Special teams had been a mixed bag for the Packers since their high-ranking units of 2007, but impactful, consistent play returned in 2011 under Shawn Slocum.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said during the season that he and Slocum changed their philosophy a bit on special teams, and though details weren’t divulged, it seemed the approach was to focus less on scheme and more on fundamentals.
Whatever the change, it worked, as the Packers cut their special-teams penalties in half from 2010 and got top seasons out of their returner, kicker and punter all in the same year for the first time in recent memory.
PR/KR Randall Cobb—The team’s long search for an explosive returner appears over, as the Packers drafted Cobb in the second round and watched him break an 11-year team drought by returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the opener.
He went on to add a punt return for a score in Week 10, becoming the first rookie in team history to return a kickoff and punt for TDs in the same season. Cobb elevated the Packers’ return games from 26th (kickoff) and 22nd (punt) in 2010 to 12th in both categories.
Three fumbles on returns – not including one in the playoffs that was overturned by replay – brought Cobb’s ball security into question, but Cobb proved to be a returner opposing teams must prepare for, an added weapon that’s been a long time coming in Green Bay.
K Mason Crosby—In his fifth season, Crosby responded to a new contract with his best year, making 24 of 28 field goals, an 85.7-percent clip that marked the first time he topped 80 percent for a full season. His franchise-record 58-yarder in Week 7 came amidst a team-record streak of 23 straight field goals in regular-season games dating back to 2010.
As expected, Crosby’s strong leg produced plenty of touchbacks with the new kickoff line as well. His 49 touchbacks ranked third in the league and led to nearly half of his 106 kickoffs not being returned.
P Tim Masthay—Masthay didn’t have any in-house training-camp competition in his second season, and he rewarded that faith by setting franchise records for gross (45.6) and net (38.56) punting averages, the latter a stat kept only since 1976.
After an admittedly slow start, Masthay became adept at pinning opponents deep, dropping 23 of his 55 punts (41.8 percent) inside the 20-yard line, the highest percentage by a Green Bay punter since 1998 (Sean Landeta, 30 of 65, 46.2 percent).
LS Brett Goode—With nary a bad snap in four full seasons, Goode has become as reliable as the man he replaced in 2008, Rob Davis. He could last as long as Davis’ 11 years, too.
That would make for a remarkable story, considering the Packers called him while he was pouring concrete for a driveway back home in Arkansas after J.J. Jansen injured his knee in the final ’08 preseason game and was lost for the year. The Packers are glad they found Goode.
Others—The Packers’ final rankings in punt coverage (28th) and kick coverage (15th) weren’t particularly impressive, but the units were solid after allowing a punt return for a score and a long kickoff return to New Orleans’ Darren Sproles in the opener.
Rookies D.J. Smith, Ryan Taylor, M.D. Jennings and Jamari Lattimore were strong additions to the special teams, while veterans Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee and Brad Jones led the group in tackles. Bush is a free agent who may generate notable interest elsewhere. Lee is a free agent, too. Meanwhile, Jones will have to solidify his place on the depth chart at outside linebacker to maintain a hold on his roster spot.
Summary—Depending on what happens with that trio of coverage-team veterans, there could be significant roster turnover on special teams, but that’s somewhat expected every year. In that case, the rookies who joined the ranks in 2011 could simply form the new core of leaders. As for the individual specialists, they’re accomplished and still young. They’re the foundation of the Packers’ special teams for the foreseeable future.
Position by position series: Defensive backs