Special Teams Experience Doesn't Carry Much Weight in 2022 for Packers

All bets are off when it comes to making the Initial 53 this season.

While experience alone isn't everything, oftentimes, it does give a player an advantage over those who just haven't spent the same amount of time on the football field. However, when it comes to the Green Bay Packers and their special teams unit, experience may not mean as much this season.

I won't go into great detail because we all know the story quite well at this point, but the Packers' special teams unit from 2021 was abysmal. The blocking was poor, and there were questionable snaps, bad holds, along with missed kicks. Both of the kick and punt return units struggled, as did the coverage teams--not to mention that there was also a shanked punt or two.

The end result was a special teams group that ranked as the worst in football in Rick Gosselin's annual rankings. Although the 2021 crew may have been the worst of them all, the special teams play in Green Bay has consistently ranked in the bottom third of the NFL for a decade-plus. 

So for that reason alone, players having special teams experience -- at least on the Packers -- doesn't really carry a ton of weight. Leading the team in tackles, playing the most snaps, or having the highest PFF grade doesn't quite have the same shine when you're the "best" on the worst unit in football. 

On top of that, the Packers brought in a new coordinator in Rich Bisaccia, to help turn things around. So there is going to be a different scheme, drills, and coaching techniques that will be brand new to just about everyone--which, again, puts less of an emphasis on special teams experience as it levels the playing field a bit. 

We've already seen a decent amount of turnover on special teams, with the top-3 players in snaps last season -- Oren Burks, Henry Black, and Isaac Yiadom -- all no longer on the Packers. On top of that, Tyler Lancaster, who ranked ninth in snaps, and Corey Bojorquez, who finished 10th, are gone as well.

Other players in the top-10 in special teams snaps from a season ago, according to PFF, include Ty Summers, Tyler Davis, Shemar Jean-Charles, Isaiah McDuffie, and TJ Slaton. 

In previous years, I imagine having that experience that these players do would give each of them a leg up when it comes to playing time and making the roster. However, for the two reasons just discussed -- the poor play and Bisaccia now at the helm -- I don't see that being the case as the Packers are starting from scratch to a degree, and trying to find which players will best be able to help this 2022 team under Bisaccia. 

And keep in mind, that several of these final roster spots are going to be determined by special teams play more so than any offensive or defensive contributions..

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (26)

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Leatherhead's picture

June 27, 2022 at 11:53 am

I don't think so, Paul.

We only dress out 46 guys, and those guys all have to be able to play a position. Minus the snapper, holder/punter, and kicker, that's 43.

Minus the 22 starters, that leaves us with 21 backups, half on offense and half on defense. You're not going to play some of the key backups, like Love, for example. Four of them are OL. At the end of the day, I just don't think you can justify having anybody active who can't play a position, because they're exactly one injury from being a starter at that point.

We brought in Nixon, and that's fine, but guys like him an Shemar might have to start for us during the season. Tariq? Who is he backing up and can we trust him on the field?

I hope I've made my point. The ability to play on the different units is secondary to the ability to play a position. Especially on defense, where one mistake can equal six points real quick.

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jont's picture

June 27, 2022 at 12:27 pm

The numbers don't lie. Skill at a position on offense or defense is primary to making the roster.

That said, the guy on the bubble might make the team if he also a good contributor on special teams.

What might be changed on the Packers is the weight they give to that 'contributor' part. A key ST player with, say, some cover skills might get the nod over a decent cover man with a lesser amount of ST ability, you know what I mean? Placing greater emphasis on ST need not mean special teams specialists on the roster but rather a few guys whose ST work puts them over the top when cut downs come.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 27, 2022 at 02:12 pm

When you say "key ST player"....what are we talking about? A gunner? Would a better gunner have made the difference in even one single game? Would this have stopped the blocked punt?

Or maybe you're referring to a returner? We broke our first kick returner, Kyrin Hill, and he was unavailable after 10 returns. Then we put Amari Rodgers in there and he return 11 more, including in the playoffs. So, Amari Rodgers is our returner. He didn't have a single lost fumble as a returner last year.

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jont's picture

June 28, 2022 at 10:33 am

Fair question. When I say 'key ST player' I do not know who or what position. I have no specifics in mind, and this is not only because I am nowhere near as knowledgeable about the roster as some guys here are, but rather because all teams value ST contribution to some degree in players fighting to make the team.

I am simply suggesting that this contribution could be more important to GB in building this roster than it has been in the past.

I can see a guy with an unusually good ability to block in the broken field of a kick return making the team because a coach realizes that Amari would be good returner if he got a couple of good blocks.

I cannot guess who that guy is, but I hope the Packers recognize him when they see him and keep him.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 28, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Thanks for that response. You used the example of better blockers for better returns on kicks, so let's go with that.

We returned 30 kicks last year, same as the Buccaneers and Chiefs. Three other teams returned 28 or 29. The Patriots returned 25. Denver and Miami were each under 20. Bad defensive teams return more kickoffs, naturally, with some returning 40 or more, including some of the weakest teams in the league, like Houston and the Jets.

So let's say we stay at 30 again this year, and not return kicks that go into the endzone. Other teams will try to kick short and force a return so that we can fumble or get penalized, which will happen more often than a long return will.

The return unit is populated by one returner and 10 blockers. The most important thing this unit does is not turn the ball over. Fumbled kick returns are terribly bad plays. Penalties that back you up near your own goal line are bad plays. Personally, I don't care about how good of a blocker the other people are. I care about what they'll do if it's an onside kick or a squib.

Similarly, I don't care about the returner's running ability as much as I want to know he won't turn the ball over. I mean, we already have the 5th best average starting field position in the league

If it were up to me, I'd use the return unit to get the ball into the hands of our offense, period. I don't care about long returns, I care about not turning it over. Get the bottom of the roster off the field and put the ball in the hands of your best players.

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LambeauPlain's picture

June 27, 2022 at 12:30 pm

Good points, LH.

I do agree with Paul's view...STs are back on the menu in GB. In the past decade of ST futility, that team was staffed with position back ups that had scant experience on "teams".

This year (Nixon being the first indicator), ST ability will be the core requirement. Carpenter, Toure, Doubs, and Watson fit the profile. If Nixon, Carpenter and Toure all make the roster...that will be the second indicator STs are in complete focus this season.

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Coldworld's picture

June 27, 2022 at 02:34 pm

They aren’t going to cut a starting caliber player for a guy who isn’t but is a great gunner or other ST piece, but the reality is that we won’t have 54 starting caliber players on the roster. There is always a significant drop off at the back end. That’s where ST acumen make a difference in the choices when the difference in these ability in other phases is more marginal.

ST skills kept Bush on the packers for a long time. He wasn’t a starting caliber corner but he was arguably better than some of the depth who filled his spot afterwards and were nowhere close in terms of ST contribution. It kept Janis around for quite a while and, as Taryn observed, perhaps should have kept him around longer.

Where I differ with the writer is that I do think ST experience, even in the Packers will help, if there are things that RB sees on tape and likes and the player shows he can learn the new tactics/approach. You can have a good player on s lousy team. We just have to trust RB to discern where the true acumen lies.

Gute has given him a number of pieces through pick ups (Nixon, Wilborn, Gafford etc., the draft (Doubs, Carpenter etc.) and UDFAs who have played STs in College or the league RB now has To determine which make the biggest difference and work with LaFleur to get the key pieces on the roster wherever possible without sacrificing real current positional depth. That’s probably a factor in the last 5 non-specialist roster slots at most.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 28, 2022 at 02:35 am

Teams dress 48 (47 if they don't have 8 OL, and you posit 9 OL). That means 45 after deducting for STs, so 24 non-starters.

IDK. I think there is room for a couple of ST-only players who can't really play a position, but I would agree that this number is small.

There would be room for a couple more inactive players who can't play STs or a position on the inactive list. One example last year was Vernon Scott.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 28, 2022 at 12:47 pm

Thank you for that clarification. They change this up so much that I can't keep track anymore.

I'm going to take a wild stab here and say that when people talk about some special teams difference maker, they're talking about a returner or gunner. Not one of the big uglies who blocks for the punter.

IMO, it just makes so much more sense to put players who can play on the roster, punt the ball out of bounds, fair catch every punt, and never return a kick you don't have to. That's simple. Avoid the injuries, avoid the penalties, avoid the turnovers.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

June 29, 2022 at 04:43 am

I find your logic to be persuasive.

I suppose in GB there will be kickoff returns due to the cold. It would be nice during the indoor games and nice weather games to have a kicker who can deliver touch backs. That said, I think nailing the field goals is more important that pure leg strength.

Pooch punts are still a thing; I don't know what happened to coffin-corner punters. I wonder how much yardage a punter really loses when they kick it out of bounds versus average punt return yardage? I suppose it is harder to kick it OOB consistently.

Edit: I forgot about the PS. Not exactly apples to apples, but I wonder if some teams will keep a guy on the PS just for STs? Like a back-up gunner, or even a specialist like a LS, holder, etc. The price is closer to being right. Oh well, it's not that big of a deal.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

June 28, 2022 at 10:21 am

Hmmm

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TarynsEyes's picture

June 27, 2022 at 01:04 pm

Jeff Janis was by far the best STP the Packers had and they cut him for (fill in the name of choice) WR who would be at best a #5-6 on the roster, like Janis, and totally sucked on SPTs because I have no f'ing idea why.

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wildbill's picture

June 27, 2022 at 07:56 pm

Rodgers didn’t like him because he was an avid hunter. Either Rodgers is afraid of guns or thinks food comes from a fairy tale store.

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WestCoastPackerBacker's picture

June 28, 2022 at 10:22 am

Ridiculousbill.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 28, 2022 at 12:53 pm

Yes, I agree. He played four years in Green Bay and he never played for another team in the NFL.

I can't decide where he had the bigger impact. Was it the 22 tackles and assists in 4 years? Or was it the 23 kick returns? Hard to say.

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Lphill's picture

June 27, 2022 at 03:30 pm

Romeo Doubs has punt return experience more than Amari Rodgers so at least there is competition there .

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Leatherhead's picture

June 28, 2022 at 01:00 pm

Romeo Doubs has never returned a punt, or a kick, in the NFL.

Now, if you want to talk about college, Doubs returned 37 punts, and Amari Rodgers returned 68, so the math doesn't quite work there, either.

Amari Rodgers was our punt returner last year, and our kick returner for the second half of the season. He muffed a couple punts but did not turn it over. He did not turn it over as a kick returner. IMO, that's the single most important quality in a returner.....don't turn the freakin' ball over. It's better to let the ball hit the ground than it is to mishandle it.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 27, 2022 at 06:58 pm

lets look at this issue from the other side of roster building.

if you keep the best football players as graded by their ability to play a position on offense and defense along with ST specialists, P, K, LS, then you should have 46 game day actives, with 43 being O&D positional players.

If at the NFL level your ST coach cannot fill out and coach up for ST units the ~30 players who are not priority starters (~13-15) who can be exempted from ST play on O&D, that is on the coaches, not the players.

If the players that occupy relative positions ~15-43 (+3 specialists) on an NFL roster cannot be coached up to perform adequately on ST, someone needs a large sized boot in their ass.

The incentive for 'back-ups" to get to actually run around on the field and participate in actual NFL plays that really matter should be enough to get the requisite number of players working on ST. If that is not happening, then the coaches - HC & STC - need to have some "come to Jesus" meetings with the back-up players.

For the money these athletes get paid, even at the bottom of the roster, they should be "encouraged" to play their asses off each and every snap that are privileged to be on an NFL field. If that isn't happening, the coach and/or the player needs to GO!

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TarynsEyes's picture

June 27, 2022 at 09:02 pm

Agreed. If playing in the Holy Grail of sports, the NFL, cannot get every player motivated to perform a positional task, regardless of the pay scale, since doing your job increases your pay, although when I read that some players NEED to be motivated, I would think that is and should be the red flag that instantly sends that player packing. However, my comment yesterday covers this since every player that comes to GB is automatically given a pass, and excused for lackadaisical behavior in games and practice, I hear the typing of denials already. Near everyone here wanted Janis gone because Rodgers didn't like him, and everyone here then praised whoever replaced Janis, and replaced him and him and him, an all here and apparently on the coaching staff denied what Janis did better than any other on SPTs and that should be enough to have retained him. There are others, but nobody wants to rehash those mistakes because it wasn't just the SPTs players.

Let me toss this one out to you all, Jared Abrrederis. Everyone wanted to keep him over Janis. He would be at best a 5-6 WR and couldn't play SPTs for crap, and yet, here at CHTV, he was thought near future god-like simply because he played for Wisconsin. Talk about being willing to cut off your nose to spite your face. It was a no-brainer to keep Janis, but Abrrederis couldn't stay healthy and when he was, he had nothing but a false shine bestowed by the blind. Oh, and Rodgers liked him because he didn't like Janis.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 28, 2022 at 05:36 am

petty politics... humans suck.

when will we, as a species, cut through the emotional bullshit and achieve at the level we are capable of?

what percentage of our brains capability do we actually utilize?

superstition, bias, greed... the list is endless.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 28, 2022 at 01:07 pm

I've been informed the number is 48, which leaves 45 positional players on the gameday roster. Minus the starters is 23. You've also got the backup QB, Love, who isn't going to play on any of those units.

On punts, FGs, punt returns, half of the guys on the field will be big uglies who are backing up Kenny Clark or David Bakhtiari.

Again, I think this mystery special teams demon that people envision is a gunner, who can somehow elude the double team, stay in bounds, and deliver a crushing hit that causes a fumble that we recover. And if we can get a guy like that on the roster, I'm all for it.

I just don't think he exists.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 29, 2022 at 06:46 am

He is playing in buffalo NY, occasionally catches Hail Mary passes and goes by the name of TD Jesus.

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Leatherhead's picture

June 29, 2022 at 04:18 pm

He made 5 tackles last year in 250 special teams snaps.

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Johnblood27's picture

June 30, 2022 at 07:22 am

He is a MONSTER!

; - )

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PatrickGB's picture

June 28, 2022 at 09:09 am

I think that many teams have one guy who is a ST’s demon. Usually a gunner type. I remember Travis Jervey. As a halfback he had no moves but he was fast and reckless. If a team has 3-4 players that are outstanding on ST’s then their ability as a backup is secondary. Except for linemen, there is a body type that does best on covering and returning kicks. Often these players have good measurables but are not as good as the starters ahead of them. Rich is coaching everyone and when the cutdowns come I suspect that there will be 3-4 players kept for their role on ST’s. They may not be the same ones as last year and preseason will sort it out.

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coolhand's picture

June 28, 2022 at 11:30 am

I think that many teams have one guy who is a ST’s demon

Like the Bears and Devin Hestor. He could change a game with his speed. The Bears eventually tried him at WR and it was a complete disaster.

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