Commanders' Dax Milne to return punts, Antonio Gibson still an option for kick returner

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Milne to return punts, Gibson still an option for kick returner originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

ASHBURN, Va. -- Following the Washington Commanders' final preseason game this past Saturday, second-year wide receiver Dax Milne was asked a simple question: do you feel you deserve to make this team?

Milne answered confidently. "I do, I do," he said.

The Commanders officially trimmed their roster from 80 players to 53 on Tuesday and Milne was proven correct. Not only did the 2021 seventh-round pick earn a spot on Washington's 53-man roster, but head coach Ron Rivera appointed him as the team's primary punt returner, too.

Milne had been battling veteran Alex Erickson for the punt returner job and both players produced similar numbers when fielding punts throughout the preseason. But Milne also impressed Washington's staff as a receiver, too, which factored into the decision to keep him as one of the six wideouts on the roster.

"Keeping Dax -- and I'll say he's one of the six [receivers] -- he had a very good camp," Rivera said Tuesday. "He played very well in every game. And, he will return punts."

Milne's work as a returner could expand to kickoffs as well. Rivera said the 23-year-old will be in consideration to be Washington's primary kick returner, a gig that's been largely up for grabs since the departure of DeAndre Carter this offseason.

Washington rotated a number of players at kick returner throughout the preseason, but most of the players who handled such duties were part of the Commanders' roster cuts Tuesday. Erickson and fellow wideouts Matt Cole and Kyric McGowan were all released.

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The lone player that returned a kick for Washington this preseason who remains with the team is Antonio Gibson. The third-year pro emerged as a potential candidate to return kickoffs, something he did in college at Memphis, following the emergence of rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. as the team's top runner.

Robinson is out indefinitely after being shot twice on Sunday in Washington, D.C in an attempted armed robbery. The running back was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries; he later posted on his Instagram story on Monday that he underwent surgery. Robinson has since been released from the hospital and the team is optimistic he can return sooner than initially expected; Washington kept him on the initial 53-man roster to keep flexibility with him moving forward.

Even with Robinson temporarily sidelined, Rivera said Tuesday Gibson will remain in the conversation to return kicks.

"Antonio is still in consideration to go back there," Rivera said. "We will look at Dax and a couple of other guys as far as that position is concerned, too."

Whether the kick returner gig ends up being Gibson's, Milne's or someone else's, the Commanders have options at the position. Rivera and his staff have roughly a week and a half to make that decision as the team begins the regular season Sunday, Sept. 11 at home against Jacksonville.