Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller (21) scores a touchdown past Indianapolis Colts defender Antoine Bethea (41) in the first quarter of a preseason NFL football game in Toronto on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010. Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) gets a block on the play. / Mike Groll/AP
The Buffalo Bills look like one of the least-potent offenses in the NFL, but they could compensate with potentially one of the best return games.
Kickoff returner C.J. Spiller is a first-round draft pick who set an NCAA record by returning seven kickoffs for touchdowns at Clemson. Punt returner Roscoe Parrish has three returns for touchdowns in his five NFL seasons and a 12.2-yard career average.
After scoring only 10 points against Miami last week, the Bills’ best chance of putting up enough points to beat the Packers on Sunday is by tilting the field with turnovers or a dominating performance in the return game.
Spiller had only one kickoff return for 11 yards against Miami because kicker Dan Carpenter hit two touchbacks and knocked a third kickoff out of bounds. Parrish returned three punts for a 10-yard average.
“(Spiller) is a dynamic returner,” said Shawn Slocum, the Packers’ special teams coach. “Everybody knows about his production as a college player. He’s explosive. Didn’t get but one opportunity last week, and didn’t have much chance to make anything out of it. He’s an excellent returner.
“Roscoe Parrish last week had a nonchalant 19-yard return, the guy’s explosive. He has a history of being special. And the thing they’ve got is a core nucleus of guys that have played together and are a good special teams unit. So it’s a real challenge.”
The Packers’ cover teams got off to a good start last week by preventing the Philadelphia Eagles’ returners from being a factor in the Packers’ 27-20 win. Kickoff returner Ellis Hobbs averaged 23.3 yards on four returns, and DeSean Jackson, who’s one of the most dangerous punt returners in the league, averaged only 7.0 yards on two returns and made two fair catches.
The Packers’ new punter, Tim Masthay, played a role in keeping Jackson in check. He averaged 41.5 yards on his four punts and had good placement toward the sidelines on all but one. His final punt of the day was a 37-yarder with minimal hang time that Jackson returned 10 yards.
“Overall, (Masthay) did a good job because we limited DeSean Jackson,” Slocum said. “The first three points were about what we want, the fourth punt was too low and in the middle of the field. We happened to have very good coverage on that play.”
Nance faces tough road
New running back Dimitri Nance faces a major challenge to get on the 45-man game-day roster this week, but the Packers expect him to be ready to play before long.
The Packers signed Nance this week to replace Ryan Grant, who went on injured reserve. Because of the importance of picking up blitzes in the passing game, it’s difficult for a rookie halfback to be ready to play after only a week on a new team, though Nance might be ready for next week’s game at Chicago. In 2005, the Packers signed Samkon Gado to their practice squad for a week, then promoted him to their 53-man roster the following week, when he had one carry for eight yards against Cincinnati.
“The big thing is absorbing the scheme,” said Joe Philbin, the Packers’ offensive coordinator, “and if you’re out there and we’re throwing the football, you want to be pretty sure in a guy’s ability (to pass block), that’s an important thing. Any scheme where the back has blocking responsibilities, you better make sure he knows what he’s doing.”
Nance signed with Atlanta as an undrafted rookie this year, and the Packers signed him off the Falcons’ practice squad based on recommendations by their pro scouting staff. Nance wasn’t among the 25 to 30 players that running backs coach Edgar Bennett studied before the draft this year, but the scouts gave him a cutup of Nance near the end of training camp, when the Packers tried to sign him to their practice squad.
“I saw a guy with some power, I saw a guy with some pretty good feet, and I saw a guy with some balance,” Bennett said. “He did a good job of catching the football (in practice this week). That’s one thing — you can watch a guy on tape catching the football, but it’s another thing to work him out and see it on the practice field. Now you can see how he adjusts to the football, is he relying on his body (too much?). This kid has pretty good hands, he can adjust, catch the low ball and the high ball.”
♦ Defensive end Mike Neal (strained ab) had limited participation in practice Thursday after not practicing Wednesday. “Hopefully he can go through a full practice (Friday),” coach Mike McCarthy said. “(Friday) morning will be a big obstacle, which it usually is after a player comes back for his first day of practice.”
Neal was the only change from Wednesday’s injury report. Linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) didn’t practice, and left tackle Chad Clifton (knee), defensive end Cullen Jenkins (hand), linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring) and cornerback Brandon Underwood (shoulder) all were limited.
For Buffalo, starting linebacker Paul Posluszny (knee) won’t play this week.
♦ McCarthy said he did not talk to linebacker A.J. Hawk after Hawk’s agent said Wednesday that his client is open to being traded. Hawk didn’t play a snap last week against Philadelphia because the Packers were in their nickel defense the entire game, and Hawk is replaced in that package by Brandon Chillar.
“I will not apologize for having more than 11 good defensive football players on our team,” McCarthy said. “I’ve discussed this with our football team at the beginning of the season. It’s tough to utilize those guys, but those are good problems. This is something we’ve been building as a personnel department, and we’re very thankful we have A.J. Hawk and a number of other very good players.”
♦ The Packers have the NFL’s fifth-youngest team in average age this year after having the youngest roster the previous four years, according to the NFL. The Packers’ average age this season is 25.92 years. The teams younger are Carolina (25.15), Tampa Bay (25.58), Jacksonville (25.58) and Miami (25.77)