Camp Clashes: Special Teams

Tim Masthay is the star of the unit, and the battle lines are drawn at kicker and kick returner. The core of the special teams, however, returns intact and is strong.

With the Green Bay Packers opening training camp on July 26, Packer Report takes a closer look at the special teams.

The star

Tim Masthay: Punting is a balancing act. Kick the ball too far, and the returner will have a 10- or 15-yard running start before encountering anyone from the coverage unit. Kick the ball too short, and you're just giving away field position.

Masthay has mastered that balancing act. Masthay is coming off his third consecutive season of setting the franchise record for best net punting average. In 2012, his net was 38.9 yards. Only 24 of his 70 punts were returned, that 34.3 percent rate ranking second in the league.

"I don't know if I can say that," Masthay said last season when asked if he had established himself as the best punter in team history. "The records are fantastic and I have a tremendous amount of respect for this organization and all the players that have come through here, so to even be mentioned like that is pretty awesome. But I have a long ways to go before you can say that."

The big battle

Returner: The kicking battle will be critical. So, too, will be who winds up handling kicks. With Randall Cobb's importance to the offense only increasing, the Packers clearly would like to find a new returner.

"His special teams responsibility is really up to his teammates," coach Mike McCarthy said.

That means they need to find a suitable replacement. Jeremy Ross had three big returns in a game-and-a-half to end the regular season. Ball security is the most important part of returning kicks and Ross has plenty to prove in that department.

"We know a lot about Randall, we know a good deal about Jeremy Ross, we know less about (James) Nixon, we know less about Johnathan Franklin, and there's a couple other guys," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We have a number of guys who are capable of returning for us. We will go through the entire process of the camp, evaluate all the information, and really what'll get down to is how we want to build the team. Mike (McCarthy) and I talk about it a lot and, obviously, the issue we're talking about now is Randall's production as a receiver on offense and yet he did almost all the returns last year as well and did a great job with it. We have to do what's best for our football team."

The sleeper

Giorgio Tavecchio: Tavecchio's resume at Cal isn't strong enough to make Mason Crosby shake in his kicking shoe as they prepare to battle to be the Packers' kicker. For his career, Tavecchio made 75.0 percent of his field goals and 93.3 percent of his extra points. However, as a senior in 2011, Tavecchio hit 20-of-23 (87.0 percent) with a long of 54. Tavecchio and Crosby squared off just once in front of reporters during the offseason. Both went 3-for-3, and it was pretty clear that Tavecchio's leg was of NFL quality.

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

Crosby, however, is the favorite. He made his final six field-goal attempts last season.

"I was impressed with Mason overcoming some adversity to finish strong at the end of the year," Slocum said. "It indicated what kind of character he has. He kept his head down and continued to work and finished on a good note. I think dealing with adversity can help you grow as a player and as an individual. He just needs to put it together and have a good year."

The bottom line

The Packers field a top-notch special teams — Crosby's struggles notwithstanding. Green Bay finished 12th in the annual Dallas Morning News special teams rankings. Masthay is an excellent punter and Brett Goode a flawless snapper. Meanwhile, the top nine tacklers are back, led by Jarrett Bush, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore and Ryan Taylor.

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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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