Packers notes: Kick return game in flux; Geronimo Allison doubtful
GREEN BAY – Tuesday is typically a day off for the Green Bay Packers, but this past one proved to be far less relaxing than usual for Mike McCarthy, Joe Philbin, Ron Zook and Mike Pettine.
With running back and kick returner Ty Montgomery’s and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s respective trades, the coaches must make adjustments in all three phases to compensate for their lost starters.
Zook, who is tasked with replacing Montgomery on kick returns, would not reveal who will take over that spot against New England. However, he mentioned that he spoke to receiver Randall Cobb after practice Thursday about filling in.
“I mean, he’s got some experience doing it. He was pretty good at it, too,” Zook said. “But I think that will be up to what direction (McCarthy) wants to do.”
Cobb last returned a kickoff in the final game of the 2014 regular season against the Detroit Lions. He hasn’t been a consistent kick returner since 2012. That season, he returned 38 kicks and averaged 25.4 yards per return. To put those numbers into perspective, Montgomery averaged 21.0 yards on his 10 returns this season.
Montgomery assumed the kick returner role after Trevor Davis arrived at the Week 1 game against the Bears with a hamstring injury. Davis was placed on injured reserve the following Tuesday. Leading up to Week 10 against the Dolphins, Davis will be eligible for activation, but it’s unknown if the Packers will choose to do so. If Cobb or someone else takes over at kick return against the Patriots, it’s possibly a temporary assignment.
Safety Raven Greene said the onus is on the coaches to formulate an adjusted, Montgomery-less scheme that will cater to the strengths of the special teams unit. Then, it falls on individual players to learn the nuances of the new kick returner.
“Their running style is a key thing and really understanding the scheme,” Green said. “It goes back to the coaching and just really the whole plan for the week. Flavors of the week is a pretty big thing with special teams.”
Wide receiver Geronimo Allison has frequented the injury report this season; his most recent appearances are due to a hamstring injury sustained during Week 5 prior to the Packers’ road game in Detroit. Now, Allison has a new ailment: a groin injury, which occurred during practice Thursday. The injury report Friday listed Allison doubtful due to both his hamstring and groin and indicated he would not have practiced if the team had done so (the Packers practice Saturday rather than Friday).
“We’ll see where he is (on Saturday),” McCarthy said.
The third-year wide receiver was inactive alongside Cobb in the Packers’ Week 6 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. Allison played only 30 snaps against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. Rookies Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown have seen increased playing time as a result of Allison’s and Cobb’s injuries.
Center Corey Linsley was also listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice and had the same designation Friday. Linsley sustained a knee injury, but unlike Allison, McCarthy said he “(feels) good” about Linsley’s status for Sunday’s game. Linsley told PackersNews.com on Thursday he’ll play against the Patriots.
Coaches familiar with Patriots
The game Sunday between the Packers and Patriots is mandated every four years by the NFL schedule makers — essentially a career lifetime for the average player — creating a truly uncommon opponent.
It left the head coaches, McCarthy and Bill Belichick, and about a dozen players on each roster who were on their respective teams when the Packers beat the Patriots 26-21 on Nov. 30, 2014 at Lambeau Field.
Yet in the Green Bay coaching offices, there is more institutional knowledge than one game four years ago:
» Defensive coordinator Pettine: Will be calling a defense against the Patriots for the 12th time in his career, having done it nine times as the coordinator with the New York Jets and twice with the Buffalo Bills.
» Linebackers coach Patrick Graham: Coached in New England from 2009-15.
» Offensive coordinator Philbin: Game-planned against the Patriots six times as the Miami Dolphins head coach from 2012-14.
For Pettine and Philbin, the results — on paper — don’t seem spectacular. The Jets and Bills went 3-8 (including a 28-21 Jets playoff victory at Gillette Stadium in 2010) and the Dolphins were 2-4.
But, those four regular-season losses account for 7 percent of the total defeats Tom Brady has suffered in his storied career. And he has only lost in the playoffs seven times before reaching Super Bowl.
Both coordinators said there is no “magic formula" for toppling the Patriots in terms of a game plan, but rather something else.
“You have to, since they’re a smart, sound football team that doesn’t beat themselves, I think you have to kind of, in some respects, beat them at their own game a little bit,” Philbin said.
It was even simpler for Pettine. He found success when his defense had “the right mentality.”
As for Graham, when last made available to the media Oct. 24, he refused to look past the Rams when asked if he could provide any insights into his former team.
“Each week and each season is so different,” Graham said. “Anything I knew when I was there is probably different now. I can’t. I don’t know what insight. I just know coach McCarthy and those guys, we’re going to watch the tape and probably get it off of that. And ‘Pet,’ we’re just going to watch the tape.”
But McCarthy did acknowledge this week that Graham has had conversations with the coaches about his recent history with the Patriots.
While Philbin, Pettine and Graham most likely provided some insight that can help the Packers present some different looks to the Patriots, the biggest emphasis for the week was the simplest — don’t turn the ball over on offense and play fundamentally sound defense. The clichés this week definitely apply for a team that is an incredible 111-19 at home when Brady starts.
“You have to play, sound, tough, smart football,” Philbin said.