Monday, July 19, 1999

Desmond Howard Returns

Can six months really have gone by since that unfortunate day in January? Can training camp really be starting in less than a week? It is high time that I shake off my post-season lethargy and sit down and write an article.

Of all of the things that have taken place this off-season, the one that I am most excited about is the return of Desmond Howard. His career with the Raiders was lucrative for him, but otherwise a disaster. While, presumably, the Raiders gave him a shot to make a name for himself as a receiver (why else would they have paid him that much money?), he did not pan out. He had decent statistics as a kick returner, but nothing like his year of glory in Green Bay.

So we now know that Desmond Howard is not a viable starting receiver in the NFL. OOPS! I guess we knew that before. It turns out that the great Al Davis was not smarter than the Packers and the Redskins and the Jaguars, after all.

But he is a heck of a kick returner. Who can forget the way he single-handedly destroyed the 49ers in the "Freezing Rain Bowl" in the first playoff game that year? Or the way he snuffed out the Patriots' comeback attempt, just like that? True, he didn't exactly set the AFC-West on fire during his two year stint with the Raiders. True, his year with the Packers could have been an extraordinarily lucky fluke. And even if it wasn't he could be all washed up now, three years later.

I'm betting that he is not washed up. I think the key to understanding Desmond Howard's phenomenal year with the Packers is the fact that they have had good special teams for a number of years. All kinds of players have been shuttled in and out (Schroeder, Preston, Beebe, even Robert Brooks a few years back) and they have all done pretty well, although some have had questions raised about fumbles, poor decision-making and the like. So my theory as to why Howard's years with the Raiders were not that spectacular is that the Raiders' special teams play generally does not match up with the special teams of the Packers. And the returner can't do it all by himself.

To put it a different way, the magic of 1996 resulted from the rare combination of really good special teams play, and a really good kick returner. (OK, and probably some good luck, too.) Take away one, and the magic disappears, which is what happened the last two years. Put them back together and the sky is the limit.

So we will see. If Howard still has it, his game could make a big difference for the Packers. If he doesn't, they can keep Arnold or someone else as their returner, and they have lost very little (basically just the signing bonus).

I'm looking forward to the season already.