The 2009 Packers by position: Special teams

K Mason Crosby (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

We kick off our position-by-position preview of training camp, starting with the kicking units, which need an overhaul after a miserable 2008. Do the Packers have a punter? Can Mason Crosby perform to potential? We break down the issues inside.

Packer Report begins its position-by-position training camp preview with a look at the special teams. The list after "depth" includes all of the players on the current roster. The list after "final cut" is our prediction on who will make the final roster, with the number of players based on past seasons.

Depth (4): Kicker Mason Crosby; punters Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks; snapper Brett Goode.

Review: From snapper J.J. Jansen's torn-up knee in the preseason to the fiasco at punter to missed field goals to meltdowns in clutch situations to a dizzying display of penalty flags, there wasn't much special about the Packers' special teams last season. In the Dallas Morning News' annual rankings, which factors in a team's performance in every category imaginable, the Packers ranked a humbling 25th after finishing seventh in 2007. Green Bay accumulated the most special-teams penalties, making for an ugly bookend to the NFL's worst kickoff return and bottom-quarter rankings in kickoff coverage, net punting and field-goal accuracy. Throw in a kickoff coverage breakdown that set up Carolina for the winning touchdown and a blocked field goal that would have beaten Chicago, and not even Will Blackmon's explosive ability on punt returns could save Mike Stock, who was coaxed to retire as the unit's coordinator.

Strength: Blackmon's explosiveness on punt returns is a huge asset. He returned one for a touchdown in both games against Minnesota — though, it should be pointed out, the Vikings' punt coverage was bad by historic proportions. Crosby's big leg has accumulated 31 touchbacks over his two seasons. With no NFL experience, Goode was practically flawless as a last-minute replacement for the injured Jansen. He'll return to training camp without a challenger. One bonus of going from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 is the three or four extra linebackers that will be kept on the roster. That's a lot of big, agile, aggressive guys to block and tackle.

Weakness: Where do you start? With Stock out, the Packers are being led by his assistant of the past three seasons, Shawn Slocum. Slocum wisely is putting his own stamp on things, but until proven otherwise, he's an unknown commodity. And it's not like there are any on-the-field leaders. The Packers got rid of Tracy White early last season and dispatched Jason Hunter during the offseason. Jarrett Bush might be a leader if he wasn't busy piling up penalties. Blackmon and Jordy Nelson were abysmal on kickoff returns, with Blackmon's 45-yarder the best they could muster. Crosby's 79.4 percent accuracy was horrendous in a league in which more and more kickers are converting 90 percent of the time. What's alarming is he hit on only 10-of-13 (76.9 percent) from 30 to 39 yards after going 12-for-13 (92.3) as a rookie. And last but certainly not least is the punting situation. After a stellar debut in Week 1 vs. Minnesota, Derrick Frost gave away field position for the remainder of his 12-game tenure. Are either Kapinos, who did OK in closing last season, or Brooks, a sixth-round pick by the Redskins last year who yielded two touchdowns in six games, the answer? This isn't about kicking the ball a mile. Atlanta's Michael Koenen ranked just 31st in the NFL with a 40.7-yard average but he allowed a record-low 49 return yards for the entire season. As long as the Packers can find a punter who can put the ball where they want it the majority of time — and keep the ball out of the end zone when there's an opportunity to pin the opponent inside the 10-yard line — they'll be happy. Slocum, however, warned that this isn't a one-on-one battle for the roster. There's a chance the Packers' Week 1 punter isn't on the roster.

Quoteworthy: "The two guys that we have here are battling right now," Slocum said during minicamp. "It's good competition. We had a good body of work and I was pleased with the production from both of them. The standard that we have to meet is the NFL standard. It's not just one guy competing against the other. That's what we have to achieve during the training camp and preseason."

Final cut (3): Crosby, Kapinos, Goode.

Kapinos gets the nod over Brooks based on the consistency showed during offseason practices.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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