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Is the competition for Giants’ punt return job over? Maybe not

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Hunter Sharp made the biggest play Friday, but don’t forget about Kalif Raymond

New York Giants v New York Jets
Kalif Raymond returns a punt Friday vs. the Jets.
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

When Hunter Sharp returned a perfectly blocked punt 55 yards for a touchdown on Friday against the New York Jets there was a natural tendency to assume that Sharp, in competition for that role with Kalif Raymond, had just put down his marker and won the job.

After Friday’s game Sharp was asked that question directly. Did he think he had won the job when he stiff-armed the last Jets defender and galloped into the end zone? Sharp didn’t want to admit that the thought crossed his mind, but his answer revealed that it pretty much did.

“I don’t want to say anything, but I think I’ve put my best foot forward, and I’m just going to keep working,” Sharp said.

Well ... maybe Sharp did win the job. Then again, there is another player who made a pretty convincing case Friday. And Sharp did leave an opening.

Sharp’s rough night as a receiver — two drops and an apparent miscommunication with Eli Manning on a potential touchdown — put a damper on Sharp’s evening.

“It’s honestly hard for me even to be happy about the touchdown because I have high expectations for myself,” Sharp said, thinking about his drops. “Honestly, I just have to bounce back and keep working.”

Sharp’s drops may also have kept the door open for the guy who lockers next to him, Kalif Raymond. The two 24-year-olds are similar players, both wide receivers/kick and punt returners. They could easily be competing for one roster spot, though it is conceivable that both the 5-11, 198-pound Sharp and the 5-9, 160-pound Raymond could make the final roster.

While Sharp’s touchdown and total of three returns for 80 yards (26.7 yards per return) were getting all the attention, Raymond also had a nice night returning punts. He had a 35-yard return and averaged 16.3 yards on four returns.

I spoke to Raymond Friday after the crowd around Sharp had dissipated. He admitted that the two had been talking about the belief that they hadn’t made enough plays during the first two preseason games.

“We haven’t been playing fast enough,” Raymond said. “We made a decision to play fast, let our worries go and just ball. I think it showed a little bit.”

While it might have made it more difficult for him to win a job, Raymond enjoyed Sharp’s return for a touchdown.

“As a returner that’s what you want, make one cut and go,” Raymond said. “It was perfectly set up for him.

“That was awesome.”

Return Game Comparison

Player Punt Returns Avg. Long TDs Kickoff Returns Avg. Long
Player Punt Returns Avg. Long TDs Kickoff Returns Avg. Long
Hunter Sharp 6 15.5 55t 1 3 25.3 42
Kalif Raymond 7 12.6 35 0 3 13.3 15

Raymond believes he still has an opportunity to win the job.

“I’m being confident, being patient with it and everything will sort itself out,” he said on Friday, pointing out that other teams are also watching.

Raymond is looking forward to getting an extended chance on Thursday night in the preseason finale against the New England Patriots.

“The fourth preseason game, that’s the tale of all tales, man, that will allow me to go out there and play and show my abilities for four quarters,” Raymond said. “I can’t wait to see what happens.”

If this were a horse race, Sharp would appear to have the advantage heading around the final turn. Thursday night, we find out if there is anything Raymond can do to change that coming down the stretch.