GREEN BAY—For all the talk in training camp about replacing Randall Cobb on punt returns, the Packers have found their man at the same time it became a necessity.
Cobb’s injury aside, rookie Micah Hyde may have locked down the job on his own this past week in Baltimore.
After hesitating on his first attempt against the Ravens and slipping on his second, according to Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum, Hyde posted three straight productive returns that showcased the natural ability he possesses for the skill.
He broke off a 23-yard return late in the second quarter that led to a field-goal attempt, dodged tacklers for 20 yards early in the third quarter that put the offense inside the Baltimore 35-yard line, and added a 16-yard runback in the third that helped lead to a field goal.
Hyde's 59 yards on three returns matched the Packers' production on the team's first 10 punt returns of the season.
“I thought he really got better as the game went on,” Slocum said. “We talked about it on the sideline. He took the ball and got north and south, and did a good job with it.”
The sideline discussions with Slocum were valuable for Hyde. For a given return that was called, Slocum gave Hyde tips to watch for in the Ravens’ pursuit as to whether he should hit the hole straight ahead or bounce it outside.
Either way, often the key is to make a quick decision and “get off the spot,” as the saying goes.
“He let me know what he saw as far as how we were blocking and where to hit the seam,” Hyde said. “It’s one thing if you’re watching on the sideline (versus if) you’re in the play catching the ball. It’s two different perspectives. I just tried to make the adjustments with Coach. He gave me his feedback and I went from there.”
Mike McCarthy has spoken many times of how natural Hyde looked catching punts on the first day of rookie minicamp back in May. On Thursday, McCarthy likened Hyde’s natural ball skills to another defensive back who handled some punt-return duties in his day.
“Charles Woodson is clearly one of the best, or the best, players that I’ve been around as far as handling the football on punts,” McCarthy said. “Just very natural to him, and Micah is similar that way.”
Speaking of Woodson, Hyde last year won the award named for both the former Heisman winner and Jack Tatum as the Big Ten’s top defensive back. Yet the Iowa alum lasted until the fifth round of the draft, primarily due to a lack of blazing speed.
That never stopped him from being productive in college, though, on defense or special teams.
Hyde started returning punts as a junior at Iowa, and he admitted it was an adjustment to something new, particularly once he was trying to catch punts in a game.
But he’s looked nothing but comfortable with it since arriving in Green Bay. Hyde also has worked his way into the nickel and dime packages on defense, and his playmaking from the preseason showed up in Baltimore as well. He was in on the fourth-and-goal stop in the second quarter, and later he sacked Ravens QB Joe Flacco on a slot blitz, forcing a fumble that Baltimore recovered.
Hyde played a ton of snaps in training camp and the preseason, and as his gameday workload expands, no one would fault him for wanting a breather here and there. Hyde insists, though, that he won’t wear down.
“I’ve done it my whole life. I’m used to it,” he said of playing defense and special teams regularly. “I can get rest the next day.”
Hyde’s energy, stamina and instincts help make up for that supposedly missing top gear. He’ll probably hear about his unimpressive 40-yard dash at the scouting combine as long as he’s in the league, but he couldn’t care less.
“I just think when I get on the field, it’s totally different,” he said. “It’s not me lining up in front of millions of people on TV and running the 40. That’s something I didn’t prepare for my whole life. I’ve prepared for playing football and making plays on the football field. That’s what I’d like to think I can do.
“That whole experience was fun and it was fine, but it’s over, and right now, the rest of my career, it won’t matter. Now I’m just trying to run as fast as I can on the field and run away from these defenders.”
Time will tell if Hyde’s efforts against the Ravens become the norm. Having already tried and failed with Jeremy Ross, the Packers would love to not have to revisit the issue of Cobb’s replacement again anytime soon.
“He just needs more opportunities,” McCarthy said.
He’ll get plenty now. Additional coverage - Oct. 17