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Why the Giants Were Smart to Diminish David Wilson's Role on Special Teams

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Why the Giants Were Smart to Diminish David Wilson's Role on Special Teams
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants know very well from experience that tagging David Wilson with full-time kickoff return duties in addition to his primary role at running back would be playing with fire—remember star cornerback Jason Sehorn's 1998 season?

Sehorn's season-ending knee injury that occurred at the end of a 33-yard opening kickoff return in that fateful August preseason game against the New York Jets remains a particularly sore moment in Giants history.

Now it serves as a teaching moment.

Immediately following that meaningless game 15 years ago, Michael Strahan said the only thing that needed to be said. 

"To think that it happened on something that he didn't necessarily have to do is what eats at me."

Would Wilson and his NFL league-leading 1,533 kickoff return yards from last season as a rookie make the Giants better on special teams in 2013? Yes.

Do they necessarily have to have him back there all the time? No.

Along with Andre Brown, Wilson is expected to carry the running load this season, so the coaching staff is appropriately looking to preserve his energy and minimize any unnecessary injury risks.

Special teams coordinator Tom Quinn told Giants.com that their decision to use Wilson on kick returns will ultimately depend on the impact that the second-year man has on offense.

Obviously, he [Wilson] would like to do it. He’s done it very well, but we’ll have to see how it all comes down with where he is on the depth chart and what he’s doing on offense. It might be maybe for one or two or you don’t need him for one or two, but we’ve got other guys that we feel good about.

Those other candidates whom Quinn and head coach Tom Coughlin allude to are 22-year-old Rueben Randle and 2011 draft pick Jerrel Jernigan.

Randle, the former LSU standout, fielded 15 of the Giants' 20 punt returns in 2012.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Rueben Randle fielding punt in Giants minicamp.

The Giants were good enough for last place in the NFL a season ago, mustering only 144 punt-return yards for the entire year, but Randle was a bright spot, accounting for 108 of those yards.

Jernigan had some flashes of success in 2011 returning kickoffs, amassing 186 yards on just eight return attempts. He only ran back two kicks in 2012 but managed to squeeze 60 yards out of those opportunities. 

Jernigan has also only had three career receptions as he heads into his third season in the NFL, and his contribution with the Giants is likely to be felt in the kick-return game.

Quinn also boasts that Jernigan and Randle are among "a bunch of guys that can do the job if it’s not David."

One of those other "guys" will be returning Giant Aaron Ross.

While Ross wasn't really utilized in a punt-return role too much with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season—returning three kicks for 16 yards—the G-Men had effectively used him in that role in 2010 and 2011.

So can the collaborative efforts of Randle, Jernigan, Ross and others match or improve upon Wilson's 1,533 return yards from last season? Maybe.

More importantly, is it a smart move by the Giants to lessen Wilson's role on kick returns and spread the accountability out to others? Yes.

It gives other guys a chance to shine and allows Wilson to concentrate on filling the void left at running back by fan-favorite Ahmad Bradshaw.

Even though Sehorn was a defensive star and Wilson is a burgeoning offensive threat, the misuse of Sehorn in the late 1990s resonates with how the Giants should utilize Wilson.

Big Blue lost Sehorn for the season in 1998, forever compromising his full potential.

The 2013 Giants brass appear to be smarter this time around in protecting their investment in Wilson, reserving their willingness to exploit his kick-return capabilities.     

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