Packers Hope Metcalf Is The Answer

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Averaging a mere 4.6 yards per punt return, the Packers are hoping that the third time will be the charm.

Wednesday, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman announced the acquisition of 13-year NFL veteran Eric Metcalf, replacing return specialist J.J. Moses, who had taken the place of Darrien Gordon before him.

A member of the Washington Redskins in 2001, not to mention five other clubs over his career, Metcalf was one week away from spending the entire 2002 season without a team. But a solid workout with the Packers left Sherman convinced that Metcalf could be the answer to one of the team's most pressing concerns heading toward the playoffs.

"I'm not saying he's going to be our guy this week, but we're going to look at him," Sherman said. "I have a 53rd spot on the roster and a pretty good history with the 53rd player, so hopefully he'll be able to move his way up there.

"But he has a great history, great kid. In excellent, excellent shape. We brought him in for a workout before and he's in much better playing shape now than the last time we saw him."

The last time Metcalf was on the field, he averaged 12.5-yards per return over 33 runbacks for the Redskins.

And while the Packers would love to see even a hint of the elusiveness that made him a three-time Pro Bowler and the NFL all-time record holder with 10 punt return touchdowns, Sherman is hopeful that Metcalf could at least provide the team with the veteran decision-making that Moses seemed to lack.

Tested over the past two weeks in difficult conditions, Moses became suspect not so much due to an inability to field the ball on the fly, but for his risky habit of trying to scoop the ball off the ground afterwards.

It hadn't led to a Packers turnover yet, but Sherman wasn't about to wait around until it became the team's downfall.

"As you've seen in the last couple of weeks, (punt returns) can come down to making a difference in the football game for you," Sherman said. "Fortunately, it didn't cost us, but it's a big issue right now, as it is every week whether you win or lose a football game."

Wide receivers Robert Ferguson and Terry Glenn are also taking practice reps at punt returner this week, with Darren Sharper likely nixed from assisting in that role due to his injured knee.

Ferguson has been the Packers' No. 2 return man all season, and while Sherman is certain that the second-year pro could fill the void, he's worried it might be at the expense of something else.

"I have confidence in Ferguson, the only problem with him is he's involved in so many other phases of our special teams," Sherman said.

"But if he's our best guy, then that is job is so important that we'll put him back there as our punt returner."

In the meantime, Metcalf has been presented with a golden opportunity to prove himself.

And at 34 years of age, Metcalf believes he has the experience to help solve the Packers' return woes.

"In punt returns, sometimes everything doesn't go right and you just have to run," he said.

"I think if everything doesn't go well, so far as blocking or what have you, there's still an opportunity to make plays."

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