DENVER — The keys to the Green Bay Packers’ revamped kickoff-return team could very well be placed in the hands of Jared Abbrederis during tonight's battle of unbeatens.
Rookie Ty Montgomery (ankle), who didn’t practice this week, was downgraded from questionable to doubtful to play against Denver after the Packers conducted their Saturday walk-through at a local high school. The most likely candidate to replace Montgomery would be Abbrederis, who has previous return experience from his time at the University of Wisconsin.
Abbrederis, a former fifth-round pick, handled kickoffs after Montgomery sprained his ankle in the second quarter of the Packers’ 27-20 win over San Diego before the bye week. He returned his only kickoff for 30 yards.
The Packers have enjoyed a renaissance on kickoffs this season. After ranking 31st in the category a year ago, the unit has improved significantly with Montgomery handling returns. He has the league’s third-best average (31.1 yards per return) with a pair of 40-yard returns.
The field position has aided the Packers’ offense. Now, it’ll likely look to Abbrederis to make a similar contribution.
“We’re obviously comfortable with Jared, that’s why we put him back there,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “He handles the football seamlessly. I thought he made a good decision on the return, and we’re definitely comfortable.”
Abbrederis (4.50 seconds) actually recorded a faster time in the 40-yard dash than Montgomery (4.55 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine, though Montgomery weighed in 26 pounds heavier than the former Wisconsin walk-on. The rookie's ability to break tackles and make defends miss has been his best attribute so far as a professional both offensively and on returns.
Without Montgomery, Abbrederis also could be in for a bigger workload on offense. The Packers likely will have receiver Davante Adams (ankle) back in the lineup, but he works primarily on the boundary. In four-receiver packages, Abbrederis projects as their best option in the slot opposite Randall Cobb.
If they so choose, the Packers also have defensive back/punt returner Micah Hyde available on kickoff returns. Hyde has played almost every defensive snaps this season, but likely won’t be needed as extensively with Morgan Burnett’s probable return to starting safety after a calf strain sidelined him for five of the first six games.
Regardless, special-teams coordinator Ron Zook said he has no issue with deploying Abbrederis in Montgomery’s absence, adding that “he’s bigger and thicker than you think.” If he can keep uncorking 30-yard returns, the 24-year-old receiver probably will stay high on the ready list.
“(He) did good,” Zook said. “Jared my question during the game was ball security. He’s a talented guy. He can return the ball. He just hasn’t been hit like that. Shoot, he was excited to do. When you see that look in their eyes, you usually feel pretty good about it.”