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Packers hope for better return on this investment

When the call came this year to replace an injured player -- and it came a lot -- the Packers were always to put a capable cog into their machine. With the NFC's No. 2 slot in their grasp and a shot at homefield, it's obvious the refurbished "machine" has done the job. The Packers are firing on all cylinders -- except one. Punt returns remain the weak link, despite numerous tries to repair the position from inside and out. Will newly signed Eric Metcalf be the missing piece? <p>

Averaging a mere 4.6 yards per punt return, the team is still looking for an answer. It's not too late for this week's crucial game with the Jets before things get really serious in the post-season.

In steps 13-year NFL veteran Eric Metcalf, who has been out of football for the better part of two of the last three seasons.

What makes Metcalf different than Darrien Gordon and J.J. Moses before him? A solid workout with the Packers left Sherman convinced that Metcalf could be the answer to one of the team's most pressing concerns heading toward the playoffs.

"I'm not saying he's going to be our guy this week, but we're going to look at him," Sherman said. "I have a 53rd spot on the roster and a pretty good history with the 53rd player, so hopefully he'll be able to move his way up there.

"He has a great history, great kid. In excellent, excellent shape," Sherman said of Metcalf. We brought him in for a workout before and he's in much better playing shape now than the last time we saw him."

The last time Metcalf was on the field, he averaged 7.0-yards per return over 34 runbacks for the 2001 Redskins.

Just as important as the elusiveness that made him a three-time Pro Bowler and the NFL all-time record holder with 10 punt return touchdowns, Sherman is hopeful that Metcalf could at least provide the team with the veteran decision-making that Moses and Gordon seemed to lack.

Amazingly, the tendency to misjudge the ball hasn't led to a turnover yet, and his would be a bad time to start.

"As you've seen in the last couple of weeks, (punt returns) can come down to making a difference in the football game for you," Sherman said. "Fortunately, it didn't cost us, but it's a big issue right now, as it is every week whether you win or lose a football game."

Metcalf, 34 and the veteran of 6 NFL teams, believes he has the experience to help solve the Packers' return problems.

"In punt returns, sometimes everything doesn't go right and you just have to run," he said.

"I think if everything doesn't go well, so far as blocking or what have you, there's still an opportunity to make plays."

Wide receiver Robert Ferguson may also get another shot, and even Terry Glenn has taken some reps at practice.

But as Ferguson seems to improve with every game and Glenn has managed to stay relatively healthy in recent weeks, the Packers are hoping the Metcalf emerges.

Ferguson has been the Packers' No. 2 return man all season, and while Sherman is certain that the second-year pro could fill the void, he's worried it might be at the expense of something else.

"I have confidence in Ferguson, the only problem with him is he's involved in so many other phases of our special teams," Sherman said.

"But if he's our best guy, then that is job is so important that we'll put him back there as our punt returner."

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