Will the next Desmond Howard please stand up


An article from JonBob's Packer Blog

The Packers of the mid-90's had a number of traits that made them a special bunch. One of them, as I discussed a few days ago, was their ability to play with an edge at Lambeau. This not only made them successful in the regular season, but it also allowed them to ride home-field advantage throughout the playoffs to two Super Bowl appearances.

Another asset was the presence of a bonafide home-run threat lining up to receive kickoffs and punts. I am, of course, talking about Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard.

Desmond only played one full season with the Packers, but his impact was felt in a big way. During the 1996 regular season, he returned 58 punts, with a ridiculous average of 15.1 yards per return. The 875 punt return yards he accrued that year still constitute the NFL's single season record, with a nice, nearly-200 yard cushion.

But with Desmond, it wasn't really about the numbers. He was truly a game-changer. Coupling his ability to shorten the field with Packers already potent offense allowed the team to score points in bunches; it's no coincidence that in '96 the Packers scored 456 points, which stood as the all-time franchise record until it was broken this past year. Of course, his field-position changing ability was only even a factor if he didn't bring the punt all the way back for a touchdown, which he did three times in the '96 regular season.

Desmond's real value was displayed in the 1996 NFL play-offs. In the Mud Bowl, he helped the Packers jump to a 14-0 lead over the 49ers after running only three offensive plays.The first time Howard touched the ball, he turned it into points, returning a punt 71 yards for a six. A few minutes later, he returned a punt 46 yards, setting up an easy, 4-yard Brett Favre to Andre Rison TD pass. From that point on, the game was never in any real jeopardy. The Packers coasted to a 35-14 victory, despite racking up 135 less yards on offense than their season average.

The crown jewel in Desmond's brief career with the Packers was his performance in Super Bowl XXXI (and no, I'm not talking about his interpretation of "The Robot")With the Patriots beginning to mount a comeback in the second half, Howard delivered a death blow, returning a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. New England failed to respond, and the Packers won their first Super Bowl since 1968. On that night, Howard essentially rewrote the punt and kickoff return section of the Super Bowl record book with 90 yards on punt returns, 154 on kick returns, and 244 total return yards. He rightfully won the MVP award, the only special teams player ever to do so.

Since those days, the Packers have lacked someone special returning kicks and punts, with the exception of Roell Preston in 1998 and Allen Rossum in 2000. But after those two names, things go down hill. In fact, the Packers have not returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2000, when the feat was last accomplished by Rossum. That's right: for nine straight seasons, the Packers have not taken a kick back to the house.

The Packers have fared better in terms of punt returning, but don't factor in last year's performance in that statement. In 2009, Jordy Nelson, the Packers' primary return man, had a putrid average of 5.3 yards per return. Out of players around the league who had returned 10 or more punts he ranked 36th. Needless to say, the Packers have plenty of room for improvement when it comes to the return game.

The big question is, do the Packers have the pieces in place to make this adjustment? Do they have the next Desmond Howard on the roster? Let's take a look.

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