Hopes Remain High On Special Teams

S Derrick Martin (Seth Perlman/AP)

Return and coverage breakdowns are the lowlights of Saturday night's preseason victory at Seattle. On the plus side, the punters are showing promise and Mason Crosby booted two more field goals.

Practice — and even more practice — isn't making perfect for the Packers' troubled special teams.

Despite devoting more time to the nuances of the return and coverage units in training camp, second-year coordinator Shawn Slocum isn't getting the desired outcome.

"I think the results are a byproduct of the work that you put into it, and I think we've got a great body of work to this point, and I expect for us to be good on special teams," Slocum said.

Contrary to Slocum's rosy outlook, the Packers have been as disjointed and mistake-prone as the 2009 special-team units, which combined to finish second to last in the 32-team league in a statistical analysis of several categories.

The woes manifested themselves further in Green Bay's 27-24 preseason win at the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night.

"A lot of information," said head coach Mike McCarthy, who added that with "a lot of positives" came "some negatives" on special teams.

The ejection of safety Derrick Martin, a core contributor on special teams, for throwing a punch while blocking on a punt return in the second quarter, definitely fell in the negative category. The kicker is that the indiscretion came away from the play on a fair catch.

More disconcerting to McCarthy and Slocum were:

—The kickoff coverage unit's giving up big runbacks of 54 and 30 yards to Josh Wilson and Cord Parks, respectively, after the Packers scored touchdowns in the first half.

—The punt return unit's allowing ex-Packer Jon Ryan to drop two punts inside the 10 and have the ball downed near the goal line in each instance.

—A second straight game in which speedy, but hands-challenged Sam Shields turned the football over on a muff, this time on a short kickoff in the fourth quarter.

"We've got to handle the football — ball security is a premium for our offense (on returns); we didn't do that," McCarthy lamented. "We'll get it corrected and move on to Indianapolis."

The Packers were faced with a short turnaround coming off an early-morning flight from Seattle to Green Bay on Sunday until they host the Colts in a nationally televised game Thursday night.

They will have two practice days to try to get things cleaned up on special teams.

In Slocum's defense is that he has been forced to mix and match in the first two preseason games with a lot of different players, many of whom won't make the team coming out of training camp, because the Packers have endured a slew of camp injuries.

A bright spot so far amid the dreary results in other areas has been the competitive punting battle between first-year player Tim Masthay and Australian rookie Chris Bryan. They are in what Slocum labeled "a dead heat" at the midway point of the preseason schedule.

"They both are at the top right now, and I'm pleased with that because I want a hard decision to be made when we have to decide who our punter is going to be," Slocum said.


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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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