3 Special Teams Concerns

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While Packer Nation is excited about the prospect of an offense that looks locked and loaded, and (though there are question marks) a defense that is getting healthy and added some prime rookie recruits, there are still several questions about the special teams. 

1. Who will the punter be?

With Jacob Schum on I.R., the Packers have the ability to bring him back in week 8. But if that happens, it would signal a major mis-step in management of the situation in the first place. For now, the job is Justin Vogel’s to lose, but we haven’t seen him in live action with contact yet. Big question mark. There is a big difference between thumping 50 yarders in the middle of an empty field and getting the correct ball placement with gunners crossing your face in an attempt to block your punt. This big question mark will loom all the way through training camp, the pre-season, and into the early part of the regular season. The Packers could bring in some competition and that would likely be a good thing, but for now it seems they are content to get as good a look at Vogel as they can while keeping Schum (depending on how bad his back is) waiting in the wings.

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The question of who the punter will be has bigger ramifications than just field position or the prospect of a blocked punt. Vogel right now looks to be the holder for field goals, a critical part of the Packers offense (consider the divisional game against the Cowboys). With a second new holder in as many years, Mason Crosby’s accuracy may stand in the balance. We had at least one instance of a less-than-perfect hold by Schum last year, as discussed by Ron Zook the special teams coach. We may have a second year in a row in which learning has to take place on the field during the season…not the ideal situation.

With Schum on I.R. and having cleared waivers, the Packers could bring him back in week 8 if the Vogel experiment fails…but is that really what Packer Nation wants? By then, with this year’s schedule, we could be 4-4 and once again having to run the table to secure a playoff spot.

2. Who will the long-snapper be?

Another critical element to the punting and field goal units is the long-snapper. The long-snapper has a pivotal role in both the punting and field goal kicking aspect of the game. Brett Goode is still a free agent but the Packers seem to be intent on going with Derek Hart after releasing Taybor Pepper earlier this Spring. This creates a new dynamic not only for the punting game but also for the field goal unit. I am concerned that the “money” accuracy of Mason Crosby may be in jeopardy. The best part about thinning the competition now is that the punter and long-snapper get the maximum reps throughout training camp and the pre-season.

Once again, the Packers have a prospect and an insurance policy. As with Schum…Goode could be brought back if it becomes necessary but it looks like the Packers are moving on. This becomes a legitimate question mark going into 2017.

3. Who will return punts?

The Packers can find a kick returner…kick returners rarely return in the NFL nowadays anyway. While the NFL wants to eliminate the return game from kickoffs…they can’t do the same thing in the punt game. So punt returns will continue while kick returns fade and those teams that can field a legitimate threat in the punt return game will have a significant advantage. With the exit of Micah Hyde, the Packers effectively have no punt returner. Yes, Trevor Davis gave it a shot last season and yes, he will have another chance this year. But Davis showed little as a threat in the return game and it seems likely that any of the incumbent rookie running backs could do just as well. The punt return game is underappreciated in its ability to change momentum. When the Packers defense forces a punt…a good return gives the offense a boost as well. A quick score ensues because of the field position battle and the defense goes back on the field (likely at the 25) with confidence. The Packers did not nothing to improve the punt return game this off-season. So the answer has to lie in the “guys we got”. I don’t see much potential here…just question marks. Hopefully someone will emerge who can be as good as Hyde was but I haven’t seen anything out of Davis that makes me think he is the guy. He may become so by default, however.

So there are three questions that I have going forward. The Packers offense took a step forward and the defense has a lot of potential but as far as special teams…there are a lot of questions. Ron Zook has shown little to bring out the best in the players he has and our special teams have been up and down in recent years. Broken coverage on a punt return can hurt our defense. A great punt return after a successful defensive stand can help our offense. Which scenario will play out for Packer Nation? Time will tell.

Go Pack!

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Jeffery Hayes

Jeffery Hayes is a contributor to www.greenbaypackernation.com. Jeff was born and raised in Kenosha Wisconsin Currently resides in Brooklyn Wisconsin. Been a Packer fan since the 70's

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