Green Bay Packers

Green Bay's Special Teams Are Filling Out Following the Draft

Photo Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Green Bay Packers organization and the fans seem to be pleased following the recent draft, which is a rarity.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry got two first-round selections from a historically good Georgia Bulldogs defense to continue building his unit. Matt LaFleur and new offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich got a host of weapons and exciting offensive line prospects. Aaron Rodgers should be thrilled to have new toys to play with. And even new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia got some talent to rebuild his group.

A reoccurring bit as the draft approached was “to give the seventh round to Bisaccia,” and it looks like that’s what happened. After a trade down, Green Bay had four seventh-round picks, and most of them went to players with special-teams promise. Special teams traditionally fills out in the last weeks of preseason, but the unit seems to be crystallizing earlier with Bisaccia in charge.

Of course, every position is open until the season starts. Still, we can see Bisaccia’s blueprints forming even now.

The Packers appear to have made three of the seventh-rounders mentioned above with Bisacca in mind. The first of the four, Tariq Carpenter, looks like a prototypical core special teamer. The hybrid safety/linebacker is athletic, speedy, versatile, and has ideal size. Carpenter, who grew up a Packers fan, is the kind of player you can build the unit around, and his selection shows that Gutekunst and Co. are committed to giving Bisaccia the players he needs.

Defensive tackle Jonathan Ford is a mountain of a man but lacks the elite RAS score the Packers like. He’ll be a rotational piece along the defensive line, but he should see some immediate impact on special teams. Longtime Packers fans will recall that the team was atrocious at blocking on kick protection last season. T.J. Slaton was one of the few bright spots on that unit, and Green Bay should use Ford similarly—a big-bodied human wall.

Green Bay’s final selection in the draft, WR Samori Toure, has a legitimate chance to play a role on offense even as a rookie. But he’ll earn his initial bread on special teams. PackersWire’s Zach Kruse believes Toure has the speed and experience to carve a role on special teams as either a gunner or a returner, and finding that niche will be his key to making the initial 53-man roster. The Packers don’t have any surefire candidates for those roles, so Toure has a solid chance.

Speaking of returners, Toure isn’t the only new Packer in consideration for the role. Both LaFleur and Bisaccia are determined to fix special teams, and they are open to playing starters or high-impact players there.

The Packers took three receivers in the draft. Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs will compete with Toure for spots at returner despite being higher-round draft picks. Watson and Doubs figure to be offensive contributors early in their careers, but both could also see significant playing time on special teams. Both have experience as returners, so that competition will be fun to follow as training camp escalates. Should Kylin Hill‘s recovery go well, he could see time as a returner again, but it’s best to let Amari Rodgers focus on receiving this season.

As for the specialists, when the Packers hired Bisaccia, there was a serious possibility that he could recast all three roles. However, it appears that may now be settled.

Mason Crosby was Mr. Reliable in 2020 and Mr. Please Don’t Kick The Ball in 2021. The Green Bay staff believes he’ll bounce back to his old self in 2022.

“Obviously, Mason had to adjust to a lot of the things that were happening with our special teams unit and the snappers and the new punter and holder,” Gutekunst said. “With those moving parts, he had to adjust, and I thought he did a really nice job toward the end of the year. We’re in that offseason period where we get a chance to look at a lot of guys.”

Kickers JJ Molson and Dominik Eberle are on the current 90-man roster, but it’s hard to see the Packers making the switch at this point.

Corey Bojorquez had a killer leg but grew inconsistent as the season went on and struggled as a holder. Therefore, Green Bay replaced him with former Chicago Bears punter Pat O’Donnell, who has plenty of experience playing in cold weather. And he’s done plenty of punting in general because the Bears are bad at offense. O’Donnell currently lives with Crosby, and the two have made some fun Step Brothers references. Handpicked by Bisaccia, O’Donnell appears to be a lock to make the roster.

Gutekunst decided to swap long snappers midseason, replacing Hunter Bradley, who he drafted in 2018, with Steven Wirtel. This move did not improve special teams, as Wirtel was one of the worst long snappers in the league. Thus far, the Packers have kept Wirtel around and haven’t brought in competition. The Packers must think a full offseason with Bisaccia can help Wirtel turn things around.

Bisaccia also brought in former Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Keisean Nixon, who played a significant amount of special teams snaps for the coach in Vegas.

Special teams is still a work in progress, and it’s hard to get excited before there is any on-field evidence the woes are over. But it’s hard not to be optimistic about the process as Bisaccia’s vision takes form and the contributors become apparent. The Packers are giving their new coordinator what he asks for to succeed, and, so far, the process appears promising.

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