The following is the eighth and final installment in a series of stories that has examined the Packers’ roster position by position. The series concludes with the specialists.
GREEN BAY – For the first time since he won the job in 2010, Packers punter Tim Masthay will have competition in training camp in 2015.
Former Alabama punter Cody Mandell was signed shortly after last season ended, setting up the first in-camp battle for the punting job since Masthay beat out Australian Chris Bryan five years ago.
Masthay certainly has experience and a track record on his side. After settling into the job in 2010, Masthay was everything the Packers could have asked for from 2011-13, dropping at least 22 punts inside the 20-yard line each year and improving his net average each season.
He was off to a strong start in 2014 but then hit a slump in the second half, the first notable struggles of his career. Two punts were blocked and his trademark consistency suffered, perhaps in part due to worries about the protection unit.
Ideally, Masthay will bounce back from his first rough season, just as kicker Mason Crosby did two years ago. If not, the Packers will take a long look at Mandell, who punted four years for the Crimson Tide after first making the team as a walk-on in 2010. He originally entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie with the Cowboys last year but was released in the preseason.
Back in 2013, it was Crosby fighting for his job after a slump, but he has rebounded to put together two solid seasons. He didn’t match in 2014 what he did the prior year, but three of his six missed field goals were blocked, as were both of his PAT misses.
The problems with protection across the board in the kicking game were just part of the reason Head Coach Mike McCarthy installed Ron Zook as the new special teams coordinator, and McCarthy inserted himself into special teams meetings.
McCarthy has promised a “culture change” on special teams, and that could include more veterans taking regular roles on return and coverage units.
Younger players will still need to use special teams, though, as a ticket to a roster spot. Among the returnees, safety Sean Richardson and outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott were the team’s two leading coverage tacklers last season, and cornerback Demetri Goodson has earned praise from the coaching staff as well.
Punt return has been the Packers’ top performing group, with Micah Hyde running back two punts for TDs last year. Second-year receiver Jared Abbrederis could also get a look at punt return in camp.
Kickoff return is in need of a boost after finishing second-to-last in the league last season. Rookie receiver and third-round draft pick Ty Montgomery could provide an immediate upgrade there.
With veteran special-teamers Jarrett Bush and Brad Jones not re-signed, all units will be looking for new leaders to emerge.
Countdown to Camp: Position-by-position roster series