No shortage of running backs on Virginia's kickoff return unit
The five primary running backs that line up in Virginia’s backfield also make up nearly half of the team’s kickoff return unit. Sophomore tailback Perry Jones and fifth-year senior tailback Raynard Horne line up deep to return the kickoffs. Fifth-year senior tailback Keith Payne and junior fullback Terence Fells-Danzer are in the row ahead of Jones and Horne. Junior fullback Max Milien lines up in front of Payne and Fells-Danzer.
It makes sense to fill the kickoff return unit with players who are used to and comfortable handling the ball in the event a squib kick or an onside attempt comes their way. On Thursday, Virginia Coach Mike London explained why he prefers running backs – for this season’s team, at least – to assume those roles on special teams.
“When you look at running backs, and they're five yards behind the quarterback, some of the reasons why they're running backs is because they can anticipate cuts and see holes,” London said. “It's the same thing when you're back there returning kicks. Stuff is happening at you fast, and if you have a running back that's used to diagnosing the holes and anticipating cuts and things like that, you know, it makes you a better returner.
“I know some teams have guys who play other positions that are doing that, but on this year's team, the guys that are back there returning, they happen to be running backs. I've been on teams where it's been (defensive backs) or wide receivers or just a special teams kind of guy who had no particular position. But on this year's team, our running backs are the guys best suited for what we're trying to get done.”