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Offline Zero2Cool  
#1 Posted : Friday, September 12, 2008 11:22:02 PM(UTC)
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Quote:
[img_r]http://cmsimg.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=U0&Date=20080912&Category=PKR01&ArtNo=809130406&Ref=AR&Profile=1058&MaxW=318&Border=0[/img_r]The most important part of returning punts and kickoffs is taking care of the ball and avoiding the game-changing turnover.

But to go from competent to good in the return game, an NFL team needs a viable threat to break a big run, and the Packers' Will Blackmon has shown that kind of ability since finally getting healthy enough to handle those duties last December.

The oft-injured Blackmon has taken back two punts for touchdowns in the Packers' last five regular-season games, including his 76-yarder in the Packers' 24-19 win over Minnesota on Monday night that swung that game.

This isn't to proclaim Blackmon another Devin Hester when was the last time the NFL had a return man as special as Chicago's Hester? but he's nevertheless proving to he not only won't lose games, but also can win them.

Though the correlation between a victory and a touchdown on a special-teams return is surprisingly small for the NFL at large, according to Mike Eayrs, the Packers' director of research and development, it becomes much stronger if two teams are evenly matched.

"The game Monday night is a classic example," Eayrs said. "In terms of explosive gains, it was pretty close; we had the one additional takeaway. When the game is that tight in production, it's almost always going to be decided on special teams."

Last year, for example, Eayrs reports that teams were 22-33 in games in which they scored on special teams. But when only playoff teams are counted, they were 10-7.

Eayrs said there's no correlation for the league as a whole because teams trying to rebuild their rosters often improve first on special teams because of their youth and speed, but struggle longer on offense and defense. So, they lose despite special-teams touchdowns because they can't score or get enough stops. But if teams are relatively equal, a big return can be the difference.

"It's such a demoralizing thing for the other team," said Mike Stock, the Packers' special teams coach. "That's a fact."

Blackmon's emergence in the return game could be critical for a Packers team looking to go back to the playoffs after a 13-3 season but undergoing a major change with Aaron Rodgers succeeding Brett Favre at quarterback.

Last year, the Packers' vastly improved special teams were a major factor in at least three wins, beginning with almost single-handedly winning the season opener against Philadelphia. The Packers recovered two fumbled punts deep in Eagles territory that led to 10 points, including the game-winning field goal with 2 seconds left in a 16-13 win.

The other two were over Carolina and Oakland. Tramon Williams had a 94-yard touchdown on a punt return in the 31-17 win over Carolina, and Blackmon had two scores a 57-yard punt return, and an end-zone recovery of a punt fumbled by the Raiders in a 38-7 win over Oakland.

Special teams also played a crucial role in at least one loss, at Chicago, when on a frigid and blustery day at Soldier Field, Jon Ryan had two punts blocked and a 9-yard punt on another after mishandling the snap in a 35-7 loss.

Blackmon's touchdown against the Vikings gives the return game a prominent and perhaps difference-making role in one win. The Packers were ahead of Minnesota only 10-6 about halfway through the third quarter when Blackmon fielded Chris Kluwe's low 49-yard punt. He went untouched on his cut-back return, putting the Packers ahead by two possessions at a time when the offense was struggling.

"It got the energy back in the building is the big thing," Rodgers said.

When Blackmon came back from a broken thumb and then later a broken finger last year, he was primarily a punt returner and averaged 13.3 yards on his eight attempts. He had only one kickoff return. But this year, he's doing both he and Jordy Nelson are the deep tandem on kickoffs. Blackmon had three kickoff returns against the Vikings for a 23.0-yard average.

The main issue is whether Blackmon's health will hold up. Besides the two injuries last year, he had a broken foot that sidelined him for 12 games in his rookie season in 2006.

Blackmon (6-foot, 206 pounds) appears to have the makings of a top returner for several years. Stock has been a special teams coach in the NFL for 13 years, and up to now, the best return man he's coached was Tamarick Vanover (6-0, 220), who from 1995 to 1999 returned four punts and four kickoffs for touchdowns.

"(Blackmon's) potential is in that category," Stock said. "He's not as big Tamarick was 225 pounds and could run fast. But (Blackmon) has got more speed, a quicker first step and he's every bit as explosive if not more so. He's got good vision, makes good judgments. Right now, he's carrying the ball high and tight, secures it well, so as far as I'm concerned he's a young stud. Hopefully we can ride him hard and heavy and he can stay healthy."



Sean Jones was on TheFan today and said while watching Blackmon return that punt Monday night it reminded him of the Packers '96 season when we were running back kick/punt returns.
Offline Cheesey  
#2 Posted : Friday, September 12, 2008 11:24:53 PM(UTC)
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Think about it..........how important was Desmond Howard during the SB31 run?
A guy like that can change the game in one play.
Offline TengoJuego  
#3 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 3:21:19 AM(UTC)
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Exactly Cheesey...Not to mention field position could be one of the most important factors in a game.
Offline Greg C.  
#4 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 3:36:11 AM(UTC)
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Good article. Interesting what they wrote about how rebuilding teams that are not yet good on offense and defense tend to be better on special teams because they have a lot of young, athletic players. The Packers have the best of both worlds. Their offense and defense are both very good, but they are the youngest team in the league (tied with the Chiefs this year), and they keep some players on the roster mainly for their special teams play (White, Hunter, Bush, Blackmon).
Offline Bigbyfan  
#5 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 3:58:59 PM(UTC)
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Remember the years when our special teams was one of the worst in the league and Antonio Chatman was running back punts? Our GM was Mike Sherman I think at the time.
Offline dhpackr  
#6 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 4:04:28 PM(UTC)
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Blackmon's return was the first special teams TD in a long time. I hope he can continue to stay healthy, the guy was a very gifted aqthlete in college, now if he can just stay on the field he could make the all pro team as a special teams freak
Offline Greg C.  
#7 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 4:10:05 PM(UTC)
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" said: Go to Quoted Post
Remember the years when our special teams was one of the worst in the league and Antonio Chatman was running back punts? Our GM was Mike Sherman I think at the time.


There have been a lot of lean years since Allen Rossum left, which was in 2002, I think. Sherman was very outspoken about not wanting to keep players on the roster solely (or even mostly) for their special teams ability. He even insisted that Rossum had to be ready to play corner in the dime defense if needed in order to secure a roster spot. Ted Thompson has a much different approach, which seems to be working out much better.
Offline Packers_Finland  
#8 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 4:10:18 PM(UTC)
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dhpackr, Tramon and Blackmon scored TDs last year, near the end of the season. It was not that long ago.
Offline Greg C.  
#9 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 4:13:29 PM(UTC)
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" said: Go to Quoted Post
Blackmon's return was the first special teams TD in a long time. I hope he can continue to stay healthy, the guy was a very gifted aqthlete in college, now if he can just stay on the field he could make the all pro team as a special teams freak


Actually, Blackmon returned a punt for a TD against the Raiders near the end of the 2007 season, and Tramon Williams returned a pooch punt for a TD against Carolina. There were two TD's by the cover teams as well last year, after they forced fumbles--one by Jarrett Bush against the Eagles, and one by Blackmon against the Raiders. So this is something the special teams have been doing for a year now.

Edit: Finland beat me to it by three minutes. That's what I get for being so wordy.
Offline dhpackr  
#10 Posted : Saturday, September 13, 2008 4:21:56 PM(UTC)
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" said: Go to Quoted Post
" said: Go to Quoted Post
Blackmon's return was the first special teams TD in a long time. I hope he can continue to stay healthy, the guy was a very gifted aqthlete in college, now if he can just stay on the field he could make the all pro team as a special teams freak


Actually, Blackmon returned a punt for a TD against the Raiders near the end of the 2007 season, and Tramon Williams returned a pooch punt for a TD against Carolina. There were two TD's by the cover teams as well last year, after they forced fumbles--one by Jarrett Bush against the Eagles, and one by Blackmon against the Raiders. So this is something the special teams have been doing for a year now.

Edit: Finland beat me to it by three minutes. That's what I get for being so wordy.


that is great, the point i was trying to make was ........its been awhile since the Packers had a real threat for a big return on every punt, like when howard and rosum were on the team. will has been hurt quite a bit since he was drafted, i hope he can stay on the field for a full 16 game season
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