The Green Bay Packers begin preparations for their season-opening showdown at San Francisco with uncertainty at kick returner.
Through almost 20 training camp practices and four preseason games, there's more uncertainty surrounding the kickoff return and punt return duties than there was when camp started on July 26.
Ross was the favorite to replace star receiver Randall Cobb as the top returner, even though his muffed punt was the turning point in the playoff loss to the 49ers. Ross performed inconsistently on offense and special teams throughout training camp this summer. He enters Saturday's final cuts very much on the bubble.
While rookie cornerback Micah Hyde showed promise as a punt returner, rookie running back Johnathan Franklin flopped on kickoff and punt returns. Third-year running back Alex Green got into the mix on kickoff returns at the end of camp.
Aware of the possible shortcoming, the Packers are bringing in former Jets running back Joe McKnight for a workout on Saturday, the running back said on Twitter.
A fourth-round pick out of USC in 2010 who ran a 4.40 at the Scouting Combine, McKnight boasts a 29.0-yard average on 76 career kickoff returns — tops among active returners — with touchdowns of 107 and 100 yards. He averaged 9.9 yards on seven punt returns in 2010 and 2011.
On offense, he's rushed 112 times for 502 yards (4.5 average) and caught 17 passes for 177 yards (10.4 average). He played two snaps on defense when the Jets were slammed by injuries in the secondary.
The timing of the workout is incredibly intriguing, given it's the same date as the cutdown to 53. Perhaps the Packers are just doing their homework on a talented player who was part of the Jets' 75-man cutdown earlier in the week. McKnight failed his pre-training camp conditioning test, then missed time with what the team called a head injury but he labeled a concussion. During an off-day in training camp, McKnight was arrested for unpaid traffic tickets. Plus, during a Twitter war of words, he challenged a fan to a fight.
For the preseason, Green averaged 28.5 yards on two kickoff returns and Ross averaged 23.3 on four runbacks. Ross was the returner for most of Thursday's loss to Kansas City, with one return for 16 yards but the Chiefs' kickers bombed six touchbacks to limit his opportunities. Hyde averaged 12.5 yards on two punt returns (four fair catches) and Ross averaged 10.5 on two punt returns (two fair catches). Hyde fielded all the punts on Thursday, with a 12-yarder and three touchbacks.
Before his release, McKnight missed all three preseason games with the head injury.
On offense, Ross had a strong game with three catches for 50 yards, including a leaping 26-yard grab. He finished the preseason with seven catches for 70 yards. While he dropped too many passes during camp, he had no issues during the games.
Ross entered the game in a battle with undrafted rookie Tyrone Walker for the fifth receiver spot. Walker caught five passes for 30 yards but fumbled. He led the team with 11 receptions during the preseason, good for 86 yards. Ross, however, has more value on special teams. Not only is he a possibility as a returner but he's been a No. 1 on the kickoff team and worked as the personal protector on the punt team.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.