Jordy Nelson never returned a kickoff in his entire college career at Kansas State, but the rookie didn't look like a novice at it on Saturday night.
Nelson broke off two long kickoff returns against the 49ers at Candlestick Park, of 56 and 58 yards, to provide the Packers with one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 34-6 preseason loss. Nelson's first long return set up a field goal, and the second would have provided at least three more points had the offense not turned the ball over.
Nelson did have some experience at Kansas State returning punts, and managed to break free then as well. Last season, two of his five punt returns went for touchdowns of 89 and 92 yards, and his skills in the open field appear to be carrying over to the pros.
"It's a little different than punt return but you just have to go out there and use your vision, and hopefully the guys up front will open up a hole, and the guys did that tonight and made it easy," Nelson said.
While Nelson gave his blockers most of the credit, he did fight his way through traffic on his first kickoff return and found some open space when it looked initially like little was there. His solid 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame helps him in that regard.
"You don't want to go down easy," he said. "Whenever you can break tackles and get yards after contact, it's big and can help the team."
Whether or not kickoff return will be where Nelson, who has been mainly the No. 5 receiver in training camp, helps the Packers the most remains to be seen. General Manager Ted Thompson noted earlier in the week how talented players usually find their way onto the field somehow, and Nelson may be on his way to doing just that.
"Obviously it's an opportunity to get on the field and make plays," he said. "I'd be more than welcome to do it, but we have some great guys with Blackmon and Tramon Williams who can do it as well. I'm just going to go out, keep doing my job and see what happens."
A little trickery
Not known for many exotic special teams plays, the Packers tried a little deception on a first-quarter punt return. Will Blackmon fielded the punt and then, just as he was being tackled, handed the ball to Atari Bigby cutting around behind him, and Bigby found some open field.
The return would have netted roughly 16 yards, but offsetting penalties wiped it out and San Francisco kicked again.
The Packers continue to experiment with different looks in their nickel defense. On a couple of occasions with five defensive backs in the game on third down, the defensive line was all ends, with Jason Hunter and Michael Montgomery lining up at the tackle spots to rush from the inside.
The package had mixed success, flushing San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan out of the pocket for an incomplete pass once but allowing a completion for a first down in another instance. But the ingenuity nonetheless is interesting, as the defense searches for different ways to apply third-down pressure on the quarterback.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn't have any injury updates after the game. Tight end Evan Moore did injure his leg in the fourth quarter on a play where he fumbled the ball, and McCarthy said he thought Moore took a helmet to the knee.
A dozen players did not suit up for the game due to injury. They were running backs Ryan Grant (hamstring) and DeShawn Wynn (ankle), safety Charlie Peprah (hamstring), linebackers A.J. Hawk (chest) and Desmond Bishop (Achilles), tackle Orrin Thompson (ankle), defensive tackles Ryan Pickett (hamstring) and Justin Harrell (back), receivers Ruvell Martin (jaw/concussion) and Greg Jennings (knee), tight end Tory Humphrey (Achilles) and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (knee).