Something that will always make me smile at this time of year is the thought of a rosy-cheeked Wisconsin kid riding his bike home from Lambeau Field, only to discover that every bolt, spring, and weld in his once-prized possession is "mysteriously" loose, sprung, or bent.
Thanks, Dean Muhtadi! How am I gonna get to baseball practice now?
Ahh, what a special time of year, and a perfect time to talk about special teams.
Who really cares about special teams, anyway?
Football fans, that's who.
To be honest, most ST play isn't exciting, and for us fans at home it's an annoying way for Fox and others to cram eight minutes of advertising around 30 seconds of game action. But the specials are important in so many ways.
A team won't win championships without them. Teams need strong play by a special unit to offer their defense and offense a chance to excel through the grind of the regular season and playoffs.
It's the breeding ground for prospects and projects. A great chance for rookies and backups to see the field and impress coaches with their play.
Once the ball is in the air, there's always the chance for something special to happen. Punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns and destructive, bone-crushing open-field hits.
Does anyone remember Dante Hall? I do! Run, run, you tiny little man!
Who'll start at special teams for the Packers this year?
Sorry, aside from a few positions, I have no idea right now. Most of the positions will start to take shape as September approaches and the cuts start to happen faster.
What I can tell you is that Jason Hunter certainly won't be. As I mentioned in Pt. 2 of this series, he's in Detroit. The reason I mention him again is that, for the last few seasons, he's been a steady, sometimes stellar special teams contributor, and he'll be missed.
According to a source around Packers camp, Mike Montgomery is practicing with the ones right now, so I'm unsure about him. Montgomery also made a strong contribution to special teams the last few years. But if his skill has improved to a first defensive level then he won't be seeing much time with his old squad.
I know linebacker Brad Jones was drafted late out of Colorado for his strong special teams play, but he has spent most of the summer on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and hasn't been able to show the Packers what he can do in pads yet.
Brandon Underwood was also drafted late and has a strong special teams background at the college level.
Spencer Havner seems like a natural for special teams—if he can make the Packers as a tight end/linebacker. I would really like to see him distinguish himself and make the Packers, as it would be a great luxury to have an extra roster spot in today's NFL.
What about the kick returners?
Will Blackmon has shown flashes of sheer brilliance as a punt and kick returner. I think he has a long way to go before he can be described as a threat, but the wait might not be as long as some think.
Tramon Williams is slotted as the second returner, which I'm not too sure of. Nothing against his skill, it's just that his contributions to the first-team defense are growing daily, and I'd rather not see him returning kicks because of the increased injury potential.
I feel roughly the same about Jordy Nelson as I do about Williams. Nelson hasn't contributed to the offense like Williams has to the D yet, but his career is in its early stages and he could be looking at a big year as Green Bay's third wide receiver in 2009.
Second-year wideout Brett Swain has garnered some attention in camp with his increased muscle and maturing decisive play. Swain has a huge challenge to make this team as a sixth wide receiver, but, if he continues to improve, I think his NFL future is bright.
This past Saturday's offensive star, Tyrell Sutton, is also in the mix as a kick returner, along with fellow tailbacks DeShawn Wynn and Kregg Lumpkin.
Lumpkin has had another setback on the injury front, spraining his right shoulder against the Browns on Saturday night. I have really high hopes for this kid, but the big strike against him since college has been injuries. Get well soon, Lumpy!
Are there any sure things?
Mason Crosby is the kicker. That's a guarantee. He's got a huge leg. I've heard he's hit from over 60 yards in practice before, but his career has been somewhat inconsistent to this point.
Where I'd really like to see improvement from Mason this year is in his 30- to 35-yard attempts. With his leg strength, he should be near-perfect from that distance.
I'm not sure what his career percentage is from there, but I'm absolutely certain it's not perfect. If Crosby can cut down on his misses, he could be a fixture in Green Bay for a long time to come.
The other sure thing on special teams is the long snapper, Brett Goode. I heard the Packers found this guy making driveways in Nevada.
So far he hasn't laid any bricks on the field for the Packers, and, if he can continue to go completely unnoticed by everyone in the world, it's safe to assume he's doing his job perfectly.
Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks—huh?
Huh, indeed. I really hope one of these guys has a strong head to go with his leg. Punters worry me, especially Packers punters. They haven't had one for a while now. The trend I've noticed at this position is Ted Thompson seems to be focused on trying to recycle other teams' scraps.
There is no other position on the Packers at which he has attempted to do this, and, to be honest, he should stop.
Of course, drafting a punter is also fraught with danger. B.J. Sander, anyone? A third-round draft pick! On a punter!
That leaves only one true option if Kapinos or Brooks fails to produce: a proven free agent. I don't know of any out there right now, which might mean a one- or two-year wait for the Packers to find their guy.
This could have some pretty serious ramifications to the special teams unit and the Packers overall.
One possible solution to this dilemma lies up here with me in the North. The junior league, by which I mean the CFL, might be the place to go shopping for a Packers punter.
The Packers would have a good chance to evaluate a talent before even bringing him (whoever he might be) in, and I can guarantee he'd come cheap.
Wow, you certainly had a lot to say about special teams, didn't you?
Definitely more than I thought, which is awesome because it allows me the opportunity to make a complete fool of myself. Are you ready?
Stay tuned for Pt. 4 of my special three-part series on the Green Bay Packers preseason: coaches and management!
See you soon!