More and more special

Off-season effort to revamp special teams already paying dividends

The Green Bay Packers were ranked 32nd in special teams in 2006 by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News in a criteria based on 22 kicking-game categories. That was the second straight year the Packers were ranked 32nd. Oh, by the way, there are 32 teams in the NFL. I guess that got he attention of General Manager Ted Thompson.

Thompson utilized the 2007 NFL draft by helping out the Packers special teams. Thompson selected players that could not only play a position, but also players that did excel or could excel on special teams. Players like that included WR James Jones, S Aaron Rouse, FB Korey Hall, Desmond Bishop and DeShawn Wynn.

He also selected a kicker, Mason Crosby, in the 6th round to push incumbent kicker Dave Rayner. Crosby won the kicking job, and his selection came through as he kicked a game winning field goal with just seconds remaining against the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2007 season opener. That was Crosby's third field goal of the game, one of which was 53 yards.

Hall and Bishop have been key ingredients in the team's kick and punt coverage teams. Other players that have made strong impacts on the coverage teams are LB Tracy White, DB Jarrett Bush, DB Charlie Peprah and FB John Kuhn. Bush and Peprah were waiver pick ups in 2006 and Kuhn was a waiver pick up in 2007.

The coverage teams now have three turnovers in two games, including the opening touchdown of 2007 against the Eagles recovering a fumbled punt. Another fumbled punt led to Crosby's game winner over the Eagles. A fumbled kickoff led to a touchdown against the Giants in Week Two.

Another player that has really turned things around for Green Bay is DB Tramon Williams with his kick returning abilities. Williams is now 2nd in the NFC with a 28.0 yard average returning kick offs. That includes a 42 yard effort against the Giants. Williams has the attention of head coach Mike McCarthy as well.

"I'm excited about Tramon," said McCarthy. "You have DeShawn (Wynn) back there too, that's a nice compliment. When Will Blackmon is ready, we'll also get him back there. Flexibility is important, you never have enough depth, and I'm just excited with what Tramon has done with his opportunities."

Special teams coordinator Mike Stock also likes what Williams has done, although he believes Williams has gotten better blocking than some have had in the past. "That helps a little bit when you are blocking better, yeah," said Stock. We're doing some things that enable him make his own cuts. We didn't have any speed last year where we could do those things."

Right now the Packers have sure handed CB Charles Woodson returning punts until Blackmon can field punts without his thumb cast. Williams can also return punts. Woodson is ranked 11th in the NFC right now with a 5.3 yard average in returns. The Packers would like more yardage there, but are happy that Woodson almost never fumbles.

The special teams is almost clicking on all cylinders, but P Jon Ryan is struggling, even with his new two step punting delivery. Ryan is only averaging 39.4 yards per punt, although he has a 38.0 net average. The Packers are only allowing 2 yards per punt return. Ryan looked much better in training camp and the Packers feel that he will start hitting some boomers.

Even though there have been only 2 games thus far in the 2007 season, the Packers are almost assured that they won't finish 32nd this year in special team stats. One can say, that it was because of the special teams that the Packers beat the Eagles. The Packers also turned things around in the 2nd half against the Giants with Williams 42 yard kick return that set up a Packer touchdown and the lead. A lead the Packers never relinquished.

Yes, in 2007 the special teams effort for the Packers has been SPECIAL. In 1996, the Packers won the Super Bowl. The Packers were great on offense, defense AND special teams. Although it's early, the Packers look pretty good on defense and special teams. If the Packers can find a ground game offensively, then who knows how 2007 will turn out? But right now, Ted Thompson's eye for special team talent has paid off.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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