Twenty Months Later, Ross Gets Return Chance

Jeremy Ross just wanted a chance, and he might get it on Sunday if Randall Cobb is inactive or taken off of special teams for the game at Minnesota.

It was Spring 2011. The Green Bay Packers were basking in the glow of their Super Bowl championship while looking forward to the draft. Despite using front-line players Jordy Nelson and Sam Shields on kickoff returns and Tramon Williams on punt returns, the return game was dismal.

To that end, the Packers looked high and low for a return prospect and settled on three. One was Randall Cobb. The others were Utah receiver Shaky Smithson and Cal receiver Jeremy Ross. The Packers brought them both in for predraft visits.

The Packers somehow landed Cobb with the final pick of the second round. Smithson and Ross went undrafted. Smithson signed with the Packers, spending last year on injured reserve and being waived after going on injured reserve again this summer. Ross landed with the Patriots and spent most of last season on the Colts' practice squad before Indianapolis released him at the end of camp this summer.

Fast forward about 20 months from the 2011 draft. Cobb, who has burst onto the scene as one of the league's best all-around talents, might miss Sunday's game because of ankle and knee injuries. Smithson is out of the league. Ross, who was signed to the Packers' practice squad on Oct. 17 and promoted to the active roster on Dec. 1, might be handling the kickoff- and punt-return duties when Green Bay visits Minnesota with a first-round playoff bye at stake.

"In my eyes, I just needed an opportunity," Ross said. "That's all I wanted. That's all I asked for."

Ross got that opportunity a week earlier at Chicago and dropped the ball. For all the flak that coach Mike McCarthy received for calling the trick play on a fourth-quarter punt return — including from quarterback Aaron Rodgers — little would have been said had Ross simply caught the football. The flub almost cost the Packers the game and it might have cost Ross his job if the coaching staff hadn't seen so much promise.

"It didn't really shake my confidence too much," Ross said. "At the moment, I was like, ‘Ahhh!' because I've caught that ball a million times. It was just a matter of focus. For the coaches to put me out there, it shows that they're all about second chances and that they do have some confidence in me."

That confidence was rewarded last week against Tennessee. Ross, who returned three punts for touchdowns and boasted a career average of 15.2 yards per punt return at Cal, got his shot at redemption after Cobb's injury. His 58-yard return of a fourth-quarter punt was the Packers' longest since Cobb's 75-yard touchdown against San Francisco in Week 1. Later, special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said Ross made the right decision by fielding a punt at the 6, with his 4-yard return potentially keeping the offense out of horrible field position.

"Jeremy catches the ball well," Slocum said. "I think he's got good running instinct, I think he uses his blockers well and I think he can create some production."

Earlier in the week, coach Mike McCarthy made it clear that a healthy Cobb would finish the season as the kick returner. Looking to 2013, when Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley could be playing elsewhere, Cobb's role on the offense could be so vital that McCarthy will want someone else returning kicks.

So, Sunday's game could be Ross' audition.

"Yeah, it is a great opportunity for me," Ross said. "There's a possibility it could come down to that. I'm excited about the opportunity. I'm going to do my job, go hard and try to help my team."


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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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