It was the first play of the second quarter last week against Tampa and it involved a somewhat new face at punt returner. As Tampa's Michael Koenen punted their possession over, back deep for the Falcons was not the returner that had handled the job for all 15 previous games,
Many will remember Douglas handled the punt returner's job with a good deal of success as a rookie in 2008. A knee injury wiped out his 2009 and the following two seasons former Falcon and current Chicago Bear Eric Weems solidified the punt returning game. This season, it's been Franks' job.
In the final game of the season, perhaps in preparation for the playoffs, Douglas handled punt returning duties for the first time in four seasons. This season, he's been the emergency backup in the event that Franks were to injure himself during a game. Because of this role, he's been working out at punt returner during practices throughout this season.
“I practice it every day so it’s not like I’ve not been catching punts every day in practice," Douglas said on Sunday. "I’m here to do whatever (head coach Mike Smith) asks me to do. He’s a great coach and I respect him 100 percent. If he calls on me to do it, I will do it.”
Douglas said it felt good to be back there in game action returning punts. Throughout his time with the Falcons, he's always stated how much he enjoys that role. With an increased focus on the passing game this season, Douglas was needed on the field more with the offense, making returning punts full-time a risky proposition. Given the opportunity to step in as the punt returner, he did a solid job. While he didn't return any punt longer than 11 yards, he fielded five total punts and averaged 10.5 yards on the four that he returned.
It may not sound like a lot, but it's positive yards and it fits with the Falcons' philosophy on returners: get at least 10 yards.
“One thing we focus on is gaining one first down," Douglas said. "If you can do that, that’s one less first down the offense has to work for. Me, I want to take them all back, but sometimes you’ve got to take what the punt team gives you.”
Douglas only returned one punt this season prior to last Sunday. He was needed late in a game to try to generate a big return. With everything in the playoffs at a premium, Douglas may provide some big-return ability to help set up the offense during this year's postseason. Douglas doesn't know if his Week 17 opportunity means more is coming, but he's ready nonetheless.
“Whatever Smitty calls," Douglas said. "He’s a great coach and I’m here to do whatever he asks me to do.”