Jeremy Ross’ Hands Will Be His Undoing

ALLGBP.com All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Jeremy Ross, Training Camp DrillIn the grand scheme of the game, it might not have been the significant difference between a win and a loss, but it’s a moment Green Bay Packers fans won’t soon forget, no matter how hard they try to repress the memories.

Mike McCarthy won’t soon forget it, either. His decision to have rookie wide receiver Jeremy Ross return punts in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers backfired in the worst way possible. With the Packers up 14-7 and building some momentum, they managed to stop the 49ers offense at midfield to begin the second quarter. Unfortunately, the ensuing punt was muffed by Ross at the Packers’ 10-yard line, and Colin Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for a touchdown three plays later. The game was now tied, and all the momentum had shifted.

Make no mistake, Jeremy Ross could be an exceptional return man – maybe even better than Randall Cobb. He has the right combination of vision, speed, and elusiveness that can create substantial returns. The one ingredient that is missing, however, is ball security. And all things considered, it’s perhaps the most important ingredient. Teams can recover from poor field position, but it’s ten times harder to recover from a turnover.

Fast-forward to training camp, and Ross hasn’t shown any improvement in being able to field punts or make catches. He’s been given multiple reps as a returner, and it’s no secret that McCarthy would prefer him to be “the man” at that position. The head coach’s decision to put Ross into the Divisional Round game was, in large part, due to his desire to keep star wide receiver Cobb from unnecessary injury, and that desire hasn’t changed much. If the Packers can have a back-up wide receiver fielding punts and kickoffs, it reduces the risk of them losing a key player in the part of the game where injuries occur most often.

But so far, Jeremy Ross hasn’t done much to help the situation.

As training camp reports from the beat writers come out, we’ve seen some all-too-frequent accounts of muffed punts and dropped passes from Ross. JSOnline’s notes from Tuesday’s practice mention another pair of dropped passes by Ross, which adds to a growing list. Dropped passes obviously aren’t the same as muffed punts, and the mechanics of each type of catch are completely different; nevertheless, they both show a propensity for poor ball security. But even besides that, if he wants to make the 53-man roster, Ross will still need to show he’s valuable as both a wide receiver and a punt returner.

McCarthy won’t keep him on the roster if he can’t do both.

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom for Ross at this point. He was given some serious looks at both wide receiver and punt returner in the first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. In the first quarter, he converted on 3rd-and-1 with a five-yard pass from Rodgers, and he returned two kickoffs during the game for 44 yards.

Unfortunately, Tyrone Walker made a name for himself in that same preseason game as a receiver with 41 yards on five receptions. With Jarrett Boykin leading the group as fourth wide receiver behind Cobb, Nelson, and Jones, the race for fifth (and perhaps final) place is getting tighter. Ross will need to step up his game over the course of the next few weeks and preseason games if he wants a spot on the roster.

And it could all very well come down to his hands.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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  • Savage57

    I’ll never get it. Most of these guys have been playing, and getting coached up at this sport since their adolescence. They’ve heard a thousand times ‘look the ball into your hands’. Yet still they struggle to do exactly that while being handsomely paid to be professionals.

    Maybe this pro football thing is harder than we imagine?

    • Mr. Bacon

      Well. Some of it is mental. Imagine having to catch a ball, wobbling a bit, never a perfect spiral. That same ball it moving so fast, you can hear the rippling from the air being displaced. Now, imagine having to play catch with that, in the middle of a 3 lane highway.

      This is what happens when you speed the game up, more drops. The older days, the weight matched with the speed. Now you have linebackers running like Walter Payton did in his prime. They are not there to dodge, they are there to kill.

      This is just the evolution of the game.

      • BRinMilwaukee

        Well said, Mr. Bacon.

      • Savage57

        I appreciate the tutorial, but for the record, it was a rhetorical question.

  • redlights

    Can Walker field kicks?

    • Elo

      My thoughts exactly.

      • http://www.lyrictrumpet.com Bearmeat

        He’s not fast enough to get any yards after fielding the kick.

  • aaronqb

    The knock on Walker is he is slow (4.62 40). I like how he has performed so far, but you have to wonder if a small, slow (but quick) guy can be productive in the NFL.

    • Leo

      Go ask Wes Welker, 5’9, 4.65s 40 yards dash

  • Icebowler

    Pick up the next returner that Houston cuts. Their last two cuts ended up being stars of the AFC championship game for Baltimore and Denver last year:)

  • jt

    Ross has the same disease James Jones used to have. Physical guy who just has a problem with concentration. He needs to seek help from Jones quick or he will be cut quickly. Packers don’t accept droppers among newbies.

    • Savage57

      But they sure seem to like ‘em if they’re veterans at the TE position.

    • NorthStarr

      Jones got a bad rap after Peanut Tillman stripped him after a couple of catches in his first game against the Bares.
      The fans immediately jumped all over him for having the ‘dropsies’, and unfairly rode him for it for the next few years.

      He never did deserve that rep, IMO.

  • Stroh

    I think the coaches would take Ross if he shows some potential as a WR if they are very confident in his ball security as a returner. I think the desire to get Cobb off returns might out weigh, keeping Ross even if he doesn’t outperform Walker. Walkers playing well, but he has somewhat limited upside even tho he’s further ahead as a WR. It just comes down more to Ross’s ball security on returns, not as much his hands as a WR. If Ross wants to make it, he just needs to handle the ball cleanly on ST and they’ll work w/ him as a WR. Walker offers next to nothing on ST as far as I can tell.

    • Chad Toporski

      At yesterday’s presser, McCathy talked about Ross and him needing to be more “consistent.” In line with what you said, I’d be willing to bet McCarthy was speaking more towards Ross’ PR/KR role than WR role.

  • wil marsh

    apparently the GB staff looks for players that can do multiple roles well–it’s a bonus if any of these candidates show up big in primary roles; again Newhouse looked pathetic as a 3rd (?) year and Kuhn appears very expendable–CM3’s game interview made it appear that Jolly is in; appears like GB may keep 4 RBs in their corrale (Lacy, Starks, Harris & Franklin); isn’t it obvious Harris hits the holes quickest–Franklin will still surprise!