The Green Bay Packers played their first game of the season without return man Jeremy Ross this past week against the Detroit Lions. Ross was released after a horrible three games where he had many questionable returns and fumbled numerous times. His release was eminent, but it left the Packers with a hole they needed to fill.
Against the Lions, head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go with a return man by committee and gave three different players a look.
Starting wide receiver Randall Cobb was the man picked to return most of the punts in the game, but rookie Micah Hyde also saw some action as a return man. Another rookie, Johnahtan Franklin, was seen returning kickoffs in the game as well.
All three players are explosive return men who have exceptional speed and are very shifty when they run. However, some of the decisions that were made last week were very questionable and McCarthy must also look at whether or not they can hold on to the football.
Let’s start with Cobb. He has returned many kicks and punts in his first three seasons with the Packers and has proven he can be an exciting return man who has the ability to break off a big play. Unfortunately, he has also proved he can fumble and make dubious decisions. This past week, Cobb was returning punts and late in the game, he fielded a punt at the four-yard line and was tackled around the 10-yard line.
It is a written rule that a return man should not field a punt inside the five-yard line, and Cobb has done this a few times. I like that Cobb wants to catch the ball and make a play, but field position is much more important.
Franklin was returning kickoffs throughout the game against the Lions and didn’t have much to show for it because kicker David Akers was kicking the ball out of the end zone almost every time. However, Franklin did drop two kicks in the end zone. Luckily, the drops didn’t hurt the Packers, but Franklin has shown early on that he may have some issues fielding punts and kicks, and may also have some issues with fumbles.
I think Franklin can be explosive, but he must prove to me he can be reliable and hold onto the football first.
Hyde also saw action as a punt returner against the Lions, but only had a chance to field two punts and was able to hold onto the football. He gained a limited amount of yards during his returns, but did show he was can be elusive as he did break a few early tackles.
The Packers’ return game must start to become more of a force. It seems that the team still isn’t sure who they want to return, but with a tough schedule remaining and no breaks ahead, someone must step up.
I believe Hyde will be the man returning punts the rest of the year solely because the organization may not want to have Cobb in a position where he is going to get hit even more than he has to. Cobb is way too valuable as a receiver, and putting him in a position where he is open to more big hits puts him at risk for injury.
As for kickoffs, I’d expect Franklin to stay in that role. McCarthy surely will tell Franklin to be smart when it comes to actually bringing the ball out of the end zone, but I think Franklin will hold the ball high and tight like he is taught to do as a running back and do enough to give the Packers good field position.
Whether it is Cobb, Hyde, Franklin or another player, someone must step up for this Packers team and accept a return role quickly.