GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers’ special teams weren’t great but they were improved in Year 1 under coordinator Shawn Mennenga.
In Packer Central’s five-category rankings, the Packers moved from 31st in 2018 to 18th in 2019, including an eight-spot improvement coinciding with the late-season addition of returner Tyler Ervin. In Rick Gosselin’s 22-category rankings, the Packers inched forward from 32nd to 26th.
The key pieces are back, including kicker Mason Crosby, who was re-signed before the start of free agency, and Ervin, who was re-signed in free agency. The Packers added 24 rookies to their roster but none of them will pose a challenge to the third-year duo of punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley.
Crosby had the best season of his career from an accuracy standpoint, his 22-of-24 on field goals equating to 91.7 percent – his first season of 90-plus percent in his 13-year career. In fact, since his infamous five-miss game at Detroit in Week 5 of the 2018 season, Crosby has missed a total of five kicks in his last 29 games: 41-of-45 on field goals and 72-of-73 on extra points.
Ervin rescued the team’s atrocious return units. Through 12 games, Green Bay’s nine punt returns produced minus-8 return yards. In the final four games, he averaged 9.6 yards per punt return and 26.7 yards per kickoff return in regular-season action.
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A key to the unit taking the next step will be the performances of Scott and Bradley. General manager Brian Gutekunst made the unusual decision to draft not one but two specialists in 2018 but hasn’t gotten the performance he expected.
Scott ranked 26th in net punting as a rookie (38.8) and 25th in 2019 (39.9). The man he replaced, Justin Vogel, ranked seventh (41.6) in 2017. In both seasons, Scott went into deep funks. Last year, he had a net average of at least 41.5 yards in each of his first six games. However, he had a 40-yard net in just three of the final 12 games.
“Any veteran punter, I think that’s the first thing you go back to is you look at their handle times and is there some variance?” Mennenga said. “Which means they’re either rushing it, and that can create stride length changes and those kinds of things. JK is a great pro. He knows what he needs to work on. He’s got all the potential in the world.”
Bradley, one of six snappers drafted over the last decade, didn’t have any obviously awful snaps last season that led to a missed field goal or botched punt. His punt snaps were generally on the money but Scott had to make a handful of good holds to get the ball down for Crosby.
“I think he took a lot of steps from his rookie year to last year in improving, and I expect him to take some more big steps going into his third year,” Mennenga said. “He knows what he needs to do and he’s working on those things. I think just the consistency standpoint, just throughout the season on his short snaps on a few things, and we’ve talked about those and he’ll get those fixed and just a few accuracy things.”