Safe return


Brandon Tate literally has two hands on the job. In becoming the Bengals' all-time punt return leader, he's lost just one fumble in five seasons.

First of all, special teams coach Darrin Simmons has no more of an idea about his punt returners for this upcoming season than he did in May.

"I try to replicate game situations as closely as I can, but it's not close," Simmons said before Monday's practice. "You have to see what they do in a game."

So if you want to know who's going to be up, start watching in Friday night's pre-season opener (7:30-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium against the Vikings. When the Bengals' first depth chart came out Monday morning, it was no surprise that for the sixth straight year Brandon Tate and Adam Jones are listed as the top two punt returners.

And second of all, this is how Simmons judges it: this is a man who has coached the Bengals special teams since 2003 and over that stretch Cincinnati has the fewest fumbles and fewest fumbles lost on punt returns.

"To make sure we have the ball when the play is over with. That should be the first thing," Simmons said of his punt-return mission. "It's the same answer for the last six straight years. I'm looking for guys that can manage the play correctly. When their number is called, they go out there and make the correct decision. And first and foremost that we have the ball when the play is over.

"I'm proud of the fact that whether it's been Brandon Tate or Adam Jones or Keiwan Ratliff or Quan Cosby, we've not been turning the ball over."

Proud? According to Elias, the Bengals have fumbled just 15 punts in the last 13 years under Simmons while losing only three. The next closest is New Orleans with 19 fumbles and Minnesota with four lost. And it's not lke they've sacrificed production. They rank 15th in return average with 9.1 yards per since '03.

Maybe even more stunning is that since they've been with the Bengals, Tate (1) and Jones (0) have combined to lose just one fumble since 2010. Some have grown restless with Tate's 9.2 yards per return, but he's fumbled just six of his franchise-best 153 returns and lost only one.

While Jones has fumbled 10 of his 88 Bengals punt returns, he has lost none, ranks No. 1 all-time for the Bengals with an 11.4-yard average, and is still one of the scariest guys in the league with the ball in his hands.

"Then when they have the ball, it shows they're doing the things I'm asking," Simmons said. "And make plays. It's great we catch the ball. I'd like to make some positive yardage. I want to be able to score. We hit a lot of doubles and triples around here. I'd like some homers."

He's already got one of the game's great home-run hitters in the return game in Jones. Tate is probably perceived as a singles hitter and Simmons says there's nothing wrong with that.

"There are plenty of guys in the Hall of Fame who aren't home-run hitters. Pete Rose, right?" Simmons said. "I'd like to have two home-run hitters. Who do you pitch to? Who do you put on base? Make them think a little."

So the young, fast guys are lined up behind Jones and Tate, a trio of young receivers in Mario Alford and rookies Alex Erickson and Tyler Boyd. All of them will have a busy August in the return game. But in the end, speed won't decide their fates.

"Do they make the right decisions?" Simmons asked. "And do we have the ball after the kick?"

Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 8/8/2016

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