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New York Giants: Can Anyone Catch A Punt?

The biggest question that came out of the New York Giants' 32-31 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Friday's preseason opener? What in the world are the Giants going to do about finding a punt returner?

Options one and two, rookie Jayron Hosley and second-year man Jerrel Jernigan, failed miserably on Friday night.

Hosley had a 20-yard return, but muffed a punt inside the 20-yard line that led to a Jacksonville field goal.

“I didn’t set myself up in a good position,” Hosley said. “I took a couple steps back and didn’t look it in. It kind of drifted on me, but you have to be aware of what’s around you and who’s coming, so I felt I could have been more focused on it.”

Jernigan, who has looked like the leader for the job during training camp, took over in the second half. He cleanly caught two punts, returning one 10 yards, but muffed his third effort inside the Giants; 20-yard line, costing the team three points.

“I looked down for a little it to see where the defender was,” Jernigan said. “I thought he was further away than he was. I should have just fair caught it. I took a chance there and it went bad.”

Both players looked smooth catching the ball in training camp workouts leading up to Friday night. Asked last week about what seemed to be increased ball security by Jernigan during camp, special teams coach Tom Quinn was prescient.

" Until you see it with a live punter and live guys coming down you really don’t know," Quinn said.

Coach Tom Coughlin saw, and obviously wished he hadn't.

“You catch a punt twice and you’re not going to be in that position (to lose the game),” Coughlin said Friday night.

Saturday, during a conference call with the media, Coughlin didn't feel any better about his punt returners.

"I don’t think I’ve ever been around a team that’s given away 10 points by simply muffing a kick, and there is no excuse for that," Coughlin said.

So, what do the Giants do now?

First, this is the preseason. Both Hosley and Jernigan will get plenty of opportunities over the next three games to show that they can be trusted. The Giants were among the league's worst teams in punt return yardage last season, and both players have the big-play potential to change that. If they can secure the ball.

During training camp the other two players who have spent considerable time working on returning punts are rookie second-round draft choice Reuben Randle and veteran Domenik Hixon.

Randle, a wide receiver from LSU who was impressive Friday with a pair of catches, one for a touchdown, is itching for an opportunity.

"I have enough confidence in my hands to catch punts, he said. Its all about concentration, though," Randle said after Friday's game. "We had a couple of guys who were worried about moving before they caught the ball and maybe took their eyes off it for that split second and thats what happens Everybody's anxious to make their play. You take that one step before you've got the ball and it goes on the ground.

"I'm excited for any opportunity I get, he said. So when coach feels the need to put me back there, like I said, Ill go out there and try to prove it to him, showcase my talent, and then they can allow me back there catching those punts."

Randle said recently that catching punts is something he has "been doing since high school." Still, he had only four punt returns in three seasons at LSU for a total of just five yards.

Hixon is, of course, the most accomplished of the return men. He has 51 career punts returns for 561 yards, an average of 11 yards per return, with one touchdown. The Giants might be reluctant to use Hixon full time in a punt-return capacity, though, after he missed all but two games the past two seasons due to successive torn ACLs.

Hixon's last full season was 2009, and he returned 17 punts that year for an average 15.1 yards. He also returned 57 kickoffs for an average of 22.6 yards. He did, however, fumble three times.

What will the Giants do at the punt return position? Entering Week 2 of the preseason that might be the biggest question they have to answer before their Sept. 5 regular-season opener vs. the Dallas Cowboys.