Rather than Jeremy Ross handling most of the kickoffs and punts, with Randall Cobb being used in key situations, the Packers will go with Micah Hyde on punt returns, Johnathan Franklin on kickoff returns and Cobb on a situational basis.
Ball-security will be paramount. That's always the priority but will certainly be key in light of Ross' botched kickoff return at Cincinnati before the bye. The gaffe cost the Packers a touchdown and, ultimately, Ross his job.
Packers Losing Big-Time Field Position During Exchange of Kickoffs
"Well, let's be honest. We won't put anybody back there that we weren't comfortable handling the football," coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday's practice. "his process didn't just start this week. There's a whole group of returners. Jordy Nelson took return opportunities. Tramon Williams. They do it every single week. We don't ever try to lock it in to one or two players. Randall still takes the normal flow of returns. I feel good about Micah and Johnathan."
During the preseason, Hyde returned two punts for 25 yards (13 and 12 yards) while Franklin returned one kickoff for 14 yards. During practices, Hyde was as smooth as can be fielding punts, a role he handled at Iowa during his final two seasons. This week, he said he felt "real comfortable back there" because of his experience. Franklin didn't return kicks at UCLA but his open-field running ability was on display during the second half of the Cincinnati game.
"Micah has been very solid catching the ball, I've been highly impressed with that, and Johnathan's continued to get better and looks smooth catching the ball," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said on Thursday. "The ball security is No. 1 because with that play, whether it's a punt return or a kickoff return, we've got possession of the ball if we handle it right."
Packers injury report
Out: CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), RB James Starks (knee), G/C Greg Van Roten (foot). Probable: S Morgan Burnett (hamstring), CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring), TE Jermichael Finley (concussion), RB Johnathan Franklin (foot), FB John Kuhn (hamstring), RB Eddie Lacy (concussion), LB Clay Matthews (hamstring).
The only players not listed as full participation were the players who are out.
Even though he had been ruled out on Wednesday, Hayward participated in some of Thursday's practice but spent Friday rehabbing on the field.
"Casey's making progress," McCarthy said. "The big day for Casey will be next week. Monday and Tuesday. That's when those decisions are made based on the workload coming before our next game. Monday will be the big day for Casey. He's getting better."
Lions injury report
Out: WR Nate Burleson (forearm). Questionable: CB Chris Houston (hamstring), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), S Glover Quin (ankle). Probable: DE Ezekiel Ansah (abdomen), S Louis Delmas (knee), WR Patrick Edwards (ankle), T Jason Fox (groin), DE Israel Idonije (hamstring), CB Rashean Mathis (head), LB Ashlee Palmer (ankle), G Rob Sims (shoulder).
If there's one player who's truly in doubt, it's Houston, who was lost late in the Chicago game last week. He didn't practice on Wednesday and Thursday and was limited on Friday.
"I think one guy in particular who has improved every year that we've played against them is cornerback Chris Houston," Aaron Rodgers said during his conference call with Lions beat reporters on Wednesday. "He's a guy who has impressed me and he is a very competitive guy, high effort guy that makes a lot of plays."
— The Lions are 3-1 — and they're playing that way. "I think this is probably their best team as far as how they're playing coming into the game," McCarthy said. "I can't sit here and tell you off the top of my head how I felt about each and every game. But I will say this is clearly a very talented football team. They're very systematic in their approach. Their coaching staff has been together for quite some time. And the way they play on offense and defense is pretty much the same philosophically. I think this is probably the best that I've seen them play coming into a contest."
— Safeties coach Darren Perry, on the return of Burnett: "It's huge. It gives you a sense of comfort and a sense of excitement because I know he wants to be out there, and that's going to be a big lift for our defense. The kid's worked his butt off, and nobody wants to sit on the side and watch. It's a great time to come back – a division opponent, a huge game at home, coming off of a loss, we're trying to get back on track – and it's good to have one of your best players back out there playing."
— After having just two backs for Cincinnati, the Packers will have four with Eddie Lacy, Franklin, Michael Hill and the return of Kuhn. "John's an important member of our football team," McCarthy said. "John does all the little things that don't show up on stat sheets. He's very, very valuable on game day, whether it's special teams, the intricacies of pass protection. We'll see how much he'll be able to go. It'll be great to have him out there."
— The team practiced inside the Don Hutson Center due to a misty Friday morning in Green Bay. Sunday's forecast is a high of 56 and showers.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
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.