Something had to change after the complete ineptitude that resulted in a one and done playoff run. The Packers special teams finished 2021 as the 32nd ranked unit across the league. The 49ers playoff game itself was a microcosm for the issues that plagued Green Bay throughout the year. A blocked kick, blocked punt returned for a TD, difficulties just getting 11 men on the field – it was all there. The unfortunate thing is that this is not unfamilar territory for the Packers. Since Matt LaFleur was hired, the Packers have finished the seasons with the 26th, 29th, and 32nd ranked special teams units. Change was promised at season’s end, and that has been backed up… so far.
The first domino to fall was probably the biggest one. Hiring beloved special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia was a huge get for the Packers, and one desparetely needed. So much so that they made him the highest paid special teams coordinator in the NFL. Bisaccia brings an accountability factor along with his fiery personality that has yielded solid units, totaling 20 years as a coordinator with stops in Tampa Bay, Dallas, and the Raiders.
GM Brian Gutekunst has also shown his dedication to improving the special teams. Gone are the Packers 4 top special teams players from a season ago. And decisions at the bottom of this year’s roster have favored those who can contribute on special teams. This includes the signings of both Dallin Leavitt and Keisean Nixon – who were both core special teamers for Bisaccia in Las Vegas. Add to that players like Tariq Carpenter, who struggled defensively in the preseason but got reps on many different special teams units. The Packers also claimed safety Rudy Ford on Wednesday, who had been a core special teamer in Jacksonville and Philadelphia.
On top of all of that, Mason Crosby is the only returning specialist. And the Packers have still had a carousel of kickers throughout the offseason. Crosby struggled a season ago, and missed all of training camp after a knee scope. Ramiz Ahmed signed with the Packers practice squad, ensuring they have a contigency plan should Crosby come back less than 100%. Pat O’Donnell replaces Corey Bojorquez at punter, moreso due to his consistency and holding abilities than sheer leg power. Finally, Jack Coco seems to finally have solidified the long snapper position. A midseason change was needed last year, and replacement Steven Wirtel still proved too unreliable to bring back.
With all of these changes in place, there is no more excuse for mediocrity from this unit. The returns from this preseason haven’t been exactly reassuring. But with special teams especially, preseason is tough to judge. Even looking at the preseason finale, the majority of the players that “started” on the special teams units did not make the final roster. So only time will tell just how much better things will be. But even average units would be a massive upgrade from recent history.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.