The Green Bay Packers’ special teams have stunk for years, and replacing coordinators hasn’t seemed to help.
Not only have they stunk, but they’ve stunk in every conceivable way, and they keep finding new ways to stink. It’s fair — and nerve-wracking — to think the Packers win the Super Bowl last season if they had even the most mildly competent special teams unit.
Instead of constantly spraying Febreze on the reeking squad, the team’s brass finally seems committed to actually cleaning house, hiring respected guru Rich Bisaccia and promising to reevaluate their processes from the ground up.
Thus far, everything Basaccia has said and done is exactly what you’d want. But we’ve been down this road before. Until this unit consistently proves itself and stops making me cry on a weekly basis, it’s too early to declare the issue fixed.
But the process does seem different so far. Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst truly seem committed to fielding an NFL-level special teams unit by providing Bisaccia what he needs to succeed. This can most recently be seen by the recent acquisition of former Las Vegas Raiders safety Dallin Leavitt.
Leavitt, a former UDFA, played under Bisaccia for the Raiders for the past four seasons and clearly impressed the coach enough to end up under him again in Green Bay.
Defensively, Leavitt played a rotational role at free safety. Last season saw his highest amount of defensive snaps at 23%. The Packers don’t have a lot of proven safety depth beyond Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, so Leavitt will get a chance in that role.
But where Leavitt shined in Oakland and Vegas — and where he could most valuable to the Packers — is as a core special teams player. Starting in his sophomore season in 2019, Leavitt was one of the most relied-upon special teams players, seeing 65% of snaps in 2019, 77% in 2020, and 78% in 2021.
In 2021, Leavitt led the Raiders in special teams tackles with 12 (a career-high). Oren Burks led Green Bay with the same number last season, and he’s no longer with the team, so those tackles are up for grabs. And if you’ve watched the Packers, you’ll know they aren’t great at special teams tackles. The more reliable tacklers, the better.
Leavitt will get every chance to earn a role on defense, and having a player able to play on offense or defense and special teams is always an asset. But even if he’s mostly there for special teams, it shows the Packers’ commitment to getting Bisaccia what he needs.
Green Bay previously signed another former Raider, cornerback Keisean Nixon, this off-season. Like Leavitt, Nixon will get a legitimate chance to play on defense as part of a position group without a lot of proven talent beyond the starters. But Nixon was also a core special teamer for Bisaccia, playing the fourth-most special teams snaps for the Raiders in 2021.
This isn’t just Raiders’ nepotism. Bisaccia knows these players as both a coordinator and the interim head coach, and they played significant roles for special teams. According to Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings, the Las Vegas Raiders clocked in at a respectable 11th place. The Packers were 32nd, so these players are clear upgrades.
It isn’t just former Raiders showing Bisaccia’s influence on player acquisitions. The seventh round of this year’s draft has Bisaccia’s fingerprints all over it.
Safety Tariq Carpenter in particular looks to be a Bisaccia pick. The uber-athletic Carpenter can be a hybrid safety-linebacker that’s becoming all the rage on defense. But Carpenter will make his money on special teams, at least as a rookie. Jonathan Ford and Rasheed Walker should also get a chance to contribute on special teams. Samori Toure‘s best chance of making the roster might be to claim the role of kick or punt returner, one that absolutely needs an upgrade.
Romeo Doubs and Christian Watson should also see playing time on special teams regardless of their higher draft position, and both are in play as returners.
Bisaccia also got himself a new punter this off-season, signing former Chicago Bear Pat O’Donnell. Former punter Corey Bojorquez had a hell of a kicking leg, but it got inconsistent as the weather got colder, and the holding operation was a disaster. Bisaccia saw the issue, and Gutekunst got him what he needed.
During OTAs and mandatory training camp, LaFleur stuck to his word to experiment with starters on special teams and let Bisaccia play around with the roster.
It’s clear that the Packers are giving Bisaccia the tools to field his vision for the group. He’s signing former players he knows can be relied upon, has had his input in the draft, and isn’t afraid to change specialists. He’s also toying with starters playing prominent special teams roles. The Leavitt signing is the latest in what appears to be a special teams makeover.
Will it work? Who knows. History hasn’t been kind to Green Bay’s special teams coordinators. But it’s undeniable the process is being changed from the ground up. One thing is certain: The Packers are taking Bisaccia’s input seriously.