Much has been written about the many off-season successes that the Green Bay Packers have manufactured for themselves.
Immediately after the stinging playoff defeat in Seattle the team began planning for a Super Bowl run in 2015.
First it was out with the old. Cutting ties with under-performing veterans AJ Hawk, Brad Jones, Brandon Bostick as well as Jarrett Bush (apparently). Then there was the signing of their own prized free agents Randall Cobb and Bryan Bulaga. And most recently an in-with-the-new by acquiring several exciting young talents via the draft in Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins, Ty Montgomery and Jake Ryan to name a few.
If you want to look at what should mark the Green Bay Packers biggest impact in 2015 look inside the current organization itself. Look no further than the Packers Special Teams coaching changes.
For years Packers special teams have been under-performing and losing games under the direction of Coach Shawn Slocum. More to the point the 2014 Packers special teams were ranked dead-last in the NFL according to the Dallas Morning News Rich Gosselin who annually ranks such performance.
Give McCarthy credit for finally pulling the trigger on firing close friend Slocum – or chastise him for not doing so much sooner. The point is that it appears that McCarthy has finally decided not to treat special teams like the ugly step-child that it has become under his watch.
At the same time that McCarthy announced that he was relinquishing his play-calling duties, he promoted Jason Simmons to assistant special teams’ coordinator and even added himself as the third coach in the ST room.
“That culture’s going to change in there,” McCarthy said at the time, “I promise you that.”
Exit Slocum, enter Ron Zook the Packers new special teams’ coordinator and the man in charge of changing culture on an up-front and personal basis.
In speaking to the media earlier this year Zook made reference to 12 notable plays on special teams in 2014 – 2015.
Some mattered little such as the 101-yard kick return for a touchdown by Chicago (with Packers leading, 55-7) and then the blocked punt by Philadelphia (with Packers leading, 53-20).
There were some beyond belief such as the seven blocked kicks. No other NFL team was even close to that number.
Others ended the Packers’ season which was Seattle’s fake field goal and the Packers’ mind-numbing blunder of an onside kick recovery against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game.
“You can’t relax,” Zook said. “If there’s anything I’m going to go back to last season, it’s that a special teams play, there’s no time that you can relax.” There is also no second down to redeem yourself.
“I don’t foresee a lot of change,” Zook said. “I think the things we did this past year were good — really good — I don’t foresee a lot of change. You’re going to have new guys in there and then the guys who are coming back have to be better than what they were.”
Let’s hope Zook meant only SOME of those things.
What should help Zook resurrect the Packers kick and punt return teams is having talented third round pick Ty Montgomery join the team. Montgomery the former Stanford Cardinal was rated by many experts as the top return-man in this year’s draft. In addition former Wisconsin return man Jared Abbrederis will be back in the competition after spending last year on season-ending IR. Also in the mix will be last year’s punt returners Micah Hyde and Randall Cobb. Cobb of course is a key offensive threat and the team is partial to not using the newly re-signed Cobb on special teams as a precaution against injury.
Where Montgomery will certainly be highly valued however is in the kick return game where under-performing incumbent DuJuan Harris was allowed to walk during free agency. He was subsequently signed by the rival Minnesota Vikings.
In addition McCarthy has gone on record to say that starters will man special teams where need be. That should mean that Lane Taylor or someone else of similar talent will take a seat so as not to be thrown around like a rag-doll during field goal or extra-point attempts.
Zook with his college-like high energy approach to the game will undoubtedly make a positive difference. But it will be up to McCarthy to actually turn the bravado of February into actual results in September.
“It’s all about energy,” McCarthy said, “and we’ll have energy and a different culture on special teams.”
Let’s hope this is one goal that will be checked off the ‘to-do’ list early in 2015.——————
Jeff Albrecht grew up just north of Green Bay and was lucky enough to attend some of the Lombardi Era classic games, like the 1962 championship and the Ice Bowl. Jeff went on to play HS football in the Green Bay area and College ball at UW - Stevens Point. Jeff is retired but still does some writing for his local paper. Jeff is a writer with AllGreenBayPackers.com and you can follow him on twitter at @pointerjeff .