One of the more interesting developments to come out of the Green Bay Packers mauling of the Dallas Cowboys was cornerback Sam Shields taking over as the Packers kick returner.
The team has been looking for a reliable kick returner all season.
Receiver Jordy Nelson, who was given first crack at the job, had some decent returns, but also had a tendency to fumble. After fumbling twice against Detroit, Nelson was replaced by cornerback Pat Lee.
Lee didn’t really scare anyone as a returner, although he was able to hang onto the ball.
All told, the Packers have been pretty terrible on kick returns. Nelson has averaged 22.5 yards, with a long of 51. Lee has been worse, averaging only 19.8 yards, with a long of 30.
Lee was injured during the Packers week 8 win over the Jets, which forced the coaching staff to address the return game once again.
During the preseason, Shields got multiple opportunities as a return man. He’s easily one of the fastest players on the team, if not the fastest, but he wasn’t able to catch the ball. The experiment ended quickly.
More recently, the coaching staff has been working with Shields on returns. Against Dallas, Shields only got one opportunity to return a kick, but he went 49 yards with it, demonstrating his potential.
On Monday, coach Mike McCarthy said Shields is his kick returner.
“He has a unique talent as a kickoff returner, just with the one opportunity. He definitely has a chance to be a big-time returner for us, so we’ll stay the course with Sam,” McCarthy said.
The biggest difference between now and the preseason is Shields has settled into his role on defense and knows the system, which gave the coaching staff an opportunity to work with him on catching kicks.
“Catching the ball is a fine-motor skill, and a lot of extra time was spent doing that with Sam, especially this week when we felt he was going to have the opportunity to do it. It’s a tribute to Sam and the special teams coaches, and we’ll continue to do so,” McCarthy said.
Having Shields as a kick returner is exciting, considering he has the speed to score any time he touches the ball.
However, if he reverts to his old form and begins to drop the ball, we wouldn’t be surprised if the Packers look elsewhere… again.