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Jags looking for early returns


Russ Purnell will get a look at his special teams in action against the Atlanta Falcons next Monday and Tuesday, in combined practices at the Falcons' training camp, and all eyes will be on the Jaguars' rookie return men.

Can Scotty McGee and Deji Karim give the Jaguars the lift they seek in the return game?

"We'd like to upgrade the return game," said Purnell, the Jaguars' special teams coordinator.

McGee and Karim were the Jaguars' final two picks of the draft. General Manager Gene Smith was clearly targeting special teams need.

Karim is a kickoff return specialist; McGee will try his hand at kickoffs and punts. McGee's priority would seem to be instilling confidence in his coach that the ball will be caught cleanly.

"He's got extremely quick feet. On college tape, he was fearless, and I don't have any doubts he'll be the same here," Purnell said of McGee.

Winning a job begins with catching the ball.

"I was blessed for three years to have Jermaine Lewis catching the ball and you never had to worry if the ball was going to be caught," Purnell said. "I'm excited to see them against somebody that'll be trying to knock them to the ground. The top three kickoff returners are Mike Thomas, Scotty McGee and Deji Karim. They've all got good quickness. They've all got good run instincts. They'll all get opportunities in the preseason. All three look good at this point but nobody is trying to tackle them."

Thomas was a trusted returner last season but appears to be headed for an expanded role as a receiver. As a return man, Thomas would appear to be a default candidate.

In all other ways, Jaguars special teams appear to be sound. Covering punts and kicks was one of the team's strengths last year and it should be even stronger this season, especially after having added Pro-Bowl special teamer Kassim Osgood in free agency to a coverage unit that includes Montell Owens.

"I see a lot of guys that have the characteristics you need to play special teams. You can't coach speed. We have guys who can run a little bit. We have a bunch of guys who understand they can make a significant contribution to our success," Purnell said of the talent available to him.

Punter Adam Podlesh and kicker Josh Scobee are without competition.

"He's punted the ball well. We're working on consistency; getting him a little more consistent," Purnell said of Podlesh. "If he doesn't perform to the standards needed to win, we'd have to look elsewhere, but he's punting well now and he'll be in game form by the first game of the season.

"Josh hit his first 21 field goals in a row in scrimmage situations, and then missed on number 22, but made up for it by running it in on 23," Purnell added of a fake-kick play in a recent practice. "The last two nights he had great profile on the ball; the ball was tight and it held its line."

Time will be dedicated to special teams in Friday night's intrasquad scrimmage, but it's the following Friday's preseason opener in Philadelphia that'll begin to tell the tale of the Jaguars' return game.

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