Randall Cobb is off to the races

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Randall Cobb is already in the NFC North blog doghouse.

When a reporter noted that the Green Bay Packers haven't returned a kick for a touchdown since 2000, Cobb smiled and said: "I was 10 years old."

Regular readers know that I haven't quite accepted that players born in 1990 are now in the NFL. (Cobb's ridiculous birthday: Aug. 22, 1990. So, in other words, is still three weeks away from age 21.)

But from what I've seen so far here at Packers training camp, it won't be hard for Cobb to redeem himself. There are some players whose open-field running ability translates even in the most laid-back practices, and Cobb has shown the same kinds of glimpses we once saw from Percy Harvin, Devin Hester and others.

The return of free agent James Jones might put the squeeze on Cobb's early-season receiving role, but he'll get an extended opportunity to win the kickoff- and punt-return duties this summer.

The Packers rotated a number of players through the return portion of practice this weekend, from Cobb to rookie running back Alex Green to cornerback Pat Lee to receiver Jordy Nelson. But there has been no mistaking the difference in Cobb's acceleration and aggressiveness in the return game, and on more than one occasion he has drawn whistles from a knowledgeable crowd.

"Returning is definitely a lot easier [than playing receiver] just for the fact that it's a natural play," Cobb said. "You're just able to be back there and make a play. ... All you have to do is understand the blocking and the concept and you're off."

The Packers haven't had a kick return for a touchdown since Allen Rossum took back a kickoff 92 yards on Nov. 19, 2000. (When I was NOT 10 years old.)

"Hopefully that's something I'll be able to do moving forward," Cobb said, "and take that task on and help us get better field position to start the offense."

It shouldn't devalue kick returns in any way to point out that, immediately following the draft, most of you were hoping Cobb would immediately step in as a multipositional receiver/returner/running back/wildcat quarterback in the mold of Percy Harvin. That could all come soon enough, but for now the Packers are smartly limiting his exposure.

While he has worked at all three receiving positions and has even served as the holder in special-teams drills, Cobb hasn't yet gotten an indication that the Packers will use him in the backfield.

"If they want," he said, "I'll be happy to do it. But that's not anything we've put in or even looked toward doing. That's not something I'm really worried about right now. I'm just trying to learn the basic stuff."

Which is a task for any rookie, not to mention one who was drafted into a lockout that canceled offseason contact before training camp. Cobb's first reaction when he saw the Packers' offensive playbook? "It was huge," he said. Learning three receiving positions, plus multiple roles on special teams, is probably enough for this summer.

"I'm trying to ... learn as much as I can to get on the field as fast as I can," he said.

At this pace, it shouldn't be long.