Taking Stock on league's worst special teams

A lot has been written and said about the main characters on the Packers' coaching staff: Head coach Mike McCarthy, offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. Not much has been written or said about Mike Stock, the new special-teams coordinator. So, let me be the one to say it. Good luck, Mr. Stock. You'll need it.

Stock takes over the worst special teams in the league. Every year, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News crunches the numbers in 22 special-teams categories. If a team ranks first in the league, it receives one point in that category. The worst team receives 32 points. In the 22 areas examined by Gosselin, the Packers scored 442.5 points, or an average of 20.11. That means, on average, the Packers rank 20th in every statistical category.

Not good.

So good luck changing it.

Jagodzinski and Sanders have it relatively easy. At least they know who many of their key players will be. They can start incorporating their schemes throughout the off-season.

Not so for a special-teams coach, who often is left with the roster's leftovers. Certainly, he can do some teaching during the minicamps and training camp, but it won't be until deep in the preseason before he can finally target a core group to get everything in place.

So Stock has his work cut out for him to reverse:

— A No. 32 ranking in kickoff returns (18.9 yards).

— A No. 32 ranking in net punting (33.5 yards).

— A No. 32 ranking in inside-the-20 punting (11).

— A dysfunctional field-goal unit, that might need a new kicker if Ryan Longwell departs.

The biggest task — and you didn't need those league-worst ratings to figure this out — is to figure out what to do with B.J. Sander. Sander's leg appears woefully weak, and that problem becomes more pronounced once the weather turns cold and the wind picks up. The Packers have signed two free agents, including the Canadian Football League's leader, Jon Ryan, who averaged 50.6 yards per punt last season. So either Sander rises to the challenge or his NFL career will be over.

Another big task is to breathe life into the return games. The returners lack sizzle, but too often, they didn't have a chance because of porous blocking. While Antonio Chatman returned a punt for a touchdown, that was more of an even-a-blind-squirrel-finds-an-acorn sort of thing. Stock and McCarthy will have to decide what they'd rather have: the security of Chatman's sticky hands or the potential for more big plays. Or do the Packers use a draft pick on a player who can provide both? Either way, Stock must find a way to get his guys to block without committing a penalty.

Special teams are an area that can't be ignored. That's especially true when you're a Packers team with mediocre offenses and defenses. If you can't consistently drive 80 yards for a touchdown — as the Packers were forced to do almost all of last season — then you have to play a field-position game.

That was the Bears' recipe for success last year. In an exchange of punts, if you are picking up 5 or 10 yards each time, eventually either your offense will manufacture a field goal or a touchdown on a short field, or the backed-up opposition will make a huge mistake for gift-wrapped points.

And perhaps no single play is more important in a game than the kickoff return. The Buffalo Bills led the league at 26.6 yards per return. That's about 8 yards more than the Packers, and that means the offense essentially needs one less first down to move into scoring position or score a touchdown.

You don't need the best special teams in the world to win football games. But it would be helpful if the offense could step on the field without needing binoculars to see the end zone.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com

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