27

July

Mason Crosby to Sign 5-Year Deal with Green Bay Packers

Mason Crosby

Fans could have split feelings on Mason Crosby's new 5-year deal with the Packers.

According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online, placekicker and unrestricted free agent Mason Crosby has agreed to a new 5-year contract with the Green Bay Packers. The deal is reportedly worth $14.75 million, which includes $3 million in guaranteed money.

“The contract puts Crosby in the upper echelon of kickers in the National Football League,” noted Silverstein, “just below top-paid kicker Sebastian Janikowski of the Oakland Raiders.”

Silverstein also reminds fans that post-lockout rules prevent teams from signing unrestricted free agents until Friday a 6 p.m. Teams are, however, able to negotiate terms with free agents prior to that time.

This news will probably be received differently depending on which Packers fans you talk to.

Mason Crosby has spent his entire 4-year NFL career in Green Bay. Taken in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, he was widely considered the best college kicker that year. His main selling point has always been his strong leg, having a reputation for forcing touchbacks against his collegiate opponents.

The past few years with the Packers, however, have left something to be desired. Though some still consider his kickoff skills an essential part of his abilities, he has yet to break an 80% success rate in field goal attempts. His first two seasons in the NFL were his best in regards to his accuracy, but they have since dipped, with 2009 being Crosby’s worst season at only a 75% success rate.

This past season also saw a significant drop in the number of touchbacks by Crosby and the Packers; however, it’s unclear how much of that was due to special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum’s play calls.

It’s no secret that the Packers like what they have in Crosby despite the sometimes-overwhelming criticism from fans. They haven’t given him much (if any) competition in training camp outside of his first season, and their current lack of undrafted free agent signings at the position this year will seem to continue that trend.

Some had hoped Ted Thompson would try to sign placekicker Kai Forbath from UCLA, but a report indicates Forbath won’t be signing until healthy. Besides, it’s likely Thompson had planned to re-sign Crosby since the lockout began.

28

June

Chasing Perfection: A Few Areas Where the Packers Can Improve in 2011

We’ve all read or heard the quote. It’s a time-honored choice of words that transcends football, or any sport for that matter, and it was uttered by the most famous coach in Packers and NFL history.

“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.” — Vince Lombardi

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these words, or a variation of it, were said in each NFL locker room every season. The quote in itself  is nearly perfect, as there has only been one “perfect” team record-wise in the Super Bowl era.

Which brings me to my overall point. While the Packers accomplished the goal that every team sets out to at the beginning of the season, they weren’t a perfect team by any means. The 2010 Packers lost six games along the way, overcoming several deficiencies in the process. Every Packer fan from the Pacific to the Atlantic (and beyond, for our international readers) expects the Packers to repeat next season, but that might not be possible unless the Packers continue to chase perfection.

Listed below are several areas where the Packers can continue to improve for next season, and the ways in which they can do it.

 

Kick and Punt Returning

Could Improve:

The Packers averaged just 20.8 yards per return on kicks and 7.9 on punts, good for 26th and 22nd in the NFL, respectively. The group—which consisted of Jordy Nelson, Sam Shields, Pat Lee, James Starks and Tramon Williams—produced zero touchdowns and very few big plays. The Packers were also one of five teams that failed to produce a kick or punt return over 60 yards over the course of the season.

How it Could Improve:

The Packers made their first substantial move in the returning department in some time when they took Randall Cob in the second round of April’s draft. He’ll need to win the spot in camp, but all signs point to Cobb being the Packers primary return of kicks and punts. If that scenario does unfold, Cobb should be a marked improvement. He scored two touchdowns off punts at Kentucky, and averaged 24.7 yards on 44 career kick returns. I’d hesitate to call him the next Devin Hester, but Cobb can help turn around the Packers returning woes in a hurry.

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.

16

August

Packers vs. Browns: Film Study Observations (Preseason 2010)

The following are my observations on the Packers – Browns game after re-watching the game with the benefit of rewind and slow-motion:

Bryan Bulaga is an NFL starting lineman. Right now. Bulaga won his one-on-one battles while at guard and at tackle. He also looked noticeably better than Daryn Colledge. Bulaga was a little unsure of himself at guard on a few plays, which is to be expected. But once he found his mark an locked on to someone, they did not get away. I also saw Bulaga do something I haven’t seen from a Packers guard in some time. This was one of my pet peeves last season. In pass coverage, with Wells on the tackle and Clifton taking a blitzing linebacker, as Cleveland sent a defensive back on the edge outside of Clifton, Bulaga quickly slid over behind Clifton to meet the blitzing DB and stop his rush. Simple, effective, and something I just never saw as I would watch the game films last season. I don’t know if we credit Bulaga or the coaches for that, but either way, it’s a very good thing.

Bryan Bulaga at Left Guard:

In general, the Packers did a very good job in picking up the blitzes, especially the running backs. I observed Jackson, Lumpkin and Porter each make nice pickups, with Lumpkin having the most impressive play, coming all the way from being lined up on the right side to pick up a blitzing linebacker coming off the edge on the opposite side. I now believe Packers running backs coach Edgar Bennett when he says protecting the quarterback is the primary concern for his running backs, even over effective running of the ball.

Speaking of the running backs, I think Quinn Porter is showing enough to make this team. He has some nice moves, and is the type of running back I’ve been wishing for as a compliment to Ryan Grant. He showed me something when running between the tackles, too. While not very big, Porter is a fighter and his legs never stop churning. I saw him make a few extra yards on a few occasions when he appeared to be stopped. If Porter shows any pass-catching ability, and continues blocking well, then I say sign him up. I believe, as others have suggested, we could see James Starks get put on IR so the Packers can keep both of them without having to carry 4 running backs on the roster.

31

May

Green Bay Packers Eyeing a “Special” 2009 Season

Shawn SlocumThe 2008 Packers season has been categorized in many ways. “Special” was not one of them. It was the start of a new Favre-less era, the year the defense became an absolute horror show, Aaron Rodgers showing he can put up top-10 quarterback numbers, the purging of the defensive coaching staff, etc., etc.

While the defensive struggles have been talked about ad-nauseum, I don’t believe the Packers’ special teams struggles have been emphasized enough. In the interest of fairness, lets take a look at what happened and what’s being done about it.

First, a few fun facts about 2008 to paint a picture:

The Packers were 32nd in the NFL in Kickoff return yardage.
The Packers were 20th in the NFL in Kickoff coverage.
The Packers were 26th in the NFL in field goal percentage
The Packers were 27th in the NFL in average punting yardage

However you picture “awful”, that’s what you should be seeing in your mind’s eye right now.

So how does this get fixed? Well, if you’re Mike McCarthy, you start by encouraging Mike Stock, your 69-year old special teams coordinator to “retire” (just days after he told Green Bay beat reporters how he planned to be back for another year).

“Should I be looking over my shoulder? Do you know something I don’t know?” Stock kiddingly asked following the team’s Christmas Day practice. “It all depends on one thing and one thing only: How long does he (McCarthy) want me to stay? That’s what it depends on.”

Yes, after his post-season interview with Mccarthy, Stock suddenly changed his mind and decided to retire after three years with the Packers and 44 years in coaching overall. Call it a win-win.

Unlike his search for a new defensive coordinator, McCarthy did not look far from the team to fill the special teams position. On January 15th, 4 days before announcing Dom Capers’ hiring, McCarthy promoted Shawn Slocum from his special teams assistant position to Special Teams Coordinator.

Slocum had spent the last three seasons with the Packers and before that, coached 15 college seasons for four different schools. He was a special teams coordinator at both USC and Texas A&M, and was also an assistant head coach at Ole Miss. So the Packers seem to have an experienced coach whose time has come for his first pro coordinator position.