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McVay Leaning Toward Pharoh Cooper for Punt Returner

After relieving wide receiver Tavon Austin from his punt return duties earlier this week, head coach Sean McVay said he's leaning toward using wide receiver Pharoh Cooper in the role this week.

McVay said both Cooper and rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp worked at the position during Wednesday's practice, and that they each did a nice job fielding the kicks.

"Cooper [Kupp's] done it already when you really look at it in some of those punt safe situations — very sure handed," McVay said. "But I think when you look at the role that he has offensively, and then how well Pharoh's done as a kick returner, feel a lot of confidence in him. And that's more likely the direction that we'll go. But both of those guys will continue to get work throughout the week."

Cooper is currently No. 2 in kick return average at 27.1 yards, though he leads the league in kick return yards. He said after Wednesday's practice that he feels comfortable returning punts, as he did it both at South Carolina and as a rookie for Los Angeles in 2016.

"I did it my whole career in college," Cooper said. "I did it last year toward the backend of the season and caught all of them. So I wasn't catching them prior to [today] — this just happened. I was just catching kickoffs during practice, so this was actually my first day really catching punts and I felt comfortable back there."

While Cooper has been returning kicks all year, returning punts requires a different skill set. The ball on kickoffs comes end over end, there's an option to take a knee in the end zone, and the blocking structure is different as well.

Plus, there's the element of a ball designed to hang in the air as long as possible while men run to get you.

"You kind of think about it, but then again you don't," Cooper said. "You really have to trust your blockers, knowing that they're going to hold up and do their job — take away the gunners on the outside."

While Cooper does have some dynamic return qualities, he understands that he has one main purpose as a returner: secure an offensive possession.

"The main thing back there is to catch the ball first," he continued. "And that's going to be my mentality going into the game — catch the ball. Fair catch it if I need to, but I'm going to make sure I control the ball first and make a play if necessary after I catch it."

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