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Mike McCarthy mum on possible changes to Packers' special teams

1/28/2015

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It might be more than a week before we know coach Mike McCarthy's plan to fix the Green Bay Packers' dreadful special-teams unit.

McCarthy would not offer specifics on Wednesday, when he held his season wrap-up news conference, other than to say everything will be scrutinized before any decisions are made.

All the assistant coaches, including embattled special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, were given this week off.

"It's important to evaluate," said McCarthy, whose offseason work was delayed by the unexpected death of his younger brother last week. "I obviously haven't had that opportunity. So we'll look at everything. We'll look at every job description, every job responsibility, performance – mine included – and we'll look to make changes."

McCarthy said it usually takes him a week to conduct his end-of-season meetings and evaluations with his coaching staff.

There's reason to think McCarthy could keep Slocum, but possibly in another capacity or with other changes to help his special teams, which was ranked last in the Dallas Morning News' annual rankings.

McCarthy and Slocum have a long history, having first worked together at the University of Pittsburgh in 1990, and McCarthy has fired only one coordinator in his nine seasons as head coach and none since he parted ways with Bob Sanders, who ran the defense from 2006-08.

Last offseason, the Packers fired special-teams assistant Chad Morton and hired veteran coach Ron Zook to help Slocum. They also assigned another member of the staff, Jason Simmons, to assist with special teams.

A poor season on special teams, which included having seven kicks blocked in the regular season, became worse in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Two plays – the Seahawks' fake field goal in the third quarter and their onside kick in the fourth quarter – turned out to be major turning points.

McCarthy discussed the fake field goal at length on Wednesday but was not asked about the onside kick, which went off the hands of tight end Brandon Bostick, who was supposed to block on the play, and was recovered by the Seahawks with 2:07 left in regulation.

At the Super Bowl this week, Seattle punter Jon Ryan, who played for the Packers from 2006-07, said the key to pulling off the fake field goal was to dupe linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk. Jones sold out hard for the block, and Hawk was left to decide whether to play Ryan as a ball career or drop into coverage against eligible lineman Garry Gilliam, who caught the 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan with 4:44 left in the third quarter for Seattle's first points of the game.

It appeared to be a case of Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider outdueling Slocum.

"Fakes are risky," McCarthy said. "And Jon Ryan can run; we know that. I think from the responsibility standpoint, pursuit and so forth, I think it would've been a foot race for the first down. We did not execute our particular responsibilities as best we can, and they had a better play call than what we had called.

"Special teams has been no different than offense and defense," McCarthy added. "It comes down to healthy scheme, knowing your opponent. You're looking for the personnel matchups and ultimately executing the fundamentals. Our special-team errors have been critical more because of the timing of it. It definitely showed up in the Seattle game."

McCarthy said Wednesday that continuity on his coaching staff is important but added that "there's devils involved with that, too. You have to fight to complacency."

"We'll look to adjust or change and whatever we need to if we think it’s going to help us be better," McCarthy said.

That process starts now.