Missouri punt returner looking for running room

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:11 a.m. CDT, Friday, September 25, 2009
Finding anywhere to run is proving difficult for Missouri's new punt returner Carl Gettis.

COLUMBIA — It was Carl Gettis’ first big punt return of the season. Early in the second quarter against Furman, Gettis broke away from the defense and returned the ball 19 yards.

It was the first return of more than 5 yards for Gettis, who hadn’t had much luck getting a seam to go anywhere on punt returns. But when he returned to the sideline, he still caught flak from a teammate because he got tackled by a lineman. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon thinks Gettis should be able to evade linemen, traditionally the slowest position on the field.

“I was joking with him a little bit because he got tackled by No. 75,” Weatherspoon said after practice Monday, raising his voice on the end of the sentence so the nearby Gettis could hear.

Gettis, a junior from O’Fallon, is a third-year starter at cornerback. He is in his first season returning punts at Missouri, taking over for Jeremy Maclin, who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles. For Gettis, it’s a chance to touch the ball again. In high school, he spent much of his time on offense and had more than 2,000 all-purpose yards his senior year.

He was also his team’s punt returner in high school.

“It was a lot easier,” Gettis said. “The balls were right to me. And the guys, they’re not really coming as fast like they are now. So you have a little bit more time to think about what you want to do.”

Gettis had practiced the position at Missouri but never played it in a game.

“I was eager to take it on because, just like I said, being on defense, I wanted to get a chance to get the ball in my hand again and run with the ball a little bit,” Gettis said.

But finding anywhere to run proved difficult. In the team’s opener against Illinois, Gettis had to call for a fair catch on three punts and returned a fourth for no gain.

“I guess you could say it was a little bit of a shock,” Gettis said. “Because I was just a little bit surprised how fast it is, how much faster they get down there to the field and how much faster you have to make a decision whether you have to fair catch it or try to do something with it.”

Then, in the second quarter of the team’s comeback win against Bowling Green, Gettis, eager to move the ball, didn’t call for a fair catch. After returning the ball just 1 yard, Bowling Green’s Jahmal Brown forced a fumble that the Falcons recovered.

“Sometimes it is difficult,” Gettis said of calling a fair catch. “Being on defense, you don’t really get the ball every play. So when you get a chance to get the ball in your hands, you just want to do something with it for your team.”

Others have taken on the responsibility of getting Gettis more room to run. For the season, Gettis has four returns for 21 yards.

“Most of the problems on rangers is never really your punt returner unless he drops the ball. That’s his problem,” junior Andrew Gachkar said. “But really it’s the blocking that has a problem. We’re going to clean up the blocking for Carl. Everyone’s going to get a chance to see just how good he is at it.”

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