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Can Packers find a replacement returner for Cobb?

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
August 2, 2013

GREEN BAY--Randall Cobb was saying the other day that there is no pecking order when it comes to the guys fielding punts and kickoffs in training camp thus far.

Boy, is he wrong.

The Green Bay Packers are looking for someone to take Cobb’s place in the return game so he can focus on being a wide receiver, but the first five days of camp have not produced a challenger. No one has caught the ball as consistently as Cobb, that’s for sure.

During practice Wednesday, the leading contender for both kickoff and punt return duties, Jeremy Ross, muffed a punt, and rookie Johnathan Franklin, a guy with the quickness to excel as a returner, muffed a punt and a kickoff.

The newest addition to the group, Omarius Hines, who was signed Monday, showed some ability, but also mishandled a punt off a jugs machine.

“Our return game, someone has to step up,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Randall Cobb has been excellent for us back there. If we were going to play a game tomorrow, Randall would be my returner. So the opportunities that these young men have, I think that the preseason will sort that out for us.”

McCarthy has mostly used Cobb, Ross, Franklin, Sam Shields, Lloyce Means and Hines on kickoffs and Cobb, Ross, Franklin, Hynes, Tramon Williams, Myles White and Tyrone Walker on punts.

Ross would be the preferred candidate for both jobs because he’s a strong, physical runner with natural return skills, but his muff in the San Francisco playoff game comes to mind every time he struggles to catch a ball. It doesn’t appear his hands are a problem because he has performed well so far as a receiver.

It might be that his concentration level isn’t high enough.

“He has a unique skill set,” McCarthy said. “His ability to play all the different positions, how he’s utilized on special teams is a real credit to him. I’m glad he’s here for training camp. He had some good returns there at the end of the season for us.

“He’s shown that he can do it in big games and he’ll learn from his mistake in San Francisco. Very, very versatile football player.”

But right now, not good enough to beat out Cobb, who said he has been given no indication whether he’ll have a role on special teams this year.

“I’ll wait and see,” he said.

Jonesing for a sack

As several players pointed out, it was just a one-on-one drill and nothing close to what it’s really like when defensive linemen rush offensive linemen, but for one period during practice Wednesday rookie end Datone Jones dominated.

Typically, the coaches allow a young player to take two or three reps in the offensive line vs. defensive line one-on-ones, but this time they sent the Packers’ first-round pick up six times and watched him dominate five of the matchups.

After undrafted rookie Lane Taylor stopped him, Jones went up against Garth Gerhart, Greg Van Roten, AndrewDatko, Patrick Lewis and Taylor again. He laid waste to all of them, although the one against Gerhart was close to a draw, right?

“That would have been a sack, easy,” Jones said. “That was a kill shot.”

On three others, he was out of his stance so fast that the linemen were chasing him on the way back to where the quarterback would be standing. On the one against Datko, he got his arms underneath Datko’s pads, lifted him in the air and deposited him on the ground.

Jones didn’t mind the extra work even though by drill’s end, his jersey was rolled up high on his chest and sweat was pouring down his face. He was able to rush from multiple positions along the line, going against tackles, guards and centers, all of which is good training for the role the Packers want him to play.

“I love it,” Jones said. “That’s the perfect time for you to hone your skills right there. Every time I get a chance to rush an offensive lineman, I’m taking it.”

Jones, of course, has to carry the work in the one-on-ones into the team drills where the chance to rush against one guy with no one else blocking around you are nonexistent. There’s no question, however, that the guy has a combination of speed and strength that could land him a regular spot in the defensive line rotation.

“He’s an explosive player,” said guard T.J. Lang, who on Tuesday was knocked on his backside by Jones in the same drill. “He’s getting better every day and he’s going to be a big addition to our defense.”

Learning curve

Through much of the first week of camp, rookie cornerback Micah Hyde has lived a charmed life.

He has gotten tons of snaps filling in for the injured Williams (knee) and Casey Hayward (hamstring), been immune to any really bad mistakes and has earned praise from most corners.

Then there was Wednesday.

Hyde found out a little bit about the pros when he let James Jones get behind him for a long gain on a pass from Aaron Rodgers.

“I got beat on a double move,” Hyde said. “I was maybe a little too greedy. But as a corner it’s good to see a double move. It happens in the game. I’m going to learn from that and move on.”

Showing some life

If the season were to start today, it would be hard to imagine anyone but James Starks or AlexGreen being the starting running back.

Both have outperformed rookies Johnathan Franklin and Eddie Lacy.

But it’s very early in the process and as camp progresses and the draft picks get carries in the preseason games, the competition should pick up. McCarthy thought he saw the rookies take a step in practice.

“Jonathan had a big play down the sideline in the third-down period, and it was a nice throw by Aaron,” McCarthy said. “I thought Eddie Lacy got better today. I thought his inside running skills, his instincts, his decision making, he’s finishing better.”



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