NFL Nation: Shawn Slocum

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Assistant special teams coaches in the NFL are usually neophyte coaches or former players trying to break into the business.

Rarely are they 59-year-olds who have held head coaching jobs at two prominent top-level colleges and also NFL coordinator jobs.

It wasn't lost on Ron Zook that his new position as the Green Bay Packers assistant special teams coach was a bit unusual, when he met with reporters on Monday for the first time since he was hired last week.

[+] EnlargeRon Zook
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesThe Packers will turn to Ron Zook to help with special teams.
“Coaching's coaching; I wanted the opportunity to get back in the profession, I really did,” said Zook, the former Florida and Illinois head coach who had been out of football since he was fired in 2011 after seven seasons with the Illini.

“The first year out, I probably needed it just to kind of collect your thoughts and so forth. This past year, I really began to miss it. I told some people, one of the most exciting things for me is getting back into coaching for the reasons I got into coaching: because I love the game, I love the camaraderie, I love being around the players and the coaches and trying to help get everybody on the same page trying to do the same thing.”

Even Zook isn't quite sure exactly what his role will be, but coach Mike McCarthy knows he wants more attention paid to special teams, which struggled at times last season. McCarthy didn't feel that the problems warranted a complete change, which is why he retained special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, but he appears set on dedicating more resources to it. He also has assigned Jason Simmons, a coaching administrator the last three seasons, to assist with special teams.

“I wanted to put more of an emphasis on that area,” McCarthy said. “One of our challenges ever year with youth, some of the injuries we've had with younger players playing early, there's a lot of one-on-one time that goes into special teams coaching. Everybody in the league goes through it. We just want to maximize that structure as far as to make sure our players are getting the one-on-one time, and I thought Ron brought a whole different dimension to the room.”

Zook was a natural fit for McCarthy. The two worked together with the New Orleans Saints for two seasons (2000 and 2001) when McCarthy was the offensive coordinator and Zook the defensive coordinator before Zook returned to the college ranks to coach the Gators.

In fact, Zook and McCarthy lived together during their early days with the Saints before Zook's family moved to New Orleans. Even after Zook's wife and kids joined him, they lived down the street from McCarthy.

Packers assistant head coach/linebackers coach Winston Moss also was with them in New Orleans, and Zook coached Packers safeties coach Darren Perry during their days with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where Zook was the special teams coach from 1996-98.

“So you've got guys that you know and everybody's looking for the same thing, and that's to win,” Zook said. “That was what was important to me, being in a situation where you had a chance to win and being around good people.”

McCarthy mentioned Zook's energy and enthusiasm, something that was apparent throughout his 20-minute session with reporters on Monday. Zook spoke openly about both his successes, most notably the 2007 Rose Bowl team at Illinois; and his failures, being fired by both Florida and Illinois.

Zook also explained how he has spent the past two years out of football, working part-time as an analyst for CBS and also at a bank in Florida.

But perhaps it was what he did in his free time that was instrumental in his return to the NFL. He would make regular trips across the state to Tampa, Fla., where he would spend time watching film with ESPN "Monday Night Football" analyst Jon Gruden.

“I've spent I can't tell you how many hours, spent an awful lot of time with Jon Gruden,” Zook said. “I'd drive to Tampa, and we'd study football. We'd get ready for the draft, study programs that way, what's going on in both college and the NFL. So I was able to stay involved with the game in terms of the X's and O's part of it. But you miss the relationship side of it."

The aftermath of the Packers' comeback

December, 16, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Just as there was no panic in the Green Bay Packers on Sunday when they trailed the Dallas Cowboys 26-3 at halftime, there were no wild celebrations on the way home, either.

By no means were they nonchalant about their 37-36 victory, which tied the franchise record for the largest comeback.

They were just tired.

“It was actually a pretty quiet plane,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “I think everybody was spent. Just the sideline throughout the second half, the energy, the energy in the locker room, I think a lot of guys were just gassed.”

A day later, it's worth looking back on their improbable victory from several perspectives.

The offense

Despite the first-half struggles, McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements said they never once gave thought to pulling quarterback Matt Flynn and going back to Scott Tolzien, who Flynn had replaced midway through the Nov. 24 tie against the Minnesota Vikings.

“We were focused on trying to get everyone to play better and I think it was a great credit to them that they stuck together, just went out and fought hard and kept fighting and eventually got the win,” Clements said.

[+] EnlargeFlynn
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesMatt Flynn led the Packers to a touchdown on their first five drives of the second half.
The turnaround in Flynn's play was remarkable. He led touchdown drives on the first five possessions of the second half -- all five of which were red zone scores, an area where the Packers have struggled most of the season.

McCarthy and Clements ditched the no-huddle offense that Flynn had run so well the week before in the comeback from 11 points down against the Atlanta Falcons. In the second half alone, Flynn completed 16 of 22 passes for 182 yards and four touchdown passes after going 10-of-17 for 117 yards and an interception in the first half.

“That's one of the things he said, he got locked on a receiver sometimes in the first half rather than going to the next option,” Clements said.

The contributions of running back Eddie Lacy also should not be overlooked. His 60-yard run on the first play of the second half set the tone. It was a play that McCarthy had originally scripted in his fist 10 calls of the game.

“I didn't run any trick plays or any deceptives, didn't do anything exotic, just wanted to get after them fundamentally,” McCarthy said. “And that's what we did.”

The defense

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had been here before -- one week earlier.

But it wasn't quite this bad.

“I told you guys last week, I can remember looking at our guys in the eyes when we were down 21-10 during halftime last week and was like, ‘Hey, we have to go out and play one play at a time and work our way back into this game,'” Capers said. “I pretty much said the same thing to them this week because we were down 26-3. Things weren't looking really good at that point in time. I give them credit. Our guys, I don't think they blinked. We went out. On offense, Eddie had that nice run. I think it kind of picked the guys up and we were able to go out and make a few plays. We played our best when our best was needed.”

To make that happen, they got back on their turnover parade. A week after Mike Neal's strip-sack set up the go-ahead touchdown against the Falcons and Jarrett Bush's interception sealed the game, the Packers picked off Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo twice in the fourth quarter -- and they thought they had a third one but Tramon Williams' attempt at interception was overturned by replay.

Sam Shields' interception of Romo led to the go-ahead touchdown on Sunday, and then Williams finally got his to clinch the game after a replay overturned what was initially ruled an incomplete pass. Credit McCarthy for slowing down the Cowboys so they couldn't run another play before the replay official buzzed down to the field instructing referee Walt Coleman to take another look. When McCarthy saw the Cowboys hurrying up to the line of scrimmage, he called a timeout, which was soon after ruled unnecessary by the replay booth.

“We'll, I'm calling the timeout; I mean I'm not going to get beat by a technicality,” McCarthy said.

The aftermath

Of the Packers' three coordinators -- Clements, Capers and special teams coach Shawn Slocum -- only Clements could remember being part of a game as dramatic as that one.

“On the opposite end I do,” Clements said, recalling a game from his college playing career at Notre Dame.

In 1974, Clements and the Fighting Irish led USC 24-6 at halftime only to lose 55-24.

“Thanks for bringing it up,” Clements said.

Said Capers: “That's probably as dramatic of a turnaround [as he could recall].”

Said Slocum: “I've been through a bunch of games. That one was pretty special.”

The question now is was it just a singular moment in a season or something more monumental?

“Hopefully I'm talking about this a month from now or so,” McCarthy said. “I think these type of games and these types of experiences that we've been through the last five or six weeks are something that you can definitely benefit from as a football team.”

Missed tackles piling up at alarming rate

November, 29, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are on pace to miss more tackles on both defense and special teams than in any other season since coordinators Dom Capers and Shawn Slocum took over their respective units.

Both took over their squads in 2009, when coach Mike McCarthy brought in the veteran Capers to install his 3-4 defense and promoted Slocum from assistant special-teams coach.

With 95 missed tackles on defense and 20 more on special teams through 12 games this season, according to, the Packers almost certainly will surpass their highest totals under each coordinator – 101 missed tackles by the defense in 2011 and 22 by the special teams in 2010.

A day after their humiliating 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions in front of a national television audience on Thanksgiving, McCarthy estimated his team missed 20-plus tackles even though he had only reviewed the special-teams film, not the defensive tape yet.

It wasn’t quite that bad, according to PFF, but it was the worst tackling performance of the season on special teams with five missed tackles. Including the eight missed tackles on defense, it was the second-highest missed tackle total of the season behind only the first game against Minnesota on Oct. 27, when the Packers missed a total of 17 tackles (12 on defense, five on special teams).

“You get above 10 missed tackles in a game, that’s a long day,” McCarthy said Friday. “That’s a combination of special teams and defense.”

In eight of 12 games this season, the Packers have been in double figures in missed tackles. With an average of 7.9 missed tackles per game on defense, they are on pace for 126 for the season. With an average of 1.7 missed tackles on special teams, they are on pace for 27.

The most glaring missed tackle on Thursday might have been on Jeremy Ross’ 35-yard punt return that set up the Lions’ go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter. Ross fielded the punt at his own 32-yard line. Packers cornerback Davon House had a chance to tackle him immediately, but missed, allowing Ross to jet up the field.

The Lions averaged 5.9 yards per rush on designed rushing plays, which excludes kneel downs or quarterback scrambles. They caught the Packers completely off guard when Ross ran an end-around for 24 yards in the second quarter. According to PFF, safety M.D. Jennings missed a team-high three tackles on defense, while John Kuhn missed a special-teams high two.

For the third time in four games, Capers’ defense gave up 200-plus rushing yards. The Lions ran for 241. In a five-day span against the Lions and Minnesota Vikings, the Packers allowed 473 yards rushing. In the first six games of the season, they allowed a total of just 474.

“It’s not [Capers’] fault we’re letting them run down our throat,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “It’s us. We’re the players. We’re on the field. You can’t sit there and blame the coach for us. Yeah, we’re behind him 100 percent – all of our coaches.”

Remarkable turnaround for Mason Crosby

October, 31, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mason Crosby has come a long way since Aug. 3.

That’s when the Green Bay Packers kicker missed five of eight field goals during the team’s annual Family Night scrimmage at Lambeau Field.

It looked like the slump he went through last season, when he made an NFL-low 63.6 percent of his field goals and at one point missed 12 out of 24 kicks, had ruined him.

That almost all seems forgotten now. Crosby has made 17 of his 19 field goal attempts this season, including 13 of 15 during the month of October. For that, he was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month on Thursday.

Crosby tied the team record with five field goals in the Oct. 6 win against the Detroit Lions and followed with a 4-of-5 performance the next week at the Baltimore Ravens.

“I like exactly where he is now,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum said recently. “He’s really striking the ball well. I think he’s got a lot of confidence. His volume of work has been really good.”

Crosby had to fight off challenges from two kickers in training camp just to keep the job he has held since 2007. He also renegotiated his contract in late August, accepting a $1.6 million pay cut, but with the opportunity to earn all of it back through incentives. With an 89.5 percent conversion rate on field goals so far, he’s on pace to earn back every dollar.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 44-31 win against the Minnesota Vikings:

Rodgers' responsibility: Every time quarterback Aaron Rodgers loses one of his key playmakers, his job gets harder. Consider that within a span of eight days, he lost two of his top three receivers (Randall Cobb and James Jones on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens) and his top tight end (Jermichael Finley on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns). Yet in the past two games, Rodgers has played some of his finest football. In his past two games, Rodgers has attempted 65 passes and completed 49, or 75.4 percent. He has thrown five touchdowns without an interception in the past two games. That followed a stretch in which Rodgers -- with all of those weapons -- went three straight games without throwing more than one touchdown. “I think this is really shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday night. “Aaron’s had a lot of challenges Monday through Saturday that don’t show up on a stat sheet, just the change, just trying to get on the same page with younger players, trusting the game plan.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Jim MoneThough the talent around him has been depleted by injuries, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is thriving.
Special teams breakdown: The rash of injuries that has hit the Packers this season has impacted them most on special teams. They had six rookies or first-year players -- including two (receiver Chris Harper and tight end Jake Stoneburner) who weren’t on the Week 1 roster -- on their kickoff coverage team who allowed Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. The Packers had several chances to stop Patterson deep in Vikings territory. Jerron McMillian and Sam Barrington both had shots inside the 20-yard line, and Micah Hyde missed a diving attempt at the 23. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum also pulled punter Tim Masthay off of kickoffs after Patterson’s return. Field goal kicker Mason Crosby handled kickoffs the rest of the game, making it a light night for Masthay, because the Packers never had to punt.

An opportunity for Sherrod: As good as Don Barclay is in the running game, where he regularly finishes blocks with an aggressiveness about him, the second-year right tackle has had his struggles in pass protection. Barclay had his hands full with Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. Although Robison did not record a sack, he regularly beat Barclay and forced Rodgers to have to escape the pocket to avoid him. The Packers might have to consider giving Derek Sherrod a chance at right tackle -- if he’s ready, that is. Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2011, returned to practice two weeks ago and can be activated off the physically unable to perform list. The Packers have to decide by the beginning of next week whether to put Sherrod on the 53-man roster. He appears to be fully healed from the broken leg he suffered on Dec. 18, 2011. He has not played in a game since he suffered the injury late in his rookie season.

No new injuries: It’s always possible an injury or two could pop up in the next couple of days, but perhaps the best thing to come out of Sunday’s game was the fact that the Packers did not suffer any more injuries. For a team that has been hit hard by the injury bug, that’s no small matter. All but one of the seven inactive players on Sunday was injury-related. What’s more, linebackers Nick Perry (foot) and Brad Jones (hamstring), along with James Jones (knee), might be able to return for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears. And linebacker Clay Matthews, who told on Sunday night that he will have the pins removed from his broken right thumb Nov. 4, could return as soon as the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Micah Hyde dismissed the comparison from the start.

Other than being from nearby towns in rural northwest Ohio, Hyde humbly rejected the notion that he should be compared in any way to Charles Woodson.

But Packers coach Mike McCarthy did not. When asked about Hyde’s ability as a punt returner, McCarthy brought up Woodson, the former Packers All-Pro cornerback who also handled return duties at different times during his career in Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeMicah Hyde
AP Photo/Tom DiPaceThe Packers are pumped with the way that rookie DB Micah Hyde can get after opposing QBs.
“Micah Hyde, from day one, I’ve said before in here, back to the rookie minicamp, I think he’s about as natural of a returner as far as handling the football that I’ve seen coming out of college,” McCarthy said. “Charles Woodson is probably one of the best players that I’ve been around as far as handling the football [on] punts. Just very natural to him, and Micah is similar in that way. So he just needs more opportunities.”

Those opportunities are sure to come now that receiver Randall Cobb, who handled return duties for most of the previous two seasons and part of this season, is out at least eight weeks because of a fractured fibula he sustained in last Sunday’s 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Hyde is expected to be the full-time punt returner on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

“I don’t see myself as that; I’m not even compared to anything like that,” Hyde said when asked about comparisons to Woodson. “I’m just back there trying to catch the ball and make sure that A-Rod can go out there and throw touchdowns after that. That’s it.”

Against the Ravens, Hyde averaged 13.6 yards on five punt returns. For the season, he’s averaging 10.7 yards per punt return in seven total attempts to rank fourth in the NFC and ninth overall in the NFL. He’s the only rookie among the league’s top 20 punt returners.

Hyde appeared to be hesitant on his first return against the Ravens and picked up only 2 yards. But his next four returns went for 7, 23, 20 and 16 yards.

“He became more decisive,” special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “I mentioned to him when I saw what he did on the first one, I thought he needed to hit it a little quicker, and he did that on the last three and had really good production.”

It was perhaps the best game of Hyde’s young career. The fifth-round pick from Iowa also played 39 snaps on defense as the third cornerback in the nickel package and had six tackles and a sack/forced fumble of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the third quarter.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes Hyde’s ability to blitz, which is another thing Woodson did extremely well.

“I just have my own expectations, and I’m not saying if I’m fulfilling them right now or not,” Hyde said. “But I like to hold myself to a high standard.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are concerned they might have trouble coming up with a full 46-man, game-day roster for Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Teams must declare seven players inactive from the 53-man roster 90 minutes before kickoff.

The Packers already have ruled out four players – linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb), linebacker Nick Perry (foot), running back James Starks (knee) and tight end Ryan Taylor (knee).

Three other players – linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring), receiver James Jones (knee) and linebacker Mike Neal (shoulder) – did not practice on Thursday. If none of them plays on Sunday, that would be seven inactives right there.

Then there’s cornerback Casey Hayward, who was listed as a limited participant in Thursday’s practice and has yet to play this season because of a hamstring injury. The Packers haven’t said whether he will be cleared to play.

Coach Mike McCarthy said he and general manager Ted Thompson spent time Thursday discussing the options if the Packers have more than seven players who can’t suit up.

Safe to say it’s an unusual situation.

“I don’t recall it,” McCarthy said when asked if it’s ever happened to him.

The issue is that the Packers have so many injured players, but all of them could return at some point this season so they don’t want to put any of them on season-ending injured reserve.

The impact will be felt mostly on special teams. The Packers like to use linebackers and tight ends on special teams, and those positions have been hit by injuries.

“We’ll have enough,” special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “We’ll be OK. We’ll still get it done.”

McCarthy said Neal’s shoulder is improving, and he may try to practice on Friday. He was less certain about James Jones. “It’s going to be close,” McCarthy said when asked whether Jones will practice on Friday.

Also, Derek Sherrod practiced in pads without restrictions for the first time since he broke his right leg on Dec. 18, 2011. Sherrod, who is on the physically unable to perform list, can practice for three weeks before the Packers have to make a decision on him. He tried to come back last year but practiced for only two weeks before the Packers shut him down. He appears to be moving much better this season.

Here’s the full injury report:
  • CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring, full participation in practice)
  • CB Casey Hayward (hamstring, limited participation)
  • LB Brad Jones (hamstring, did not practice)
  • WR James Jones (knee, did not practice)
  • OLB Clay Matthews (thumb, out)
  • OLB Mike Neal (shoulder, did not practice)
  • OLB Nick Perry (foot, out)
  • RB James Starks (knee, out)
  • TE Ryan Taylor (knee, out)

Crosby answers the critics so far

September, 25, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Remember when one of the biggest concerns about the Green Bay Packers was their field goal kicker?

Less than a month ago, questions remained about whether Mason Crosby would be back for a seventh season in Green Bay.

Crosby not only emerged from an intense training-camp competition with Giorgio Tavecchio (and Zach Ramirez for three days), but he may have come out of it a better kicker.

Crosby has made all four of his field goals this season, including a 3-for-3 performance in Sunday’s 34-30 loss at Cincinnati.

Not convinced that’s a large enough sample size to have faith in Crosby?

Dating back to last season and including this preseason, Crosby has made his last 16 field goals. He finished the 2012 regular season by making four in a row and went 2-for-2 in the playoffs. In preseason games this summer, he made all six of his attempts.

“Mason’s hitting the ball very well,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum said this week during the team’s bye. “I think he’s got great rhythm. I thought his three field goals [on Sunday] were done the right way. He looked good.”

To be sure, it’s hard to forget Crosby’s meltdown during the Packers’ scrimmage on Aug. 3, when he missed five of his eight field goals, and he hasn’t been tested from long distance yet this season. His longest field goal was a 41-yarder against the Bengals. His other kicks so far were from 19, 26 and 28 yards.

Still, there’s reason to believe Crosby has put last season, when he ranked last among NFL kickers with a 63.6 percent conversion rate, behind him.

How did he do it?

“Hard work and professionalism, and I think a strong will,” Slocum said. “That says a lot about the guy.”

Crosby restructured his contract last month, taking a $1.6 million pay cut, but the deal will allow him to earn back all of that money through incentives. At this point, he’s on pace to do just that.

A look at the kick returner options

September, 23, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Unless the Green Bay Packers go outside for a new kick returner, a possibility they will surely explore this week during their bye, their options are relatively limited.

Either risk using star receiver Randall Cobb, who excelled at the job most of the last two seasons before turning it over to Jeremy Ross late last year, or go with a combination of unproven rookies.

That’s the situation after the Packers released Ross on Monday, one day after he fumbled a kick for the second time in four games dating to last season.

Given Cobb’s importance on offense, a role that blossomed last season when he caught a team-high 80 passes, the Packers may be hesitant to reinstall him as their full-time returner when they play the Detroit Lions on Oct. 6

“We haven’t discussed that,” special teams coach Shawn Slocum said Monday. “Our game plan will dictate that.”

The Packers have used Cobb, who has three career special teams touchdowns in his first two NFL seasons, sparingly on special teams this season. He has handled five punt returns, mostly in situations where he was deep in his own territory, and called for fair catches on four of them.

It’s worth wondering if the practice of using Cobb on so-called “important returns” messed with Ross’ confidence, but Slocum said Ross’ problems were on kickoff returns and not punt returns, where he averaged 10.0 yards per return this season.

Ross was indecisive on a kickoff return in Week 1 at San Francisco and it led to poor starting position and then misjudged and fumbled a short kickoff on Sunday at Cincinnati. Ross, who impressed the Packers with a 58-yard punt return in Week 16 last season against Tennessee and had a 44-yard kickoff return in Week 17 against Minnesota, seemingly hasn’t been the same since he muffed a punt that the 49ers recovered in the NFC Divisional playoff loss in January.

If the Packers opt against putting Cobb at risk on special teams, then they likely would split the duties between rookies Johnathan Franklin on kickoff returns and Micah Hyde on punt returns. Franklin, who rushed for 103 yards against the Bengals, had no game experience as a return man in college at UCLA and had one kickoff return for 14 yards in the preseason but spent significant time during training camp working as a returner. Hyde, a backup cornerback, returned punts at Iowa and averaged 12.5 yards on two preseason punt returns.

“We always have an idea but as far as how we prepare and really with the game plan, as we go into the game with Detroit will determine which direction we go,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

The Packers worked out former New York Jets return specialist/running back Joe McKnight earlier this month but didn’t view him as an upgrade over Ross at the time.

“We’ll put someone out there that can function and do the job the right way,” Slocum said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As entertaining as it was to see three kickers go head-to-head-to-head in practice on Sunday, there’s a reason teams don’t usually bring more than two of them to training camp.

There just aren’t enough reps to go around, which would explain why the Green Bay Packers released Giorgio Tavecchio on Monday -- one day after they added Zach Ramirez to the kicking competition.

The Packers signed Tavecchio on March 26 to compete with veteran Mason Crosby, who was coming off his worst season. Crosby made an NFL-low 63.6 percent of his kicks last season.

But before you write of Tavecchio, who actually outkicked Crosby in practice this summer, he might not have been on a one-way ticket out of town.

“The kicking competition is not over,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “We feel like we have a very good handle on where Giorgio is as far as his capabilities, his performance. There is a case, a scenario where we may bring him back.”

It seems a little far-fetched, but here’s one scenario that could play out: Suppose Ramirez doesn’t kick well enough this week, and the Packers decided to stick with Crosby. Then, Crosby struggles like he did last season, and the Packers decide they can’t live with him anymore. They could then reconsider Tavecchio.

Tavecchio made 56-of-64 field goals (87.5 percent) in practices/scrimmages and 1-of-2 in preseason game action, while Crosby converted 53-of-67 (79.1 percent) in practices/scrimmages and all four of his preseason game kicks.

What separated Crosby -- and for that matter Ramirez -- from Tavecchio is leg strength. Shortly after he arrived on Monday, Ramirez matched Crosby in both accuracy -- both made 10-of-11 in a field goal period -- and distance. Both made from 60 and 63 yards, the two longest attempts of the drill. Tavecchio couldn't make the 63 yarder.

For now, the Packers want to see as much of Ramirez as possible. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum has another extended kicking period scheduled for Tuesday’s practice and then would like to see how Ramirez, a rookie from Portland State whose only previous NFL experience was on a tryout basis in the Seattle Seahawks rookie minicamp this past spring, reacts in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City.

When asked why they signed Ramirez so late in training camp, Slocum said: “We were not satisfied that we had someone win the job yet.”

What to watch for: Packers-Seahawks

August, 23, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Expect to see replay after replay of Golden Tate and M.D. Jennings fighting for the ball on the final play of last year’s Week 3 game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks during the television broadcast of Friday night’s preseason game at Lambeau Field.

But that’s old news, at least to the Packers, who have two preseason games and just three more practices remaining before final roster cuts are due Aug. 31.

Here are five things to watch for from the Packers’ perspective:

1. Playing time for the starters: Coach Mike McCarthy has typically used the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener, playing his starters at least the full first half and resting them in the exhibition finale. This year could be different. McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson still have a long list of young players they want to see in extended game action to get a better evaluation. To do so, they might have to cut back on playing time for some of the starters. “I talked to Ted about some things, so once again we’re trying to get as much information as we can,” McCarthy said. “We want to play very well, we want to win the game, but we’ve got guys who have been injured the whole camp. We have guys who have been injured from the spring all the way through camp that are finally maybe playing.”

2. Young receivers: Among the players McCarthy was referring to are rookie receivers Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson. Both missed most of training camp and the offseason program. Dorsey returned last week from a hamstring injury but did not play in Saturday’s game at St. Louis. Johnson returned this week from a knee injury. The seventh-round draft picks were expected to challenge for the Nos. 4 and 5 receiver spots but have fallen way behind. “I think they have a good grasp of our offense, our concepts, what we do,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said this week. “But unfortunately, a big part of what we do is taking it from the classroom and going out on the practice field and working our fundamentals to improve, and that’s the area that, unfortunately due to injury, they haven’t been able to take full advantage of. Will they get some opportunities in these next two preseason games? We’ll see.”

3. Cornerback carousel: Casey Hayward was arguably the biggest playmaker for the Packers defense last season. As a rookie, he intercepted six passes while playing the slot position in the nickel package. He missed the first month of training camp because of a pulled hamstring he sustained while working out over the summer. During his absence, rookie Micah Hyde has played well in the slot position. Sam Shields and Davon House have manned the outside spots while Tramon Williams remains out with a knee injury. Hayward returned to practice this week and could see some action against the Seahawks. “You have Sam and House outside, Micah is right there, so [Hayward] is fourth right now,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “So until Casey moves either him or House out of the way, he’s not going to get as many reps. You have to be deserving of your reps, and really what you did last year is last year.”

4. Harris’ return: Despite the emergence of rookie Eddie Lacy, McCarthy insists that DuJuan Harris remains his starting running back. Harris might get one chance to prove that. He will make his preseason debut after finally returning from a knee injury he sustained in the offseason. Harris, who was signed to the practice squad in October and wasn’t promoted to the roster until Dec. 1, finished last season as the starter and averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the final four regular-season games. “He did great things for us, I thought, down the stretch in the last part of the season,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Unfortunately, he had the injury there in OTAs that kept him out of the first part of training camp, but all that being said, he did his job when he was asked to do it last year and he’s going to continue to get the first chances to do it now that he’s back.”

5. Crosby … again: It wouldn’t be a Packers preseason game if there wasn’t some drama surrounding the kickers. Just when Mason Crosby looked like his struggles were behind him after he made all three of his kicks against the Rams, he had a horrible practice Wednesday. He missed three straight field goals before finally knocking a fourth through the uprights. Crosby was scheduled to kick only one or two balls, but special-teams coach Shawn Slocum made him keep kicking until he finally made one. Just one day earlier, Slocum had praised Crosby. “I thought Mason kicked the ball well all week, and he did it in the game and did it again yesterday,” Slocum said Tuesday. All eyes will be on Crosby to see if he falters again and re-opens the door for challenger Giorgio Tavecchio to beat him out.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Micah Hyde swears he took a few turns as a punt returner early in training camp this summer.

“You guys must have missed it,” the Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback said to a group of reporters, “because I was catching punts. It wasn’t every day, but I definitely, before I was doing some gunner work and stuff like that, I was catching some punts. Maybe I was sneaky with it.”

Those who looked closely would have seen that all along, Hyde was listed on the depth chart as the No. 4 punt returner. But if he took any actual reps the first three weeks of camp, it wasn’t more than a few. That’s why it was a surprise to see Hyde get his first shot to return a punt late in the second quarter of Saturday’s preseason game at St. Louis. And it was equally surprising to see Hyde, with little training on special teams, catch the ball cleanly and do exactly what special-teams coach Shawn Slocum wants his returners to do. Hyde planted his foot and headed up the field without hesitation to pick up 13 yards -- the longest punt return by a Packers player so far this season.

[+] EnlargeMicah Hyde
AP Photo/Morry GashMicah Hyde's "ball-skill ability" made an early impression on Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
“I thought his punt return the other night, he got off the spot really quickly,” Slocum said.

As well as Hyde has played on defense this preseason, there might soon come a time when the Packers are at full strength in the secondary and will have to reduce his role. For now, the fifth-round pick is playing starters’ snaps at cornerback. But at some point relatively soon, starter Tramon Williams will return from the knee injury he sustained early in camp and nickel back Casey Hayward will be full go after returning this week from a hamstring injury.

Perhaps that’s why the Packers are exploring other ways to get Hyde on the field.

Although Hyde served as the University of Iowa’s primary punt returner the past two seasons (averaging 7.4 yards as a senior and 8.2 as a junior), the Packers did not use him on returns much during offseason workouts or early in camp. He opened training camp behind Randall Cobb, Jeremy Ross and rookie running back Johnathan Franklin on the depth chart at punt returner.

Coach Mike McCarthy has said repeatedly that he’s willing to take Cobb off return duty but only if he finds someone with the same kind of play-making ability and sure-handedness with the ball. Ross has shown signs of that, but there’s no guarantee he will make the roster as a receiver, and Franklin appears too shaky catching the ball to be strongly considered.

So McCarthy went back to something he remembered about Hyde from the rookie orientation camp in May.

“If you remember the one drill we were doing, we had 21 guys going through the kickoff-return and punt-return drill and (were) really challenging them with the ball placement,” McCarthy recalled. “Just to see (Hyde’s) ability to catch the ball on the run and do different things, hell, I was tempted to put him on offense. I think he has that type of ball-skill ability.”

One 13-yard return won’t convince the Packers to go with Hyde, but they have given him increased work during special-teams period in practice this week. With Cobb sidelined because of a biceps injury, Slocum also is exploring other options at kickoff returner. On Tuesday, running back DuJuan Harris returned kickoffs for the first time.

“We’ve made no decisions at this point, and I think from an outsider looking in you can see us trying a number of guys, and you can form your own opinions,” Slocum said. “But we’ve made no decisions.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Last month, a feisty Mike McCarthy made it clear he wouldn't fire defensive coordinator Dom Capers after an embarrassing performance in the Green Bay Packers' 45-31 divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, it appears McCarthy is planning a unique and proactive offseason to address the team's defensive shortcomings.

Speaking Friday at the NFL scouting combine, McCarthy revealed the Packers' defensive coaching staff will visit Texas A&M for what amounts to a clinic on how to defend the read-option scheme -- the first visit to a college in McCarthy's tenure. Several other college coaches will visit Green Bay during the offseason for similar purposes, McCarthy said, all in hopes of strengthening the Packers' response to a scheme that accounted for many of the 49ers' 579 offensive yards.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesQuarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers torched Green Bay for 579 yards in the playoffs.
"Definitely, there is a lot of conversation about the read-option," McCarthy said. "Rightfully so, [because] 579, that's a number that will stick in our focus as a defense throughout the offseason."

McCarthy set up the visit to Texas A&M through special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, who played and coached there. The Packers have "great respect" for current Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin, McCarthy said, because of his experience using the spread option with Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, as well as defending it.

"It's about getting better," McCarthy said. "It's about improvement. We need to do a better job in stopping the read-option. That's something we're focused on."

To which I say: Good for the Packers. First, McCarthy deserves credit for recognizing the obvious and seeking a substantive, if out-of-the-box, solution. It's also worth noting his willingness to reveal his plan publicly, a move that could be interpreted by cynics as a gimmick even as it demonstrates to others an earnest attempt to improve.

The approach isn't novel, of course. NFL coaches routinely consult -- formally or informally -- with their counterparts at the college level. And it should also be pointed out that the Packers need help against conventional running plays, as well. Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson torched them for 409 yards in two regular-season games, and even before the 49ers revealed their read-option, they piled up 186 rushing yards against the Packers in Week 1.

But you have to start somewhere, and even an amateur eye recognized the Packers were a few steps behind the read option in the playoffs. I suppose you could ask why they couldn't catch up during the regular season, but as McCarthy said: "Regret is something I think is an excuse."

Indeed. What's done is done. The Packers needed a response to the debacle we all witnessed. Rather than go the traditional route of firing coaches or overhauling the roster, they're reaching out to third-party experts. Seems fair to me.

Randall Cobb announces his presence

September, 9, 2011
Randall CobbAP Photo/Jim PrischingRandall Cobb racked up two touchdowns in his debut, including a 108-yard kickoff return.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Some of you laughed, some of you listened and many of you mocked the audacity of some two-bit blogger's observation during a tiny window of an NFL training camp. To be sure, I'm nothing but a football amateur. Yet even to me, it was obvious last month that Randall Cobb would be the NFC North's newest dynamic playmaker.

I can't say I expected Cobb to score a pair of touchdowns in his NFL debut, as Cobb did Thursday night in the Green Bay Packers' wild 42-34 victory over the New Orleans Saints. But every now and then, a player comes along whose open-field running skills transcend the trained eye and are obvious to the masses. In this instance, you knew it was a matter of time.

"He's shown that from the first day of training camp," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "When other players talk about a player having a chance to be special, he is one of those guys. He's very raw. He's picking up our system. But he knows what to do when he gets the football in his hands, and he knows how to get open. He's a gifted young man with a lot of good football in front of him."

Cobb touched the ball on five live plays Thursday night. One was a 108-yard kickoff return, tied for the longest touchdown return in NFL history. Another was a 32-yard touchdown reception. That both came after what Cobb admitted were "rookie mistakes" only added to the significance of his debut. Namely: In his first NFL game, and 17 days after his 21st birthday, Cobb turned two busted plays into thrilling touchdowns in a nationally televised prime-time game.

"That's special," receiver Greg Jennings said, "and I don't care who does it or how."

There were a number of takeaways from Thursday night's game. I'm sure many of you are concerned about a defense that gave up 419 passing yards to Saints quarterback Drew Brees and needed a goal-line stop on the game's final play to ensure victory. The uncertain status of cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) is also troubling, but for me it was hard to avoid putting Cobb at the top of my postgame list.

We've spent plenty of time discussing the Packers' logjam of offensive skill players and wondering how they could all fit together. Would Cobb get blocked from an offensive contribution, especially early in the season? The answer, based on Thursday night's game, was most definitely not.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers spread his 27 completions among nine different receivers. On a first down in the first quarter, Rodgers changed the play just before the snap. Cobb's rookie wires got crossed, however, and instead of running a drag route to the sidelines, he ran a slant over the middle. Rodgers followed along, hit him in stride at the 25-yard line and watched as Cobb ran away from safety Roman Harper, put a move on safety Malcolm Jenkins and then leaped over the goal line.

"I ran the wrong route and luckily scored," Cobb said. "I'm going to hear about that in meeting tomorrow and probably get a negative [grade] for it. But we just made a play. That was the big thing."

[+] EnlargeJohn Kuhn and Randall Cobb
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesRandall Cobb broke the team's rules on touchbacks when he brought the ball out from the end zone and scrambled for an 108-yard score.
Indeed, Cobb got a negative grade during the game from McCarthy and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum after breaking a team rule on his third-quarter kickoff return. In the wake of the NFL's decision to move kickoffs to the 35-yard line, Slocum has instructed returners to line up 5 yards deep in the end zone.

"If I have to take any steps back," Cobb said, "the rule is don't bring it out. And I did. I'm going to be in trouble for that one. I'm thinking I'm going to get chewed out. "

In truth, Cobb probably wouldn't have made it past the 25-yard line had teammate John Kuhn not braced him after the Saints' Leigh Torrence's low hit.

"The first thing that Slocum tells us is to pick up the returner when he gets tackled," Kuhn said. "I just wanted to pick him up before he got tackled."

Still, Cobb displayed unteachable instincts and presence of mind to accelerate downfield before the Saints realized what had happened.

"I just got lost in the moment there," Cobb said. "I just trusted in God. He told me to bring it out. I'm not supposed to bring that out at all. I'm not. Some things are illogical, and some things are the power of God. That definitely was the power of God telling me to bring it out. And he gave me great teammates to help block downfield."

McCarthy was admittedly furious that Cobb broke the 5-yard rule, but sometimes as a coach you have to shake your head and accept when a player's skills make all your structure irrelevant.

It's worth noting that Cobb quickly kneeled on his next return, which he fielded 7 yards deep in the end zone. The Packers weren't making any immediate changes to their rules, but I honestly wonder if NFL teams watched what happened Thursday night and re-evaluated their planned response to the league's new rule.

Of the 12 kickoffs Thursday night, eight went for touchbacks. One was an onside kick. One was returned 108 yards and another 57 yards (by the Saints' Darren Sproles).

If you have a potentially game-breaking returner, do you give him more leeway than you were previously planning? Should the rule really dictate touchbacks on 75 percent of a game's kickoffs?

Cobb demonstrated the benefits of the former, even if it was unintended.

"I scored two touchdowns and they were both mess-ups," he said, laughing in the Packers' celebratory postgame locker room. "They'll go down as 'MAs.' Missed assignments. But my first game, it exceeded all of my expectations."

Maybe for the first game. But you knew it was coming sometime. NFC North, meet Randall Cobb. He's going to be around for a while.
We've discussed the expected chess match between the Chicago Bears' offense and the Green Bay Packers' defense. We've noted the recent success of the Bears' defense in limiting production from the Packers' offense. Come Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field, those battles will be fought closely and could turn on the slimmest of margins.

In reality, the biggest advantage either team will have over the other is on special teams. The Bears are top-notch and, well, the Packers haven't always been.

You would probably recognize that distinction anecdotally after watching both teams this year, but to put it into numbers: Our friends over at Football Outsiders ranked the Bears' special teams No. 1 overall during the regular season. The Packers ranked No. 27 on that scale. Take a look at the chart for more details based on regular season statistics.

On Sunday, the Bears will have the best three special-teams players on the field. Cover man Corey Graham led the NFL with 22 special-teams tackles, according to press box statistics, while returners Devin Hester and Danieal Manning helped the Bears achieve the best average drive start in the league.

The Packers, on the other hand, never established a kickoff returner this season. While punt returner Tramon Williams is an explosive player, he averaged only 7.9 yards per return. And the Packers' coverage has had some disastrous moments, most recently in allowing a 102-yard kickoff return to Eric Weems in the second quarter of an eventual 48-21 victory this past Saturday over the Atlanta Falcons.

[+] EnlargeCorey Graham
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCorey Graham is Chicago's cover man extraordinaire.
"It doesn't make me nervous because these impact returners can do that at any time," Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum told reporters Thursday. "Our ball placement wasn't quite by design and we had a couple breakdowns in the structure of the coverage. The big thing is that after that play, we were productive in our kickoff coverage."

You could argue that it only takes one special-teams breakdown to lose a game, but it's only fair to note the Packers had been moving to a better place in the latter stages of the regular season. In fact, they had a particularly productive game in Week 17 against the Bears, downing four of Tim Masthay's eight punts inside the 20-yard line, limiting Hester to 35 yards on two punt returns and getting a 41-yard punt return from Williams.

"That was really good production," Slocum said. "If we could get that [Sunday], I think that would really help us."

Without a doubt. But suffice it to say, the Bears will make a repeat performance awfully difficult.