October 19, 2011

Hall could see time as kick and punt returner

It takes about four seconds from the time the ball hits a punters foot to the time many punt returns end. In that time, Randall Burden has a lot on his mind.

When he first lines up, he reads the punt formation and judges the direction and power of the wind to put himself in position. After the snap, he has to find the ball in the air and move himself to where he thinks the punt will land, all while craning his neck skyward.

He takes a split second to look down and examine the coverage. As he starts to look up again to relocate the punt, Burden must decide if he's going to call for a fair catch or field the punt and try for a return.

If he's going to return the punt, he tries to keep a picture in his head of where the coverage is. Often before he even gets a chance to look down again, he'll have to make a move to try and make the first tackler miss.

It's all tougher than it looks. But through six games, Kentucky is averaging just 1.7 yards per punt return, good for 117th in the country. The Wildcats longest return, an 11-yard return by Burden against Central Michigan, is shorter than the average punt return by 28 schools.

"We've had a few mishaps," Burden said. "Once we get those one or two guys blocked, we should see some good things out of it."

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips has gone looking for other solutions in the return game, including giving true freshman Daylen Hall a look at kick returner and punt returner.

"The thing he has, he has that toughness and big-time speed also," Phillips said.

Special teams coach Greg Nord compared Hall to former UK great Mike Siganos, who starred as a punt returner and defensive back from 1974-77. Siganos, who passed away in September, earned honorable mention All-America Honors as a senior and still holds many punt return records at UK.

Hall, a 5-foot-10 defensive back, has seen action in every game on special teams for the Wildcats this year and returned a kickoff against South Carolina. He saw more time as a returner during the Wildcats' bye last week and was listed as the No. 2 punt returner and No. 3 kick returner on the depth chart distributed Monday.

He lost track of how many kickoffs and punts he returned for touchdowns in high school at St. Xavier in Louisville, but says it was definitely in double-digits. Hall combines 4.3 speed and a square frame built for breaking tackles.

"When I get the ball, I just run hard," Hall said. "I try not to shy away from hits, keep my shoulders level and head downfield as far as I can."

Burden is still the primary punt returner, and Hall is behind seniors Mychal Bailey and Winston Guy on the kickoff return depth chart. Burden, a fifth-year senior who was the backup punt returner last, has far more experience than Hall as a returner.

Hall has some weapons of his own, though.

"Randall (Burden) isn't a real big guy," Phillips said. "Usually, an arm tackle can get him. Daylen is about 195 pounds and a guy who can run through those arm tackles."

But Hall should still see plenty of playing time. He comes off the edge to try to block punts occasionally, is on coverage teams and is listed as Kentucky's No. 4 corner. Particularly on special teams, Hall's jobs are those that require him to be fearless.

That fits with what is asked of a punt returner who has 11 players bearing down on him. It also fits with Hall's skill set.

"If you have the ability to make a move, you can go a long way because they have to change direction," Hall said.

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