Raider fans in 2008 were used to seeing this pose from Jonnie Lee Higgins—or JLH as he's known to the Nation—as Higgins went from a virtual unknown to one of the most dangerous punt returners in the NFL.
Also showing an ability to take slant patterns to the house, Higgins' star was rising and the Raiders were excited to have their most explosive return man since Tim Brown also progressed as a receiver.
In the opening game in 2009, Higgins caught the ball and was immediately laced up viciously by Chargers' safety Erick Weddle. It was a clean hit, and Higgins has never been the same since.
Tentative in both the return and passing game, Higgins lost the mojo that saw him entertain fans with the electric slide and backflips after a big return, and seemed to lack confidence on the field.
The Raiders had some success returning kickoffs with Justin Miller, but he was released after the 2008 season. Last year, the Raiders struggled mightily, and their best kick returner was Gary Russell, an overweight fullback with little "take it to the house" ability. In short, the return game last season was pathetic.
Nick Miller, a water-bug type guy with good speed and vision, played very well in training camp in 2009 and looked to be a lock for the roster until he broke his shin. Oddly, the Raiders kept him on the active roster, hoping he'd return and inject some life in the return game.
Miller is back and healthy this year, and competing with Higgins, free-agent Yamon Figurs (formerly of Baltimore) and draft pick Jacoby Ford (the fastest man at the combine) for the return job.
They are also competing for the fifth and sixth wideout spots behind Louis Murphy, Chaz Schilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and I think Todd Watkins will make it this year.
Each is quick, each is shifty, and each has excellent vision. Figurs is the most experienced, having returned kicks and punts for the Ravens. Higgins is the incumbent, but has still yet to regain his previous magic and is no further ahead than the others.
Ford is the fastest and most elusive, and my prediction to return punts. He's also shown well as a wide receiver, I can see Higgins being cut, as he just seems to have lost his confidence; he's played decently in the passing game, but his returns have been poor.
Figurs has fumbled not really showing anything special. I expect he'll be cut shortly.
Miller has made some nice plays in the passing game, and I think will be the sixth wideout and the kick returner. He just seems to have a knack for making plays.
Regardless, someone in this group needs to step up to give this team a home-run threat in the return game.