When it comes to returning kicks, one sometimes is greater than 10.
The 10 guys blocking are important but, ultimately, the kick returner is the straw that stirs the drink.
“No question,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said during training camp. “It’s the returner. When you’ve got a guy like Micah (Hyde) that’s returned three (punts for touchdowns) in two years, that’s special. You go back and look at returns, a lot of times in a return for touchdowns, the guys don’t really do a great job of blocking. The guy just makes him miss. I’ve also seen, too, when you’ve got a guy who’s a good returner that your guys block harder because they know they’ve got a guy that can take it the distance. They do everything they can do to try to get him there. You look at some of those returns (by Devin Hester), I mean, holy smokes, they didn’t block a soul. He’s got God-given ability.”
In Sunday’s season-opening victory over Chicago, rookie Ty Montgomery returned kickoffs for 41 and 46 yards. The 41-yarder matched Green Bay’s longest for all of last season. And the two returns of 40-plus yards matched the combined total of 2012 and 2013.
“The other 10 guys blocking are working really hard,” Montgomery said after the game. “They’re doing their jobs, they’re creating lanes and just like Coach Zook has taught me, just catch the ball moving forward and run through the smoke.”
Montgomery is right in that he didn’t do it alone. On both of his long returns, he benefited from excellent blocking. Aaron Ripkowski served as the lead blocker on the opening kickoff. He didn’t contact a Bears defender until he reached the 27-yard line. It was exquisite timing, as Montgomery ran past just as Ripkowski made the block.
“I think it was good for Ty to run it up in there and he showed some of the things that he can do, the things we observed in college,” Zook said on Monday. “We expect him to continue to make improvement in that field.”
Last season, with DuJuan Harris handling most of the return chores, the Packers ranked 31st with a 19.1-yard average on kickoff returns and 23rd in average starting field position following a kickoff with a starting point of the 21.2-yard line.
On Sunday, Montgomery averaged 35.3 yards per return and the Packers’ average field position following a kickoff was the 28.6-yard line.
It’s just one game, obviously, but what was the difference?
“We blocked their guys and he ran really hard,” said fullback John Kuhn, a member of the kickoff-return unit.
Is there more to it than that?
“Not really,” Kuhn said. “Believe it or not, special teams is just about execution. One or two guys here or there miss a block, then you get stuffed. Yesterday, everybody got on their man, made their blocks and the runner ran really hard.”
Considering the Packers led the NFL in scoring last season while mired in bad field position, any help Montgomery can provide will only make life easier for Aaron Rodgers and Co.
“Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the further down the field that Aaron Rodgers starts, the much greater potential we have to start seven points,” Kuhn said.
The Packers punted following Montgomery’s 41-yard return to the 39-yard line in the first quarter. Montgomery’s 46-yard return to the 41 to start the second half jump-started the go-ahead touchdown drive.
“It definitely helps when you’re playing on a short field,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “We always talk about field position and that’s something that Coach Mike (McCarthy) has preached Day 1 as far as playing on that short field. Special teams did an outstanding job to help open up creases for him, and he hit them. He did a really nice job protecting the football. All that helps the good of the team and we were able to take advantage of that yesterday.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.