Chatman still the one

Other candidates to return punts, kickoffs shaky

The Green Bay Packers conducted their first special-teams only practice of training camp Monday afternoon, but none of the candidates in line to challenge incumbent return specialist Antonio Chatman did anything special.

Najeh Davenport, Terrence Murphy, Robert Ferguson, Ahmad Carroll and Andrae Thurman, along with Chatman, served as kickoff returners. Chatman, Murphy and Craig Bragg are the top candidates to return punts.

Murphy has all the quickness and ability that may eventually give him an edge to surpass Chatman as the team's primary return specialist, but he has been inconsistent. Coach Mike Sherman yelled across the field at Murphy on the hot, sunny afternoon after Murphy dropped a kickoff that was shot out of a jugs machine, "Catch the ball!" Murphy also dropped a punt in the morning session and a very catchable pass during a "red zone" drill that would have been a touchdown.

Maybe it's a case of the rookie jitters, but Murphy still has a way to go before the staff will feel comfortable with him as a returner and No. 4 receiver. Still, the second-round pick has a ton of potential.

"Very, very determined student of the game," Sherman said. "I feel like he's ahead of the learning curve. He's not behind. Bright kid. Wants to be a great receiver. I think it's just a matter of time. I'm excited about him. Obviously I want to see him do well catching punts."

Carroll, who was used a little as a kickoff returner last season, also let a ball out of the jugs machine fly off his hands into a group of players behind him during the kickoff return session.

Davenport has proven himself as a kickoff returner, which makes him a solid candidate. Ferguson is an excellent returner for punts and kickoffs, but it would be difficult to imagine the coaching staff using him on a regular basis after the clothesline hit he took last December. It took Ferguson most of this off-season to get back to normal.

The real test for the return specialist candidates will come during the Packers' scrimmage against Buffalo later this week and in the team's four preseason games. If any of the candidates can show the coaching staff something, they'll have a chance to unseat Chatman. If not, Chatman is still the best the Packers have to return punts and kickoffs on their roster.

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