The risk/reward ratio of Isaiah McKenzie

Question for you, Shane Beamer.

McKenzie is the main punt returner, barring injury (and he’s had a few) or something else. The 5-foot-8 (in high tops) speedster is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and owns four career punt return touchdowns. He also has a kick return touchdown, as a freshman, so why did he only return four kickoffs last year? And why isn’t he back there for every single punt return? It’s worth pointing out that Davis brought back a punt for a touchdown last year too, and averaged a not-too-shabby 23.2 yards per kick return. But his longest kickoff return was only 39 yards last year. It’ll be interesting to see where Smart and Beamer go here: Get McKenzie, their most dynamic return option, back there as much as possible? Or do they end up with the same worries the previous staff had about McKenzie’s decision-making and ball control?

Okay, questions.  One of which I discount – if it’s a choice between Davis and McKenzie, decision-making and ball control is a wash.

Honestly, if coaching is all about getting your best players on the field, it’s hard to see how you can justify keeping a home run threat like McKenzie on the sidelines (assuming he’s healthy, of course).  And I say that knowing there are others, like Godwin and Michel, who have potential, but potential ain’t the same thing as five career touchdown returns in two seasons.

Hell, if you’re trying to hedge your bets a little, use a twin-returner formation on kickoffs.  But get Isaiah on the field.

33 Comments

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33 responses to “The risk/reward ratio of Isaiah McKenzie

  1. Normaltown Mike

    What about our 3rd string QB? When is HE going to start catching some punts?

    • Otto

      Times change, he is now the punter…. It’d be quite an accomplishment to catch his own punt.

      • ugafidelis

        …but if he was on the field to return the punt…

        • Sh3rl0ck

          Only if they change the rules to be like Canadian Football where you can catch a punt and punt it right back as a live ball. We already did the Logan Gray experiment.

  2. The other doug

    What does Saban do on returns? Is he aggressive or love the fair catch?

  3. Sanford222view

    I agree that Davis’ decision making and ball control doesn’t seem any better than McKenzie’s. I’d go with Isaiah all day long over Davis. You feel like he has a chance to score every time he touches the ball.

    McKenzie must have had a ton of drops or bad decisions in practice because i really don’t recall him making too many bad decisions or having turn over problems to speak of.

    • Chris Austin

      I agree. As I recall Davis had some really bone headed plays in that position plus not being able to catch anything when it counted.

      • Like attempting to catch the ball when it went over his head in the Florida game😦

        • simpl_matter

          I think that’s the one sticking in everyone’s craw. Poor Davis will likely be best remembered for that UF flub and dropping the wide-open TD pass against UT. I think Davis overall makes better decisions than McKenzie and has better ball-control, but chicks dig the long ball.

    • Gaskilldawg

      Isiah did have a lingering I jury that caused him to miss some opportunity for playing time mid season. He also did not make the proper calls on punts,that were not returnable at times (the returner had the responsibility ofa king verbal commands to the return team in response to location of punts,that would not be returned.) Ironically, Godwin did not make proper calls on 2 punts at Auburn so McKenzie replaced Godwin and returned the punt for the go-ahead touchdown.

    • Russ

      Last season, Isaiah had 5 fumbles with 3 lost (some of those were rushing). For returns, I think he and Davis each had 2 fumbles with 1 lost, so the risk is the same, but the reward is greater with McKenzie. Hopefully, Kirby has some hidden ball security mojo that will help Isaiah.

  4. If Isaiah isn’t on the field every time the opposing team kicks the ball (even on a long FG), we’re giving away an opportunity for an explosive play. Put Godwin back with him on punts and Michel back with him on kick-offs. Dare the other team to kick the ball to one of them.

  5. Derek

    Mecole Hardman may be our KO return man.

    McKenzie is tremendous but he’s fragile and he’s risky. Anytime you have a chance at a PR somewhere in the middle of the field, he should get the nod. If his heels are on the 10? Probably better to have one guy who you know will catch it and another who can do the job (Hardman?) and save McKenzie’s hammy some work.

  6. PTC DAWG

    Imac, then Godwin.

  7. Well, we just fired the guy who was risk-averse and valued possession uber-alles. Seems to me we hired this guy to take some risks and given the constant poor-mouthing of our team’s talent and desire, my sense is that Kirby will lay it out there.

  8. mp

    My concern on McKenzie is his upper body strength, being weak enough that he would get the ball stripped when he gets stood up by defenders (as opposed to Davis’ ball security issues stemming from carrying it away from his body or losing grip as he pumps his arms). I know memory is selective, but I recall several of his fumbles being of that variety. Hope he firms up that grip. Cyrus Jones sure wasn’t getting any ball stripped from him.

    • Agreed. Every time he (McKenzie) gets tackled, especially from behind, I hold my breath for a second hoping to see him pop back up with the ball still in his hands.

      That being said, I fully agree with Bluto and others that I’d rather have him out there than Davis. For a guy who supposedly makes better decisions, that muffed punt by Davis against UF inside the 5 yard line was a pretty boneheaded decision.

  9. dubyadee

    I may be overly optimistic, but my hope is that CKS and crew can fix some of the decision making issues on special teams.

  10. Jared S.

    I really like the idea of having two return guys on every return. Every return! Kickoffs and Punts. You have two speedsters like McKenzie back there and one of them is the fake on every play and you switch it up to keep the opponent guessing. Why on earth this isn’t the preferred strategy of every return I have no idea.

    • Gaskilldawg

      The coverage team has 11 guys trying to tackle. If the return team has a single safety the there are 10 guys to block 11
      If you put 2 return guys it likely has 2 coverage guys unblocked.

  11. W Cobb Dawg

    Should be common sense when KOs reach the end zone. Let KOs go through the end zone, or down it and start at the 35. That’s the easiest 35 gain in cfb.

    Imac on punt returns is a no brainer.

    • Juan

      25 yd line, bud.

      Now, if it’s heading OB then let it go and we will take it on the 35.

    • Unless you have Todd Gurley and you let him run it out if he thinks he can break a big one. That’s what happened against Clemson. He brought it out from about 4-5 yards deep.

  12. I didn’t even realize that McKenzie is still on the team. Thought he graduated. Seems like it’s been 6 years.

  13. CB

    On McKenzie, I hold my breath before he fields a punt just as much as the other team’s fans hold their breath after he catches it. He’s put the ball on the ground more than anyone else on the team over the past two seasons, but he’s clearly the biggest threat to score so risk/reward I suppose.

    On Godwin, he’s an excellent route runner with good hands, but he struggles to get separation from defensive backs which makes me question his top end speed. Not sure if his skills would translate to the kick returning game.