Camp Preview: Top Concern on Special Teams

The Packers' special teams were atrocious for a second consecutive year, but how much of that should be laid at feet of coordinator Shawn Slocum?

For the sake of full disclosure, I like Shawn Slocum on a personal level. Even if he thinks I took the summer off because of the lockout.

So, even though he clearly doesn't have Packer Report among his laptop's bookmarks and thinks I've spent the last few months doing nothing but riding the Zippin Pippin roller coaster, maybe I give him too much benefit of the doubt. Or maybe I know criticism directed at one person in a team sport typically is over-the-top simplistic.

To be sure, his units have suffered across-the-board failures during his two years in charge. "Embattled special teams coordinator" isn't Slocum's official title. It only seems that way, because the word "embattled" just seems to fit like a glove.

How much of the blame should fall on Slocum? I honestly don't know. Was it his fault that none of his guys wanted to get in the way of 313-pound lineman Dan Connolly? Is it his fault that Mason Crosby doinked one off the upright that would have beaten Washington? Is it his fault players wore stickers reading, "Hello, My Name Is ..." during practice because of the revolving roster door stemming from a hellacious stretch of injuries? Is it his fault his game plans on punt returns and kickoff returns fell short because he had neither a punt returner nor kick returner?

When in doubt, I always turn to my Bill Belichick analogy. Was Belichick really a lousy coach with the Cleveland Browns, and if so, how did he get so gosh darned smart with the New England Patriots? Or, was he a bad coach with the Browns because he had guys like Mike Tomczak, Todd Philcox, Vinny Testaverde and Eric Zeier at quarterback compared to Tom Brady en route to three Super Bowl championships with the Patriots?

That's not to downplay the role of coaching. A coach's job is to put his players in position to succeed through a scheme that's creative enough to fool the opponent but easy enough for your own players to grasp. Then, it's his job to teach it so the players understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. Still, the Packers haven't had a kickoff return of longer than 51 yards in Slocum's two seasons. Is that Slocum's fault, or is it because Jordy Nelson, Sam Shields, James Starks and Pat Lee have no business returning kickoffs?

On the bright side, Tim Masthay developed into a top-flight punter after the Packers churned through seven of them in the last seven seasons. The yellow flags that littered the field in 2009 were slashed, with holding calls falling from 14 to three.

Maybe second-round pick Randall Cobb will be the kick returner the Packers thought they had with Will Blackmon, who simply couldn't stay healthy for an extended period. Maybe Crosby finally will connect at a high rate now that Masthay will return as his holder. Maybe the exceptional depth on the roster will provide enough blockers and tacklers to turn big plays the Packers' way.

It's now or never for Slocum. Who knows if he keeps his job had the Packers missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker rather than make them on a tiebreaker. For the first time, it looks like he has more answers than questions at his disposal. Outside of some clutch punting by Masthay, the Packers won in spite of Slocum's crew last year. Now, it's time for his units to make a positive difference.

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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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