Green Bay Packers

The Pat O'Donnell Signing Brings Stability To Green Bay

Photo Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the madness of yet another Aaron Rodgerscentric offseason is the news that the Green Bay Packers have been working to address the shortcomings of the special teams unit. Maurice Drayton’s squad was among the league’s worst last season, and it is reasonable to believe that the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers could at least partially be pinned on the special teams play. I’ve said it before: If you don’t notice your special teams, they are doing a good job. That certainly was not the case last season for the Packers.

Beyond hiring a renowned coordinator in Rich Bisaccia to replace Drayton, Green Bay also made a change at punter. They jettisoned Corey Bojorquez and his gigantic leg out of town in favor of signing a guy named Pat O’Donnell. Any punter with the first name Pat is at least halfway on the path to greatness, so this is a safe signing for a team desperately seeking stability across the entirety of the special teams.

To understand Green Bay’s signing of O’Donnell is to understand the root of the problem with the special-teams group. Consistency was never there for Drayton’s unit. Players were regularly out of position in coverage. Simple tasks like holding the ball properly for field goal attempts proved to be too much for Bojorquez to handle, and it inevitably led to a dip in performance for the usually sure-legged Mason Crosby.

The Bojorquez signing was exciting. He came from the Buffalo Bills leading the league in yards per punt, and he was replacing J.K. Scott, who never lived up to his fifth-round pick status. Bojorquez hit some massive punts during his one season with the Packers (including an 82-yarder), but he had the yips and shanked a few in some crucial moments by the end of the season. That understandably led to the premature divorce, as a team with championship aspirations cannot take the time to develop the finer points of a punter’s game.

Enter Pat O’Donnell. He comes from the Chicago Bears, so O’Donnell has plenty of experience punting the ball. In fact, O’Donnell has averaged just north of 70 punts per season in his eight seasons with the Bears, nearly more than 20 extra punts than the Packers have averaged in their last two seasons winning the division (49.5). He has plenty of experience, and he will surely welcome a situation where he will not have such a massive workload.

O’Donnell also features a big leg. He may not be able to bomb it as consistently as Bojorquez, but he’s still young and has the ability to pin opponents back deep.

His punting statistics don’t pop as much as Bojorquez’s do. O’Donnell had a lower percentage of punts inside the 20-yard line, and O’Donnell’s net average of 38.5 yards per punt fell short of Bojorquez’s even 40. However, O’Donnell had fewer punts go out of bounds last year, and his fair catch/touchback numbers were nearly identical to those of Bojorquez on nine more attempts. The big plays may not exist for Green Bay’s special teams and punting unit this year, but that is all part of the plan to bring stability and peace to a group that experienced little semblance of that last season.

It also cannot be emphasized enough how important it is that the punter can hold the ball on field goal attempts. Last season was one of the worst in Mason Crosby’s career. While all kickers are bound to fall off the edge of productivity, it is fair to wonder how much of his struggles began with inconsistent holds by Bojorquez. Packers fans everywhere have been clamoring for Crosby to be replaced, a completely unfair evaluation of someone who has been historically one of the most consistent and reliable Green Bay players for the last decade-plus.

At a crisp 31 years old, O’Donnell will bring maturity and consistency to every part of the punting game. There is a reason you may not know who he is: He goes out there and gets the job done. Special teams play is one of those rare phenomena in sports where no news is good news. Get out there, do your job, and fall back behind the curtain. That is what O’Donnell is best at.

O’Donnell will bring a steady hand and great hairline to Green Bay this upcoming season. He has a podcast called Locker Room Dads where he just talks to other players about being dads. He is nondescript and effective, which is about everything that a team can look for in a special-teams player. O’Donnell will fit right in with Mason Crosby, and significant improvements to the punting and kicking game should follow this upcoming season.

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