By Brady Henderson
The Seahawks are looking at their punt-return options after losing Golden Tate in free agency, and the list of candidates hasn't been narrowed down.
Coach Pete Carroll said Tuesday that Earl Thomas would be the first option if the season were starting now while also identifying Richard Sherman, Percy Harvin and Bryan Walters as possibilities. Some of those players were fielding simulated punts from a Jugs machine following Tuesday's practice along with second-round pick Paul Richardson and backup cornerbacks Phillip Adams and Akeem Auguste, so the list of candidates could actually be greater than what Carroll mentioned.
The question would be an easier one – both for observers and perhaps the team, too – if any of the options had extensive experience. Walters returned eight punts for 45 yards for San Diego in 2011 while Adams has a 6.1-yard average on 37 career returns, the majority of which came over the last two seasons with Oakland. But none of the other players have returned punts in the NFL, and neither Walters nor Adams is a lock to make the team.
Harvin is one of the league's best kickoff returners (see: Super Bowl XLVIII), but as he noted Tuesday, the two jobs aren't as similar as they're often made out to be.
"It is completely different," he said. "The ball falls different, it hangs different, and the trajectory of the ball, the way it comes down, it falls a little different. So that's why you see a lot of people who kick return don't automatically do punt return. So I'm going to work at it."
Thomas, Harvin and Sherman aren't just starters for Seattle but three of the team's highest-paid and most valuable players. While the notion of any of them returning punts is plenty intriguing, it would also come with some level of risk, as overstated as it might be.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.