LANDOVER, Md. - Whatever progress wide receiver Trevor Davis had made toward winning the punt return job for the Green Bay Packers stalled barely a minute into Saturday’s exhibition game against Washington.
Davis dropped back to field a punt after Washington went three-and-out on its opening possession. He was nine days removed from his 68-yard punt return touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles last week, one that seemed to distance himself from Randall Cobb, his primary challenger at the position.
But Saturday told a different story, one that harked back to his fateful mistake in Nashville last season, a mistake that landed him on the bench for the final two months of the season.
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The kick from Washington punter Tress Way was deep, covering 57 yards before it fell to Davis at the 15-yard line. A member of the coverage team sliced in front of Davis’ eye line as he readied himself to make the catch. The ball bounced off his fingers and fell to the ground, where it was scooped up by tight end Niles Paul of Washington.
“The guy crossed my eyes, didn’t secure the catch,” Davis said. “That’s the main thing is secure the catch. Everything after — yards after and whatnot — doesn’t really matter unless you catch the ball first.”
Washington took over at the Green Bay 16-yard line and turned the field position into three points. The Packers’ defense held firm by forcing three straight incompletions, but kicker Dustin Hopkins nailed a 34-yard field goal to give his team a 3-0 lead.
“It’s a huge play and a huge momentum swing,” Davis said. “That’s completely my fault, and I’ve got to correct it.”
But the Packers stuck by Davis for the remainder of the first half, and he did not bobble the next two chances. One was a fair catch midway through the second quarter; the other was a 1-yard return in which Washington surrounded Davis with good coverage.
The second half belonged to wide receiver Max McCaffrey, who offers a third option in the punt return competition. McCaffrey has been excellent from scrimmage so far in training camp, and his penchant for catching every pass thrown his way makes him a favorite among the backup quarterbacks. His routes are accurate and his hands secure.
McCaffrey’s chances of making the team likely hinge on how much he can contribute on special teams — if at all. And if Saturday constitutes a first impression, he did nothing to hurt his cause: His two opportunities included a running fair catch in traffic and an impressive 17-yard return.
For now, Davis remains the odds-on favorite. But trust is easier to lose than it is to regain.
“You’ve just got to be able to put it behind you,” Davis said. “That’s a big part of being a punt returner, or any kind of returner. Just be able to put things behind you and not really think about it and not let it affect the next play.
“I know what I can do with it, and it’s just something that needs to be corrected. I can’t be giving things up like that.”