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Packers positional analysis: Specialists

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted March 07, 2011 @ 10:21 a.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

In the ninth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Packers’ personnel entering the 2011 offseason, we analyze Green Bay’s specialists.

Overview: The Packers’ special teams performed a lot better than they did in Shawn Slocum’s first season as the unit’s coordinator in 2009. That said, they were still far from special. They ranked only 26th in kickoff returns and 22nd in punt returns, and the coverage units gave up three long returns that contributed mightily to losses at the hands of the Bears (Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt-return TD in Week Three), Falcons (Eric Weems’ 40-yard kickoff return, with a 15-yard facemask penalty by Matt Wilhelm tacked on, to set up the game-winning score in Week 12) and the Patriots (OG Dan Connolly’s unlikely 71-yard kickoff return that set up a key score in Week 15).

There were some real positives worth noting, however. For one thing, the unit cut down dramatically on penalties from the previous season. In addition, Jarrett Bush and Korey Hall (when he wasn’t hurt) were impact core performers, with Bush looking like he could be a Pro Bowl special-teamer in the making. But the biggest positive was the steady development of Tim Masthay, who looks like he could become one of the Packers’ best punters in years.

PK Mason Crosby: An urestricted free agent, Crosby seems likely to be re-signed, despite the fact his accuracy is below average by league standards (he ranked 13th in the NFC with a .786 FG percentage) and has managed only one game-winning kick in his career. There’s no denying Crosby’s leg strength, although he had only four touchbacks this season after averaging 14.3 his first three seasons. His 56-yard field goal in Week One against the Eagles ended up being the longest in the NFC. Crosby could generate some genuine interest on the open market — at whatever point it indeed opens.

P Tim Masthay: After prevailing in a spirited training-camp battle with native Australian Chris Bryan, Masthay got off to a shaky start and was in genuine danger of losing his job after the Week Three loss to the Bears in which Hester delivered a back-breaking TD return of Masthay's poorly directed punt. But Masthay made a dramatic rebound after that game, delivering sterling efforts against the Jets in the regular season and the Bears in the postseason. Head coach Mike McCarthy called Masthay’s outing against the Jets (eight punts for 41.5 net average, including five inside 20 with a long of 55) the finest performance he had ever seen by a punter at any level. Consistently pinpointing his punts down the stretch, Masthay’s confidence was higher than his steadily improving hang time at the end of the season.

LS Brett Goode: In his three seasons on the job, Goode has yet to deliver a bad snap, which is as good as it gets.

PR Tramon Williams: One would suspect Williams has become too valuable a commodity as a top-grade cornerback to continue being the team’s primary punt returner in 2011. Aside from a season-high 52-yard return against the Redskins and a key 41-yard return that set up a field goal against the Bears’ in the regular-season finale, Williams was adequate at best bringing back punts.

PR-KR Sam Shields: Shields eventually replaced Jordy Nelson as the primary kickoff returner during the regular season. But he relinquished the role to James Starks and Charles Woodson in the postseason. Like Williams, Shields’ impact was marginal as a kick returner, although his exceptional speed could keep him in the return mix next season.   

KR Jordy Nelson: Nelson had one nice 51-yard kickoff return early in the season but was in effect removed from the KR mix after a pair of fumbles in the first game at home against the Lions.  

KR Pat Lee: Lee returned 13 kickoffs for a 20.4-yard average with a long of 30 during the regular season and figures to be in the running for the primary job next season. 

KR James Starks: The 2010 sixth-round rookie became the team’s primary kickoff returner in the playoffs (five returns for 70 yards with a long of 20) and very well could begin next season in the same role.

KR Charles Woodson: The Packers’ undisputed team leader pitched in with a pair of kickoff returns for 29 yards in the playoffs and always can be counted on in case of emergency, even though he isn’t getting younger.

Bottom Line: There are still plenty of issues worth being concerned about with the Packers’ special teams, the biggest being the lack of anybody close to a quality kick returner. On the positive side, Masthay’s emergence was a most pleasant surprise.

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