Special teams have been a problem area for the Green Bay Packers for a long time now. Last season, the return game struggled, punt and kick return units struggled and the team was inconsistent when trying to kick field goals.
The playoff loss the 49ers was a clear illustration of the problems the team had on special teams all season. On the final play of the first half, the Packers had a field goal blocked that would have put the team ahead 10-0 at the break and changed the dynamic of the game.
Then, with the Packers leading 10-3 with less than five minutes left in the game, the 49ers blocked a punt which was returned for a touchdown to tie the game 10-10.
On the final play of the game, the 49ers kicked the winning field goal while the Packers had only 10 players on the field to try to block the kick.
Clearly, special teams played a critical role in the team’s loss and their unexpected elimination from the playoffs.
During the offseason, the Packers fired special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton and hired Rich Bisaccia, a man with 20 seasons of experience as a special teams coach. He spent last season as the Raiders interim head coach after Jon Gruden stepped down and led the Raiders to a playoff berth.
Bisaccia met with the media for the first time since joining the Packers and helped spell out how he plans to improve the Packers moribund special teams unit.
“We’re going to try to put a unit together that cares about each other, that knows what to do, completes with relentless effort and improves every day,” Bisaccia said. “We have a one-play mentality. We don’t get three downs to get it right. We have one play to make a difference, and then they have to understand the significance and the criticalness of that particular play, and I think if we can get that across, we’ll play better.”
Even though Bisaccia has yet to even run a drill in OTAs let alone coached a game, his influence on the team has already been felt. He apparently has some input into the signing of players who can help on special teams.
The Packers signed former Raiders backup cornerback and special teams standout Keisean Nixon. Green Bay also brought in former Bears punter Pat O’Donnell to replace Corey Bojorquez who had issues with consistency when it came to holding for field goals and extra points and slumped late in the season when it came to his punting. Bisaccia has been high on O’Donnell for years and tried to bring him to the Raiders when he was hired in Oakland four years ago. Now, he has brought O’Donnell to the Packers.
“He’s been a proven player, not only in the league but in this division,” Bisaccia explained. “He’s played real well in bad weather, he’s played outside his entire career, he’s a tremendous athlete. [He’s a] Wonderful holder and his job at holder is to make everybody right. He’s got to make the snapper right, he’s got to make the kicker right, and he’s done that for a long time.”
The Packers also have three kickers on their roster now with incumbent Mason Crosby returning along with JJ Molson who spent the last few years on the Packers practice squad and Dominik Eberle who was also signed because he has worked with Bisaccia in the past.
Bisaccia indicated he only expects two kickers to be on the roster when training camp gets under way in July so it is likely either Molson or Eberle will be gone after OTAs.
As far as punt coverage teams were concerned, Bisaccia said he was looking for “six core guys” to play on that unit and solidify it. The Packers allowed 12.8-yards per punt return last season, nearly five yards per return more than they averaged themselves. They also gave up a touchdown on a punt return.
The Packers also need to improve their return game. Amari Rodgers struggled to field the ball and was often indecisive on punt returns until late in the season. Kylin Hill started as the kick returner before being lost for the season with a knee injury. No kick returner established themselves as a dangerous weapon for the Packers.
Overall, Bisaccia brings enthusiasm, experience and expertise to the table in the Packers long-time quest to improve their special teams units.
Furthermore, the new coach won over the room when he told reporters why he accepted the job in Green Bay. “Why come here to the Green Bay Packers? Yeah, it’s the Green Bay Packers. For me personally, [it’s] the opportunity to be at one of the marquee National Football League teams that sets a standard, that has an expectation to play to that standard every day, along with my excitement and my new energy after meeting and visiting with coach LaFleur. What he’s done here in a short period of time is unprecedented. He’s all football.”
Well, the pleasantries are over now for Rich Bisaccia. It’s time to get to work. If he can get the Packers special teams to the middle of the league statistically in his first year, he will have done his job well.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
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