Game changers

If he can stay healthy, Will Blackmon is on pace to enjoy as much success as a former Packers great, says Packer Report's Bob Fox.

Travis Williams was one the most electrifying players in Packers history. In 1967, Vince Lombardi's last year as head coach of the Packers, Williams returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, including two in one game. He also was a star in the playoff game later that year against the Los Angeles Rams, scoring two touchdowns, including a 46-yard scamper in a 28-7 win the week before the infamous Ice Bowl.

Williams later repeated history by scoring two special teams touchdowns, one a kickoff return and one a punt return in a game in 1969 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Up to that point, NOBODY in Packer history had ever done that except Williams himself in 1967. That didn't happen again until 2007. That's when Will Blackmon scored two special teams touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders.

Blackmon scored on a 57-yard punt return and also a fumble recovery for a touchdown after a Raider fumble on a punt. That distinction puts only Blackmon and Williams in real exclusive company in the long and illustrious history of the Green Bay Packers.

Desmond Howard came very close to joining this club. Besides returning three punts for TDs during the 1996 season, Howard came very close to returning two punts for TDs against the San Francisco 49ers in a playoff game (he actually did return one) and he also had a 99-yard TD return against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI where he was named MVP of the game. Howard also returned six punts for 90 yards, including a 34-yarder that he almost broke for a TD.

So the fraternity of two special teams touchdowns in a game stands at two in Packer history with Williams and Blackmon. The two are similar in other respects as well.

Williams was a budding superstar in 1967 with the success he had as a rookie. But Williams had an on and off career as a Packer. In 1968, Williams had a horrible year with only 63 yards rushing, including a 1.9 per rush average, compared to 1967 where Williams rushed for 188 yards and a 5.4 per rush average. Plus, Williams also had no returns for TDs in 1968.

However in 1969, it looked like Williams was turning into the player that the Packers envisioned in 1967. Williams rushed for a team high 536 yards, including a 4.2 per rush average. Williams was also splitting time at HB with Donny Anderson, Dave Hampton and Elijah Pitts. Williams also had two returns for TDs in the same game at Pittsburgh, and had three receiving touchdowns in that season.

In 1970, Williams fell behind the emergence of Anderson as the main halfback for the Packers, and Williams was also being over shadowed by Hampton and others in the return game. By 1971, Williams had been traded to the Rams for two draft picks.

Like Williams, Blackmon has plenty of potential to be great, as he showed in the Oakland game last year. Not only great in special teams, but Blackmon also has the size and skills to be a great cornerback. But Blackmon just can't stay healthy it seems. Blackmon has had injury issues, having suffered two breaks of his left foot which kept him sidelined for much of the past two years.

Blackmon has a great opportunity with the Packers if he can stay healthy. The Packers were energized by the four special team touchdowns that were scored in 2007. Blackmon obviously played a large part in that, along with ironically another DB/KR in Tramon Williams who also had a punt return TD in 2007. The other special teams TD in 2007 was scored on another fumbled punt recovery by yet another DB, Jarrett Bush.

All three play a large part in both the special teams and the defensive pass coverage. They will be joined this year by rookie Patrick Lee. The competition will be fast and furious, but Blackmon has the ability to be among the elite, if his health doesn't betray him.

Blackmon showed his versatility at Boston College, where he played both CB and WR. Plus, Blackmon finished his college career only 119 yards shy of being the all-time kickoff returner in NCAA D1-A history.

The Packers are looking for depth at CB, as aging, but very competent veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson return as starters. The Packers tried Bush, Williams and Blackmon at the nickel back position in 2007 with moderate success. The team then drafted Lee this year to help fight for that job and provide depth. One of those players will be the nickel back this year, and also eventually a starter at CB as father time will eventually catch up to Harris and Woodson.

In only a brief glimpse of what Blackmon can do, he has showed the Packer faithful that he has Travis Williams-like attributes as a game changer. Williams helped bring Lombardi his last championship in Green Bay. Likewise, Howard did the same thing when the Packers won their last championship. Blackmon has that potential. But Williams and Bush, plus rookie Pat Lee will push him on defense. Williams and another rookie, Jordy Nelson, will push him in the return game. It's all about having the ability to change a game. But you have to be healthy and suited up to play for that opportunity.

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