Fourth round good for special teams

Packers select wide receiver, cornerback that can return kicks

Green Bay's offense and defense got much needed jolts of adrenaline and athleticism on Day 1 of the 2006 NFL Draft. At the top of Day 2 it was the Packers special teams that got addressed courtesy of two fourth round picks who will be looked upon to spark a moribund return game.

With the seventh pick in the fourth round (104 overall) the Packers tabbed Texas Christian's Dacor ‘Cory' Rodgers, a 6-foot, 197 pound receiver who set the Horned Frogs school record with 1,747 kickoff return yards. Eleven picks later, with a pick that came from Minnesota, though Philadelphia, they landed Will Blackmon, a 5-foot-11.5, 191 pound cornerback out of Boston College who spent last season as the Eagles leading receiver and return specialist.

Last season it was the diminutive duo of receiver Antonio Chatman and Ahmad Carroll that handled the bulk of the punt and kick returns. The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Chatman, now with Cincinnati, averaged 8.5 yards on 45 punt returns with one touchdown. Carroll, the Packers 5-foot-10, 190 pound cornerback led the way on kickoff returns, averaging 20.5 yards on 19 kickoff returns. ReShard Lee averaged 21.3 yards on 15 attempts while Najeh Davenport averaged 18.9 yards on ten returns.

Including second round pick Greg Jennings out of Western Michigan, Rodgers was identified by new Packer special teams coach Mike Stock as the player most ready to step to the forefront of the return man competition.

"All three bring their own style to the table," Stock said. "But Rodgers, first and foremost, is a tough kid. He's blocked kicks, made tackles, he's a reckless north-south runner. He fields the ball well and doesn't let it bounce. He knows when to go up and get it. Just a very knowledgeable and gifted kid.

"And I don't know that I saw him fumble once on all the film I watched of him."

Along with kickoff returns, Rodgers combination of speed (4.49 40-yard dash), vision and explosiveness allowed him to average 15.3 yards on 19 punt returns in 2005. For his career, he averaged 12 yards and on 69 returns with a long of 57 yards. The possibility exists that Rodgers would be a dual threat, handling both return duties along with snaps from scrimmage.

"I love special teams," Rodgers said. "I love being able to change the momentum of the game."

Not to be overlooked as a receiving threat, Rodgers ranked fourth in school history with 150 receptions and tied for first with 17 touchdown catches, despite playing just three seasons. It was that success, along with his accomplishments as a returner that led him to leave early for the NFL. While not as polished as Jennings, Rodgers offers quality depth at a position without great numbers.

Blackmon figures into the mix more as a kick returner than a punt returner, averaging 24.6 yards on 114 career kick returns compared to a 12.7 yard average on 40 punt returns over four seasons, scoring one touchdown on each. His 2,803 career yards on kickoff returns fell just 120 yards shy of the NCAA Division 1-A all-time record.

Blackmon drafted as a cornerback
While special teams may be Blackmon's first chance to make a mark, he was drafted by Green Bay as a cornerback despite talking to the team prior to the draft about playing receiver. Blackmon spent his first three seasons at Boston College playing and excelling at cornerback. But with his team lacking depth in 2005, he made a bold move to switch to split end. "I knew it would hurt me (in the draft) and affect me economically, but I wanted to help the team and help my teammates," Blackmon said.

He showcased his ball skills with a team-leading 763 yards on 51 receptions (15.0 yard average) with four touchdowns. At the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Blackmon spent more time working out as a wide receiver and spoke with Packers coaches, among other teams, about playing there at the pro level. Later during his pro day at Boston College, Blackmon focused more on defense. He closed out his career defensively with 141 tackles and eight interceptions.

It's unlikely he'll see work on both sides of the ball, as recently-signed cornerback Charles Woodson requested, but his stint on the offensive side of the ball should only make him a stronger defender and Packer secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer is more than happy to have Blackmon's services in the defensive backfield.

"We clearly saw him as a cornerback," Schottenheimer said. "He was an athlete that Ted (Thompson) had a good feeling about. We liked his athleticism and size. He's a big, strong, physical guy.

"He needs a lot of work as far as using his eyes properly, he played a lot outside and a lot of zone. We like to play at the line with a lot of bump-and-run. But he has a tremendous amount of ability and he's a guy to get excited about. He's got the return ability, as well, and I love the opportunity to get a young man like this and see how fast we can bring him along."

W. Keith Roerdink is a regular contributor to Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.


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