Packers coach Mike McCarthy clearly has a lot of faith in Shawn Slocum.
Green Bay's special teams ranked 26th in the league last season, according to the Dallas Morning News' annual rankings. Topping the list of sins were the the NFL's last-ranked kickoff return and most-penalized special teams, as well as kickoff-coverage, field goal and punting units that fell in the bottom third of the league.
Enter Slocum, the son of former Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum and the assistant to Mike Stock the previous three seasons. It will be up to Slocum to improve the special teams through scheme and coaching. The Packers didn't sign an NFL-tested punter, didn't add a challenger to kicker Mason Crosby and didn't add a proven kickoff returner.
We talked to Slocum on Thursday.
How are things going as the guy in charge?
Good. I'm really enjoying it.
You're working with three punters. That's an unusually high number, isn't it?
Well, it is, but that's a very important part of our team right now that we've got to, No. 1, improve over last year's performance. So, we've got three guys. As long as we have the luxury from a roster standpoint to carry those three guys, that time gives us the ability and the time to evaluate them.
How long can you afford to keep three?
That's going to be based on how the 80-man roster develops with the young guys we've acquired and those guys that we signed to contracts. Once we start signing the (draft picks), I think that will affect the luxury of having three punters. I think at some point, we're going to have to make a decision to move forward. Whether that's going with two or going with one, that will be based on the 80-man roster.
You return Jeremy Kapinos, whose numbers weren't that great in his four games but he punted in some horrendous weather.
I thought he did an impressive job of coming in here off the street the last four games of the year in December in Green Bay, I thought he managed the games well. He's a good technician, a smart guy and a very good competitor.
Durant had an outstanding college career, was drafted and had a chance to play for six games at Washington but had an in issue health-wise and it didn't work out for him. We had the opportunity to acquire him and he's got some good qualities. Again, he's right there in the mix. Adam, on the other hand, is two years out of (the University of) Pittsburgh. He spent those two years working to try to get a job in the NFL. He's improved and improved and improved over the course of that time. He's got a big leg. It's going to be fun to go through these OTAs and see how this thing plays out.
There's been a lot of talk about the 3-4 defense. Having three extra linebackers on the roster should help the special teams, too, right?
Yeah, I really like the way our personnel looks right now as we shape this thing together. We have a lot of speed, and I think the 3-4's very conducive to playing good special teams.
Do you have a leader? In 2007 and 2008, you had Tracy White and Jason Hunter, but neither of them are here anymore.
Well, we've got a number of guys and that's one of the aspects of this time of the year is the leadership of the team starts to rise to the top. There are a few guys that have played quite a bit of special teams for us that I look forward to being leaders. Guys like Jarrett Bush, guys like Will Blackmon, guys like Desmond Bishop have been very good players for us. Both of our fullbacks (Korey Hall and John Kuhn) have been solid special teams players for us, and some of the young guys that have been on the team for a year or two are starting to see how they can make their mark on special teams. I think we have a great environment right now for the leadership to develop.
Kickoff return was a real sore point last year. Do you have a kickoff returner?
I'll tell you, kickoff return is productive when 11 guys are doing their job. I think we've got very talented returners here. We've got guys who can be impactful, but it takes 11 guys. One of the things we've got to emphasize is our technique in blocking, and we're going to do that and we should see an improvement in that area as a result.
Do you like this group and do you think they're capable of turning things around after last year?
I like the group. This is the NFL. We have to play well. We have to play well right now. That's the mentality. That's kind of our motive right now is to have a sense of urgency and create an air of accountability among all of us.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.