Figuring better players will mean better results, coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum are using more established players on the kicking units in order to swing field position in Green Bay’s direction.
“When you go back to the evaluation of postseason, we need to get back to giving special teams all the resources to be successful,” McCarthy said on Tuesday, two days before the season-opening matchup at Seattle. “We’ve played younger players, we’ve had injuries, we’ve had things happen in the past. Our veterans are back playing on special teams.”
Of Green Bay’s rookie class, only first-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix figures to be a staple on any of the four core units (kickoff and kickoff return, punt and punt return). While rookie Jeff Janis had a big kickoff return in the preseason finale and fielded the ball cleanly on punts in the preseason, McCarthy and Slocum are going with DuJuan Harris as the kickoff returner and choosing between Hyde and Randall Cobb on punt returns. Established players like Ryan Taylor, Jamari Lattimore, Sean Richardson and Jarrett Bush will be core players.
On the bright side, Green Bay’s punt return team, which was sparked by Hyde, led the league last season in opponent net average. On the other hand, the punt unit ranked 21st in net average and the kickoff team finished at the bottom in opponent average starting field position.
Fixing the kickoff unit was a major emphasis for Slocum throughout training camp, and the early results in the preseason were encouraging. The No. 1 kickoff unit from training camp remained almost intact, with only Chris Banjo failing to secure a roster spot. It was a similar story for the punt unit, with the only player on the No. 1 unit at the end of training camp failing to win a roster spot being Nate Palmer, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the preseason finale.
“It helps a lot when guys line up game after game and play next to one another because they learn how to use each other,” Slocum said. “When you have change, you have newness that sometimes can lead to problems. We’ve dealt with some of that (in past seasons).”
The Packers won’t be using many of their starters on special teams but they won’t be using bottom-of-the-depth chart guys, either.
“I think the best thing to do, regardless of whether a guy is starting or not starting, you have to make the decision of who’s going to play on your team that’s going to be the most productive taking all things into consideration,” Slocum said. “If a guy’s playing 80 plays on defense, he’s probably not going to be as productive as a guy that’s playing 30. Now, he may be a ‘starter’ in your nickel or something like that, but yet he’s covering punts and kickoffs, now he’s getting his 50 plays. We consider all those things. So, there’s no concrete formula on how to do it, it’s just what fits our team the best and how strategically we want to go about it.”
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