It can’t get any worse for the Green Bay Packers on special teams, right?
After a historically bad season on special teams, it was only fitting the group ending up sticking the fork in Green Bay’s season with a botched punt in the divisional round against the San Francisco 49ers. While the offense did the team no favors, the defense kept Green Bay ahead for most of the game until the final faux pas on special teams did them in.
Determined to not let history repeat itself, head coach Matt LaFleur sacked coordinator Maurice Drayton and went out and hired former Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia to turn the unit around. After decades of mediocre to poor performance on special teams across multiple head coaches, LaFleur appears hellbent on breaking the cycle. As someone who has stressed winning in all three phases since he arrived in 2019, it’s good to see LaFleur and the Packers put their money where his mouth is considering Bisaccia’s services likely didn’t come cheap.
In terms of personnel, Green Bay will be debuting a new punter and a new long snapper while kicker Mason Crosby has been retained for his 16th season as a Packer. The Packers did bring in Gabe Brkic to apparently compete with Crosby, but much like with JJ Molson it would not appear the veteran’s job is in any immediate danger.
Here’s a look at the specialists currently on the Green Bay roster.
How acquired: 2007 NFL Draft (Round 6, Pick 193
NFL Experience: 16th season
2021 Stats: 25/34 Field Goals (73.5%), 49/51 Extra Points (96.1%)
There was some rumbling that the Packers could move on from Crosby after 2021 but he was brought back following the second worst season of his career. His only statistically worse season in terms of field goal attempts was in 2012 when he only made 63.6% of his field goal attempts. He was able to dig himself out of that hole and the Packers see no reason why he cannot do it again.
It is worth noting that Crosby had made 24 consecutive regular season field goals before missing three in the wild finish against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5 last season so it’s not like he has multiple bad seasons in a row. Five of his nine misses last year also came in two games (the three against the Bengals and two against the Kansas City Chiefs) so it’s not outside the realm of possibility Crosby bounces back.
That said, the leash on Crosby may be shorter this time around so if his kicking struggles continue, especially under an esteemed coordinator like Bisaccia, a kicking change is possible in-season even if it isn’t a normal Packer way of doing things. Everything has changed in terms of special teams
How acquired: claimed off waivers from the Minnesota Vikings
NFL Experience: Rookie
2021 stats (University of Oklahoma): 20/26 (76.9%) field goals, 57/58 (98.3%) extra points
Brkic enters his first NFL season coming off his final year at Oklahoma where he was named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the best kicker in college football. Green Bay likely brought him in to compete with Crosby but barring an absolute collapse by Crosby, Brkic will likely be cut during camp.
How acquired: signed via free agency, 2022
NFL Experience: 9th season
2021 stats (Chicago Bears): 62 punts, 46.2 yards per punt, 72 yard longest
The Packers were not able to retain the services of Corey Bojorquez who signed with the Los Angeles Chargers so they brought in O’Donnell from their rival in Chicago. O’Donnell’s average was a full yard lower than Bojorquez so there is some concern about a drop off in performance. His punts don’t have nearly the amount of hangtime Bojorquez got (he was sixth per Pro Football Focus while O’Donnell was 28th) yet both punters had nearly identical touchbacks and punts within the 20.
The bigger test for O’Donnell will be as the holder for Crosby as the kicker looks to come back from a subpar season. Hopefully the two can develop chemistry in camp and the field goal operation can be clean from the start with both a veteran kicker and holder.
How acquired: signed as an undrafted free agent in May 2022
NFL Experience: Rookie
Jack Coco will be one of two players competing to be the long snapper as the Packers continue to seek their long term answer post-Brett Goode. He’s a converted tight end that played in 39 games over four years at Georgia Tech.
How acquired: signed after being released by the Los Angeles Rams
NFL Experience: 3rd season
Steven Wirtel appeared in nine games for the Packers last season after he was activated off the practice squad in November. He enters training camp as the incumbent starter at long snapper but that could change as Bisaccia puts his stamp on the group. Wirtel did not miss a game in four seasons at Iowa State while handling all snapping duties. He also has one career tackle in the NFL.