Mike Vandermause column: It’s not worth risking Williams on punt returns : Packers Insider

Mike Vandermause column: It’s not worth risking Williams on punt returns

December 10, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From the Mouse, Mike Vandermause, Press-Gazette

~Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy is taking a huge risk every time he sends Tramon Williams on the field to return punts.

The Packers recently gave Williams a lucrative new contract that will pay him more than $8 million per season because he is a superb cornerback, not for his punt-return abilities.

It flies in the face of common sense to put a Pro Bowl-caliber defender like Williams in harm’s way on special teams. If anything happens to Williams, the Packers’ defense would take a major hit.

When asked recently if he would consider re-evaluating his use of Williams on punt returns, McCarthy gave no indication he was willing to budge on the issue.

“That’s really a roster structure question that I think I’ve answered back in training camp,” said McCarthy. “I’m not going to change now.”

It would be one thing if Williams was a game-breaker, but his 7.7-yard average ranks 27th in the NFL among players with at least 10 punt returns this season.

The reward for Williams’ return skills isn’t worth the risk. He has emerged as a top-flight cornerback and is too valuable to lose to a needless injury.

“I understand the risk involved,” said McCarthy.

That’s easy to say as long as Williams stays healthy. But if something were to happen to Williams, McCarthy would have some explaining to do.

Williams isn’t the only key NFL starter that serves as a return man, but just because other teams are willing to roll the dice doesn’t make it right.

The list of starters who also return kickoffs or punts includes DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia, Percy Harvin in Minnesota, Eddie Royal in Denver, Danny Amendola in St. Louis and Devin Hester in Chicago. Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys also performed double duty until he broke his ankle last week returning a kickoff.

It’s telling that among that group of returners, Williams is the only one that plays defense. More often than not defensive players are used as stopgap returners and not for their dazzling play-making ability.

Williams is generally sure-handed and has one career touchdown return in 2007, although it came on a punt out of field-goal formation, meaning he didn’t do it against a punt coverage unit.

McCarthy’s dilemma is that he has few other options. Greg Jennings is listed as the top backup on the Packers’ depth chart, but risking an injury to the team’s best receiver is a crazy notion. No. 4 receiver Jordy Nelson is another possibility but he’s more of a straight-line runner and has been prone to fumble.

The Packers’ biggest problem is that in General Manager Ted Thompson’s six years on the job he has been unable to produce a true return specialist. Former Packers GM Ron Wolf made that a priority in the mid-1990s with Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard, and later with the very capable Roell Preston and Allen Rossum.

Will Blackmon was the closest the Packers came to having a full-fledged returner under Thompson, but he couldn’t stay healthy (in fact, it was a punt return vs Minnesota that was the play that Williams tore his ACL).

So once again that has put the onus on McCarthy to scour his roster for someone capable of return duty. At best, it’s an adequate approach. At worst, a very valuable Packers’ starter could get hurt.

Full story HERE

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