The Green Bay Packers entered this year’s training camp with several position battles promising to stand out. The running back competition, the battle for the starting safety position opposite Morgan Burnett and the defensive line, to name a few.
One of the battles that has taken a bit of a backseat is at kick returner. It’s interesting because at face value, there should be no battle to begin with. The Packers have a great return man in that of Randall Cobb. The problem with that scenario is that Cobb is just as, if not more important as a wide receiver. Some past players have had success in being both a returner and playing their natural position, but Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has made it known that he would like for someone else to emerge and take hold of the return duties.
With the loss of Greg Jennings, Cobb will be asked, along with Jordy Nelson and James Jones, to carry much of the load in the passing game this season. Questions started to emerge last season as to how long the Packers could afford to keep Cobb on special teams. Cobb was injured on a kick return in the week 16 game against the Tennessee Titans and he did not return to that game. He also missed the following week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Many reports were that Cobb could have played in that game if he was really needed, but alas, he was held out and the Packers fell to the Vikes. Suddenly those questions about the risk of hanging Cobb out there in a sometimes-vulnerable situation became more pronounced.
So far and between the team’s organized team activities in the spring and in the few training camp practices, the team has given some of Cobb’s usual return reps to others such as Nelson, Deangelo Pease, Sam Shields, Jeremy Ross, Omarius Hines, Loyce Means, Johnathan Franklin and James Nixon. Ross spent some time returning kicks last season after Cobb was injured, including an appearance in the postseason as well. Despite some of his ball-handling woes, many are hopeful that Ross can secure the job and relieve Cobb. Even if not Ross, with some decent alternatives to Cobb, surely someone is bound to stand out, right? Well, after today’s practice, McCarthy stated that if games started now, Cobb would still be the return man.
It’s a good problem to have, but it could soon become a not-so-good problem if Cobb’s production as a receiver suffers in any way. With the majority of the preseason left, look for the battle at kick returner to become regular news as the team tries its best to keep its most dynamic player fresh and ready to haul in touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Still, field position is key and if Cobb presents the best chance to shorten the field for Rodgers and the offense, he will continue to be the team’s choice.
As a little something to ease the minds of those who worry about Cobb’s current return duties hindering his progression as a wide receiver, here is an excerpt from NFL Network today. It’s a four-minute segment featuring Cobb demonstrating how he navigates life as a slot receiver. If this short glimpse is any indication of his abilities and understanding of the game, Cobb appears to be ready to take another step forward as a go-to receiver in Green Bay’s offense.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: