So this is what a healthy Will Blackmon looks like? Not bad. Not bad at all.
“There’s more,” Blackmon assured with a confident smile, after scoring two special teams touchdowns -- one on a return and one on a fumble recovery -- in the Packers' 38-7 pillaging of the Raiders.
With the Packers up 7-0 and six minutes remaining in the first half, Oakland punter Shane Lechler hit a low liner to Blackmon, which he fielded at the Packer 43-yard line. With defenders bearing down on him, he caught it on the run, shooting forward and breaking to the side. Only Lechler stood between him and his first career touchdown, and a weak dive at the 18-yard line wasn’t going to bring Blackmon down. Oakland linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba chased Blackmon for 40 yards, but his dive at the five-yard line wasn’t anymore effective than Lechler’s. Fifty-seven yards later, Blackmon had his team up 13-0. Luckily, the extra point was made before replays showed that he put half a step on the sideline at the five-yard line while avoiding Ekejiuba.
Of course, the only thing more fun than getting that first touchdown was making that first Lambeau Leap.
“That wall’s pretty high,” Blackmon said. “I had to gear up to get up there. Good thing it was a touchback on the next play. But it’s fun. I watched the Packers back in 1996 when they won with Desmond Howard and I never thought I’d be here Lambeau leaping.”
His next touchdown came with 5:03 left in the third quarter when he attempted to tackle Oakland punt returner Tim Dwight around the ankles at the nine yard line. As Dwight stepped out of Blackmon’s grasp he was hit by the Packers’ Jason Hunter, who twisted Dwight down on top of him and caused the ball to squirt out. Packers’ fullback John Kuhn kicked it toward the end zone as he ran over Dwight trying to grab it. Blackmon bobbled it twice trying to get a handle on it before finally pouncing on the pigskin at the back of the end zone under a pile of a half dozen Packers and Raiders. Dwight was initially ruled down by prior to fumbling but Green Bay challenged the call on the field and the reversal gave Blackmon his second score of the day.
It’s the first time Green Bay had two special teams touchdowns since Nov. 27, 1986 at Detroit and the first time the same player accomplished the feat since Travis Williams did it on Nov. 2, 1969 at Pittsburgh. Make no mistake about it, the significance of Blackmon’s performance was not lost on his coach.
“Will Blackmon is clearly one of the better athletes on our football team and personally, it’s really gratifying just to see him out here with what he’s gone through,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Just to overcome the injuries that that he’s been battling the last year and a half and to have the opportunity he had today and take full advantage of it. He’s an explosive young man. He’s going to be a very good defensive back as he goes through his development process and he’s definitely a weapon on special teams, as he proved today.”
While Blackmon saw time in the team’s six defensive back ‘Dime’ package, his greatest contribution may be keeping starting cornerback Charles Woodson -- who was sorely missed in the teams’ loss at Dallas due to a toe injury suffered on special teams -- off of punt return duty. And that’s just fine with Blackmon.
“Yeah, he doesn’t need to be out there," Blackmon said. "He’s a home run hitter on defense. We like him there.”
And there’s plenty of reason to like Blackmon on special teams. No one ever doubted that Blackmon, a 2006 fourth-round pick out of Boston College had talent and ability. He played his first three years for the Eagles at cornerback before switching to receiver as a senior and leading his team in catches and receiving yardage. He was also one of the most feared kick returners in all of college football, finishing just 222 yards shy of the NCAA Division 1-A yardage record.
But two years into his professional career, Blackmon was that sleek, high-performance sports car that spent more time in the shop than it did on the road. It was unfamiliar territory for a player who had missed one game due to injury throughout college and high school.
First he suffered a broken foot during the second mini-camp of his rookie season. Then he re-injured it early into the 2006 regular season. After being inactive for a month, he returned to action. But by late November, he was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve with a rib injury. In 2007, Blackmon sparkled during preseason before injuring his thumb. Then he broke his foot again -- the same one he injured a year ago -- on Oct. 3 during practice and missed the next seven games.
With plenty of reasons to feel snake bit, Blackmon refused to get down. But a call from McCarthy went a long way towards his upbeat attitude.
“When I first got hurt, coach called up and said we’re going to keep you active, we’re not going to put you on IR, so I stayed positive,” Blackmon said, though he did get a scare during his recovery.
“I was playing X-Box live and they have a ticker at the bottom and it said ’Blackmon out for season’ and I was like, ’what the heck is this?’ So I called up Pepper (Burress), the trainer, and I asked him, ’Am I done for the year?’ and he said, ’No, you’re not.’ And I was like, ’Well, I’m playing X-Box live and it’s on my video game, but they told me I’m not, so that was refreshing.”
If there’s a lesson here, it could be something about good things coming to those who wait. That includes both Blackmon and the Packers. Or there could be something about the value of perseverance. Of course, there’s also the lesson of never, ever believing the ticker at the bottom of your TV when you’re playing X-Box live.
W. Keith Roerdink is a frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.