NFC North Tour: Special Teams

The 53-man rosters are set for Week 1. Let's finish up examining, by position, how the four NFC North teams stack up against each other heading into 2011. Our final segment, special teams.

Chicago Bears

PK Robbie Gould, P Adam Podlesh, LS Patrick Mannelly, PR Devin Hester, KR Johnny Knox.

Gould is the fifth-most accurate FG kickers in NFL history, and his distance on kickoffs has improved every year. He struggled with timing a bit in the preseason as he adjusted to the holds of Podlesh, who was signed as an unrestricted free agent to replace Brad Maynard, the Bears' punter for the previous 10 seasons. In case anyone had forgotten, Hester showed again last season why he's the best return specialist ever, taking three punts to the house. Knox is an excellent kickoff-returner, and Hester could get some touches there, too. Mannelly is as consistent as they come. Coverage teams have usually been outstanding in the past, but coordinator Dave Toub is working in several new players this season.

Detroit Lions

PK Jason Hanson, P Ryan Donahue, LS Don Muhlbach, KR-PR Stefan Logan.

Special teams were a weapon for the Lions last season and they have worked to make it one again, despite the rule changes governing kickoffs. Logan, who ranked in the top five in both kickoff and punt returns, has the green light to bring kicks out of the end zone. Hanson, healthy after battling knee injuries the last two seasons, had proved adept at placing kicks into the corners and forcing teams to return them. The Lions don't want to concede the 20-yard line. Their coverage teams, like last season, are led by Isaiah Ekejiuba, Wendling, Carpenter, Logan, as well as newcomers Coleman and Hogue.

Green Bay Packers

PK Mason Crosby, P Tim Masthay, LS Brett Goode, KOR Alex Green, PR/KOR Randall Cobb.

The Packers have the same kicker and punter for a second straight season for the first time since Ryan Longwell and Josh Bidwell were together from 2000-03. The Packers are banking on Crosby, who received a five-year contract extension, to deliver on the lucrative investment with better consistency than his career field-goal percentage of 78.1 in four years. Masthay was a preseason standout, effectively mixing booming punts with outstanding hang time and placement on his directional and Aussie-style pooch kicks. Goode is in his fourth season as the long snapper. Given Cobb's knee problems late in camp, it's likely McCarthy will limit his touches early in the season and thus count on Green to run back the kickoffs with Cobb as the punt returner.

Minnesota Vikings

PK Ryan Longwell, P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler, KOR Harvin, PR Sherels.

Longwell, entering his 15th NFL season, remains an extremely reliable kicker. Last season, Longwell made 17 of 18 field-goal attempts 30 of 31 extra-point tries. Kluwe has a big leg but has been willing to sacrifice personal stats so he can get off directional punts that the Vikings have preferred. Loeffler is one of the NFL's most consistent long snappers. Harvin is an outstanding kick returner but could be limited in that role because of the amount of time he will see on offense. This will open the door for Booker to returns kicks.


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