Slocum: Draft Picks Will Rev Up Return Game

Looking for real football talk? Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum talks kick returners in an exclusive with Packer Report. Not only is second-round pick Randall Cobb the possible solution, but so is third-round pick Alex Green.

For the Green Bay Packers, "special teams" has been a phrase akin to "jumbo shrimp."

That's especially true with the return units, as the tale of the tape from last season indicates:

Kickoff return average: 20.1 average, No. 26 in NFL.

Long kickoff return: 51 yards, No. 22.

Kickoff returns of 20-plus yards: 31, No. 26.

Punt return average: 7.9 average, No. 22.

Long punt return: 52 yards, No. 17.

Punt returns of 20-plus yards: 3, Tied 18.

Fair catches: 19, Tied 19.

Total return touchdowns: Zero, one of 10 teams.

It was even worse in the playoffs, with the Packers ranking next-to-last in both kickoff returns (15.5-yard average) and punt returns (4.4 average). Tramon Williams, so sure-handed on punts throughout the regular season, was a disaster in the playoffs with three fumbles.

Whether it was Jordy Nelson, Sam Shields, Pat Lee or James Starks returning kickoffs with equal futility or the risk-reward of using starting cornerback Williams on punt returns, the Packers' return units went nowhere fast.

Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum believes the tools he was given in the draft by general manager Ted Thompson will help remedy those problems. Second-round pick Randall Cobb was one of the nation's top returners during an impactful career at Kentucky in which he averaged 24.6 yards on kickoffs and took two punts to the house. Third-round pick Alex Green was not used as a returner at Hawaii but Slocum said he would be in the equation on kickoffs.

"Cobb, definitely, you know about his track record at Kentucky," Slocum said. "Alex Green looks like a guy who potentially could be a returner. I really like some of the things he did at the running back position. He's got good top-end speed and he's big."

Certainly, a returner can't do it alone. It's no different than a running back needing his linemen to block or a receiver needing a good play-action fake and a perfect throw to haul in a deep pass. Still, Slocum made no bones about it: A better returner is the key.

"I think these returners have a chance to really impact the game," Slocum said. "Playing good special teams statistically, there are a couple key components. No. 1, the guys that can affect the field position the quickest are the returner, the punter and the kicker. The returner, he can make a poor block look good. He can affect the field position dramatically. Look at the things (Chicago's Devin) Hester does. When he makes impactful returns, they're a better football team and they win more games."

Coach Mike McCarthy called Cobb an "electric player" who he needs to find ways to get the ball to, including on special teams. And with the lockout providing oodles of time for the coaches, Slocum said he'll find ways to tailor Cobb's return abilities into his scheme.

"We will improve in the return game," Slocum said point-blank, "with the guys that we've brought onboard."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.


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