As the final part of this ongoing series is reached, the facet of special teams is the final topic to be covered for the Green Bay Packers. Differing from all previous articles in a sense that this is a group breakdown and not a positional breakdown like the rest of the previous articles, this will help provide some clarity into what to expect from the third part of what can make Green Bay successful.
By controlling field position through the punting game, making the needed kicks and providing stellar coverage on any punts and kickoffs, the Packers need to invest as much time into special teams as offense and defense. Having first-year special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga at the helm under head coach Matt LaFleur, the pressure will be on the eight-year coaching veteran, especially with the struggles that this team dealt with under previous ST coordinator Ron Zook, the former University of Illinois head coach.
With roster cutdowns having occurred, it was sorted out that incumbent kicker Mason Crosby, who has been on this team for now 13 seasons, will continue as the team’s kicker, as training camp competition Sam Ficken was released. While the former Rams kicker made it a close competition throughout camp, it was hard to see him sending Crosby packing from the only team that he has known during his NFL career.
Can Mason Crosby back up management’s decision in keeping him as their kicker?
Throughout camp, the narrative seemed to always point at Crosby retaining his job here in Titletown, based on his longevity with the team and the trust that they have in Crosby to get the job done. While having a few not so good seasons can ultimately leave a kicker jobless, Crosby has been good at keeping those to a minimum, and while he can be looked at as a bit of a scapegoat for the team’s 2018 performance, that kind of disdain should not hold any merit about the type of team-first player that Crosby is.
In terms of can he live up to seeing another day as a Cheesehead, Crosby’s career stats point to another season of progression in terms of accuracy. While chastised for his 2018 performance, both his field goal and his extra-point accuracy were improvements over his 2017 season, so any sort of improvements in that regard can constitute a successful move.
Hopefully, the team is able to punch it in when in the red zone more than in 2018, limiting the number of attempts Crosby has to take. If Crosby is on the field less, then that means the team is scoring touchdowns more than settling for field goals, a move that can help focus Crosby and help him become more accurate for this team.
Can the preseason performance that JK Scott put together translate into the regular season?
When drafted last year, punter JK Scott had a ton of high-water goals that fans and management wanted him to reach. With Scott beating out incumbent Pro Bowl alternate Justin Vogel, the fifth-round selection from the University of Alabama was expected to revitalize dusty special teams expectations.
For any specialist who is deemed special enough to warrant being drafted, the expectations are already high. Scott’s 2018 season resulted in a ton of ups and downs, some resulting in people calling for a change at punter.
A 44.7 average, nine touchbacks and only 19 punts being downed inside the opponent’s twenty-yard line seem rough on the surface of the whole scheme of things. In order to break out of the low expectations put on Scott, he needed to have a solid training camp and preseason to make sure he leaves 2018 in the dust.
And that he has.
Over the course of 22 preseason punts, Scott averaged 48.0 yards per kick, had a long of 66 yards, had nine downed inside the 20 and only allowed 100 return yards on 12 punts. Those numbers alone result in much better play from the second-year pro, something that should excite fans as much as special teams can.
Will Trevor Davis hold down the returner role the entire season?
The role of punt and kick returner on this team seems to consistently be a revolving door, one that almost seems to be addressed until an injury or an inconsistent play ruins that streak. With six different players having returned punts and six different players having returned kicks last season, the amount of turnover needs to be put to bed this season.
Players like Randall Cobb, Bashaud Breeland, and J’Mon Moore are gone, taking with them a combined seven punt returns and 12 kick returns, a decent number that needs to be replaced. With Trevor Davis still in the fold, the gadget-play specialist will also need to make more of a name for himself on special teams as the core returner.
Throughout camp, players like Jaire Alexander, Darrius Shepherd, and even Aaron Jones have been reported to have taken snaps at return man, but for both Alexander and Jones, their roles in their own units may be a bit too large to also play special teams.
Davis has shown some glimpses every preseason he has been with the Packers for what kind of special teams force he can be, presenting credible evidence that he can be the team’s field flipper when needed the most. Provided injuries do not slow him down, Davis is a guy to watch to potentially be ranked in the top three of returners in the NFC this season.
While expecting so much out of Davis seems like a reach, the talent is there. The former Cal Bear has the speed, field vision and slipperiness that you look for in a return man, he just needs to put it all together. If the team performs well this season, some credit has to be given to Davis, as his role of flipping the field position cannot go unnoticed.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23