The Green Bay Packers have one of the NFL’s best offenses and a steadily improving defense, but their special teams play has been lackluster lately. A part of these struggles revolves around a less-than-stellar return game. But in 2015, a Green Bay return game led by a host of talented newcomers is poised to be a legitimate threat.
The Packers’ return game in 2014 revolved around DuJuan Harris, Micah Hyde and Randall Cobb. Harris was the primary kickoff return man, while Hyde and Cobb dealt with punt returning. Hyde was the Packers’ best punt returner, averaging 15.8 yards per return while scoring two touchdowns.
While Hyde and the punt return game were solid enough, the kickoff return game was far below average. Harris had just one return of over 40 yards and lacked the explosiveness that is desired on returns.
Green Bay had hopes that 2014 draft picks Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis could bring some electricity to the return game. But Abbrederis suffered a season-ending injury and Janis needed more time to develop into a pro-level talent.
The Packers would prefer to limit Cobb to a more exclusively offensive role to avoid potential injuries while serving as a returner. Green Bay drafted Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery in the third round of this year’s draft, showing their dedication to finding a true return threat.
Montgomery excelled at kickoff returns while at Stanford, averaging over 27 yards per return and scoring three touchdowns. His senior season he also began returning punts, where he scored two touchdowns on just 13 returns. Montgomery’s ability to return both punts and kickoffs with explosiveness bodes well for the Packers’ return game in 2015.
While he will contend for the fourth wide receiver spot, Montgomery’s primary contributions to Green Bay will likely come as a returner. He has the speed and elusiveness to outrun defenders, but his above average size (6 foot, 215 pounds) allow him to break tackles and overpower would-be tacklers as well. Montgomery’s versatility is a big reason why he is the early favorite to be both the punt and kick return man.
But while Montgomery may be the early favorite, the job is not secured for him. Abbrederis was a solid return man at Wisconsin and was poised to develop as a major contributor in the return game before his injury last season. He could still make a play to be the Packers’ punt returner.
Montgomery was most successful in college while returning kickoffs, while Abbrederis had more experience with returning punts. It is possible that the Packers would prefer to have both Montgomery and Abbrederis contributing in the return game. Both proved in college that they can be dynamic and explosive returners.
Cobb has been a solid returner throughout his career, but the risk of injury is much larger if he is on the field for a majority of the offensive snaps as well as for returns. While Hyde has been a solid punt returner, his role on defense will likely be expanded in 2015 and the Packers would like to have some true return specialists.
Abbrederis’ health and Montgomery’s potential make them both serious options as returners. The Packers return game led by these two players could undergo a renaissance that makes its special teams a legitimate threat to score on any given return.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .