INDIANAPOLIS — Quan Bray showed he could be electric for the Indianapolis Colts' special teams units in 2015, etching in his name as one of the top returners in the league for the second half of the season.
But through two games in 2016, Bray's opportunities have been limited at best. He has had just three kickoff returns and two total punt returns — with two additional fair catches — in the Colts' losses to the Detroit Lions and the Denver Broncos.
So with the San Diego Chargers coming to town on Sunday, Colts special teams coordinator Tom McMahon is stressing the importance of staying ready to go for any and every return opportunity that comes their way against a young — but talented — kicker/punter duo for the Chargers.
"Some games you get every single (kickoff) you bring out, and every single punt, it's right to you," McMahon said this week. "But we've been in situations where they've been able to pooch punt from the 50, so a lot of balls end up in the end zone, or they try and pin you on the 10-yard line."
McMahon is confident, however, that Bray is "ready to roll" whenever his number is called.
"We've got to create," McMahon said. "When we get the opportunity, we've got to create and do a good job with that."
Bray was certainly able to create plenty last season. In just nine games, the then-rookie finished with 21 kickoff returns for 570 yards (an average of 27.1 yards per return, which led the AFC) and had 21 punt returns for 166 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per return). As a punt returner, Bray had returns that included 11, 15, 16, 17, 19 (twice), 20 and 33 yards, respectively.
This season, there's been too small of a sample size to even accurately evaluate the Colts' return teams' performance. Bray has returned three kickoffs for 72 yards — an average of 24 yards per return — and his two punt returns have been retuned for 13 total yards (an average of 6.5 yards per return).
Chargers kicker Josh Lambo and punter Drew Kaser have been successful in, again, limited opportunities giving their opposition return chances. Through two games, the Chargers (1-1) have allowed three kickoff returns for 67 yards (22.3 yards per return) and six punt returns, with one fair catch, for 44 yards (7.3 yards per return).
"Josh is doing a great job kicking off — he's placing the ball all over the place; he's hard to read where he's going to kick it," McMahon said. "And then with Kaser, he's doing a good job on punts. He can hang that ball up there — it's hard to tell which way he's going to punt it."
As far as the Colts' kickoff and punt coverage teams are concerned, McMahon said San Diego now has three legitimate weapons returning the ball after the team signed Dexter McCluster on Tuesday, adding to Craig Mager and Travis Benjamin.
So far this season, opposing teams have been afforded just one kickoff return against the Colts, which went for 22 yards. Opposing punt returners have returned three kicks for 25 total yards (8.3 yards per return).
There hasn't been a better punt returner in the league than Benjamin the past four seasons, as his 12.6-yard career punt return average entering the 2016 season is the best in the NFL. He also has three punt return touchdowns over that span.
"Oh, he's special," McMahon said of Benjamin. "They've got three legitimate, good, good football players that we've got to get down, we've got to cover. We've got to get them on the ground, we have to stay in our lanes and play very well."