Packers' punt returns lagging with Trevor Davis still on IR
GREEN BAY – If it were up to him, Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook sure sounds like a man who’d designate receiver Trevor Davis to return from injured reserve this week.
Of course, it isn’t up to Zook, and he’s fully aware. “That’s outside my wheelhouse,” is how Zook put it. But with the Packers' punt return languishing near the bottom of the league, ranked 28th in the NFL with 4.9 yards per return, it’s easy to understand why Zook would prefer to have his top punt returner.
“I think Trevor … is one of the better punt returners in the National Football League,” Zook said. “So to answer that question, yes.”
Davis was placed on IR with a hamstring injury before the Packers' opener against the Chicago Bears. He and fellow receiver Jake Kumerow (shoulder) were available to return this week, but the Packers instead have chosen for now to retain their two return designations a team can use throughout its season. The Packers could choose to return Davis, Kumerow or any other player at any time.
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Coach Mike McCarthy said both receivers are healthy.
“You see them every day going through the rehab process down there in the Hutson Center,” McCarthy said. “They’re ready. They’re champing at the bit. There’s timing to this, too. There’s so many other factors involved, not just exactly where we feel they are.”
One primary factor is the team’s depth at receiver. With Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison expected back this weekend from hamstring injuries, the Packers will go five deep with receivers who have made plays for the offense. The veteran Cobb and Allison will join top receiver Davante Adams and rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown in what could be an overcrowded rotation.
“I think it’s clearly one of the variables,” McCarthy said. “I think with the young players having an opportunity to play and perform, you definitely factor that in.”
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But, then, Davis’ greatest value doesn’t come on offense.
He ranked third in the NFL with 12 yards per punt return last season, using his 4.42 40 speed to put the Packers in better field position. Davis didn’t have a touchdown, but he had three returns of more than 20 yards. With the Packers trailing by a touchdown in Cleveland last December, Davis’ 65-yard return with less than three minutes left gave the Packers possession at the Browns’ 25. They scored a touchdown to tie the game, then won in overtime.
Without Davis, the Packers have used Cobb and cornerback Tramon Williams. They might not want to expose Cobb as a punt returner after he missed the past three games with a hamstring injury. And though Williams has returned punts in the past, he’s now 35 and has averaged 4 yards on seven returns.
“We’ve just got to get the opportunities,” Zook said, “and get them free.”