- Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you were thinking there's no way the Green Bay Packers will use Randall Cobb, Micah Hyde or any other starter as their return man, then you weren't listening to what coach Mike McCarthy said this week.
"I've got to get away from that thinking," McCarthy said. "I think it's dangerous to get into limitations and trying to be too cautious. When you get cautious and worry negative things happen. So we're going to put our best players out there. We need to be better on special teams and a good returner makes any return unit better."
That was evident in practice this week, when the top-three punt returners were Cobb, Hyde and veteran cornerback Tramon Williams. Running back DuJuan Harris, third on the depth chart behind Eddie Lacy and James Starks, appears to be the top kickoff returner.
There's little doubt Cobb is the Packers' most dangerous returner. He has three career kick returns for touchdowns (one kickoff, two punts), but McCarthy took him off those duties last season, when he became one of the focal points of the offense. It's worth noting the fractured leg that cost Cobb 10 games last season came when he was playing receiver and not on special teams.
Hyde finished last season as the primary returner. He excelled at punt returns, averaging 12.3 yards (fifth in the NFL) and had a 93-yard return for a touchdown against the Vikings in Week 8, but was only average on kickoff returns. Last season, he was a part-time player on defense. This year, he likely will be on the field full time.
If the Packers do shy away from using starters such as Cobb and Hyde as returners, then the competition for those jobs -- especially the punt returner -- is wide open.
"We'll have a precise discussion about who we use as our returners," special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. "And we'll move forward once we decide that."
The Packers almost certainly would have given a long look to rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis as their return man, especially on punts, but his season-ending knee injury the first week of camp ended that.
They tried rookie receiver Davante Adams on punt returns in last week's preseason opener at Tennessee, but it was a disaster. The second-round pick muffed both of his attempts and then injured his wrist on the second one.
To be fair, Adams had not taken a single rep with the punt return team in practice leading up to that game (he had caught punts on his own off the side) and then was thrown in during a heavy-rain storm in Nashville.
When asked why he put Adams out there for the first punt, Slocum said: "It's a tough game played by tough men. You've got to step up and respond."
The Packers' team-issued depth chart reads like this on kickoff returns: Hyde, Harris, Cobb, Jeff Janis, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins. On punt returns, it reads: Hyde, Cobb, Myles White, Williams.
If the Packers don't use a veteran such as Cobb, Harris, Hyde or Williams, here's a look at the options:
Kevin Dorsey: Despite not even being listed on the depth chart, the second-year receiver has worked as the No. 2 returner behind Harris but did not return kicks in college at Maryland. He had one return for 23 yards against the Titans. He needs to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot at receiver first.
Janis: The rookie seventh-round pick has limited experience, but he has the speed and ability to catch the ball. He's also fighting for a roster spot.
Neal: Slocum likes to use running backs on kickoff returns, and the undrafted rookie from Tennessee took one turn against the Titans (and returned it 22 yards) before a knee injury ended his night. The problem is, he might be a longshot to make the team. He won't play Saturday at St. Louis because of the knee.
Perkins: With Neal out of practice this week, Perkins got increased reps. Like Neal, the undrafted rookie is a longshot to make the team. He has taken some reps during practice on kickoff returns but did not get a chance against the Titans.
Adams: Slocum said he's willing to give Adams another chance despite his struggles catching the ball against the Titans. The second-round pick is a lock to make the roster.
White: Talk about struggles catching the ball, the backup receiver had one practice in which he muffed three punts in one special teams period. Also, he's not a lock to make the team.
Janis: Although he's probably more natural as a kickoff returner, Slocum believes Janis has the ability to do both.
Ryan White: The undrafted rookie cornerback fielded punts with the scout team this week, but he's another longshot to make the roster.