Since I'm not all that interested in talking about proven vets in preaseason, nor interested in speculating whether a player held out for "injury" is a reason or an excuse, I find the rookies and bubble players more interesting at this juncture. So, Rollins....
He was one of Thompson's several ex-basketball player picks. Rollins was was the most "basketball" among them, having been a 4 year, 30 minute/game point guard for Miami (OH) in the MAC Conference.
He played only one year of college football at Miami, earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year on the strenght of 7 INTs:
Perceived upside (football savant?) coming off one strong season of college ball earned him that #62 pick status even if his Combine numbers were pedestrian:
As shown in the above college football stats link, Rollins did not return a punt (or a kickoff for that matter) in his one year of college ball as has been discussed previously.
So, why would he be getting a look at punt returns with zero experience going back at least to high school?
1) As evidenced by those 7 INTs and this college highlight tape [
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], he has some evident ball skills.
2) Being a pick and time investment, the Packers are looking for some some secondary function for him to edge him off the CB bubble, and if he can succeed at it he bumps Davis off the roster to make room for an extra developmental rookie. Returning punts and covering kicks while being at least a backup nickel corner might just do it. The investment makes him one of those guys they want to give chances to succeed .
All of this pretty is obvious except perhaps for the overlooked ball skills aspect of the equation.
Perhaps also overlooked, his NFL defensive snap counts over three years have been 323, 704 and 139, the equivalent of one full season of a 100% snap counts. Putting that together with one season of college ball, he really hasn't played all that much football since leaving high school. If he can make it on the squad as a core special teamer, then he buys another year for the Packers to further explore that upside at CB that got him drafted in the 2nd. round in the first place. While I didn't detect any residual affects of the Achilles injury, we have not gotten much of a look so far. Since his athletic measurables were not great to start with, any diminishment from that injury could be the tipping point. Returning punts (if he ever returns one without fumbling) in full contact mode in preseason might give some indication.
So, what do we look for in him as punt returner going forward? First, is he a "natural" fielder of the ball? What does that mean? Here are some point to look for and what I've noted so far in those limited chances:
1) Tracking the ball: Skill #1 is jusdging the ball flight and getting in good position to catch it. Failing that is an immediate disqualifier. I think Rollins did a good job of that in week 1. There was some discussion earlier about Montgomery getting a shot at punts. I could be wrong, but the fact he does not track deep passes well does not bode well in this first cut aspect of punt returning.
2) Natural hands: Natural or not, obvioulsy you CANNOT drop the ball. That's Job #1. That first try by Rollins was not a good look. After that you do not want to see a lot of body catching, though some of that seems inevitable when fielding wobbly balls or ones that are hooking or slicing. You don't want to see that when he's standing right under it and waiting. Body catching tends to be balance-back at the catch, more on the heels, slowing the giddyup in his gitalong. Body catching is no issue on a fair catch where getting going is not a consideration. I think we have to see Rollins actually returning a couple balls to see how that looks.
3) Balance: Combined with 2), whether body catching or not, you want to see a bit of that balance-forward posture to get off the mark. Punt returns are made or broken in those first few steps. Again, we need to see him run a couple back to see how that looks.
After that, the returner's first look should be to the middle, and the first steps should be to the middle when there's free run space. The middle return is where the big gains are to be found and it keeps your blockers squared up minimizing penalties. When everbody starts running sideways with the returner is where those blocks in the back tend to come from. And if a perceived seams close on a middle return, it's still a + yards gain. Of course charging a middle seam runs the risk of a high impact collision if a block is missed or a closing tackler is not covered. It takes nerve and aggression.
After that, the returner also needs to show the nerve to come up for a short punt and fair catch it in a crowd. Rules notwithstanding, you see guys violate them from time to time, blowing up a defenseless fair catching returner. This is the aspect of Davis' game that annoys me to no end. We've seen catchable balls he stays away from and lets hit the ground and I'm not talking about inside the 5 or right at the sidelines.
So let's see what Rollins does on punts going forward in the preseason. If they pull him for other tryouts and he does not return, that would not be a good sign for him in a highly competitive CB situation. I suppose he could still make as a end-of-the-bench CB and kick coverage guy, but that would require the other guys not making the jump.