Despite an injured-plagued receiving corps, the Green Bay Packers have no plans to pull Randall Cobb off his returning duties just to save a few snaps.
Not now. Not for the foreseeable future.
Coming off another solid and versatile showing in Sunday’s 31-17 win over Arizona, the second-year wide receiver now ranks fifth in the NFL in punt-return yardage (211) and seventh on kickoff yardage (556).
However, he’s has also become a legitimate threat in the Packers’ passing game.
With seven games left in the regular season, Cobb has already demolished his receiving stats from a year ago with 45 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns and ranks second in the NFL in slot receiving (33 catches for 396 yards), according to Pro Football Focus.
While Cobb’s role continues to expand on offense, especially now with injuries to starters Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the Packers don't plan on plucking their special-teams ace from his playmaking role.
Or in a word?
“No,” said special teams coach Shawn Slocum. “And I think that if you look at the punt return he had there in the first quarter after we held them three-and-out, it gave us the ball on the (Cardinals’) 20 yard line. Then with the kickoff return he gave us the ball at the 48. Those plays are the first plays of offense. Those are as explosive as any plays he had.”
Last season, Cobb ranked second in the league in kickoff return average (27.7) and was seventh in punt return average (11.3), and set a franchise rookie record for 941 return yards for the season.
This year, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound receiver has been asked to fill a larger role in the Packers’ offense with Jennings and Nelson’s injuries, and Donald Driver’s limitations at 37 yards old.
Along with a pair of touchdown catches and three additional carries for 29 yards offensively on Sunday, the 22-year-old Cobb returned three punts for 46 yards and three kickoffs for 90 yards, including the 44-yarder that put the Packers at Arizona’s 20.
With the amount of snaps Cobb has seen, there will be the occasional bumps and bruises. He had to leave for one series after hurting his shoulder after an 8-yard punt return in the second quarter Sunday, but returned to take a fair catch before halftime.
Jennings is likely still a few weeks away from returning after recently having sports hernia surgery, but McCarthy seemed to optimistic about Nelson’s initial prognosis as it relates to his ankle.
Whatever the scenario, however, the Packers appear to have found themselves a difference-maker.
“He's a very good player and we're looking for ways to use him,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “He's a good pass receiver. He gets the ball in his hands and he can make things happen. We can put him in the backfield and he can run the ball. He can do a lot of different things, we're just trying to find different ways to do it, get his hands on the ball because he can make things happen.”
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