Training camp preview: Special teams

A quick look at the players who will battle for playing time during training camp

The Packers soared from 32nd and last place to seventh in the Dallas Morning News' annual end-of-season special-teams rankings, which factor 22 categories. Seven of the eight division champions finished in the top 20 in writer Rick Gosselin's rankings, showing the importance of the kicking units.

Here's a quick look at the Packers' special teams heading into training camp. For a more in-depth breakdown, check out the two stories available only to Packer Report subscribers.

Kicker: Mason Crosby. Second-year pro goes into training camp without a challenger. He led the NFL in scoring last season, even though he made less than 80 percent of his field goals.

Punter: Jon Ryan vs. Ken DeBauche. DeBauche will be a feel-good story in training camp because of his local ties, but he faces an uphill climb to dethrone Ryan, who boasts the best average in team history.

Long snapper: Thomas Gafford vs. J.J. Jansen. Neither have snapped in a regular-season game.

Punt returner: The Packers can't afford a repeat of last year, when Charles Woodson was injured returning a punt and missed the Dallas showdown. If he can stay healthy for a change, this is Will Blackmon's job to lose. If not, watch out for rookie Jordy Nelson, who returned three punts in five chances for TDs last year at Kansas State.

Kickoff returners: The Packers finished just 22nd last season in kickoff returns, so this is an area they want to upgrade, especially with a premium on field position with young Aaron Rodgers likely taking over for Brett Favre. Tramon Williams and Nelson likely will get the first crack at being the No. 1 pair, but Blackmon, Shaun Bodiford and rookie Brett Swain will get chances.

Bill Huber writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at

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