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Randall Cobb energizes Packers' punt returns

Pro Bowl receiver had two returns for 44 yards vs. Texans


GREEN BAY — The conversations started earlier this season.

Looking for a jolt on punt returns, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy and special-teams coordinator Ron Zook floated the idea of reinstalling Randall Cobb onto the unit.

Then, Cobb's hamstring flared up following the Packers' 26-10 win over the Chicago Bears on Oct. 20 and any plans to deploy the Pro Bowl receiver on punts had to be put on hold.

"We had talked about it earlier in the year and then I had my hamstring issue," Cobb said. "It just got pushed back a little bit."

With Cobb's hamstring healed, the Packers have revisited the idea of using Cobb return punts again in recent weeks and it's been paying dividends in their starting field position.

After getting reacquainted with the duties in Washington and Philadelphia, Cobb busted two returns for 44 yards in Sunday's 21-13 win over Houston.

Coupled with Ty Montgomery's and Jeff Janis' two kickoff returns for 59 yards, Sunday made for the most overall production the Packers' return teams have had this season.

The team always has known what Cobb is capable of on punt returns. He returned two punts for touchdowns during his first two NFL seasons and ranks fifth all-time in franchise history with an average of 9.58 yards per return.

While he hadn't done it often during Zook's first two seasons in Green Bay, the Packers' special-teams coordinator only needed to pull up the film to see the big plays Cobb produced in the past.

"I've been lobbying for Randall (to return punts) the whole year," Zook said. "But obviously I understand the importance of Randall in the offense. You have to have him there.

"We're in a situation where we've got to go play. We have to play the best guys and Randall is one of those guys. He can make some people miss and make things happen."

Cobb, who has been called upon occasionally to field punts over the past three years, said he was excited about the idea when it was presented to him. Another chance to touch the football represents another opportunity to generate a big play.

The Packers currently rank seventh on punt returns (10.8 yards per return), while their four returns of more than 20 yards is tied for third-most in the NFL this season.

Based on his production so far, all signs point toward the Packers sticking with Cobb returning punts through the final four games of the regular season. He's again listed as the No. 1 punt returner on the team's unofficial depth chart.

"I thought Randall did a very good job," McCarthy said. "We need to do a better job of blocking in the return game. We had a couple opportunities. We just have to sustain our blocks better and keep that play alive because Randall is going to break tackles and he's going to give us a chance for a big play.

"Really, we had two big opportunities in the return game. Both Ty and Randall, we had two big chances to go to the house."

Cobb's 13.5 yards per return rank among the highest in the NFL, though he hasn't had enough attempts yet to officially qualify for the category.

In the end, the sixth-year receiver just wants to make plays. As this season has proven, it doesn't matter if it means lining up at receiver, running back or returner.

"It was nice. I'm glad to be back there and help the team in any way that I can," said Cobb, who has produced 786 yards on 79 regular-season returns in his career. "Just find a way to get different touches and have an impact. Try to put us in the best field position we can whenever we get the ball on offense."

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