As the Packers' 2009 training camp begins, here are the developments I want to see in the kicking game by the time the Packers break camp.
Kickoff Returns: Green Bay was last in the league last year in kickoff return yardage. Which is a bit surprising, considering Will Blackmon was so good on punt returns. Jordy Nelson had even less success in his attempts.
The new NFL rules prohibiting wedge blocking are expected to make kickoff returns more like punt returns, so maybe that will help Blackmon and Nelson.
If not, the Packers need to find someone else. One possibility is one of their undrafted free agents, Jaron Harris (Jerry Rice's cousin), who returned kicks for four years in college. He hasn't been looked at as a returner yet by the Packers, but that could change if the struggles continue.
Of course, he would have to be a good enough receiver to beat out Ruvell Martin and Brett Swain for that fifth receiver spot or hope the Packers, keep six receivers if they are all special teams contributors. In any case, this must be addressed.
Punting: One of 2008's unmitigated disasters. Jon Ryan was the third ranked punter in the league in terms of average yardage when he was cut before the first game of the season in favor of Derrick Frost. Supposedly, the Packers were looking for more consistency.
Frost did so poorly, he was cut after 12 games and Jeremy Kapinos was brought in and did a decent job. At least he did what Mike McCarthy wanted. In McCarthy's press conference explaining the move, he was quoted as such: "I want him to punt the ball in the right direction." "I'm expected to win games. He's expected to punt the ball in the right direction."
Then, McCarthy added, "I'm not trying to be funny." Allllllll-righty, then...When the Packers break camp, they have to have a punter they believe in. And if Kapinos or Durant Brooks is not that guy, they have to find someone else. Evidently, they've tried, as this article by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel describes.
Field Goals: Mason Crosby was 27th in the league last year in field goal percentage (79%). His rookie season he was 24th in the league (80%). Breaking down his numbers by distance, his Achilles heel has been the 30-39yds distance.
In 2008, there were 13 kickers in the NFL that were perfect from that distance. Some had more attempts than Crosby, some less. Crosby missed three field goals from that distance. Despite this, we have no other kickers in camp. Isn't it customary to at least have some kicking competition in camp?
Field goal kicking is something that hasn't been talked about much, but I feel it's an area that needs to be improved on in training camp. I feel Crosby is being given an undeserved pass and there should be another kicker in camp to push him, if nothing else.
While there are other issues to be addressed (kickoff coverage, for example), the Packers have taken steps by drafting players known for the special teams prowess and re-signing some of their own free agents that were big special teams contributors. I've already covered that subject here.
Check back for the next installment when I will cover the offensive side of the ball.
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