Randall Cobb is an immediate offensive force for Packers
GREEN BAY – Racing up the sideline in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, Randall Cobb reminded everyone why the Green Bay Packers drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
"Any time I can touch it I try to take it to the house," he said with a slight grin, recalling the 75-yard punt return touchdown that brought the Packers back into the game in an eventual 30-22 loss at Lambeau Field.
Cobb now has three kick returns for touchdowns in 16 games played, trailing only Travis Williams (six) for the franchise record, but Week 1 of the 2012 season showcased the next step in Cobb's evolution as a game changer.
He had proven to be an electric special teamer as a rookie last year, averaging 27.7 yards per kick return (second in the league) and 11.3 on punt returns (seventh).
The rest of his skills, however, remained raw.
In the 2011 opener against New Orleans, he caught two balls for 35 yards and a score, to go with an NFL-record 108-yard kick return touchdown touchdown.
The two passes would be the most he would catch in a game, however, until Week 9 when he caught three balls against Minnesota. His career high came in Week 14 at Kansas City, the Packers' lone loss of the season, when he caught four passes.
Cobb played quarterback, receiver, running back and returned kicks at Kentucky, so a mission of his this offseason was to sharpen his route running.
He admitted to some growing pains during training camp, but the work paid off on Sunday: The nine passes he caught against the 49ers was 36-percent of his career total (25) coming into the game.
He was utilized out of the backfield, in an effort to get him into space and against bigger linebackers.
"He's a big-time player, a great punt returner obviously," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "We're going to try and find ways to get him matched up on positive mismatches for him out there."
Cobb caught every ball that was thrown to him, with two passes each being swung out to the flats and five dumped over the middle.
"It definitely is a confidence builder, coming into the opening week and having a few catches and being able to contribute a little bit," Cobb said. "Me and Aaron this offseason worked on our chemistry a lot; me getting inside his head and him getting inside my head and working together and getting a better understanding of each other and what we're trying to accomplish."
While he was not able to break any of receptions for long gains, the 49ers quickly noticed his presence – on James Jones' 10-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter, a linebacker was pulled out of Rodgers' sightline when Cobb sprinted out of the backfield.
"He did a great job getting going," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "We know he can do it. I think he needs every game to be the first game of the year though."
Nelson laughed a little, referencing Cobb's two TDs in Week 1 last year and the fact he didn't catch – or return another kickoff – for a score the rest of the season.
Cobb himself noted that the next step in his development is consistency, which will only be helped by the confidence coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers showed in him on Sunday. And it will be challenged now that his Sunday breakout is on film for the rest of the league to see.
He insists, however, that it doesn't matter how he's used going forward – it's that he's used.
"I was trying to take the most of my opportunities and do what I could and contribute whatever I could," he said. "It doesn't matter to me. Wherever I line up I'm on the field I'm happy to be on the field."
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