Making every return an adventure

Rookie fourth-round pick Cory Rodgers dropped a punt against Atlanta, a continuation of the frequent troubles in practice.

The Green Bay Packers don't have to make their first roster cuts until Aug. 29. That means Cory Rodgers has one more week to show that Ted Thompson didn't make a huge blunder by wasting a fourth-round draft pick on a kick returner who can't catch.

The Adventures of Cory continued during Saturday night's preseason victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers was an all-American and record-setting kick returner while at Texas Christian, but none of that has showed during his stay in Green Bay.

During the third quarter, he continued his nagging habit of taking his eyes off the ball. It resulted in a fumble, which he recovered, though a penalty on the Falcons wiped the play from the books. The Falcons rekicked, and this time Rodgers made the poor decision of signaling for a fair catch and getting out of the way of the ball — no doubt gambling that the odds of a touchback were better than the odds of him making a clean catch. The ball bounced at the 10-yard line and was downed inside the 5.

He managed to catch the only other punt of the night, and with nowhere to run, picked up 5 yards on the return.

Rodgers also returned a first-quarter kickoff, and with a lack of blocking — especially from his return partner, Noah Herron — he picked up 16 yards.

Rodgers' battle with the drops has been a chronic problem throughout training camp. At this rate, though, even if Rodgers makes a sudden, drastic improvement, it's hard to imagine coach Mike McCarthy would have the confidence to use him in a game.

Best-case scenario is Rodgers is released in the final cuts and added to the practice squad. Maybe with an extra year under his belt, Rodgers can figure things out. McCarthy recently said Rodgers' problems aren't uncommon for players who enter the NFL after their junior seasons, though that seems more like an excuse than a logical explanation.

So if not Rodgers, then who?

Well, we know it won't be fellow fourth-round pick Will Blackmon, another big-time college returner who hasn't practiced since breaking a bone in his foot during the May minicamp.

No. 1 on the punt-return depth chart is starting cornerback Charles Woodson. He's sure-handed, but he adds zero pizzaz. The Packers might as well have kept Antonio Chatman. Don't believe me? Then you only remember Woodson's days as a return ace at Michigan a lifetime ago.

In three seasons in Green Bay, Chatman — now with Cincinnati — averaged 8.2 yards per punt return. Woodson's career return average is just 6.4 yards. He returned one punt against San Diego, and after a bunch of dancing and running in place, he picked up 3 yards.

Nonetheless, Woodson likely will be the returner on opening day, if for no other reason than he has the kind of hands the Packers wish Rodgers possessed. With all the Packers' shortcomings and inexperience, the last thing they can afford is to give away points in the return game.

The others in mix are the oft-injured Robert Ferguson, and that's not an exciting prospect, and rookie Greg Jennings. Jennings is an intriguing prospect, but with his role in the offense growing each week, the Packers probably don't want to couple the risk with his inexperience in the role.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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