GREEN BAY – Whether it’s Randall Cobb returning kickoffs and punts, or Jordy Nelson playing on coverage or blocking units, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes special teams are important enough that it’s worth the risk.
Even after watching then-rookie running back Alex Green (Oct. 23 at Minnesota) and No. 2 tight end Andrew Quarless (Dec. 4 at the New York Giants) each suffer season-ending knee injuries on kickoffs last season, McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum had Nelson working on both the No. 1 kickoff return unit and the No. 1 kickoff coverage unit during the first three days of training camp practices.
“Jordy Nelson’s responsibility on special teams will really come down to how the rest of the team unfolds. Those types of decisions, as far as how much responsibility your starters play on special teams, to me, it really factors in the other people around them,” McCarthy explained. “Jordy is a very skilled player in a number of our special team units. With that, he’ll always be part of it. So how much he plays will really be determined by the other players.”
The Packers could keep six or seven wide receivers at camp’s end, with Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel among those fighting for spots. According to Slocum, Gurley’s size (6-foot-4, 232 pounds) makes him a natural for special teams, even though he’s not the fastest of the receivers. Gurley jumped out in training camp last year when he blocked about a half-dozen punts.
Borel isn’t as big as Gurley (6-foot, 199 pounds) but is quick and has potential as a gunner on punt coverage. He’s also worth considering as a backup returner behind Cobb, Slocum said.
“Special teams is going to be a factor because at the end of the day, you’ve got 53 guys on the roster,” Slocum said. “Those guys have to help this team, and most of them are playing special teams.”
Including Nelson. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he is one of the “body types” McCarthy likes on special teams. But leading the team in receptions (68), receiving yards (1,263) and touchdown receptions (15) last season, he also is such a valuable player on offense that the move would seem risky. But McCarthy and Slocum are in philosophical agreement that it’s worthwhile.
“Absolutely. Philosophically, I believe in starters should or could play special teams. I don’t think there’s an absolute as far starters play or don’t play. I don’t believe in that theory,” McCarthy said. “So what’s best for our special teams … you look at how many plays they’re going to be playing on offense or defense. You need to be very smart about reps … I’m not really interested in seeing 11 guys play 1,000 reps. It’s important over the course of the season that you, you try to spread out your opportunities because it not only develops the individual but it develops your football team.”
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