The Green Bay Packers have kept out 30 or more players in each of their preseason games, either due to injury or simply to rest starters, which makes the easiest one-to-one projection for the Packers this summer actually their special teams units. While the field goal and field goal block units should change significantly when the starters are active for gameday, we are able to get a good grasp on what the four core special teams units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return) should look like in the regular season.
Starting on special teams is a huge signal that the team is considering rostering a player after the preseason, too, as most of the end-of-roster battles will end up coming down to short-term special teams contributions. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the starting lineups the Packers have fielded in each of these four core special teams units over the first two preseason games and note the changes and trends on “Wefense.”
If there’s any of the four core special teams phases to pay less attention to on a positional level, it’s probably kickoff team. For example, the R4 (counting from outside in with the letter designation being the direction from kicker) in Week 1 was cornerback Rico Gafford and in Week 2 was rookie edge rusher Kingsley Enagbare. That’s a pretty vast difference in body type.
Still, it’s important to note the changes in special team participation. Injured kicker Gabe Brkic, who was waived with before the game, was replaced by Ramiz Ahmed, who was signed by the team last week. Gafford, inside linebackers Isaiah McDuffie and Krys Barnes and the injured safety Dallin Leavitt were replaced by cornerback Kiondre Thomas, Kobe Jones, inside linebacker Ty Summers and receiver Amari Rodgers in Week 2. Thomas and Jones have been surprisingly involved in the “second-team” defense this preseason, along with Rodgers on offense, while Summers hasn’t seen a snap in the first half of games outside of special teams.
While the backfield of Rodgers, receiver Samori Toure and receiver Juwann Winfree were untouched from Week 1 to Week 2, there were many changes to the kick return front over the last two weeks. On the front line interior, McDuffie, tight end Josiah Deguara and Barnes were subbed for Summers, safety Micah Abernathy and inside linebacker Ray Wilborn in Week 2. Abernathy finished the first half against New Orleans as the team’s first-team safety, following the injury to Vernon Scott, while Wilborn is on the very edge of the roster bubble as the team’s fifth inside linebacker.
On the edges of the frontline, cornerback Shemar Jean-Charles has started twice on the left sideline while Rodgers was replaced by Scott in Week 2. On the second line of defense, tight end Alize Mack, who tied Tyler Davis with five inline tight end snaps in the first half against the New Orleans Saints, and outside linebacker Tipa Galeai have started in back-to-back weeks. The change made there was on the right sideline, where Jones replaced Tyler Davis.
The protection unit on punt team seems more or less set, at least until the starters jump into the mix. At tackle, Galeai and rookie inside linebacker Quay Walker got the starting nods both weeks. The same can be said about guards Barnes and McDuffie, wings Deguara and Tyler Davis, long snapper Jack Coco and punter Pat O’Donnell. The only change between Week 1 and Week 2 in the punt protection was running back Tyler Goodson’s substitution for Leavitt, who left Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers with a shoulder injury.
On the perimeter, cornerbacks Keisean Nixon and Gafford were subbed out as gunners for Rodgers and Jean-Charles. The gunner position is one that is highly rotated and should involve starting cornerbacks Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas, who have been held out of preseason games, when the regular season begins. Stokes and Douglas have seen snaps there with the first-team punt team in practice this summer.
The inverse of gunners are vices, a position that Jean-Charles has started at in back-to-back weeks, after also starting on the defensive side of the ball as a cornerback. Nixon was replaced by Thomas opposite of Jean-Charles in Week 2, as the team is clearly trying to find an answer to who their sixth cornerback on the team should be. It seems as though last week was Thomas’ big chance to prove that he has the special teams chops to make the roster over Nixon or Gafford. Rodgers also got back-to-back starts as the team’s punt returner.
Again, like on the kickoff team, nailing down specific roles and positions seems to be less important on the punt return team. There have been many changes in the box, as Galeai, Summers, outside linebacker Jonathan Garvin, Toure, Goodson, running back Patrick Taylor and Wilborn replaced safety Tariq Carpenter (injured), Barnes, Winfree, Leavitt, Gafford, Tyler Davis and McDuffie in Week 2.
Total special teams starts this week (non-specialists)
- 4: WR Amari Rodgers, OLB Tipa Galeai and CB Shemar Jean-Charles
- 3: ILB Ty Summers and ILB Ray Wilborn
- 2: RB Tyler Goodson, WR Samori Toure, OLB Kobe Jones, CB Kiondre Thomas, S Vernon Scott and S Shawn Davis
- 1: RB Patrick Taylor, WR Juwann Winfree, TE Alize Mack, TE Tyler Davis, TE Josiah Deguara, OLB Jonathan Garvin, OLB Kingsley Enagbare, ILB Isaiah McDuffie, ILB Krys Barnes, ILB Quay Walker and S Micah Abernathy
- 0: CB Rico Gafford, CB Keisean Nixon, S Dallin Leavitt (injured) and S Tariq Carpenter (injured)
Overall special teams starts this preseason
- 7: OLB Tipa Galeai and CB Shemar Jean-Charles
- 6: WR Amari Rodgers
- 5: ILB Isaiah McDuffie and Krys Barnes
- 4: TE Tyler Davis, ILB Ray Wilborn, CB Rico Gafford and S Shawn Davis
- 3: WR Samori Toure, WR Juwann Winfree, TE Josiah Deguara, ILB Ty Summers, CB Keisean Nixon, S Vernon Scott and S Dallin Leavitt
- 2: RB Tyler Goodson, TE Alize Mack, OLB Kobe Jones, ILB Quay Walker and CB Kiondre Thomas
- 1: RB Patrick Taylor, OLB Jonathan Garvin, OLB Kinglsey Enagbare, S Micah Abernathy and S Tariq Carpenter
Overall special teams starts by position
- 19: ILB
- 16: CB
- 12: WR and S
- 11: OLB
- 9: TE
- 3: RB