Major Issues Linger on Packers' Special Teams

Can Mason Crosby, with career accuracy of just 76.8 percent on field goals, bounce back after an awful season? Can Giorgio Tavecchio challenge for the job? And who will return kicks, or will the Packers stick with Randall Cobb despite a short-handed receiver corps?

This is a big offseason not only for the Green Bay Packers' offense, which is dealing with changes at receiver, offensive line and running back, and the defense, which must find answers against the pistol and read option, but the special teams.

Is Mason Crosby primed for a bounce-back season?

Is Giorgio Tavecchio a true contender at kicker?

Who will return kicks?

Crosby, of course, is coming off of a horrendous season. By making 21-of-33 field goals, he was the least-accurate kicker in the league in 2012. Between a 5-for-5 start and a 6-for-6 finish (including playoffs), he went through a dismal 12-of-24 stretch.

"We looked hard at the whole process and we really looked at some things at the end of last season when we were still playing regular-season games and made some technique adjustments," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum told Packer Report on Tuesday. "I thought he improved then and it's been a point of emphasis since we've gone through the offseason."

Slocum said Crosby's issues didn't stem from the kicker tinkering with his technique to compensate for an injury.

"No, it was purely technique," Slocum said. "Like a golf swing, there are so many moving parts so you have to try and simplify the process."

Many of Crosby's problems were from long range, where he was 2-of-9 from 50-plus yards. Crosby tied for third-most attempts from that distance but was one of nine kickers tied for 14th with two conversions. However, a key 51-yard conversion at Minnesota helped get Crosby back on the right track.

"I thought it was a good confidence-builder, much like a batter hitting a home run," Slocum said. "Any time you have a plus-50, it's a good feeling."

Tavecchio is a legit kicker and not just a token challenger, Slocum said, even though he made 75.0 percent of his field goals and 93.3 percent of his extra points in 48 career games — including six missed PATs as a senior. He made his only field-goal attempt while serving as a camp leg for San Francisco last year.

"He's well capable," Slocum said. "He can do it all. He can kick off and make field goals. It will be fun to watch him progress."

As a side note, punter Tim Masthay is doing the holding for the right-footed Crosby and the left-footed Tavecchio. Slocum called that a "real challenge" but said Masthay is an "outstanding athlete" who has shown "quick development" working with Tavecchio.

Meanwhile, Slocum and coach Mike McCarthy have plenty of time to sort out who's returning kicks. With just three proven receivers on the team with Donald Driver's retirement and Greg Jennings' free-agent defection, it seems highly unlikely the Packers would risk Randall Cobb on returns.

Among the candidates are Cobb, receiver Jeremy Ross, running backs Johnathan Franklin and Angelo Pease, and cornerback James Nixon.

Ross would be the logical choice. Of his four punt returns, he took one back for 58 yards and another for 32, and averaged 28.7 yards on three kickoff returns. However, he botched the Cobb-to-Ross trick play at Chicago and his muffed punt inside the 10-yard line turned the tide in the playoff loss at San Francisco.

Nonetheless, Slocum said he maintains confidence in the powerful Ross.

"Yes, I do," Slocum said. "He made a technique error when he did that. It's a fundamental thing: You've got to catch the ball and put it away before you take off and run. One of the good things that makes him a good returner is his ability to really diagnose the play as it's going on, catch the ball, and move quickly. But, they have to do that fundamental thing of putting the ball away.

Ross said he put the playoff blunder behind him quickly, saying it did him "no good" to stew on the mistake.

"I took one day after the game just to feel bad about it, be discouraged about it, be upset, be sad, whatever, and then the next day, I flushed it," he said. "I was just trying my best to move forward and think about, ‘Who am I trying to become now, and what am I working towards?'"


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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