Cosby takes off on his 49-yard punt return for a touchdown. (Bengals photo)
Posted: 4:30 a.m.
Rookie Quan Cosby, who played four years of pro baseball, was asked what gave him a bigger thrill: Returning a punt for a touchdown or hitting a home run?
"A punt. I've got more passion for football and I didn't hit that many homers," Cosby said Thursday night after hitting his way back into the Bengals roster battle with a 49-yard bolt for a touchdown in a 24-21 loss to St. Louis in the third preseason game.
Defensive back Tom Nelson, another rookie free agent, also got into the boxscore with a 44-yard return. If Cosby ran away from Rams punter Donnie Jones, then Nelson stiff-armed Jones before Jones eventually helped drag him down at the Rams 25.
Two returns like that in the same game are news. The Bengals haven't had a 40-plus return in the regular season since 2004 and they got two within an hour and a half Thursday night.
Nelson couldn't run away, but the punt return job still looks to be a dead heat. Maybe even Nelson has the edge because he can play cornerback as well as safety while the 5-9 Cosby has a tough time getting on the field when the fourth receiver (Chris Henry) has three touchdown catches this preseason.
"I don't know; only time will tell," Cosby said when asked if he thinks he's now in the mix. "I didn't make all good decisions back there tonight."
Cosby, the free agent receiver from Texas, knows that he also committed an error early in the fourth quarter when he caught a punt on his own 2 and could only get it to the 9. A penalty gave him a new life and he proved he doesn't have to be told twice.
"I wasn't going to do that again," said Cosby, who let the ball hit inside the 10 before it rolled to the 3. "You never want to do that. There are too many things that can go wrong. You have to be smart all the time and that time I wasn't smart.
"I don't think I tried to do too much. If you've ever been back there, there's times you just kind of float. That's what the ball was doing. It was floating to me and I was floating with it. That's part of being a punt returner. You have to know where you are at all times. When I took one step back, I should have just shut it down."
Special teams coach Darrin Simmons would agree.
"I don't know how it's going to shake out. I do know you're not supposed to catch a punt on the one-yard line," Simmons said. "But it's good to see both guys make a play for us. We hadn't had many chances. We did a better job tonight coming up and fielding the shorter punts."
It was only a few days ago that Cosby, who averaged more than 11 yards returning punts last season at Texas, expressed some frustration at how pro punters tend to kick to the sidelines and take away returns. Here he was in a roster battle with guys like Nelson and of his three previous returns, one was a fair catch and one went for a yard.
But he's 26, has those four years in the Angels organization, two kids of his own, and holds such a lofty place at the University of Texas he has had speaking engagements with the school president. This is not your average rookie.
"It's a plus that I have a family and then come from the University of Texas. I feel a lot more comfortable here because there are a lot of older guys here," Cosby said. "I am a young guy again, and that is not a bad thing. I still have a lot of learning to do and need to continue to work, continue to be smart, and hopefully things will work out."
Cosby took a line drive punt from the Rams end zone, made two Rams miss, veered to the left sideline and outran Brown for the last 15 yards to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead just 1:06 into the game.
"That was huge. That's what I said. If we can get a punt in the middle of the field away from the sideline, there's an opportunity for big things to happen," Cosby said. "My eyes lit up when I saw it wasn't two yards from the sideline. Just one (move). When you have guys working out there like our guys do and the pride they take in it, that's usually all you have to do and you turn into positive things."
The CW is that Cosby and Nelson can't make the team if the other one makes it because punt return would be their only sure job. It must be getting close. They alternated punts Thursday.
"This is a team," Cosby said. "I'm rooting for him and everybody else who goes out there and does something positive for us."
Cosby hasn't popped one in a while, either. He had two in college, he thinks, both in his junior year. But he can't remember against whom. He does recall that once he got past Jones, he knew he was gone.
"You never know," he said. "I knew when I got past him I had a shot."
He could have been talking about his shot at the roster, too. But he knows head coach Marvin Lewis is a tough audience.
"I thought they made good cuts and ran with the football, but there's a lot more to it than that," Lewis said.