Special teams has been nothing short of schitzophrenic for the Green Bay Packers the past few seasons.
Coach Shawn Slocum has worked with the tools he has been given, but the results have been far from satisfactory. In fact, if you take away the anemic running game of the first 12 games last year, the play of the special teams was probably not far behind as the Achilles heel in the Packers’ attack.
Slocum’s units have not ranked well at all the past few years and even before he was named Packers special teams coach, the teamwasn’t impressive.
So, it’s been a while since we’ve seen production from special teams in Green Bay.
Here are the rankings of the team the past few years - rankings that Slocum can only improve on this year. The Packers ranked 29th in the Dallas Morning News’ annual survey of performance after ranking 31st in 2009, 26th in ’08, tied for seventh in ’07 and 32nd in ’06. The Packers also were dead last in ’05 under Mike Sherman.
That’s pretty pathetic.
If last Saturday was any indication (though it is a long, long season) it looks as though GM Ted Thompson has finally outfitted Slocum with the depth of talent that could make a huge difference in production this coming season.
Let’s start with the addition of receiver/returner Randall Cobb. His straight-ahead approach on the two kickoffs he returned and his quick feet displayed on the one punt return he attempted were something of an invigorating breath of fresh air.
Cobb’s first return out of the end zone went for around 30 yards and his second was nearly as impressive.
And unlike the return men of the past couple of years, Cobb showed he was fleet of foot, but also not afraid to split the seam. For Packers coaches and fans, that’s a good thing. We all know that running east and west (and sometimes south) does little for field position.
With the new kickoff rules that will result in a large majority of kicks landing in the end zone, an aggressive kick returner will be that much more valuable to each and every NFL team. Cobb brings that to the Packers. If Slocum can put the right players in the right positions to help spring Cobb, he should have an impressive rookie season.
In addition to the drafting of Cobb, the Packers also made a slick move by drafting Ryan Taylor, ranked as one of the top five special teams players in this past draft.
“I think we’re going to be better,” Thompson was quoted as saying just prior to the start of training camp. “I know the rankings are the rankings, but I thought down the stretch and in the playoffs our teams played pretty good.”
And he would be right. Tim Masthay kicked the ball really well in both of the late season games agains the Bears and kept the ball away from Devin Hester. And even Tramon Williams got in the act with a big return against the Bears in the season finale … a play that helped turn the tide in that game.
However, if you remember, it was Eric Weems who took a kickoff 102 yards for a score to give the Falcons a short-lived lead in the playoff tilt in Atlanta, so everything is certainly not roses.
That’s why Slocum’s role with the team is crucial this year if the Packers are going to use field position as an important part of their game.
Penalties by special teams under Slocum have also been drastically reduced by the Packers … a statistic that flies under the radar of importance.
And for those trivia wizards out there … when was the last time the Packers returned a kickoff for a touchdown?
Allen Rossum, a 92-yarder against the Colts in 2000. Wow, 11 years ago!
With improvements in personnel and coaching, this could be a breakout season for the special teams.
For Slocum’s sake and the Packers record, we hope so.