It seems like forever since the Green Bay Packers had good and consistent special teams play.
Everyone remembers the glory of Super Bowl XXXI and the excellence of Desmond Howard, although brief.
But when was the last time anyone said, “we have a good chance of getting this onside kick,” or “I know we’re going to pin them deep on this punt”?
Justin Vogel arrived in 2017 to replace Jacob Schum and actually elevated the punting game. Yes, it was a low bar, but it was also a bit of progress. According to NFL.com, Vogel placed ninth in net average, but only had 19 punts downed inside the 20.
No offense to Vogel and his team-friendly contract, but it was disappointing to see the Packers ignore Marquette King when he was surprisingly released by the Raiders. King is a dynamic athlete, has a larger than life personality (and Twitter following), and is known for his clutch punting. He had 28 punts downed inside the 20 in 2017, and averaged almost 1.5 net yards per punt more than Vogel.
The Packers have chosen to invest much of their special teams cap money in longtime kicker Mason Crosby. Crosby, the 12-year veteran out of Colorado, has generally been a solid performer. But 2017 was a big step back. With only 78 points scored and a 79 percent field goal percentage, Crosby was average at best. And while his productivity was hurt by long snapper issues and terrible offensive performances, his $4 million salary is among the top five at his position.
The return game picked up a bit in 2017 with Trevor Davis handling both kickoff and punt return duties. And although the occasional big play did happen, touchdowns have been few and far between. Remember when Micah Hyde had three punt returns for touchdowns over two seasons? That was back in 2013-14. The Packers’ last kickoff return for a touchdown? All the way back in 2011.
Here’s hoping special teams coach Ron Zook and the Packers can elevate the special teams play in 2018 – making it truly special for the first time in a long time.