GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy says leading receiver Randall Cobb is too valuable to take off of kick returns for safety reasons.
McCarthy says that if Cobb is healthy, he will be the Packers’ full-time punt and kick returner, even in the wake of the ankle injury he suffered in Sunday’s 55-7 rout of the Tennessee Titans. Cobb was injured when tackled by Tennessee’s Tracy Wilson while returning a punt with 8:38 left in the third quarter – a game in which Cobb set the franchise single-season record for all-purpose yardage. On his previous two punt returns, Cobb had gained 14 and 17 yards.
“I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have a really high tolerance for this (line of questioning) because I don’t understand how you play scared in the game of football. I don’t get that,” McCarthy said sternly. “I think it’s convenient questioning. I understand the risk involved in every single play. Some plays are higher risk than others, and I’m fully aware of that.
“But you can’t sit here and say special teams is important if you don’t put a guy like Randall Cobb out there as a returner. Now, if we’re sitting here next year, we might be having a different conversation. But the way our team is built for 2012, Randall Cobb is a huge part of our success on special teams.”
Even with quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ not-so-subtle post-game suggestion that Cobb is too valuable to risk on returns, McCarthy said Cobb remains the returner, including in Sunday’s regular-season finale at Minnesota if he’s available. After Cobb went down, first-year wide receiver Jeremy Ross had a 58-yard punt return that set up Ryan Grant’s 7-yard touchdown run on the next play.
After the game, Rodgers was asked about Cobb’s overall performance, and spoke of Cobb’s role on returns.
“He’s a big time player,” Rodgers said. “He’s fun to watch. Just trying to get him the ball in space. He makes some big plays. He’s got incredible preparation habits. He’s always ready to play, knows where he’s supposed to be. He’s like a seven or eight-year veteran out there, it feels like at times. I feel like we’ve played together for a while. He understands the concepts we’re running, where to get open. He’s a big-time player.”
Then, after a brief pause and with a slight grin, Rodgers added, “(I) hope we can get him off special teams soon.”
Although McCarthy responded in his post-game press conference with “We’ll see” when first asked about Cobb staying on returns, the coach wasn’t coy a day later.
“Randall Cobb is a big part of our success on special teams. Our special teams has been our most consistent unit of our football team from Week 1 to Week 15. You don’t establish the way you play, the vision of the way you play, and then all of a sudden change going into the last week of the season,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see what happens here with Randall and we’ll evaluate his injury and then we’ll make decisions as we go forward. The philosophy of him playing on special teams has not changed.”
As a rookie second-round pick last season, Cobb’s primary role was as the team’s kick and punt returner; he finished the season with a 27.7-yard kickoff return average (second in the NFL, including a team-record 108-yard return for a touchdown) and 11.3-yard punt return average (seventh in the NFL, including an 80-yard return for a touchdown).
But Cobb has unexpectedly emerged as the Packers’ No. 1 receiving threat this season, leading the team in receptions (80) and yards (954), while Nelson and Greg Jennings have been sidelined for lengthy spells with injuries. Cobb has returned 38 kickoffs for a 25.4-yard average with a long of 46, and he’s returned 31 punts for a 9.4-yard average, including a 75-yard touchdown.