The Green Bay Packers special teams has ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL for too long now. This offseason, GM Brian Gutekunst aimed to change that. He hired former Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia to be the team’s new special teams coordinator and gave him some say in the players he wanted to sign to improve his moribund unit. The result was a new punter, a new long snapper and the signing and drafting of numerous players to fortify the special teams in 2022.
The Packers have been through two weeks of training camp already and are about to start their three-game preseason schedule, but the special teams unit still has more questions than answers. Here is a look at where we stand on special teams just before the Packers face the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener:
Incumbent Mason Crosby remains on the PUP list after undergoing a procedure to clean up his knee. The Packers are hoping the veteran can return in time to start the regular season next month.
Crosby is trying to return to form after struggling in 2021. He missed nine field goals and two extra points during an inconsistent regular season that saw him have repeated issues with his holder and long snapper.
In Crosby’s absence, the Packers have turned to Gabe Brkic. Unfortunately, Brkic has not been consistent in training camp. The Packers did work out several kickers during the past week but have yet to sign any of them so right now, Brkic remains the only kicker on the roster and he will handle the kicking chores against San Francisco.
Pat O’Donnell is the only punter in camp and he will also do the holding on extra points and field goals. In fact, his ability as a holder and his consistency as a punter are two major reasons Bisaccia wanted to sign O’Donnell.
The 31-year-old former Chicago Bears punter is looking to make his mark in his first season with Green Bay.
The Packers released last year’s long snapper, Steven Wirtel earlier this week. Wirtel took over the job at midseason after the Pack released Hunter Bradley.
That leaves Jack Coco as the only long snapper on the roster. Coco has also struggled with consistency throughout training camp and the Packers worked out two more long snappers this week.
This position has given the team problems in recent seasons and the Packers need to make it a non-issue by the time the season gets underway.
Punt and Kick Returns:
Amari Rodgers was the team’s primary punt returner a year ago. He struggled to field the ball cleanly early in the season and was often indecisive after he caught the ball. He did improve in both areas late in the year. Rodgers also returned kicks after Kylin Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury midway through the year although he was average at best in that department.
Rodgers will have competition as a return specialist and that should be something to watch in the three preseason games.
Players who have been getting reps at either punt or kickoff returner include rookie receiver Romeo Doubs who was a great punt returner in college, Rico Gafford who is presently listed as the team’s top kick returner on the “unofficial” depth chart, recently signed receiver Ishmael Hyman and undrafted rookie Danny Davis out of Wisconsin.
Field position will be important for the Packers and getting reliable return specialists would help the team greatly in that regard.
The Packers also need to find gunners on punt and kick returns and to finalize their coverage and blocking units on kicks and punts before the regular season starts.
Thus far in training camp, Bisaccia has brought experience, organization and enthusiasm to the special teams units. But now, it’s time for the team to show results on the field. Tonight’s preseason game in San Francisco is the first step the team can take to showing improvement. There are jobs to be won and improvements to be made.
If Bisaccia can get the Packers special teams units towards the middle of the league, he will have done an excellent job in his first season with the club. The road starts tonight.
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