Return teams need a spark

Punt, kickoff returns again have been ho-hum

The Green Bay Packers have gotten little to nothing from their special teams return units this season. With injuries forcing the Packers to elevate return man Antonio Chatman to No. 2 receiver, now is the perfect time to experiment with other personnel.

Chatman currently ranks 15th in the National Football League with an average punt return of 6.8 yards on 15 returns. He has eight fair catches. He hasn't fumbled the ball away, but he also hasn't had a return of more than 16 yards.

Chatman is safe. He's reliable at catching the ball, but in the past two-plus years he has never taken a punt back for a touchdown. Still, Coach Mike Sherman prefers him over anybody else because of his ability to catch the ball.

"Chatman's very sure-handed," Sherman said. "I think that's the toughest job in football, catching punts, so I put a high priority on the ability to catch punts, because nothing turns a game more than fumbling that."

And nothing turns a game more than a big punt or kickoff return. We saw first-hand last Sunday how a good return can spark a team. Koren Robinson had two big kickoff returns, including a 25-yarder late in the game that set up the Vikings' winning field goal.

The Packers, no doubt, are still kicking themselves over allowing Allen Rossum to depart for the Atlanta Falcons in the off-season of 2002. He is the last player to return a punt for a touchdown, which was in 2001. Since then, the Packers have struggled to find a legitimate threat at returning punts or kickoffs.

Until now. The Packers welcomed back Andrae Thurman on Tuesday. Thurman showed in the preseason that he has the ability to be a home-run threat, a returner who can break through the slightest of gaps and return it for a touchdown. He also showed the Packers this with a broken right thumb. But, unexplicably, Green Bay released him on the final cutdown on Sept. 1.

Thurman is back. His thumb is healed. His position on the team is even better with the Packers then when he left for Tennessee. Thurman likely will play in this Sunday's game as the team's No. 3 receiver, which makes him the perfect option to return punts and kickoffs.

Now is the time to give Thurman a shot on both return teams and see if he can do what Chatman has failed to do since he has arrived in Green Bay.

Thurman may not be the answer. He struggled in Tennessee at returning punts and kickoffs and was replaced by rookie cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, the Titans' No. 1 draft pick this year. Thurman averaged just 3.4 yards per punt return and 21.0 yards per kick return. That's not going to cut it by NFL standards, which is part of the reason why Thurman was released.

But Thurman has a chip on his shoulder and wants to show Tennessee that it made a mistake by releasing him. What do the Packers have to lose? Another game? What a better time than this Sunday to give Thurman his chance, at least on punt returns. The Packers also should consider using newly acquired Walt Williams or Taco Wallace on kickoff returns.

Also, by giving Thurman a chance to return punts and kickoffs, Chatman will be more fresh to catch passes from Brett Favre.

The Packers need all the help they can get from special teams. Now is the perfect time to make a move.

Todd Korth is managing editor of and Packer Report. E-mail him at In a game where it is imperative to get something out of offense, defense and special teams each week, the Packers have Antonio Chatman hasn't turned the ball over as a punt returner, but he also hasn

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