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Paul's Calls: Unhappy returns

The Patriots offense was as productive as virtually any team in the league in 2011, and the unit did so without much help from the kick return game.


New England finished 29th in the league in that department, averaging 21.4 yards per return a year ago. That forced the offense to consistently march the length of the field in order to score.

Special teams coach Scott O'Brien hopes that will change in 2012.

"That's a big issue for us," O'Brien said. "Obviously you have to be good at returning the ball but you have to be able to handle a lot of situations that come with it. We've got to keep working. We're playing to our standards, we know what our standards are and we didn't reach them last year. That wasn't good enough for us. We know why and we have to keep working at it."

Danny Woodhead finished the season as the main man on kickoffs and finished 25th of 27 qualifying players. While O'Brien indicated that Woodhead will continue in the role, he also said there would be some new players integrated into the plans.

One such player who's gotten reps in mini-camp is Patrick Chung. The fourth-year safety handled punts on Tuesday and kickoffs Wednesday. While he has yet to have any opportunities as a returner in the regular season, Chung did return punts during the preseason in his rookie year.

"We watched Patrick when he was at Oregon and if you remember when we had him as a rookie we had him catching punts and he actually did a pretty good job for us," O'Brien said. "I think it was the Washington game in preseason where he had one at the end of the game that was a nice return that gave us an opportunity to win the game. We've never forgotten about Patrick."

Chung returned four punts that night against the Redskins, averaging 12 yards per attempt. With 1:50 to go in a tie game, Chung ripped off a 33-yard return that allowed the Patriots to take over at the Washington 23 and eventually led to a game-winning field goal.

"I did it my rookie year a little. They put you there you have to be able to do it. It's fun. It's always fun having the ball in your hands," Chung said.

Chung isn't the only fresh face handling returns this spring. At various times the Patriots have used Donte' Stallworth and Devin McCourty as well. Julian Edelman, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have also taken reps, along with Woodhead.

"I don't know if we're trying out different guys," O'Brien explained. "We're getting other guys involved and we'll keep working Danny, who I thought got better last year as the year went on for the very first time doing it, along with Julian. Based on how our team unfolds here we're going to work everybody we can.

"You never have enough."

As for Chung, he's enjoyed the experience thus far, although he admitted he preferred kicks over punts. While he said kicks are easier, perhaps his decision to field a punt at the 2 on Tuesday, which led to a tongue lashing from Bill Belichick, factored into that thought process.

"I got yelled at for that," he said. "That's my bad. It's all part of learning. It's all good."

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