In addition to his contributions as tight end and linebacker, Spencer Havner (41) was a valuable special teams player for the Packers. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
The Green Bay Packers talk a good game when it comes to stressing the importance of special teams. But some of their actions Saturday to reduce their roster to 53 players didnít back up that claim.
The Packers dumped their best return man in Will Blackmon, who was placed on injured reserve and will be waived after reaching a settlement with the team. Also cut loose was Spencer Havner, one of the best special teams players on the roster.
How can the Packers, who have ranked near the bottom of several NFL special teams categories in recent years, be expected to improve when they release key performers?
Coach Mike McCarthy admitted last week that Blackmon was a difference-maker. ďThereís no question if you look at the past weíre a different return team when Will was in there compared to when he wasnít in there,Ē said McCarthy.
When Blackmon went down for the season last year in Week 4, the Packers cobbled together a hodgepodge of return candidates that predictably produced mediocre results.
Itís possible the Packers have a plan to acquire Blackmonís replacement either via a trade or the waiver wire. But thereís also a fear they might resort to previous form and mix and match their return men based on injuries, availability and which way the wind is blowing on any given Sunday.
That scattershot approach has contributed to a 10-year drought in which the Packers have failed to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
Jordy Nelson is an up-and-coming NFL receiver but doesnít look comfortable in his role as a kickoff return man. Brandon Jackson might have some return skills but the Packers can ill afford to risk his health considering thereís only one other halfback on the roster.
The Packersí two best remaining punt returners Ė Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson Ė are also the starting cornerbacks and canít risk getting hurt on special teams.
Thatís the problem the Packers face when they resort to their return-man-by-committee approach.
Blackmon has been injury prone throughout his four-year career so itís understandable the team got tired of waiting around for him.
But the Packers have known since Blackmonís serious knee injury 11 months ago that a reliable return man might be needed, yet General Manager Ted Thompson sat on his hands during the offseason and did nothing to rectify the situation.
Thompson should be willing to part with one of his coveted future draft picks to shore up a major deficiency in the return game. Even the Packersí 1996 Super Bowl championship team, which was loaded on offense and defense, needed returner Desmond Howard to bail them out on occasion. If the Packers want to compete for a title this season, they could use a dynamic return man in their arsenal.
The loss of Havner, meanwhile, isnít going to make or break the Packers this season, but itís a puzzling move and reminiscent of when Thompson released special teams ace Tracy White two years ago.
Thompson claims special teams are important, but his decisions donít always reflect that.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.