Packers Look To Improve Kickoff Return Average

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To bolster a kickoff return unit, ranked 31st in the league in average, the Green Bay Packers likely will use either Andrae Thurman or Ahmad Carroll in that role on Sunday.

Both have received repetitions at kick returner during practice this week, but Head Coach Mike Sherman has not announced a starter. He typically tells his players the day before the game.

"I haven't even discussed the starters with the special teams guys at this point," Sherman said. "A lot plays into that."

Weather conditions are one of the factors that play into Sherman's decision. Because last week's game in Soldier Field featured 26-degree temperatures and 12 mph winds, Sherman went with Antonio Chatman, the team's No. 3 receiver and punt returner. Chatman returned the first three kicks of the game for 36 yards.

"Because of the wind and the uncertainty of where the ball was going to end up, we needed someone who has some experience back there tracking footballs," Sherman said. "Chatman gave us our best chances for that."

Weather in the form of cold, snow or wind could play a role again. The NFL has not scheduled a prime-time game in Wisconsin this late in the season before.

Although the sure-handed Chatman becomes valuable during those conditions, Thurman said he and Carroll split the repetitions close to 50-50 the past week.

Both saw action last Sunday as well. Thurman returned one kickoff for 23 yards while Carroll returned the last two kickoffs for 43 yards.

"Ahmad showed a good burst last week," kicker Ryan Longwell said. "That's encouraging."

Carroll received the call partly due to Thurman's fumble during the fourth quarter of the Nov. 27 Philadelphia Eagles game. Thurman has moved on from that gaffe but knows the coaching staff has a low tolerance for turnovers.

"That fumble hurt," Thurman said.

A second year player, Thurman does not have much professional experience returning kicks, but he can always rely on his collegiate days. As a senior at Southern Oregon, he returned kicks of 96 and 98 yards for touchdowns.

Having only assumed those duties at Arkansas when another player went down with an injury or struggled on returns, Carroll does not have Thurman's collegiate experience. He, however, provides an intriguing option. The former 100 meter dash All-American would bring sprinter's speed to the return game.

"I try to hit it fast," said Carroll, who has set a 50-yard return as his goal. "If you run fast and hard, the worst you can do is get 30 yards."

Thurman and Carroll remain the likely kick return candidates due to injuries. Otherwise Terrence Murphy (neck) or Najeh Davenport (ankle), both on injured reserve, could have served as options. Murphy earned All-Big 12 honors as a kickoff returner after leading the conference with a 27.2 average. Davenport showed promise last year, returning 14 kickoffs last year for 286 yards.

"That's been a position we thought was pretty solid coming into the year with Najeh there," Longwell said. "When he got hurt, that was a big chunk of our return game."

Now that duty falls to Thurman or Carroll or even Chatman. And it is not out of the realm of possibility that they could all see action. Even the players themselves remain in the dark regarding who will get the call.

"I don't know," Thurman said. "I just know I'll be ready."

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Quick Hits: Despite injuring his hand against the Chicago Bears, Brett Favre has practiced the last two days and thrown very well during practice. "His hand, I believe, is sore and probably will have to be taped a little bit, but he seemed fine," Sherman said. ... Rookie Brady Poppinga will start at strongside linebacker on Sunday. "He's gonna go 100 miles per hour and be very physical," Sherman said.

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