Special Teams: A Decision Coming On Mason Crosby, and A Number Of Changes For 2011

This is the first offseason in a while that I'm not desperate for changes on the Green Bay Packers special teams unit. Since this time last year, they improved the worst special teams unit in the NFL in 2009, and there's hope for next season.

There was some improvement in 2010, as Football Outsiders ranked them No. 26 overall. That improvement came mostly from better field goal kicking and punting.

While he was more consistent last season, I don't expect K Mason Crosby to get a whole lot better than he was in 2010. He's a solid player, but his field goal percentage is always low, and he doesn't have the strongest leg on kickoffs. He may or may not be a free agent, but the Packers seem to want him back and they didn't select a kicker in the draft. From Fox 11:

For now, however, he can just wait. Since he returned to Green Bay, he’s been working out with punter Tim Masthay at St. Norbert College’s Schneider Stadium...

Crosby was 22 for 28 on field goals last season, three of four in the playoffs.

I still hope they sign an undrafted free agent kicker to push him, but I don't expect they'll find someone better. The veteran kickers who may be available are either inconsistent or have no leg strength. Crosby gets an OK rating from me, and he's not someone who has to be replaced.

The biggest improvement last season was from P Tim Masthay, who was a major improvement over P Jeremy Kapinos. His net average was only 37.6 yards, the 18th best of 2010, but it was much lower earlier in the season, and he continued to improve. For the first time since the ill-advised release of P Jon Ryan, finding a new punter is not an offseason priority. 

While special teams coach Shawn Slocum survived the offseason coaching shuffle again, the biggest help he got was a rule change moving kickoffs to the 35 yard line, which could reduce the number of kickoffs by 10%. The kickoff coverage and return games were awful last season, as they've been for a while, and the rule change can only help the Packers.

Unless they drafted a dynamic kick returner in WR Randall Cobb. While I really like him as a receiving prospect, it's not clear he'll be given anything more than a chance as a returner. But the draft might have added a revamped kick coverage unit. Backup defensive backs, tight ends, and linebackers are counted on heavily on special teams, and rookie 4th round DB Davon House, 5th round TE D.J. Williams, 6th round LBs D.J. Smith and Ricky Elmore, and 7th round TE Ryan Taylor might become the core of the kick and punt coverage units next season.

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