The 2010 Packers won the Super Bowl despite their special teams. While kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay were fine, the returners had very little room to manuever and the kick coverage was consistently inconsistent. But things are looking up. The addition of receiver Randall Cobb provides Green Bay with all the ingredients needed to be extremely successful on special teams this season. The former Kentucky star should be just what the doctor ordered on returns, and the outstanding depth at tight end, outside linebacker and in the secondary should be a boon to the coverage units. Truth be told, there’s only one thing that can keep the special teams from rising to the top – the coaching of coordinator Shawn Slocum.
Slocum seems like a hard-working guy, but his return and coverage units have been way too undisciplined since the day he was tabbed to take over for the “retired” Mike Stock (don’t get me started on the decision to replace one of the worst coaches in the league with his assistant). Watch the way other teams play special teams and then watch the Packers. You don’t have to be an expert to see how many guys are missing blocks on returns and how many guys are failing to stay in their lanes in coverage. That’s all about discipline. And if things don’t improve in this particular area, no amount of new talent will make an appreciable difference.
BATTLE OF ATTRITION
Assuming the Packers keep four tight ends, and assuming impressive rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor are two of them, the final roster spot will likely come down to either Andrew Quarless or Tom Crabtree. The former is the better receiver and the latter is the better blocker. My hunch is that GM Ted Thompson would prefer to keep Quarless, a fifth-round pick with the requisite size and athleticism to create mismatches down the field. But head coach Mike McCarthy always stresses the importance of accountability, and the former Penn State star has been sidelined for much of camp with assorted injuries. That should’ve opened the door for Crabtree, but he’s also missed some time with injuries of his own. So in what figures to be a heated battle, the last man standing could literally wind up being the last man standing.
GUARDS FOUGHT TO A DRAW
After re-watching every snap played by Derek Sherrod and T.J. Lang on Saturday, I still can’t decide which offensive lineman performed better at left guard. Both did some good things and some not so good things. Sherrod definitely played better than he’s been practicing, but the same problems I wrote about a few weeks ago were noticeable against the Browns. As for Lang, he looks more comfortable inside than Sherrod. That’s because his body is better suited for the position and he’s stronger below the waist. What he’ll never do particularly well, however, is adjust on the second level. It’s obvious Thompson and McCarthy would like to see their first-round pick win the job, but I still think Lang is the better choice.
LINEBACKERS WERE IN NO RUSH
None of the three players competing for the starting job at right outside linebacker got anywhere near the quarterback in the preseason opener. That wasn’t a huge surprise considering Frank Zombo, Erik Walden and Brad Jones haven’t shown much as pass rushers in camp. In fact, the most effective pass rusher this summer has probably been undrafted free agent Vic So’oto. The former defensive end from BYU is a physical player with above-average athleticism, but he’s still learning the position. That showed on Saturday night when he got caught out of position on numerous occasions. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers would love for one of his outside linebackers to pick up the slack for Cullen Jenkins, but the more you see, the more you have to wonder whether any of them will be up to the task.
JONES BACK ON THE MARKET?
This following isn’t a rumor, it’s just a thought. With Cobb looking so impressive at wide receiver, is it possible that James Jones could still wind up playing for another team this season? I know he just signed a three-year contract with the Packers, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude a trade from happening. In fact, Jones might be more appealing to other GMs now that his future earnings are set through 2013. And while an offense can never have too many weapons, if Thompson can turn his No. 4 receiver into a decent draft pick or perhaps a proven offensive or defensive lineman, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him make a move with Jones. Just something else to ponder as training camp trudges along.