Shanks For Nothing

An impressive performance from the young punters notwithstanding, the Packers have continued their head-scratching approach to special teams. Of the 57 players at the rookie camp, none are kickers, and neither of the punters have even kicked in the preseason.

When the Packers ran through a kickoff return drill during Day 1 of their rookie orientation camp on Friday, the folly of the team's kicking situation was evident in a "chook" rather than a "thud."

Talented but erratic kicker Mason Crosby is coming off of the worst season of his career. But his challenger ... well, there was no challenger to be found inside the Don Hutson Center. The Packers didn't draft a kicker. They didn't sign a rookie free agent. They didn't even bother to bring one to the camp on a tryout basis.

Thus, the kickoffs were fired out of the JUGS machine with a "chook" rather than off a kicker's foot with a "thud."

As a rookie sixth-round pick in 2007, Crosby beat out Dave Rayner. Barring a roster addition in the next few months, Crosby will head into training camp without a challenger for the third consecutive year.

The constraints of the 80-man roster notwithstanding, the free pass makes no sense. After hitting 79.5 percent of his field goals as a rookie and 79.4 percent in 2008, Crosby slumped to 75.0 percent last season. Only six teams had a worse percentage.

By contrast, the middle-of-the-pack percentage was 83.9 percent. For a fitting comparison, the Bears' Robbie Gould has a career percentage of 85.9, and his seven combined misses over the last two seasons are better than Crosby's nine misses in 2009 alone. While Gould doesn't have Crosby's power, he's succeeded under much more challenging conditions, given Soldier Field's notorious wind and horrendous playing surface.

When it comes to general manager Ted Thompson's attention to the kicking units, at least he's consistent.

Consistent in ignoring them.

At this point, the Packers are going to head to training camp with two punters who haven't even kicked in a preseason game, much less the regular season or postseason. Tim Masthay, who kicked at Kentucky, and Australian Chris Bryan showed talent in banging punt after punt off the roof of the Don Hutson Center. So, there's at least promise, but they weren't facing a rush, either.

"I like the talent level," coach Mike McCarthy said after practice. "I think we definitely have crossed that hurdle is the way I view the punting position. There's definitely more talent with these two guys than there has been in the past, and that's definitely a big step in the right direction."

As a rookie, Masthay spent part of training camp last summer with the Colts but didn't even make it to the first preseason game. Unofficially, he hit eight straight off the roof, a sign of the hang time and consistency the Packers crave after Jeremy Kapinos' struggles last season. It was a good start in what could be a battle that rages deep into August.

"That's the thing with punting — you get very few reps to try and prove yourself," said Masthay, who doubled as a competent holder and even kicked off in college. "I'll be a little amped up. As punters, you look at these opportunities kind of like a game. You've got to really get prepared for it and take advantage of each rep, because you don't get many."

Not only does Bryan have a strong leg, but his powered-down, Aussie-style knuckleball should come in handy to pin opponents inside the 10-yard line.

Considering the Packers' comically bad punting over the last decade, there's some dark humor to how the Packers found Bryan. Or, perhaps better put, how Bryan found the Packers.

Bryan played Australian Rules Football for five years before joining fellow Aussie Nathan Chapman, whose own NFL dreams died when Mike Sherman infamously used a third-round pick on B.J. Sander in 2004. Bryan worked with Chapman for about two years before making a YouTube video that they sent to teams who needed a punter.

"I was funny," Bryan said with a laugh. "There were a lot of comments that we had the markers set out every 10 yards, and there were some questions like, 'Oh, are you sure all of those are 10 yards apart and not 9?' We were like, 'We're not going to pull the wool over your eyes.' If I can't do it, I can't do it. I'm not going to come over here and not be any good. There are always questions, but the proof was there with all of the coaches putting the clock on the video. It was all good."

Maybe everything will come together for Crosby and he'll live up to his Pro Bowl potential. Maybe Masthay or Bryan will forge lengthy careers with the Packers.

But for a team with championship aspirations, the Packers' continued negligence in this area makes Sherman's decision six years ago seem downright inspired.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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