GREEN BAY - Randall Cobb is going to get many more punt returns than the Green Bay Packers originally expected, but the team isn’t putting restrictions on their starting receiver.
Cobb will be the replacement for Trevor Davis, at least for the time being. Davis was placed on injured reserve this week with a nagging hamstring injury. The Packers expected Davis to be their punt and kickoff returner, but his hamstring was too tight to play when he showed up at the stadium before Sunday night’s opener.
Instead, Cobb was sent deep to return punts against the Chicago Bears. It’s his first time as a full-time returner since 2012, though he did return 14 punts in a part-time role during the 2014 season. Cobb’s punt-return opportunities decreased as his stature in the Packers' offense grew. He remains a critical part of the offense after his nine catches for 142 yards last week, but coach Mike McCarthy said he won’t instruct Cobb to fair catch more punts just because he’s valuable as a receiver.
“You can’t play that way,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been through that before. It’s an opportunity to get the ball in his hands. He’s as smart and as instinctive as a returner that I’ve been around in this league. He makes really good decisions, he handles the football, and he’s definitely a big part of that field position.
“Hopefully, it really pays dividends in the future.”
Without Davis, the Packers are missing one of the NFL’s most productive punt returners. Davis averaged 12.2 yards per punt return over the past two seasons, the second-best average in the league. Yet Cobb has shown he has dynamic ability as a punt returner.
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook said what Cobb showed on Sunday night’s game-winning, 75-yard, catch-and-run touchdown is what makes him difficult for opposing punt-coverage units.
“He’s got a knack,” Zook said. “He’s got great vision, great quickness, great acceleration. Just like as a wide receiver, he’s got all the tools. It’s why we use him more in the backfield, coming out of the backfield and get the ball in his hands.
“He can do things special when the ball is in his hands.”
Aaron Rodgers remained out of practice for the second straight day Thursday because of his injured left knee, but his top receiver returned to the field.
Receiver Davante Adams practiced in pads after missing Wednesday’s session because of a shoulder injury. Adams was limited, but he appeared to have no restrictions during the early periods open to the media.
Other than Rodgers, safety Josh Jones (ankle) was the only player who did not practice Thursday. Inside linebacker Oren Burks (shoulder) was a limited participant in practice.
For the Vikings, pass rusher Everson Griffen was added to the injury report with a toe injury Thursday. Griffen was a limited participant in practice.
Although his career was cut short because of a neck injury, former Packers safety Nick Collins was among 102 modern-era nominees the Pro Football Hall of Fame released Thursday.
Collins, the first defensive player Ted Thompson drafted as the Packers' general manager, was selected one round after Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 draft. He played only six full seasons, forced to retire prematurely after a neck injury ended his career two games into the 2011 season.
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Clay Matthews, one of the few teammates of Collins' still in the Packers' locker room, said he was pleased to see him as a nominee.
“He was a special athlete,” Matthews said. “Having watched some of his highlights in the few short years we had together, he was something special. I honestly believe if he didn’t have his neck injury, he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I mean, he could play in the box. He was as big as a linebacker. Could run down, as you guys saw, Michael Vick in 2010, and could hit. He was a special athlete.
“I know his career was cut short, which is unfortunate. But you’d probably have to look at the body of work in the few years in which he had.”
Collins had 21 interceptions and 68 defended passes in his six seasons. In half his seasons, he was a second-team All-Pro. He’ll be best remembered for returning an interception of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV.
Collins was joined on the list by former Packers safety LeRoy Butler. Matthews’ father, longtime Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., was also a nominee. The list will be trimmed to 25 modern-era semifinalists in November.