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Point of Veau: Don't Rule Out a Packers Punt Return Rotation

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Point of Veau: Don't Rule Out a Packers Punt Return Rotation

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb by Jeff Hanisch—USA Today.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb by Jeff Hanisch—USA Today.

Kudos to Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy for recognizing the importance of special teams, and in particular the return game.

This business about avoiding use of either Randall Cobb or Micah Hyde on returns because of their importance to the offense and defense, respectively, is overstated.

"I get away from that thinking," said McCarthy. "I think it's dangerous to get into limitations and trying to be too cautious. When you're cautious and you're worried, negative things happen. We're going to put our best players back there. We need to be better on special teams, and a good returner makes any unit better."

Don't read too much into rookie wide receiver Davante Adams being sent out on punt returns in a torrential downpour in the Packers' preseason opener at Tennessee last week.

McCarthy has discussed the adverse weather conditions the team encountered in Nashville as being a great learning opportunity and how he can never find enough good players, regardless of position.

The coaching staff wanted to see if Adams' ample talent could translate to punt returns despite having little experience doing so at the college level.

If Adams succeeded, great. He'd be just another weapon at special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum's disposal. And if not, no big deal. At least they would know better than to trot him out at punt returner in the regular season.

The Packers are taking the absolute correct approach in finding out if DuJuan Harris should be the team's kickoff return specialist.

Asked what he likes about Harris, and McCarthy's Pavlovian response is the running back's short but stout body build.

"I think he's an excellent body type," said McCarthy. "I prefer his run style as far as the ways he fits the schemes of our return game. I think he's a very good fit for what we're doing."

Kickoffs have long had the reputation as having the highest injury rate of all plays in the NFL. That's why the league institued the rule change in 2011 moving kickoffs up to the 35-yard line, resulting in more touchbacks. Players on coverage units have also been limited to getting no more than a five-yard running start.

The NFL has boasted of fewer concussions occuring on kickoffs since the change, but the potential of a high-impact collision still exists on the nearly 55 percent of kickoffs that don't result in a touchback.

In those instances, it's hard to blame the Packers not wanting to expose Cobb and Hyde to injury. Even though Harris stands just 5-8, his compact, 203-pound fame seems better able to absorb the blows kickoffs invariably invite. His alleged 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash doesn't hurt either.

But there's no reason the Packers can't use either Cobb or Hyde on punt returns. Or both of them for that matter.

Cobb and Hyde have both proven to be dangerous on punt returns, each with at least one touchdown to his credit.

"We have a number of guys, Micah and Randall both have done it at a high level for us, so we feel good about that," said McCarthy.

In three seasons with the Packers, Cobb has averaged over 10 yards on 60 career punt returns, including a 75-yard and 80-yard touchdown.

During his first season, Hyde led all NFL rookies with a 12.3-yard punt return average last year on 24 attempts, including a 93-yard touchdown.

Between Hyde and Cobb, that is some big-play potential on which the Packers don't want to miss out.

If they're truly concerned about minimizing the potential of injury to either player, the Packers can employ some sort of punt return rotation among the pair.

The risk of injury on punt returns is mitigated by option of calling a fair catch, and that's not to mention the times a punt sails out of bounds or over a player's head for a touchback or the player simply allows it to hit the ground and roll.

In reality, the risk of injury on punt returns is not all that great, but the potential of a game-changing play still exists.

There's no NFL rule that states a team has to use only one punt returner and stick with them. By using both Cobb and Hyde in this capacity, the Packers can minimize exposure to both players and keep them fresh yet still take advantage of their unique skillset all at the same time.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email carriveau@uwalumni.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (20) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Evan's picture

I'd be happy with that. Use Hyde as the primary guy (sure-handed, consistent, if not flashy), but bring in Cobb in crunch-time situations.

GoldFinger's picture

I see what you are saying Brian using two to minimize the risk even further. Will they do that? I have my doubts. I personally would not use Cobb anymore on punt returns. I think Micah Hyde is the perfect guy for special teams. This guy just puts everyone at ease with how he plays. It's like you have an instant confidence in him no matter what he does. He catches those punts so smooth he makes it look so easy. I say use him on punts and Harris is perfect for kickoffs.

Cobb is probably better and more capable of breaking off bigger punt returns but I think with our high powered offense I would rather just have someone like Hyde back there who you know is going to be secure with the football and if he gets 5 or 10 yards, great.

One other note. With McCarthy not worrying about being too cautious, I wonder if this thinking will also apply to him only keeping two qb's on the roster this season?

Evan's picture

It's a good point about the offense being able to make up for not having a breakaway punt returner.

I'm thinking of situations like 2 minutes left, defense just got a stop (why are you laughing?) and the Packers need a score to win. There I'd put Cobb back there and hope he can break a big one.

I just think back to Hyde's big return last year where he got caught from behind. I forget which game it was. Just a step faster and he would have scored. (I don't know if the Packers went on to score anyway.)

GoldFinger's picture

Yeah, I see what your saying Evan. Absolutely in those types of desperate situations that Cobb is your guy on punt returns.

Duke Divine's picture

I agree! Hyde is so sure handed back there. If you all recall Cobb was very electric in his first few seasons returning punts but also muffed quite a few in the process. Besides that Cobb has 50-1 odds in Vegas to lead the NFL in receiving yards and Ill be there putting $20 on it next week so keep him off ST, Mashed Potato Mike and chuck him the ol pig skin early and often!! Go Pack!

Stroh's picture

Personally, I would still use Cobb on PR. That's a lot less dangerous than KR and he's outstanding at it. Hyde is sure handed, but not a game breaker or even particularly elusive. IMO you can't play the game afraid of injury. Put your best playmakers in position to make plays! Packers were w/o Cobb last year for 10 games and they were still very potent on offense. I like Cobb as much as anyone, but put the man on PR and let him do his thing...

Cobb got hurt playing offense, should we be afraid he gets hurt on offense too? And those extra 4 or 5 plays a game aren't going to kill him.

He's easily the best PR the Packers have had in over a decade. I don't play afraid, I play to win... And Cobb on PR helps you do that!

COW's picture

Hyde career PR average... 12.3
Cobb career PR average... 9.7

Hyde 1 TD every 12 returns
Cobb 1 TD every 33 returns

Hyde 6'0" 197lbs
Cobb 5'10" 192 lbs

Hyde - no injury history
Cobb - injury history

Hyde - Clinton-Dix, Richardson behind him
Cobb - no true slot WR behind him... White????

Why are we even discussing this?
Let Hyde do it.
He catches punts more securely than Cobb does, anyhow.

I think it's funny how some fans have an image of a guy's ability that's based purely on perception as opposed to reality.

Like...
Hayward is a playmaker.
Hawk is bad.
Finley was a game-breaking TE.
Cobb is a great PR guy.
The Packers have the best receiving corp in the NFL.
Lyerla has 1st round talent.

Point Packer's picture

I totally agree with this statement. Putting Cobb on PR or KR's is pure insanity. And as Cow gracefully laid out, for at least PR's, his historical production is similar to that of Hyde's.

I'd rather take precautionary actions to help ensure Cobb is on the field for 90 catches and 8 TD's this season than risk putting him in harm's way for a couple spectacular returns.

Stroh's picture

Dieon Sanders among many others were able to do PR as well as play a position full time w/o getting hurt. Why can't Cobb? KR I would rather have a RB, since its much more physical. PR isn't nearly as dangerous as KR.

Stroh's picture

Can't get much right can you?

Cobb Career 60 PR, 10.2 ave, 2 TD's
Hyde Career 24 PR, 12.3 ave, 1 TD

Hyde has a smaller sample size so his average is probably inflated. I think Hyde is a decent PR, tho not particularly elusive. Cobb has proven he's elusive and has a larger sample size. His numbers are likely more indicative of his ability, I wouldn't say that's the case w/ Hyde.

GoldFinger's picture

With all due respect but I believe Cow made some nice points this time and sorry but most agree with Cow over you as far as sticking Cobb at punt returner. Cow's main point really puts him over the top when he says about who is behind him if he gets hurt. We can handle a Hyde injury better than a Cobb injury. The depth and experience behind Cobb just isn't there.

Stroh's picture

I agree most tend to want to keep Cobb off PR. I didn't say otherwise. I just think if you play to win you put your playmakers into position to make as many plays as possible. IMO that means Cobb on PR. I think playing to try to avoid injury is playing not to win. You don't play to not get hurt is my point.

GoldFinger's picture

Well most would agree Hyde is also a playmaker. Most also agree he secures the ball better than Cobb as well. As Cow also pointed out, he has a higher average though fewer attempts.

I don't think MM plays not to avoid injury but let's be honest here. Don't tell me the past three years of chronic injuries doesn't play in MM's mind. I know it does for most fans. Besides, it's not as though the Packers are the Bears of a few years ago not having much of an offense and having to rely on Devin Hester and the special teams to actually score every week which unbelievably they did.

Not playing Cobb on punt returns doesn't mean the Packers are sacrificing much at all based on the head to head stats of Hyde vs. Cobb and the fact the Packers should have a top 3 offense.

The Bears tried to do the same with Hester sticking him at receiver as well as returner and it never worked out for him at wr. It would be in the Packers' best interests to not make that same mistake and put Cobb as receiver only and let him do his magic. If Kyle Orton was our qb and Brandon Jackson was our starter, I might agree with you but thankfully we have Aaron Rodgers. Punt returns are luxuries in Packerland.

Stroh's picture

I don't think Hyde is as much a playmaker as Cobb. And I'm not the only one. Per Demovsky ESPN Packers Blog "There's little doubt Cobb is the Packers' most dangerous returner."

Also, Hyde has 2 fumbles on 24 punt returns, while Cobb has 5 on 60 punt returns. That's 1 every 12 returns for both. So the ball security isn't the advantage you think it is.

McCarthy on NOT using starters on Returns... "I've got to get away from that thinking," McCarthy said. "I think it's dangerous to get into limitations and trying to be too cautious. When you get cautious and worry negative things happen. So we're going to put our best players out there. We need to be better on special teams and a good returner makes any return unit better."

I'll rest my case on using Cobb on PR on the ball security stats, the comments by the HC and probably the most respected Packers beat writer.

FWIW "in practice this week, when the top-three punt returners were Cobb, Hyde and veteran cornerback Tramon Williams. DuJuan Harris appears to be the top KR."

Game starts in 4 hrs. Go Pack Go!

COW's picture

I included Cobb's playoff returns.
My stats are right.
Have a good one, bro.

Stroh's picture

Not quite...

Hyde has 24 returns and 1 TD. That equals an ave of 1 TD every 24 returns (not including playoffs), and counting. Not 1 TD every 12 returns. LOL

COW's picture

Damn!

Imma Fubared's picture

Hey if we were to argue about letting Rogers or Mathews return punts everyone would have a great laugh at how too valuable they are to risk it but some of you think Cobb should do it.
I have a better idea or I should say the Vikes have a better idea. You get someone who is fast, very fast and elusive and give them that job. Maybe there only job but you give it to them and just solve the dam problem and move on to other problems.
Just like you draft a Kalill who will serve you well for ten years and be an all pro versus guys you need to count on from the 43,5,6 rounds.

zeke's picture

Helpful info: GB doesn't have anyone on the roster named "Rogers" or "Mathews", so it's unlikely anyone would have a laugh, great or otherwise, if one of them were to return punts (since, like, they don't exist).

Also, there hasn't been a 43rd round in the NFL draft since, like, forever.

Finally, the paint that chips off the siding of your parents' house is undoubtedly delicious, but really bad for you.

You're welcome.

GoldFinger's picture

lol....Excellent points Zeke. Couldn't agree more.

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