How many kids do you think have re-enacted Kick or Punt returns in their backyards? Maybe in the school yard at recess? Probably not a staggering number. But you can count ten-year-old me in on that number. I had taken a break from pretending to be Antonio Freeman catching a deep bomb in the endzone or becoming Leroy Butler taking an Interception to the house. In those moments in 1997, I was Desmond Howard. After catching a ball I’d tossed end-over-end into the air from one end of the field I was playing on, I’d take off dodging fake defenders until I reached the other side. The mid-to-late-90s Green Bay Packers of course had a great Offense, and great Defense. But, for the Super Bowl XXXI Championship team, it was true that the Packers Special Teams wins Championships as well.
Last year, it could be debated that Special Teams cost us a Championship. I also debate that if not for some of the Special Team’s debacles in the Kansas City game, Jordan Love could possibly be 1-0 as an NFL starter. But I’m not here to dwell in the past. It’s time for the Rich Bisaccia era to mold us a squad that will be a strength, and not the weakness we’ve seen as of late.
When OTA’s started this week, probably my favorite comment from media in attendance was that Rich Bisaccia hadn’t stopped chirping, he was all energy. It was music to my ears. Outside of our 16-year Kicker, Mason Crosby, one-time pro-bowl gunner Jarrett Bush, and a good play here and there, the Packers Special Teams has never been a consistent threat each play. Not since the Desmond Howard times. Most commonly our Special Teams has been bad, or just, meh. Bisaccia might hopefully be the shot of adrenaline this team needs.
Head Coach Matt LaFleur had made the comment earlier this offseason, that Bisaccia “loves them tough, but he puts his arm around them as well.” I couldn’t help but think of all the many stories I’ve heard about Vince Lombardi. Jerry Kramer used to say that Lombardi would chew you out in one moment, but then he’d put his hand on your shoulder and build you up the next. I’ve always believed in this way of coaching as it insured you were held accountable, but it then taught you what to do with that accountability. It also shows that while coach might rip you apart on one mistake, if you improve, he’ll make sure you get credit. Who knows? Maybe some Lombardi-like tactics will be good luck. But the players have to buy into it first.
Who’s going to get it done?
We don’t have a depth chart yet. Heck, it’s just the first week of OTA’s. But there are already some guys, outside the Kickers, that could be contributors to Bisaccia’s unit. My first guess is newly signed CB Keisean Nixon. Nixon spent three seasons with the Raiders under Rich Bisaccia and logged around 700 Special Teams snaps. He also has experience as a returner. If Nixon shows any value whatsoever, he’ll likely be on this team in the Fall given his experience with the new coach. The next is a tie between Romeo Doubs and Amari Rodgers. Both have experience in Kick and Punt returns, and though Rodgers struggled a bit last year, a new coach to raise his confidence level could be just what the doctor ordered. Last is La’Darius Hamilton whose combination of size and speed hasn’t quite picked up on defense yet, but he could be an asset on kick and punt coverage.
If the 2022 Packers Special Teams unit turns into a strength, we could be watching the early stages of a Championship team in the making.
Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.