When wide receiver Golden Tate joined the Detroit Lions back in March, he indicated that he had interest in returning punts for the team. After all, he served as the Seattle Seahawks' punt returner last season, and he averaged 11.5 yards per return on 51 attempts. That put him ninth in the NFL among those who had enough attempts to qualify for the rankings.
Tate may have had interest in a special teams role a few months ago, but it no longer sounds like that is going to happen. Tate told MLive over the weekend that he's still willing to return punts, but it's clear that job belongs to Jeremy Ross.
"I'm going to do whatever I can do to help this team. We have a really good punt returner now in Jeremy Ross, and I have a lot of confidence in him.
"If they need me, I'll be there. But he's the punt returner. He's a tremendous punt returner."
Tate is correct, as Ross was a tremendous punt returner last season. He only had 17 total attempts between his time with the Lions and Green Bay Packers, so he didn't qualify for the rankings, but Ross averaged 15.5 yards per punt and ran one back for a touchdown. The NFL leader in punt return average last season was Tandon Doss with 15.6 yards per attempt, so Ross was right up there with the very best in the league. What's more, Ross actually averaged 16.2 yards per punt return on his 15 attempts with the Lions, so his numbers strictly in Detroit were even better.
If Ross were to suffer an injury at some point, perhaps Tate could be called upon to return punts, but Reggie Bush no longer appears to be an option for that role. The possibility of him returning punts on a situational basis was talked about last year, but that never actually ended up happening. For this year, Bush told MLive that he believes he has "graduated from returning kicks and punts," so it appears his focus is solely on his offensive duties.