I don’t care if it means re-signing Roell Preston, Allen Rossum or Desmond Howard, the Green Bay Packers can’t go into the season with Randall Cobb as their No. 1 return man. Unfortunately, it’s not hard to picture No. 18 fielding kickoffs and punts against the 49ers in week 1. That’s because GM Ted Thompson failed to sign or draft a single player with proven return skills during the offseason, leaving backup receiver Jeremy Ross as the only thing standing between Cobb and another year on special teams.
Expect Johnathan Franklin, Omarius Hines and Charles Johnson to get plenty of opportunities to return kicks and punts during the summer, but none of the three has any experience in this area. And while bringing back kicks doesn’t take much skill (just courage), catching a punt while 11 very large men are getting ready to treat your body like a Piñata might be the most difficult thing to do on a football field. I can’t imagine head coach Mike McCarthy trusting anyone but Ross or Cobb with those duties once the games count.
Ross was an accomplished returner in college, and he showed exciting potential late last season. But his game-changing fumble in the playoffs has to concern the coaches. Not only did the former Cal star drop the ball, but he made an even worse mistake by trying to catch it at all. Ross will have to show better hands and better judgement this summer. He’ll also have to show the ability to play receiver, since Thompson has made it clear that he won’t keep a player who can’t contribute on offense or defense.
If Ross isn’t the answer, Thompson must change his MO and acquire the best proven return man available before the opener. Exposing Cobb, clearly the second-best player on offense, to extra hits would be crazy. We all saw how much the passing game suffered when the former Kentucky star was hobbled late last season. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jermichael Finley are good receivers, but none of the three is capable of getting separation on a consistent basis. Cobb can, but only if he’s healthy. Getting him off special teams won’t guarantee his physical well-being, but it would sure as heck help.