North breakdown: Special teams

Our NFC North insiders go in depth to examine the special teams of the Packers and their rivals.

Green Bay Packers

PK Mason Crosby, P Jeremy Kapinos, P Durant Brooks, LS Brett Goode, PR/KR Will Blackmon.

The most unsettled position for frontline jobs is at punter, where new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum likely will take the entire preseason to let Kapinos and Brooks kick it out. There wasn't a front-runner in the offseason, but Kapinos made a good case when he came in for the team's final four games last season. In the face of winter elements, he placed seven kicks inside the 20 and had decent averages of 39.2 gross yards and 34.5 net yards. Brooks is looking for redemption after bombing out last year as a drafted rookie (sixth round) with the Washington Redskins, who cut him after six games. The strong-legged Crosby won't have competition in camp, but the third-year kicker is under the gun to improve his field-goal accuracy. The subpar percentages were at 79.5 and 79.4 the first two years, and the ambitious target is 90 percent this season. Goode earned high marks in his first year as a long snapper. Blackmon is a breakaway threat on returns — he took back two punts for touchdowns last season — but he averaged a meager 21 yards on kickoffs.

Chicago Bears

PK Robbie Gould, P Brad Maynard, KR Danieal Manning, PR Devin Hester, LS Patrick Mannelly.

Gould keeps getting better and better. He is 110-for-128 lifetime (85.9 percent), the third-most-accurate kicker in NFL history among those with 100 or more field goals, even though his home games are played outdoors in weather that is often inclement. He doesn't have the greatest range in the league and won't try many from 50 yards. Maynard remains an above average directional punter, and his 40 kicks (out of 96) inside the 20-yard line last year were the second most in a season in NFL history. Manning led the NFL in kickoff returns with a 29.7-yard average after taking the job from Hester, whose effectiveness as a return specialist has been inversely related to his development as a wide receiver. Hester remains the punt returner, for now, even though he was a major disappointment last year in that area, too. For the past 11 years, Mannelly has been so consistent that he rarely gets noticed, and he shows no signs of diminished ability.

Detroit Lions

K Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, LS Don Muhlbach.

Hanson is still going strong entering his 19th season in Detroit. He missed only one field goal last season, and that was blocked. He set a league record by hitting 8-of-8 from 50 yards and beyond. Harris and Muhlbach are solid, unheralded performers. The big competition will be in the return game. The previous regime was conservative, more concerned about avoiding penalties than gaining yards. The new regime is aggressive. Phillip Buchanon and Dennis Northcutt are among the potential punt returners. Aveion Cason, rooke running back Aaron Brown and rookie receiver Derrick Williams are among the potential kick returners.

Minnesota Vikings

K Ryan Longwell, P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler, KR Percy Harvin, PR Harvin. Backups: K Taylor Mehlhaff, KR Aundrae Allison, KR Glenn Holt, PR Aundrae Allison.

The Vikings' kicking and punting game is in good hands. Longwell was voted the Vikings special teams MVP last season after making 29-of-34 field-goal attempts, including six of six from 50-plus yards, and 40 of 40 extra-point tries. Kluwe ranked fourth in the league with a gross punting average of 47.6 yards, setting a Vikings season record previously held by Bobby Walden in 1964 at 46.4 yards. Loeffler is one of the NFL's top long snappers. Harvin did not serve as a return man at Florida but is expected to get the chance in Minnesota because of his explosiveness. The Vikings were lacking in this area last season. This might make it difficult for Holt to make the roster given that he was signed in large part because of his ability to return kicks. The Vikings also gave up an NFL-record seven touchdown returns on special teams, including four on punt returns.

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