The Green Bay Packers’ new-and-hopefully-improved special teams are taking shape.
Last season, the Packers finished last in the Dallas Morning News’ annual rankings and next-to-last in the Packer Report rankings. That resulted in a housecleaning that included replacing Shawn Slocum with Ron Zook as coordinator.
Zook has put his spin on the special teams. That was apparent in a multitasking period at Monday’s practice. With the kickoff-return unit on the field, one JUGS machine fired end-over-end balls to the kickoff returners and the four blockers located in front of the returner. Another JUGS machine fired spirals to the punt returns. Kicker Mason Crosby booted one onside kick after another to the six-man front line.
“I think the biggest thing, particularly with the young guys, we talk about taking the drill to the play to the game,” Zook said before last week’s preseason game at New England. “And then when they get out there and things are going so fast — just an example, kickoff return, the front line getting back to where they’ve got to get to. You think, well, that’s not hard. But you get in the game and things are going and there’s a checklist they have to go through in their brain, and with the nerves and so forth. I told some of these older guys, when you’re with these young guys, you need to tell them, try to explain to them what they have to do. They’ve got to do the preparation now and don’t try to think about it when you get out there on the field because there’s a lot of things that can happen.”
It’s all potential at this point but the Packers appear poised for at least a decent rebound on special teams. Crosby is in a groove and punter Tim Masthay appears ready to bounce back after finishing 30th in net average last season. Explosive Micah Hyde is back returning punts and third-round pick Ty Montgomery should be an upgrade on kickoff returns over DuJuan Harris, who ranked next-to-last in average.
Based on Monday’s practice, when the Packers worked kickoff return, punt and punt return, and Thursday’s game, when the Packers last used their kickoff unit, here are the core players:
Four phases: Chris Banjo, Jayrone Elliott.
Three phases: Sean Richardson, Jeff Janis, Micah Hyde, Quinten Rollins.
Two phases: Carl Bradford, James Starks, Richard Rodgers, Nate Palmer, Jake Ryan.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.