Leonhard to Return Punts

Dave Hutchinson says Jim Leonhard will replace Leon Washington as the team's primary punt returner.

Leonhard, a favorite of coach Rex Ryan, is an outstanding punt returner in addtion to a solid safety and Ryan plans to use him in that role to give Pro Bowler Leon Washington a break because he wants to use him more in the running game.

Last season, Leonhard averaged 11.6 yards per return with a long of 46 yards on 20 returns. He isn't a dynamic returner but he does the most important thing that a punt returner must do -- he catches the ball.

Ryan recently told me that Leonhard can catch the ball ``in a hurricane.''

Ryan is excited about having Leonhard as a punt return option because he plans on giving Washington more carries this upcoming season and he doesn't want to wear the diminutive Washington down. Washington had just 76 attempts for 448 yards (5.8-yard average) and three touchdowns last season.

There's a crazy idea, getting the guy who almost ran for 6 yards per carry a year ago more involved. On a serious note, though, this is one of the hidden benefits of the signing. Mike Westhoff must be licking his chops at adding a returner with an 11.6 average to the stable. Expect to see some looks with both Washington and Leonhard deep like Westhoff drew up when Santana Moss and Chad Morton were both on the roster to force the coverage teams to account for an extra threat. 

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