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Pump the Brakes on Cobb Being Taken off Return Duties, Especially Punts

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Pump the Brakes on Cobb Being Taken off Return Duties, Especially Punts

Potential oozes from Packers rookie Johnathan Franklin. He's quick, he's athletic, he's a touchdown waiting to happen.

There's a chance he could supplant the electric Randall Cobb as the Packers' return specialist and prevent the Packers wide receiver from getting injured on special teams.

Packers head coach Mike McCarthy brought attention to such a possibility on Saturday when he was asked about Franklin at his post-practice press conference.

"He definitely is off to a good start," said McCarthy. "I really like what I see from Johnathan Franklin."

Who could blame McCarthy? Franklin looks the part without pads, which is how the first two days of training camp were spent in Green Bay.

From a distance, it's easy to put two and two together when first looking at Franklin's physical prowess combined with the desire for the Packers to relieve Cobb of his return duties, a notion expressed as far back as February by McCarthy.

It may appear at first blush that Franklin is the solution. Or perhaps it's Jeremy Ross, he of the exciting 58-yard punt return last December.

But taking Cobb off returns is no guarantee.

This is a job Cobb has done the past two seasons and has become one of the NFL's best at doing so in the process. With three touchdowns in the return game each of the last two seasons, Cobb has made his presence known to opponents across the league.

Entering his third season in professional football, Cobb has become the kind of player you can rely upon to field the football and make something happen once the ball is in his hands.

By no stretch of the imagination has Cobb been perfect. He lost three fumbles his rookie season on returns and another in his sophomore season in the NFL. But he's smart, experienced and has the ability to take the ball to the house at any moment.

If the Packers are going to take Cobb off returns for the foreseeable future, they have to be absolutely positive that they're replacing Cobb with someone they can trust, particularly on punt returns.

What must be realized is that returning punts is 10 times more difficult to do than returning kicks for a variety of reasons.

1. There's the ever-present danger of tacklers waiting to decapitate the punt returner, protected by only a one-yard halo. At the same time, the returner has to keep his eye on the football while merely trying to sense where the defense is coming from. Only on the rare pooch kick does a kick returner have to worry about a similar threat.

2. The trajectory of a punt makes it harder to catch. Like corralling a high pop fly in baseball, they're more difficult to judge than the lower-trajectory kickoffs.

3. Punts can spiral. If it's a windy day, punts can catch those gusts and be taken further than expected, whereas the end-over-end kickoffs are much more predictable.

4. When backed up to the end zone, there's the added responsibility of deciding whether to field a punt or potentially letting it go for a touchback. On kickoffs, there's no decision to be made. The ball must be fielded, lest it be recovered by the other team.

5. The mental game of returning punts is much greater. Punt returners have to worry about all the above, and do so in very short amount of time. Add in the opportunity for the returner to make a fair catch, and it's just one more thing to think about in a split second.

For the Packers to pawn these responsibilities on someone else would be a risk. Cobb has done these things for the better part of two years and can be trusted to continue to do them.

"No. 1 is the responsibility of handling the football," said McCarthy. "Any time you're dealing with returner, regardless if it's in punt and kickoff, the confidence of everybody has to be the returner is going to handle the football. Secondly, he's going to make good decisions and he's going to make good decisions with the football. And then secondly, be in tune with the scheme and the concept that's called on that return."

There's a reason Cobb is the NFL's reigning all-purpose yardage leader. He's fantastic at what he does, whether it's receiving, rushing or in the return element of football.

Perhaps the better the Packers are better of simply replacing him on kickoffs if they're worried about exposing him to injury.

Collisions in kickoff returns are worse than any other aspect of the game because of the speed at which they happen.

And if the Packers use Franklin or Ross on kick returns, there will be less for them to worry about. Franklin has next to no experience as a return man in college, so he already has a lot of obstacles to overcome to become comfortable in that department, as if running back isn't enough.

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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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (10) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

JakeK's picture

Major snafu by McCarthy when he replaced Cobb in the playoff game against SF. ... GB had their only lead of the game at the time (14-7). The muff by Ross gave SF a short field and a 14-14 tie. ... Hopefully, McCarthy has learned a lesson. ... You want your best getting the ball as often as possible... If you're afraid of a player getting hurt, why even suit him up?

Fi crane's picture

The mistake was not letting Ross field punts but as stated above not using Cobb when the punt wOuld be near the goal line area.

Drealyn Williams's picture

I totally agree. Sort of like when the Pats would use Welker on punt returns. I'm sure they just went with the more "sure handed" returner in key situations. I'd like Ross on punts and Franklin/Ross on kick-offs.

Stroh's picture

Brian... you said "If the Packers are going to take Cobb off returns for the foreseeable future, they have to be absolutely positive that they’re replacing Cobb with someone they can trust, particularly on punt returns."

I've been saying this for a long time, going back to during last season. I understand wanting to get Cobb off returns, but they need to have someon who is not only trustworthy, but also somewhat dangerous. Cobb is by far the best on the roster. Franklin and Ross have possibilities, but need to prove they are quite good at returns before it happens.

Also said the best compromise is getting Cobb off KR this year for sure. Its an easier job and both Franklin and Ross are better equipped to handle that duty better than Cobb. They are anywhere from 10-15 lbs heavier so can absorb the punishment better.

We would all like to see Cobb off returns, but that was a major reason why the Packers drafted him at the end of the 2nd. So until Ross or Franklin prove to be trustworthy and a threat, Cobb stays on returns. I would like to think Ross could earn that job, it is what he was good at in college.

Oh and Cobb has 3 retrun TD's total the past 2 years, not 3 each season.

Skippy's picture

We don't all want him off returns. IMO, he should still return punts this season and as long as he's the best at it for the Pack. The more touches he has, the better.

Taco's picture

I agree with McCarthy here, “No. 1 is the responsibility of handling the football.”

So according to, Cobb's average PR is 9.4 yards. His average catch is 11.9. Pardon the use of mathematics, but it seems we just need a guy to catch the punt cleanly and let the offense take it from there. We're not the bears. We have a premier offense and don't need big plays from special teams. I mean, it would be great, but it's not a necessity. Not nearly as important as having a healthy #1 WR.

Anyone remember when Holmgren put Mike Prior back there for PR? Basically, it was a fair catch every time.

Skippy's picture

Take RC off of kick returns but leave him in as punt returner. Hopefully, Franklin can return kicks and be the back-up punt returner. I doubt Ross even makes the team. There's just nothing special about him.

steven's picture

I know I'm a fan, but am I the only one the feels like we could have both the defensive rookie of the year (Jones) and the offensive rookie of the year (lacy or Franklin). I wonder if it has ever occurred before.

Lou's picture

Before Cobb we had to go back to Allan Rossum before we had a combo KR/PR that could take it to the house, that is a long time coming. Nelson and Shields were serviceable on kick offs but lacked instinct. Ross if he can hold onto the ball has the fearlessness/strength/speed to be a solid combo returner. I still can't believe Harris is not being considered as the punt returner, he has a Barry Sanders lower body and great quickness. The ideal combo would be Ross and Harris. I liked the Mike Prior comment, he had great hands and Antonio Freeman did as well when he returned punts early in his career.

PaulRosik's picture

I have never seen the evidence that returners get injured more than a receiver or running back. This seems like one of those football myths. When you have a weapon like Cobb able to give field position you need to use him.

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