The Green Bay Packers are set to open training camp later this month. This is the next in a series of articles previewing the Packers position by position, analyzing the talent on the roster and discussing key questions that are facing the Packers as they begin preparation for the 2023 season. Today we examine the safeties. For our look at the quarterbacks, click here, click here for the defensive line, here for running backs, here for inside linebackers, here for tight ends, here for edge rushers, the offensive line can be found here and the safeties here. We will examine another position each day until the start of training camp.
Packers Special Teams
The Auburn alum has a strong leg but needs to be more consistent than he was late in college. A knee injury forced him to kick with a brace last year which certainly hampered his effectiveness. Now he is brace free.
Carlson also needs to prove he can kick in the cold and windy weather in Green Bay late in the season. His brother, Daniel, worked with special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia with the Raiders.
Presently, Carlson does not have anybody competing with him for the kicking job on the roster.
Pat O’Donnell returns for his second season with the Packers. Bisaccia requested that the Packers sign him last offseason to add consistency to the punting game and to improve the holding for extra points and kickoffs.
The former Bears punter averaged a healthy 44.5-yards per punt and placed 24 kicks inside the 20 while recording just one touchback. He provided the team with consistency when holding for PATs and field goals. He did have two punts blocked although the punt protection was also largely responsible for that.
O’Donnell looks to return for his 10th season in the NFL and his second with the Pack.
Daniel Whelan signed with the Packers in May. He spent time with the Saints in 2022 but did not make the team. The Cal-Davis alum earned All-XFL honors punting for the DC Defenders this spring which brought him to the attention of the Packers.
Whelan has a strong and accurate leg but faces an uphill challenge to unseat O’Donnell. He made a good first impression during OTAs and minicamp and could find a job elsewhere if he doesn’t earn a spot on the Packers roster.
Keisean Nixon didn’t start the season as the team’s kick returner and didn’t take over the job full-time until Week 8, but he still finished with a league-best 1,009 yards and earned Pro Bowl honors.
Nixon approaches the kick return job without fear and is a threat to break a long one any time he touches the ball. He needs to prove last season was no fluke.
The Packers will be counting on Nixon to provide them with good field position even more this season with so many inexperienced players at the offensive skill positions.
Second-round pick Jayden Reed will compete with Nixon for the punt return job. In college, the former Michigan State star averaged 15.3-yards per punt return and ran back three of them for scores.
If Reed wins the job, it will take some pressure off Nixon and give Reed a greater chance to contribute as a rookie. Reed needs a strong preseason to lock down the job.
As of now, the coaching staff expects Nixon to be the number one kick returner and the slot corner. He also wants to be part of some trick plays on offense, but we’ll see if that ends up happening.
Nixon is not a natural punt returner, but he did run back 11 punts last season for a 12.7-yard average.
While Reed is the favorite to win the punt return job, don’t count Nixon out just yet.
Matt Orzech has three years’ experience as a long snapper in the NFL, two with the Rams and one with Jacksonville. The Azusa Pacific product is the favorite to win the job this year with the Packers.
Orzech won a Super Bowl ring with the Rams in 2021 and has been a consistent performer in his three years in the league.
The Packers signed Broughton Hatcher to a contract after he performed well at a tryout at rookie minicamp. The Old Dominion alum is hoping to win the long snapper job and establish himself in the NFL.
In college, Hatcher snapped for field goals, punts, and extra points so he has experience at the position.
Three Key Questions
Packers special teams Question Number 1: Is Anders Carlson Ready?
Mason Crosby will be a Packers Hall of Famer and he’s been the team’s kicker since 2007. Crosby is the team’s all-time leading scorer by a wide margin and knows the ins and outs of kicking at Lambeau Field in the cold.
Bisaccia is confident Carlson is ready to take over the job, but he has a lot to prove. If he falters, the Packers could always re-sign Crosby for one more season unless another team signs him first.
Question Number 2: Who wins the punt return job?
Nixon is being asked to do a lot this year and the Packers may want to give the punt return job to another player. Reed would be the favorite, but he is not the only player on the roster with punt returning experience in college.
Rest assured, Nixon won’t give up the job without a fight, but the Packers may be better off going with Reed to prevent Nixon from being overworked.
Packers special teams Question 3: Can Bisaccia continue to improve the unit?
The Packers special teams units weren’t near the bottom of the league last season, but they still have a way to go to be elite. The Packers still had two punts blocked last season, they allowed 23.2-yards per kick return and 9.5-yards per punt return.
Bisaccia started the special teams unit’s turnaround last year, but he needs to continue to make them more consistent and better this season when the team will need to win the field position battle more than ever.
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