This is the eighth and final in a series of stories that has examined the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series concludes with the specialists.
GREEN BAY – The stage couldn’t have been any bigger for Mason Crosby last January.
The native Texan, performing in front of friends and family, made perhaps the two biggest kicks of his life against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional playoff game.
In the final 1 minute and 38 seconds of regulation, Crosby drilled field goals from 56 and 51 yards to send the Packers to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years.
Crosby tied an NFL single-game postseason record with two made field goals of 50-plus yards, and they served as an exclamation point on a season that saw Crosby become the Packers’ all-time leading scorer (1,267 points).
Crosby, who’s entering his 11th NFL season, has made at least 80 percent of his field goals in five of his last six seasons.
While the Packers know who their kicker will be in 2017, they still have to sort out their two other specialists. At the moment, the Packers will take only one punter in Miami (Fla.) undrafted rookie Justin Vogel, and one long-snapper in James Madison’s Derek Hart, into training camp.
The Packers entered April with competition at both spots before incumbent punter Jake Schum and long-snapper Taybor Pepper were released midway through the offseason program.
Schum’s departure means the Packers will have a new punter and holder on field goals for the third consecutive season. Vogel knows he’ll need an impressive camp to ensure he’s the punter the Packers take into their season opener against Seattle on Sept. 10.
His college credentials are impressive. After transferring from Florida, Vogel was a three-year starter for the Hurricanes. He averaged a career-high 43.8 yards per punt as a senior, earning Vogel second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors last season.
Hart, who signed with the Packers on March 31, played 43 career games as a tight end and long-snapper at James Madison from 2012-15.
The situation also remains fluid on the Packers’ return teams. Ty Montgomery led the Packers with 18 kickoff returns for 366 yards last year, but his special-teams snaps shrunk as his role on offense grew throughout the year.
Veteran receiver Jeff Janis has returned 20 kickoffs, including three of more than 40 yards, for a 26.2-yard average in his first three NFL seasons.
The Packers also appear to have an opening on punt returns after Micah Hyde signed with Buffalo in free agency. Earlier in the season, fifth-round pick Trevor Davis averaged 12.8 yards on nine punt returns.
Special-teams coordinator Ron Zook also has Randall Cobb in his back pocket. The former Pro Bowl receiver handled the duties down the stretch last season, generating 54 yards on four returns.
COUNTDOWN TO CAMP ROSTER SERIESQBs: All four have goals in mind
RBs: Competition with five rookies behind Ty Montgomery
WRs: After top three, competition will be fierce
OL: Mixture of veterans and youth
DL: Mike Daniels leads defensive line
LBs: Nick Perry ready for encore
DBs: Strength in their safeties