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Friday, July 25, 2014
Packers position preview: Special teams

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Over the last two weeks and leading up to the Green Bay Packers' first training camp practice on Saturday, we broke down each position group.

We wrap up the series with special teams.

Returning players: Mason Crosby (K), Tim Masthay (P), Brett Goode (LS).

Gone from last season: None.

New this season: None

Position coach: Shaun Slocum (sixth season, also spent three seasons as assistant special teams coach).

Crosby
Biggest issue: Despite a major rebound by Crosby, who had his best career season in 2013 following his worst in 2012, and another strong season by Masthay, the Packers finished 20th out of 32 teams in the Dallas Morning News' highly-regarded annual special teams rankings. Where did Slocum's unit struggle the most? Perhaps it was in covering kicks. Opponents started drives at an average of the 25.6-yard line, the best field position in the league last season.

Player to watch: Perhaps the most important person to keep an eye on this summer is not a player but rather a new addition to the coaching staff. Coach Mike McCarthy brought in former Illinois and Florida head coach Ron Zook to assist Slocum in coaching special teams. It's unusual for a 60-year-old veteran coach to serve in a position normally reserved for a young, up-and-coming coach, but it speaks to McCarthy's commitment to improving this unit. Zook coached special teams with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1996-98. He also has previous experience with McCarthy. The two were on New Orleans Saints coaching staff together in 2000 and 2001.

Medical report: There are no known injury issues.

Help wanted: While the Packers are set with their specialists, the return job might be wide open. The Packers seem unlikely to put receiver Randall Cobb back on return duties, but they would like someone just as dangerous. Defensive back Micah Hyde finished last season as the primary returner on both kickoffs and punts. Hyde, who was more effective as a punt returner, will face competition from several players. The most likely challenger might be rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis, a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin.

Quotable: "I thought we had a good year in a couple of areas and did poorly in one particular area, and that's explosive gains in coverage," Slocum said of last season. "That's something we've really got to improve. Can't give up explosive gains and expect to win field position or games."

Previous installments

July 14: Quarterbacks

July 15: Running backs

July 16: Receivers

July 17: Tight ends

July 18: Offensive line

July 21: Defensive line

July 22: Linebackers

July 23: Cornerbacks

July 24: Safeties