Packers Biggest Upgrade Comes from Within

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.

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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 .

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  • dobber

    It’s good to be optimistic, but let’s see how they perform in September before we get too excited.

  • Rossonero

    I’m glad the culture is changing, but special teams have always been important. Why wait until Special Teams gets SO bad that it finally costs you a trip to the SB?

    • Peter Maiz

      McCarthy has to say “the buck stops here” but he doesn’t. If year after year you have a bad special teams unit, Slocum should have been shown the door way before.

  • One thing to MM’s credit is that when he says some aspect of play is going to improve, it usually does.

  • cow

    Special teams will improve dramatically…. all the way up to mediocre.

    • Peter Maiz

      Hopefully not but that’s what I’ve said. Zook should not have been kept either.

  • Big T

    Wasn’t Zook half of the 2 headed monster fiasco last year? Don’t understand why he is still around. Any memories of last years fiasco should be gone. You can’t run a rah, rah college special teams in the NFL.

    • dobber

      Seems to work for Pete Carroll…

      • Big T

        Works for Pete Carroll when he is playing a subpar coached special teams…

        • Archie

          Packers are soft on defense and it also shows on ST. Was that way with OL for a long time but in last few years they started run blocking.

          • TedTomsin

            More like they drafted Eddie Lacy and now they have a legit running back.

          • Oppy

            No; it’s more like, it’s amazing how effective a starting offensive line can perform, when all the starters are actually healthy and playing together for a majority of the season.

    • Peter Maiz

      He’s McCarthy’s bud from way back.

  • dobber

    The coaching change I’m more interested in seeing is Jerry Montgomery as a DL assistant. If the Packer defense is going to get better, it’s going to have to be due to better coaching because the cast of characters is largely the same. And the DL is one unit that must play better in 2015.

    • Peter Maiz

      Agreed.

  • montana83

    I’m glad we added Montgomery, but on returns it’s the job of the other 10 guys that I worry about. Same thing on blocked kicks. Crosby gets the blame but it’s the other 10 guys.
    Something has been missing on special teams for a very long time. Many times I looked away from the TV on special teams plays because I always expected the worst.
    We can hope it improves, but all I want for now is an average special teams for now. No fumbles. No blocked kicks. Decent returns and so forth. If we finish 16th or 17th on special teams that would be a miracle.

    • Mike Sherman

      We blamed the blockers on the blocked extra point kicks not crosby…… MM benched 2 of the blockers.
      Hyde was great on ST last year, one of the best punt returners in the league, Cobb was good, and our coverage units were close to average. A good kick returner would have put us in the middle of the pack. It’s the blocked kicks and poor punting last year that made the unit so unbearable.
      I do agree with you on Howard…. he was amazing that year, but couldn’t keep up that level of play after the 1996 season.

    • Archie

      I think we are all looking forward to seeing what Ty Montgomery can do. If he has the impact of a Desmond Howard right out of the gate, he will be our rookie MVP. Defense and ST got the attention in the draft this year. Improvement on offense will have to come from last year’s crop of WR draftees, Rodgers the TE and possibly the C.

      • NemoOutis

        Ty Montgomery is a good return man. But was he worth a 3rd round pick? He’s also a slot receiver and we resigned Randall Cobb at $10 million a year to be our slot receiver. The pick would have made more sense had we let Cobb sign with another team during free agency. Consider this alternative: selecting ILB Paul Dawson or DE Xavier Cooper instead of Montgomery in the 3rd round and picking Tre McBride, WR/KR in the 6th. We’d get some help for the D plus get a good return man who could back-up Cobb in the slot. What would be the loss? Christian Ringo. Some loss.

        • Dan Stodola

          Not sure why everyone characterizes Monty as a Slot WR. He played outside at Stanford quite a bit too. He played everywhere at Stanford. He’s built similarly to James Jones and Adams, a bit shorter but also stronger. Cobb and his 10M salary won’t be seen on Returns anymore, and I doubt the Packers use him in the backfield anymore either. You don’t put at player like him (not to mention his 10M salary) in positions that could get him injured. Montgomery is perfect in Cobb’s former roles on returns and in the backfield.
          Was Devin Hester worth a 2nd round pick, he was a large part of Chicago going to the SB? If Montgomery is the best KR/PR in the draft, and has an impact even remotely close, he easily will be worth a 3rd round pick.

          • It’s why TT is paid the big bucks, to make tough picks. Monty needs to be really good at KR to be worth a 3rd rd. pick. GB only had 29 KR last yr. inc. at least 3 onside ones. His hands as a WR are really bad. I saw 3 brutal drops in 2 games of film. I couldn’t tell if Ty has any vision as an RB; I don’t think Cobb has good vision as a RB. Hyde would have led the NFL in PR ave. but was just short of the min #. If Janis or Abby or someone else shows they’re good at KR, this could look like a wasted pick, or TT could look like a genius. A bunch of us will remember that OT T. J. Clemings, OG J Harrison or Tre Jackson, and of course, Paul Dawson, Xavier Cooper, Marcus Hardison (if he’s a 3-4 DE) were there.

            • Dan Stodola

              I agree that Montgomery’s hand are suspect. They’ll work on that for sure. Vision is important for a RB, and sometimes comes from experience. Montgomery isn’t going to have the same vision as Lacy might, neither will Cobb for that matter. But when they carry the ball it’ll mostly be when the deck is stacked in their favor (men in the box and/or down and distance) to help the succeed.
              I think Harris was too tentative last year, but w/ his running when he did return it, but also deciding when to return a kickoff. His lack of success probably meant the coaches put more restrictions on when he can take it out. I’m looking forward to a more aggressive mindset all around on KR.

  • Taryn Miller

    I so want to respond but I cannot remember where I placed my ‘ quill and ink ‘.

  • Archie

    There were ST coaches available a lot better than Ron Zook.

    • Peter Maiz

      Agreed. MMresorts to the old “buddy system”.

    • John Denver’s Gavel

      It might have had to do more with his brother dying the week the top 2 ST coaches were signed. I guess we’ll never know. I think Zook can get it done.

  • TedTomsin

    “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.”
    This is the part that just bothers the hell out of me with the hiring of Zook. I think they needed to clean out the entire house of coaches on special teams last year but MM only got rid of Slocum and Bostick.
    I hear that comment and I flash back to the Ray Rhodes hiring where he said basically the same thing at his first news conference. I recall him comparing the current team to getting a car tune up. He said he wasn’t going to change much of anything. “A spark plug here and a spark plug there” was the words I believe he used. In the end it was a disaster and Wolf fired the unarmed black head coach after only one season. I fear Zook will have the same results with his same type attitude of not having to change much.
    Ted

    • croatpackfan

      There is the possibility you mentioned. But there is the possibility that on paper things were right, just execution failed. Or there is the possibility that Zook want to opponents overlook “changes” that might come at Packers ST, so that they will need to concentrate more on that in game preparation, less on O or D part… Why to uncover your plans to the opponents?

    • Dan Stodola

      I don’t think ST concepts and schemes are that dissimilar throughout the league. If that’s the case than a lot can remain the same, but if the Leadership changes and a new culture is in place, a lot can easily change.
      Rhodes took a SB contender to an 8-8 record. Its hard to fail that badly. And BTW what the heck does race have to do w/ it? It makes you look racist to interject it in the conversation. In the future you might want to leave that out of the discussion.

    • Peter Maiz

      Zook may not have ideas to improve. He could be more inspirational, but that’s it.

      • TedTomsin

        Yes, that’s probably what he needs to do Peter. I agree. Just his attitude or how he speaks to the media could be a little better. Maybe take some responsibility and say what happened last year was unacceptable and we screwed up etc and it won’t happen again this year. Say it with some fire like MM does when he tries to improve an area of the team.
        Christ, if that was me and I took over that position from Slocum I would be apologizing left and right first of all and then turn around and tell everyone that we’re going to turn this damn special teams around and yes, there will be ALOT of change even if there isn’t. Just effin say it to give the fans some hope that next season isn’t a rerun.
        Ted

        • croatpackfan

          “When I was the head coach,” Zook said Thursday, “I was in every special teams meeting. I just think it’s a phase of a game where you can lose a game quicker than anything. There has to be an importance (placed on it).”

          I like this way of thinking! He puts importance on ST plays…. That is something positive for his account!

          Also:
          “It comes down to the guys playing and making things happen,” he said. “The thing that I really love about coach McCarthy’s philosophy is, ‘Let’s make sure our guys are playing fast.’ Football is a reaction game, and if they have to think on what they’re doing, they’re not going to be as fast, they’re not going to be reacting.”

          • TedTomsin

            Sorry Croat but I am haunting by his first comment about how he thinks all the things they did last year were good… very good. Anything connected with last years special teams scares the hell out of me and Zook was working with Slocum. Like I said I am ready to give Zook the hook just with that quote of his. I’ll have to wait and see I know but I don’t like it.
            Ted

        • Peter Maiz

          Yeah Ted, I’m frankly shocked by Zook’s comments.

          • TedTomsin

            I hear ya Peter, I hear ya.
            Ted

        • Peter Maiz

          Totally agree.

    • Peter Maiz

      I find Zook’s commentary frightening and sickening.

  • Peter Maiz

    So now Zook, McCarthy’s old buddy from 20 years ago (and someone that needed a coaching job) thinks they did a lot of things “right” in 2014? So if they go from dead last to # 24, can they declare victory? I’m willing to say they don’t become a top 15 special teams. In fact, without experienced cornerbacks, I doubt they’ll be a top 15 defensive unit. It’s Rodgers carring the load and a lot of Packers are one step from mediocrity.