Camp Preview: By Numbers on Special Teams

We look at one key player, one darkhorse and one new face, plus provide some numbers you might not know about the Packers' special teams.

One key player: The Packers have stuck with kicker Mason Crosby through thick and thin. Since beating out Dave Rayner as a sixth-round pick in 2007, Crosby was the only kicker in camp in 2008, 2009 and 2010, even though he's never gotten close to the league average of about 82 percent on field goals. However, he hit two big field goals against the Jets in the fourth quarter to clinch a 9-0 win and kicked the ball well down the stretch. That's the kind of reward the Packers deserve for their continued faith.

One darkhorse: As a seventh-round pick joining a crowded crew of tight ends, Ryan Taylor would seem to be a long shot to make the roster. But the Packers wouldn't have drafted him if they didn't think he had a legit shot. He was a superior special teams player at North Carolina, and that's what the Packers need to rebuild a unit that ranked 29th in the Dallas Morning News' annual survey after finishing 31st in 2009.

One on the bubble: None. Tim Masthay, Brett Goode and Crosby — assuming he re-signs — will be the punter, snapper and kicker for the second consecutive year.

One new face: The Packers sporadically have had good production from their kick returners — Desmond Howard, Allen Rossum and Will Blackmon, for example — but the hope is Randall Cobb can provide game-changing production for the next several years. As a sophomore at Kentucky, he averaged 26.5 yards per kickoff return and 12.8 yards with a touchdown on punt returns. As a junior last year, he averaged 23.7 yards per kickoff return and 7.8 yards with a touchdown on punt returns. If nothing else, at least Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams won't have to return punts anymore.

Three: Games that were lost in large part because of long returns: Devin Hester's punt return for a touchdown for Chicago in Week 3 put the Bears in front, Eric Weems' kickoff return set up the winning field goal in overtime for Atlanta in Week 12 and Dan Connolly's embarrassing 71-yard kickoff return helped get New England back in the game in Week 15.

11: The reduction in holding penalties, from 14 in 17 games in 2009 to three in 20 games in 2010. That, more than anything, is why Shawn Slocum remains the special teams coordinator.

0: Lost fumbles of the five charged to Williams on punt returns last season. Still, the Packers finished minus-1 in special teams turnovers, with Jordy Nelson losing two fumbles on kickoffs in the Week 4 game against Detroit.

658: Number of kickoff returns by the Packers since Rossum's fourth-quarter touchdown against the Colts on Nov. 19, 2000. It's the longest drought in the NFL. Incredibly, the Jets have 13 kickoff return touchdowns during that span and 14 other teams have brought at least five kickoffs back for scores.

Four: Touchbacks by Crosby last season, down from his average of 14.3 over the previous three seasons. Frequently, Crosby was called upon to pop the ball up or hit a bouncing ball to help cover up for the porous coverage unit. With kickoffs moved up 5 yards to the 35-yard line, look for Crosby to return to form.

39.8: Masthay's net punting average over the last 10 regular-season games. That figure, if for a full season, would have ranked fourth in the NFL.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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