Green Bay's Hyde emerges as threat on kickoffs

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By Lori Nickel
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Thursday, December 26, 2013

GREEN BAY--They didn’t get the miracle finish, but have they found an answer at kickoff return?

Down by a touchdown with 1 minute 28 seconds left against Pittsburgh last Sunday, the Green Bay Packers needed a break and a big play in snowy Lambeau Field and got it with a season-best, 70-yard kickoff return from rookie cornerback Micah Hyde. He fielded the kick 1 yard deep in the end zone and took off.

Once he was brought down, he was disappointed that he didn’t return the kick way for a touchdown.

“I wish I could have busted into another gear, but I didn’t have one,” said Hyde. “I was pretty tired. That’s unfortunate.”

Still, the return restored hope. The Packers would not have to rely on Matt Flynn’s long-distance throws. They could momentarily forget the loss of Eddie Lacy. The Packers were 31 yards from tying—or winning—the game with plenty of time left.

“When he got up I just told him, man, I appreciate that effort,” said fellow special teams player Andrew Quarless. “Special teams was struggling all day and that was amazing. A confidence booster.”

It ended, of course, with a mistake, a fast clock and Green Bay’s seventh loss.

“That’s the season for us—one play away,” said Hyde. “It’s tough, but it’s not over yet.”

Green Bay gets one final chance Sunday. As the Packers prepare to face the Bears in Chicago in winner-take-all fashion, Hyde is coming off Green Bay’s best return performance of the year. He also had returns of 33 and 39 yards, which were also the best of the season until the 70-yarder.

“We gave the offense good field position on each one, outside the 20 on each of them,” said Hyde.

Hyde was never really expecting to be in this position, but in October Randall Cobb was lost to a fractured fibula and Jeremy Ross had been released after a fumbling issue. So Hyde took over the return duties.

The numbers were dismal: Green Bay was at the bottom of kickoff return averages in the NFL and it’s now only 30th with 20.3 average yards per return.

But kickoff returns take time and work and Hyde needed the blocking up front to get anywhere.

That’s why the 167 yards on five kickoff returns were so surprising last Sunday. Everything worked—the blocking and his ability to make tacklers miss. Hyde’s 33.4 average per return was a big boost, if only for one day.

“I had a bunch of holes on each of those returns,” said Hyde. “There were a couple returns where there were multiple holes that I could have hit and I just picked one. The kickoff return team did a great job.”

Hyde’s big day was impressive given that he’s not yet used to these long NFL seasons, and it is also tougher to break off long runs late in the year, in cold weather and snowy field conditions.

“Coach does a good job of letting us recover,” said Hyde. “In college, toward the end of the year it’s a little more lenient, but you’re still grinding. I feel here we’re allowed to let our bodies catch up.

“I don’t feel that rookie wall. I feel strong.”

Hyde has once been called courageous in the job and said he likes returning and approaches the role enthusiastically. It gives him a chance to show his athleticism and to the offensive side of the game.

“I’ve taken pride my whole life in playing multiple positions,” said Hyde. “In high school, I did a lot. It’s good to be on defense, but the opportunities on special teams—I better take them. It does show my versatility.”

In Devin Hester, the Bears have one of the most dangerous kick returners in NFL history. Like Hyde, Hester has a punt return for a touchdown this season. His 1,315 kick return yards rank second in the league to the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson , and Hester’s average of 28.0 is fifth among those with 20 or more returns.

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