Barner out, Falcons look to Sheffield, Hardy and Sanu in the return game

Falcons cornerback Kendall Sheffield loosens up for practice during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 10, 2019, in Flowery Branch.  Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Falcons cornerback Kendall Sheffield loosens up for practice during rookie minicamp on Friday, May 10, 2019, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

With kickoff and punt returner Kenjon Barner (concussion protocol/knee) declared out of Sunday’s game against the Titans, the Falcons have made some alternative plans.

“We’ll see how it all shakes out,” special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica said. “The important thing is for Kenjon to get healthy and make sure he’s a full go before he gets back out there. We have a couple different options both at the kick return spot and punt return spot.”

Rookie cornerback Kendall Sheffield was catching kickoffs on Friday. Running back Ito Smith, who cleared the concussion protocol, has caught kickoffs.

Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu or Justin Hardy will handle punt returns, according to Kotwica.

“Hardy did (punt return) a little bit last year,” Kotwica said. “So, we have some options at that spot. At the kickoff return spot, Ito has some pedigree there. Sheffield is another guy.”

Barner has eight punt returns for 68 yards (8.5 yards per return) and a long of 18 yards this season. He has four kickoff returns for 89 yards (22.3 yards per return) and a long return of 29.

Hardy was the Falcons’ primary punt returner last season. He had 20 returns for 147 yards with a long return of 18 yards.

Sheffield, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, said his fastest 40-yard dash time is 4.26 seconds. He signed with Alabama coming out of high school and went to Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, before landing at Ohio State.  In 2016, he played cornerback and returned kicks at Blinn. He scored touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns.

Also, punter Matt Bosher appears recovered from his groin injury.

“He looked well,” Kotwica said. “It was one of his better periods. Getting the ball off and getting hang time on it. Hopefully, Bosh will be able to go.”

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