Lions' Drummond To Test Packers' Special Teams

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Filling the space between the offense's touchdowns, and the defense's sacks, special teams often serve as a time for viewers to forage through their refrigerator. But observers should sit tight on Sunday.

That unit, especially the kickoff and punt teams, could decide the outcome of the game between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.

Lions' returner Eddie Drummond made the Pro Bowl 2005. He returned two punt returns and two kickoff returns for touchdown despite missing five games with a shoulder injury.

"You don't face bad returners in this league. Every week, you're facing a good one," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "But Eddie Drummond's obviously the cream of the crop."

The Packers plan to keep Drummond off balance. They will not kick directly to him or away from him. They will send the ball right, left, short and long.

"We can keep him guessing and keep him off beat a little bit," Longwell said. "Hopefully the advantage is ours when the ball is in the air."

Drummond did not play in the Lions' last 2004 game against the Packers. He, however, displayed his great speed and his ability to change direction during the first game on Oct. 17, returning two punts for 48 yards and six kickoffs for 182 yards.

"If you break down too far away from him," head coach Mike Sherman said. "He'll leave you standing in your shoes."

If Drummond viewed the special teams tapes from the Packers' early preseason games, he likely figured he could repeat his 2004 performance.

Against the Buffalo Bills, running back ReShard Lee returned the kickoff 69 yards to the Green Bay 27-yard-line, and Bills wide receiver Drew Haddad returned a punt 37 yards.

The Packers repeated some of the same special teams breakdowns the next week. New England Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs set the tone for the game by returning the opening kickoff 43 yards to the Packers 46-yard-line. In the first quarter Patriots wide receiver Tim Dwight also returned a punt 44 yards to the Green Bay 27-yard line.

"We've corrected those mistakes," said linebacker Roy Manning, who plays on punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return teams.

Some of those corrections occurred naturally as players became more familiar with each other. The Packers used a lot of young players on special teams, and it takes that unit a long time to gel.

Longwell compared covering kicks to playing on the offensive line.

"You have to know what the guys around you are doing," Longwell said. "It's tough to do special teams in the preseason when you're moving guys in and out."

That cohesion becomes difficult in the preseason when many of the special teamers are new faces. And if just one player, unfamiliar with his teammates, leaves his assigned gap, it could open up a long return.

The Packers' special teams may have featured a lot of youth during training camp, but they have a veteran presence in one key area -- the kicking game. Nine-year-veteran Longwell has played against the Lions 17 times.

Each time he has faced a special teams unit deftly orchestrated by nine-year special teams coordinator Chuck Preifer.

"They do a great job of blocking," Sherman said. "They have an excellent scheme."

Against that scheme the Packers must practice sound fundamentals. Special teams coordinator John Bonamego has stressed to his players to stay in their lanes and tackle with a low pad level.

Playing without that discipline -- rather than a lack of talent or players -- led to the special teams miscues early in the preseason.

"In our preaseason games, guys were in position to makes plays," Manning said. "But they didn't break down properly. I know that affected me."

Sherman called facing Drummond an intense challenge. In 2004 he finished first in the NFL in punt returns and second in kickoff returns. And he will serve as an early season test for the Packers special teams.

Rookie linebacker Brady Poppinga, who plays on the kickoff team, kickoff return team, punt team and punt return team, said the Packers will pass that test.

"We're gonna go in confident," he said. "We've prepared well, and we've got more preparation to come."

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Quick Hits: Defensive tackle Grady Jackson viewed footage of the Detroit Lions on his laptop while getting dressed in the locker room. ... Sunday will serve as a homecoming for Manning. He grew up in Saginaw, Mich. -- 90 minutes away from Detroit -- and attended college at the University of Michigan, located 30 minutes away from the city. "That's how I would have scripted it out," he said. "Playing in front of the home crowd, I'm sure I'll know so many people at the game. I'm excited about it." He currently has 12 family members attending the game. ... The Sporting News listed Brett Favre as the 11th best player in the NFL.

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