GREEN BAY, Wis. – For all the questions the Green Bay Packers had about their kicker during the preseason, that might one of the most stable aspects of their special teams heading into Sunday’s opener at San Francisco.
Concerns about Mason Crosby have dissipated after he made all of his preseason field goals and finished training camp strong by making 23 of his final 25 practice kicks.
Now, the Packers must figure out who will return kickoffs and punts -- and it might not necessarily be the same player -- and whether they will use Crosby or punter Tim Masthay to kick off.
Most likely, those decisions already have been made by special-teams coach Shawn Slocum and coach Mike McCarthy. But at this point, they’re not saying.
Their most dynamic, proven returner is Randall Cobb, who has a knack for big plays in season openers. Two of his three career special-teams touchdowns have come in Week 1 games. Last year, he had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown in the opener against the 49ers. In the 2011 opener, he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.
With Cobb’s role on offense expected to expand this season, the Packers might be wise to take him off of returns.
That could be why Jeremy Ross survived the final cuts. While Ross is limited as a receiver, he showed flashes as a kick returner late last season, when he returned a punt 58 yards in Week 16 against Tennessee and a kickoff 44 yards in Week 17 against Minnesota.
However, Ross muffed a punt that the 49ers recovered in the NFC divisional playoff game in January and was immediately benched.
“With his production last year, if you take away that one punt return that he muffed, his production was through the roof,” Cobb said. “I expect him to do big things.”
It’s worth wondering if McCarthy and Slocum would be hesitant to put Ross back in that role this week with the Packers returning to the scene of his disastrous play.
“We spoke about it; it was an important play in the ballgame,” Slocum said. “We talked about it and put it to bed and moved on. It’s not something we think about now.”
When asked about the muffed punt this week, Ross jokingly said: “What punt? What muffed punt?”
“I don’t really spend too much time thinking about it,” Ross added. “It’s not going to better me or help me thinking about it or dwelling on what happened. The only thing I can do is learn from it.”
Midway through this preseason, rookie cornerback Micah Hyde emerged as a candidate to return punts, while rookie running back Johnathan Franklin is an option to return kickoffs. Slocum said he’s not opposed to splitting the job between different players.
“I just want production,” Slocum said. “That’s the main thing I want. We’ve got guys here that can be productive. I think that was evident through the preseason.”