Ideally, Virginia Coach Mike London would like to see his team average 10 yards on punt returns. Were they able to meet that goal, the Cavaliers would rank among the top 36 in the country in that category.
But currently Virginia is averaging 6.1 yards per punt return – a mark that ranks No. 82 in the nation – and, thus, punt returns were one of many areas of focus during the team’s bye week practices. True freshman wide receiver Dominique Terrell has served as the Cavaliers’ primary punt returner through the season’s first five games, but London acknowledged Monday that no longer is the case.
London said to expect to still see Terrell returning punts, but he said to expect also to see senior cornerback Chase Minnifield – Virginia’s primary punt returner last season – in that role more frequently as the Cavaliers resume ACC play. London said the team may send back two punt returners on a given kick more often, as well.
Terrell’s decision-making on whether to field a punt, call for a fair catch or let the ball bounce and be downed by an opposing player has concerned London the most. Virginia has returned 30.3 percent of the punts it has faced this season, a mark that ranks No. 8 in the ACC. In the conference, only Virginia Tech (39) and Clemson (37) have fielded more punts than the Cavaliers (33) thus far.
Terrell has returned seven punts an average of 4.4 yards; his longest return to date was for 10 yards. In 2010, Minnifield returned 13 punts for an average of 6.5 yards with a long return of 20 yards.
Terrell, Minnifield, true freshman wide receiver Darius Jennings and redshirt freshman wide receiver E.J. Scott all took turns fielding “about 100” punts during practice last week, London said. The foursome fielded end-over-end punts, spiral punts and punts that forced them to make catches on the run.
London said Terrell looked more comfortable last week returning punts during practice, but noted that the quality of the team’s punt returns has to improve. Several times, the Virginia offense has begun drives deeper in its own territory than necessary after a botched decision on a punt return.
“That’s a lot of you look at the ball bouncing and going another 15, 20 yards or catching it and trying to reverse field,” London said. “Just catch it and go vertical.”