Westbrook in 12-personnel once he’s earned the trust of his coaching staff and quarterback. Should Burks prove to be Tennessee’s best option by a wide margin at punt returner, it’s plausible to see him taking on that role, but fellow rookie receiver Kyle Philips should remain the hands-on favorite to win that job.

The Titans doubled down at receiver by drafting Philips with the No. 163 overall selection. Philips enjoyed an outstanding spring, routinely leaving an excellent impression on the staff throughout organized team activities (OTAs) for his savviness as a route-runner. More relevant to this discussion, Philips has considerably more experience returning punts than Burks does. Philips returned 26 career punts at UCLA, scoring two touchdowns in the process. Philips averaged 22.6 yards per punt return in 2021, helping UCLA rate No. 1 in the NCAA in punt returns as a team. For his career, Philips averaged 19.3 yards per punt. Those are electric numbers.

The Titans are searching for a new punt returner. Last year’s starter was Chester Rogers, who remains an unrestricted free agent. Rogers isn’t expected back with the Titans in 2022. Rogers returned 30 punts for a total of 293 yards (9.8 yards per punt). No other Titans player attempted a punt return last season and the Titans ranked ninth in punt return average.
Nonetheless, they will have a new punt returner in 2022. There are other players in the mix besides Burks and Philips. Third-year undrafted free agent wide receiver Mason Kinsey and rookie UDFA Reggie Roberson Jr. are hoping to claim spots on the final 53-man roster via their ability to return punts. Both players will receive that opportunity throughout camp and the preseason. The Titans will also have a new kick returner, with veteran free-agent signing Trenton Cannon as the favorite to take the reins from Rogers on kickoffs.

Burks immediately quieted concerns over his weight and conditioning with a stellar practice on Wednesday. We’re careful not to overreact to anything this early into camp, but it’s clear Burks is in shape and ready to compete. Such pre-camp discussions regarding his lack of commitment were overblown and nothing more than downtime fodder. Burks’ practice was highlighted by this incredible diving catch in team periods.

Burks got behind No. 1 cornerback Kristian Fulton on the play. The Titans’ staff have praised Burks early and often throughout this week, which goes against their typical hard-nosed approach. Burks isn’t the current favorite to become their next punt returner, but the Titans are comfortable adding extra work to his plate. That speaks volumes regarding Burks’ progress.

Written By

Justin Melo