25

March

Is this the Year the Packers REALLY Address Special Teams?

Lip service. That’s all we’ve gotten as Packers fans when it comes to the subject of poor special teams play. It’s not acceptable, we’ll get it fixed, blah, blah, blah.

In 2006, Mike McCarthy came to the Green Bay Packers and brought with him veteran coach Mike Stock to coach special teams. McCarthy was familiar with Stock, as they were on the same staff in Kansas City in the late 90s. They hired Shaw Slocum as Stock’s assistant and his first NFL job after 12 years coaching special teams and linebackers at the college level.

Stock stayed with the Packers through the 2008 season, suddenly deciding to retire a few days after the season and only 10 days after Mason Crosby’s 38 yard game winning field goal attempt versus the Chicago Bears was blocked. The Packers would later lose that game in overtime.

In what would be the first of many coaching changes Mike McCarthy would make that offseason, many have  speculated that Stock was given the option to retire rather than be dismissed. Whatever really happened with Stock, McCarthy decided to give the Special Teams Coordinator job to Shawn Slocum.

That’s when things really started to fall apart.

As many of you probably know, Rich Gosselin of the Dallas Morning news publishes the gold standard of NFL special teams rankings. He looks at 22 different kicking game categories and compliles the individual rankings into an overall ranking. Let’s see how the Packers have done since 2006:

2006    32    Stock/Slocum

2007   8       Stock/Slocum

2008   26     Stock/Slocum

2009    31      Slocum

2010    29      Slocum

Pretty impressive, huh?

To Mike McCarthy’s credit, he was not at all happy with the Packers regressing from the now apparent aberration of a good year in 2007 to their bottom 20th percentile finish in 2008. It was time to move the old guard out and start fresh. Unfortunately, he gave the job to Shawn Slocum.

Much was made of this change and there was a noted emphasis on special teams improvement. As I wrote in this article at the time (Packers eying a special 2009 season), the Packers draft and player moves that season all were made with an eye on special teams play. The plan was to stock the roster with new ST players and let the new coach show them the way to better play.

Well, it didn’t work. Adding insult to injury, not only did the Packers finish next to last in the league in special teams play, they LED the league in special team penalties. With 30. A rather amazing number.

Off with his head! Of course, McCarthy was going to do no such thing. Instead, he  worked with Slocum to develop some new drills and lead a “back to basics” program stressing fundamentals and cutting down on the penalties. McCarthy also added another 5 minutes every practice devoted to special teams.

The Packers did fix the penalty problem. But even with the addition of a much improved punting game thanks to Tim Masthay, they only improved two spots in the rankings from the previous year. As things turned out, all of the talk about improved special teams play was just that, talk.

Now I can hear many of you saying, “So What? They still won the Super Bowl!” Well, that’s certainly true, but the minute you start accepting the status quo because you’ve tasted success, is the minute you set yourself up for future failures.

McCarthy is a hard working coach. I’ve never begrudged him that. But he has, in my opinion, been a little too accepting of poor special teams play. The Packers’ ST rankings during his tenure just scream that. Five years and it’s no better. He made the needed moves to fix the defense. He’s fine-tuned the offense to it’s strengths, but when it comes to special teams, he hasn’t done all that he can.

It’s time Mike. This is the year. Bring the special teams up to the same level as the rest of the team. Then perhaps the Packers will become a truly dominant team in 2011.

And I bet you all thought I had nothing to get on McCarthy’s case about…

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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20 Responses to “Is this the Year the Packers REALLY Address Special Teams?”

  1. FireMMNow says:

    Great Post! How does a roster with this much talent and depth perform so poorly on special teams, when like you said, so many roster moves were made purely for ST purposes. One reason – Slocum is not a good coach.

    What else could possibly be changed to improve special teams?
    MM has been overly patient with slocum. Also, the excuse of the turnover of players on special teams this year is laughable. Dom got his guys to play at an extremely high level with the same amount of turnover. And this may be a shocker, but teaching a new player an entire defensive scheme is a little more difficult than teaching him kick coverage.

    Generally in life if you perform in the bottom 10% of your peer group you get fired. How does Slocum have a job?

    I have obviously questioned MM in the past, and he answered a lot of those questions late in the season. But, while his loyalty to his staff is admirable, he needs to cut bait. Campen, Slocum and Winston Moss can all be replaced in my opinion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      I had a feeling you would like this one…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • Anthony says:

        FireMMNow, why do they play so poorly? Because we had 15 guys on IR this past year. That’s no excuse for the previous years, but we kept having to bring new guys up on O and D, which took from them playing on Special Teams.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • FireMMNow says:

          Anthony

          Dom was dealing with the same exact type of turnover and he coordinated #2 defense in the NFL. I could see if the Packers were even in the middle of the pack in special teams rating your theory might have some validity. Or if the packers have had consistently good special teams in prior years. But Slocum has coached HORRIBLE special teams. He has one of the most talented kickers in the league that has regressed every year he has been in the league. AND he has a GM that puts a huge importance on STs when he assembles his roster. I do not know how Slocum’s performance can be defended. He is probably a very nice guy and seems to be a standup individual, but he is just not a good coach. The NFL is about results, and he has not performed.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        • FireMMNow says:

          26th, 31st and 29th for the last three years…anyone that attempts to defend that performance will have an extremely flawed argument. just do not get it.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

          • Anthony says:

            It’s because Dom is one of the best coordinators in the league. Listen, I’m not saying I like our ST at ALL, but still, we brought guys in that had NO CLUE about how we did things because of injuries, so they had to catch up within 1-2 weeks after being signed to know how to do our special teams play. It takes a while to build chemistry, and there was absolutely none on special teams until the end of the year, and hey, we did pretty dang well in the playoffs!

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            • FireMMNow says:

              why shouldn’t this team have one of the best ST coaches in the league? you admitted that dom was able to do it because he is a great coach. therefore, i would assume that if slocum was a great coach he could have had similar results. every year TT tries to maximize the talent on the roster, the same needs to be done on the coaching staff.

              once again…flawed argument

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        • PackersRS says:

          That’s not an excuse even for this year, not when the D had as much shuffling and performed admirably well.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • FireMMNow says:

        Al, were the Packers in the top 10 in any ST category?

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  2. Philip says:

    slocum and mccarthy are best friends. i’ve met RC Slocum and his wife and they told me as much. Shawn and Mike used to work together at Pitt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • FireMMNow says:

      i knew there was a reason this guy was still around. thanks for the info philip.

      friends do not let friends drive special teams drunk.

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    • Jersey Al Jersey Al says:

      I’ve heard that before, but I had no way of knowing if true, so I hesitated to write it.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. PackersRS says:

    To me, 7 things saved Slocum’s ass this season (with only 2 being a consequence of his work):
    1) The ammount of injuries
    2) Staying with Masthay and not Bryant
    3) Being close friends with MM
    4) The new rule changes
    5) Cutting on penalties
    6) The Packers winning the SB
    7) The lockout

    I understand the reasoning with keeping him. I still think that even so it’s the wrong move, though. And I would like to think that this is his last year. Another failed season and he’s out. Or at least should be.

    Truth of the matter is, Slocum is given a much greater security in his job than most, and this includes a former Packers’ employee in Bob Sanders, who after one bad season was let go.

    Given the information we have, the right path would be to get rid of him. But I know I had the same feeling regarding the secondary in 09, and it turned out well even without major moves. I had a similar feeling with MM himself, and he changed his ways once we got to the playoffs.

    It’s kinda hard to argue with TT’s track record…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    • FireMMNow says:

      you would hope that if the special teams has another abysmal season MM would let his friend go. at the end of the day he has to be held accountable to the other coaches, and favoritism of this sort gets old quickly.

      i know TT lets MM control his staff (and he should) but i would assume that if Slocum has another poor year TT might put a little pressure on MM.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      • PackersRS says:

        It sure looks like it, but we can’t assume that friendship is the reason Slocum is being kept.

        In light of the recent SB win, I’m willing to give TT and MM the benefit of the doubt.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Tarynfor12 Taryn says:

    Shaw Slocum must be one tough S.O.B. to take this kind of abuse and seems just fine being the whipping post boy for MM and the Packers.
    Does anyone here really think TT and MM lose sleep over the SPTs play.The penalty problem was ADDRESSED and I see no further UNDRESSING to perform a deeper scope into want only the fans seem to feel is a must.
    Since TT has not drafted any pure SPT player as yet,I won’t lose sleep waiting for it.

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  5. Ron LC says:

    The NFL felt sorry for Mike and Slocum and moved the kickoff back to the 35 for the next season. No need for a KO return defense. I’ll bet Chicago is pissed. They might as well forget KO’s and start the game at the 20. Goodell’s injury paranoia is going to the extreme.

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