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Tracking Green Bay’s special teams starters in Packers’ preseason opener

21 players got “starts” on the Packers’ four core special teams units against the San Francisco 49ers.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers held out 33 players from competing against the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener, so, naturally, there weren’t many takeaways for the projected starters on offense or defense in the team’s 28-21 loss. The players who did play, for the most part, are fighting for backup positions on the team, jobs that are usually tied to special teams roles.

With how the 2021 Packers season went (and ended), there’s no surprise that special teams have been more of an interest than they would be in a typical year. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who actually “started” for the Packers against the 49ers on Green Bay’s four core units: kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return. Tracking field goal/PAT and field goal/PAT block at this point would be pointless, as those are the units that will likely feature the most players who were held out of participating in the preseason. For example, special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia floated the idea of using Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari in protection on field goals this offseason.


From left to right (return team’s point of view), excluding kicker Gabe Brkic, the Packers’ starting kickoff unit was safety Shawn Davis, cornerback Keisean Nixon, inside linebacker Krys Barnes, cornerback Rico Gafford, outside linebacker Tipa Galeai (who left the game with a shoulder injury), inside linebacker Ray Wilborn, safety Dallin Leavitt (who left the game with a shoulder injury), inside linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles and safety Vernon Scott.

Surprisingly, this was the only core unit on special teams that Wilborn and Scott were on the field for. Wilborn has worked with “the ones” defensively in practice this summer while Scott has seemingly taken over as the team’s third safety and the next man up at the position with Darnell Savage dealing with a hamstring injury. It would be a bit surprising if the Packers rostered a safety who only played on one special teams unit. Look for Scott to get added work if he makes the 53-man roster.

Kickoff Return

The front line on the kickoff team consisted of cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles, inside linebacker Isaiah McDuffie, tight end Josiah Deguara, inside linebacker Krys Barnes and receiver Amari Rodgers (left to right.) Tight end Alize Mack played the middle of the second line while outside linebacker Tipa Galeai and tight end Tyler Davis played on the edges of it.

In the backfield, receivers Samori Toure and Juwann Winfree were the upbacks for returner/cornerback Rico Gafford. It’s worth noting that Mack and Toure only started on this unit.


Beyond punter Pat O’Donnell and long snapper Jack Coco, the only players at their respective positions on the Packers’ roster, cornerbacks Keisean Nixon and Rico Gafford got key starts on the punt team at the gunner positions. Outside linebacker Tipa Galeai and starting inside linebacker Quay Walker played the tackle positions in protection, inside linebackers Isaiah McDuffie and Krys Barnes played guard and tight ends Tyler Davis and Josiah Deguara, along with safety Dallin Leavitt, lined up in the backfield.

If you’re looking for the Packers to run a fake punt this year, there’s no true ball carrier on the field to toy around with. Walker, who will likely play on the punt line in the regular season, is the sole player who only got a start on the punt team and no other core special teams units.

Punt Return

Our final unit, punt return, featured safety Tariq Carpenter and receiver Juwann Winfree as the edge rushers on the play. This is the only unit that Carpenter started on, but Carpenter was also the only player to start solely on the punt return team.

The interior rush consisted of inside linebackers Krys Barnes and Isaiah McDuffie, tight end Tyler Davis and safety Dallin Leavitt. They were backed up by cornerback Rico Gafford and safety Shawn Davis.

On the edges, cornerbacks Keisean Nixon and Shemar Jean-Charles played the vices, the players who try to slow down the punt team’s gunners. The return man on the play was receiver Amari Rodgers. It’s worth mentioning here that cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas, players who were held out of the preseason opener, have seen playing time in practice as both gunners and vices on punt team and punt return team, respectively.

Total special teams “starts”

  • Four: ILB Isaiah McDuffie, ILB Krys Barnes and CB Rico Gafford
  • Three: TE Tyler Davis, OLB Tipa Galeai, CB Shemar Jean-Charles, CB Keisean Nixon and S Dallin Leavitt
  • Two: WR Amari Rodgers, WR Juwann Winfree, TE Josiah Deguara and S Shawn Davis
  • One: WR Samouri Toure, TE Alize Mack, ILB Quay Walker, ILB Ray Wilborn, S Vernon Scott and S Tariq Carpenter

Special teams “starts” by position

  • ILB: 10 (4 players)
  • CB: 10 (3)
  • S: 7 (4)
  • TE: 6 (3)
  • WR: 5 (3)
  • OLB: 3 (1)