Chris Evans to the rescue?
Last year’s Bengals special teams found themselves behind the eight-ball early. Return specialist Brandon Wilson was injured and lost for the year, while Darius Phillips struggled fielding punts. With this dilemma, Coach Simmons used experience and made the adjustments. Veteran receiver Trent Taylor ran back punts, while Chris Evans, learning on the fly, returned kickoffs.
Former 49er and current Bengal slot receiver Trent Taylor will likely return as the leading candidate to return punts this season. However, he will have some competition in Pooka Williams and rookie free agent wide receiver Kwamie Lassiter.
Williams has all the natural gifted athletic ability but must improve on holding onto the ball and making decisions. More than likely, the only way he makes the team is if he wins the punt return job. Unlike Williams, Lassiter has experience returning punts in college and averaged 13.5 yards on eight returns this past season. Both players will genuinely have to shine during the preseason to unseat Taylor.
Brandon Wilson has had a pretty stellar career as a kicker returner for the stripes, even leading the NFL in kick returns in 2019. Still, an unfortunate knee injury has possibly derailed his future here. With two new drafted safeties and Wilson being a safety, it will be an uphill struggle to make the team.
Where one door closes, another one opens, and in walks running back Chris Evans, who started returning kicks after Wilson was injured. Being the gifted athlete that Evans is, he performed well at the position.
Coach Simmons will have to work his magic again if Evans plays a more prominent role in the running game and less in the return game. Given Simmons’s track record, I am sure we see different players given the opportunity to return kicks during preseason games.