From 2013 and 2014, only the incomparable Devin Hester averaged more yards per punt return than Green Bay’s Micah Hyde. No punt returner in the league could match Hyde’s three punt-return touchdowns.
As bad as Green Bay’s special teams were, Hyde was a beacon. Which makes what happened last year so incomprehensible. While the Packers’ special teams rose from No. 31 to No. 16 in Packer Report’s rankings, Hyde’s 5.8-yard average on punt returns ranked next-to-last in the league. Rather than the two touchdown returns he had in 2014, Hyde had zero returns of longer than 16 yards in 2015.
Getting Hyde and the rest of the punt-return unit back up to speed sits atop special teams coordinator Ron Zook’s to-do list.
“It’s really become a big emphasis for us in the offseason and in camp,” Zook said on Friday. “Just as was kickoff return last year was a big emphasis. We didn’t have the kind of year that we had previous to last year that we needed to have.”
The emphasis on kickoff return paid major dividends last season. Among returners with at least seven runbacks, Ty Montgomery and Jeff Janis ranked in the top six in the league as Green Bay finished fifth in average starting field position following a kickoff. Zook hopes the emphasis on punt returns will have a similar payoff.
With proven production in the punt return phase, big changes aren’t needed, Zook said. Rather, it’s doing what they do at a higher level. Hyde is the favorite to retain the job, with receivers Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Trevor Davis and cornerback Quinten Rollins in the rotation this week.
“We haven’t changed a lot of scheme but we’ve really fine-tuned the techniques and put a lot more time on it,” Zook said. “A lot of times with the punt return, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not – the punters that you’re going against and so forth. But we have put a big emphasis into it and it is a phase that we’ve told them that we have got to get a lot better at.”
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.