Packers plan to use Cobb on punt returns

Weston Hodkiewicz
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The Green Bay Packers aren't kidding around about using Randall Cobb on punt returns.

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb, right, runs with the ball after catching a pass for a 9-yard gain as St. Louis Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner defends during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Scott Kane)

After listing the fourth-year receiver in the top slot of the depth chart, Packers special-teams coach Shawn Slocum confirmed Monday that wasn't by accident.

"He's been there all along," Slocum said. "We'll have him and Micah (Hyde) in punt return and we'll have DuJuan (Harris) and Micah as kickoff returners and Jeff Janis, as well."

The Packers tried to graduate Cobb off returns last season, but struggled to find a suitable replacement. The top candidate, Jeremy Ross, muffed a punt against Cincinnati in Week 3 and was released after the game.

The decision to use Cobb in either return capacity was made for the Packers a few weeks later when he suffered a broken leg against Baltimore and missed the next 10 games.

While the Packers gained little traction on kickoff returns – they finished 30th in the NFL – Hyde actually fared pretty well on punts. He tied for sixth among qualifying returners with a 12.3-yard per return average with a touchdown.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this summer they have to "get away from that thinking" that they can't use their most explosive players on returns at times.

Before his breakout offensive season in 2012, Cobb was responsible for turning the team's return units around. He averaged more than 25.0 yards per return on 72 kickoffs in his first two seasons and 9.9 yards per punt with two touchdowns.

Cobb handled one punt return in the preseason for no gain.

Hyde finished last season fielding kickoffs, but appears to be headed toward increased playing time defensively. So the 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris likely will get the first crack at it.

Harris, who missed all of last season with a ruptured patellar tendon, averaged 26.6 yards on five kickoffs returns in the preseason. The Packers hoped to use their third-string running back, Johnathan Franklin, on returns last season before he suffered a career-ending neck injury against Minnesota in November.

"He's done a fine job," Slocum said. "Again, preseason's about evaluation so there were some good things there were some things that we could've done better. We played a bunch of different guys and it's not necessarily about being in synch; it's about guys playing football and us evaluating them."

Janis missed the first two weeks of camp following a bout with shingles, but had a 62-yard kickoff return in Thursday's preseason finale against Kansas City. and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.

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