When the Green Bay Packers drafted Randall Cobb in the second round of the 2011 draft, it appeared they had their kickoff and punt returner of the future. However, his recent emergence in the offense necessitated others to handle the return duties.
Rookie defensive back Micah Hyde filled in admirably last season, but with his apparent increased role in defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ new look defense, and head coach Mike McCarthy’s traditional reluctance to use integral starters as returners, we might be looking at someone other than Hyde returning kicks this season.
So, here we are again asking a question we’ve asked several times before: who will be returning kickoffs and punts for the Packers in 2014?
Let’s take a look at the options.
While no team will refuse a 100-yard kickoff return taken to the house, that is not the primary responsibility of returning a kickoff. The return man is responsible for securing good field position for the offense to begin a drive.
Over the years, in the interest of player safety, the NFL has revised kickoff rules several times. The kickoff line has been moved up, to encourage touchbacks, and the number of blockers allowed to form the wedge has been loweredÂ to reduce violent player collisions. Essentially, by design, the kickoff itself no longer has the same potential to flip the field like a punt return or an interception return.
In other words, the need for a 4.3-second, 40-yard dashÂ track athlete is no longer the most desirable trait in a potential kickoff returner. Simply making a man or two miss and breaking a tackle or two will suffice as long as he can advance the ball beyond the 25 yard line. Many coaches simply just want to get out of the kickoff without any injuries. Then, let theÂ $100 million quarterback do his thing.
Going into training camp, I see the kickoff return competition being a three man race.
- Micah Hyde. He was the featured returner for most of 2013. It has yet to be determined if Hyde will see an increased playing load in 2014, let alone crack the starting lineup at free safety. If Ha Ha Clinton-Dix secures the starting free safety position, it’s likely we’ll see Hyde returning kicks again this season. If not, and Hyde starts on defense, it’s unlikely he will be the featured returner.