Perhaps it's appropriate that Micah Hyde won the Tatum-Woodson Award as the Big Ten Conference's Defensive Back of the Year as a senior at Iowa last season.
On Thursday, he was compared to Charles Woodson, the former Michigan and Packers standout, by Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy for the work Hyde has done as a punt return specialist this season.
"Micah Hyde from Day 1, and I've said this before going back to rookie minicamp," said McCarthy, "I think he's about as natural a returner as far as handling the football that I've seen coming out of college.
"Charles Woodson, he's clearly one of the best players I've been around as far as handling the football, punts, just very natural. And Micah is similar that way."
Woodson was the primary punt returner during the coach's first two years of his tenure in Green Bay with an average of 8.9 yards in 2006 and 8.1 yards in 2007.
Soon it became apparent that Woodson was too valuable to the defense to be exposed to big hits on special teams, much like the same situation the Packers are going through with Randall Cobb and the offense now.
Hyde isn't in that same category yet, but perhaps someday he will be. For now, Hyde doesn't resent his special teams job description. He's happy to punch the timeclock and be a team player.
"Every day, that's my job," said Hyde. "That's what I come here every day to do, play special teams, I know that. And if I get on the field, that's a bonus. I go out there and try to do my best at that too."
As far as his punt returns go, Hyde didn't just fill a hole last week in Baltimore after Cobb went down. He excelled and made an impact by returning five punts for 68 yards, an average of 13.6 yards per attempt.
Hyde was in a time share with Cobb even before the wide receiver got hurt, but perhaps it won't be long until the defender takes over punt returns full-time, especially if he has a few more like his 23-yard scamper in the second quarter that helped set up a Packers field goal.
Among the most impressive aspects about that particular punt return was the way Hyde ran forward to catch the ball on the move and quickly took a north-south path up the field, a choice that came with a degree of risk.
"As you're running up, the punt team is also running at you," said Hyde. "I don't necessarily know where the blocks are, so it's difficult trying to know where everybody is and stuff like that. It's easy because you can catch it on the run and get upfield right way, but at the same time, you got to know where the punt team is at."
Apart from his play on special teams, Hyde also bears a resemblance to Woodson as a slot cornerback, not afraid to mix things up in the box. He had an impressive defensive performance Week 6 against the Ravens by notching five tackles, coming up with a sack on a blitz and forcing a fumble even though it was recovered by Baltimore.
Certainly, Hyde's fearless attitude is on display for all to see.
"I joke with (the coaches) all the time," said Hyde. "I'll line up at nose tackle and try to do some things."
The early returns are favorable, pun intended. Hyde is playing well and is reminiscent of Woodson in more ways than one.
He's making tough tackles, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and making plays with the ball in his hand. And he's doing it all without elite speed, as evidenced by his pedestrian 40-yard dash time of 4.56 seconds back during the NFL Combine last February.
Even so, Hyde isn't concerned. He knows there's more to the game than being timed with a stopwatch.
"I just think that when I get on the field, it's totally different," said Hyde. "It's not me lining up in front of millions of people on TV running the 40. That's something I didn't prepare for my whole life. I prepared for playing football and making plays on the football field, and that's what I like to think I can do."
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].
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