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Packers 2016 Training Camp Preview: Special teams highlighted by punting competition

While two of the specialist positions are locked down, the fight for the Packers’ punter job seems to be wide-open.

NFL: NFC Divisional-Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Specialists may barely qualify as football players in the traditional sense, but they can and do have a huge impact on the game. The Packers have some new faces in camp to complement (and compete with) their veteran stalwarts, and seeing some change would not surprise anyone here. Kicking in Green Bay can be tricky business and evaluating your specialists in the North on a grass field is much more a scouting endeavor than a statistical one, and things can get unpredictable in a hurry.

Mason Crosby, #2

6’1”, 212 pounds
10th season
College: Colorado

Justin Tucker just got 11,000,000 guaranteed dollars from the Baltimore Ravens. Tucker is a fine kicker, but his contract makes Mason Crosby’s paltry $5,000,000 guarantee look like an absolute bargain. Crosby remains one of the NFL’s most accurate field goal kickers, especially over the last three seasons, and he will remain a stable presence on the team for years to come. Crosby does not have the strongest leg and his kickoffs are a real liability, and bear watching as he ages. He is passable as it stands, but could easily fall into the sub-replacement basement should he lose any more leg strength. All of that said, when you break it down, he’s cheap, nails inside of 50, and to the extent he struggles from distance it helps Mike McCarthy decide to go for it instead.

Rick Lovato, #59

6’2”, 233 pounds
2nd season
College: Old Dominion

When Brett Goode tore his ACL against the Raiders last season, the Packers called on former Bear Rick Lovato, who proved equal to the task. I will be honest in saying that I have no idea how to evaluate a long snapper, except to say that the kicking game still functioned as it should, and everyone seemed genuinely happy with his performance. Lovato did not have a single errant snap in 50 career games at Old Dominion, so for all I know he’s the most talented long snapper in history. Thank you very much, Mr. Lovato for joining our team just when we needed you.

Tim Masthay, #8

6’2”, 198 pounds
7th Season
College: Kentucky

I have been critical of Masthay for years, but he actually turned in a solid if unspectacular 2015. His net yards-per-punt was a pedestrian 14th at 40.2, but the average return against Masthay was a mere 4.2 yards. That is an absurdly low number and just half of what he allowed in 2014, but it shows that, at least in 2015, Masthay and the coverage team were outstanding at preventing big returns. I suspect this number has some randomness in it, and if he returns to something closer to 8-9 yards per return (or 13, as it was in 2013) his net will plunge and his value will suffer, but it is at least possible that it reflects a strategic decision by the Packers to intentionally punt short/out of bounds and cover. If so, Masthay may just stick around another year. Masthay also has the benefit of being the favorite holder for Mason Crosby, and so far, that fact has kept him on the team. It is worth noting that this is the final year of his current contract.

Peter Mortell, #1

5’11”, 203 Pounds
College: Minnesota

If you want to punt in the Big Ten and get a lot of work in, you couldn’t go to a better school. The Green Bay native’s grandfather was the Lambeau Field clock operator for 30 years and the lure of playing for his hometown team was enough to convince the undrafted free agent to sign on with the Packers and challenge Tim Masthay for the job. Mortell had at least two other suitors on the free agent market, and with good reason. He holds the record for best yards-per-punt average in Minnesota history, and if Masthay thinks his expert holding will save him, he’d best think again.

Mortell may have given himself the award in question, but at least we know he’s dedicated to his craft. A local boy who holds his college’s punting record with experience punting outdoors in the north and an attitude about his holding prowess? Timmy should be on high alert.