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Ron Zook sees easy fix for special teams

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To hear Ron Zook tell it, the Green Bay Packers' special-teams problems of 2014 came down to a dozen bad plays and some rotten luck.

If that's the case, then his job as the new special-teams coordinator shouldn't be as daunting as it would appear.

Zook, 60, was promoted to replace Shawn Slocum, who counted Zook as his top special-teams assistant last season.

Slocum had been the Packers' special-teams coordinator since 2009 but was fired last month. The Packers had seven kicks blocked during the 2014 regular season and finished last in The Dallas Morning News' highly respected special-teams rankings. They had two key breakdowns in the postseason, when they allowed a fake field goal for a touchdown and failed to secure an onside kick in the second half of the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

"There's 12 plays that were not good," Zook said of last season's special teams. "Really there was only a couple plays that had an outcome that affected the game. If you go back and you take everybody in the National Football League, they probably had close to 12 plays whether it be a return or a block or something bad happen.

"The way it turned out with us, those particular plays, particularly at the end, they had a serious outcome on the game, an effect on the game. It's what people remember, and it's an easy thing to fix where other things maybe aren't so easy to fix. But I'm not going to lose sight of the fact that we did an awful lot of good things. We have to hopefully cut down on negative things that happened."

Asked what will be different about his special-teams units, Zook said: "That's a good question. I'm not sure. Hopefully, we're a little more lucky than what happened to Shawn at times."

Ask others about Zook, and they will cite his high-energy approach. Perhaps that comes from his background as a two-time former college head coach at Florida (2002-04) and Illinois (2005-11). Zook had been out of coaching until Packers coach Mike McCarthy hired him last year.

"You can tell he's energetic," said Jason Simmons, who will serve as Zook's assistant. "It's not fake. It's who he is, and I think the players are going to respect that. They know he's not up and down. He's consistent. And that's what we’re going to be asking those guys to be as well."

And, perhaps, to be a little scared.

"I always had a little saying in football of everybody needs to have a little fear for their job whether it be the players, the coaches or whoever," Zook said.

That's where McCarthy comes in. He plans to have a bigger involvement in special teams now that he has handed over play-calling duties to Tom Clements. Both Zook and Simmons said that having the head coach in the special-teams meetings should let the players know the importance of that aspect.

Meanwhile, McCarthy had more specific ways in which special teams must improve.

"We have to continue to develop our young players, get them ready to play and contribute as quickly as possible," McCarthy said. "And we need to get more out of our veterans. To me, that's the hole in our special teams. The consistency and the standard of play in our veteran players is not where it needs to be. And that will be a direct focus of mine."