Snow factors into Packers' footwear choice
GREEN BAY — For those who applied a keen eye to the snowball fight between the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans last weekend, you may have noticed a moment of incidental humor late in the television broadcast. It happened as CBS aired replays of the touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, and you had to look closely to see it.
As the play unfolded, Rodgers dropped back before sliding left and, ultimately, flicking a 32-yard lob to Nelson in the end zone. But in the background, just behind his mobile quarterback, left guard Lane Taylor was holding on for dear life, sliding uncontrollably for what looked like an eternity.
“Honestly,” Taylor said with a laugh, “I was like, ‘Aaron, you better move out of the way because I’m not stopping.’”
Taylor had been engaged with defensive end Christian Covington when his spikes — the longest a player can wear — foiled him and triggered the comedic ride. He glided backward as Covington shoved forward, and when it ended the slippage covered four full yards.
That play -- along with a repeat forecast for Sunday, when it appears the Packers and Seattle Seahawks also will trudge through snow -- begs the question of footwear selection as winter weather turns crummy. What options do the players have? What happens if they need to change? When push comes to shove — sorry Lane, couldn’t help it — does anything work at all?
“Our equipment staff, they do a great job helping us prepare for whatever type of field conditions we’re going to have that day,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “They do a great job of getting us prepared for whatever cleat we need for the game.”
Based on field conditions, each player makes an initial choice to wear either molded cleats or detached cleats, and in this instance the word “cleats” refers to the spikes on the sole rather than the shoe itself. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery, for example, has a locker full of Alpha cleats, a model made by Nike, and the same pair is available in molded and detached styles.
Molded cleats, which are permanently fastened to the shoe, are most commonly worn on artificial turf. Some players also will wear them on grass if the surface is dry, intact and predictable.
Detached cleats, which are commonly worn on grass, are screwed into the sole of the shoe and come in various lengths. Players choose spikes measuring 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch or 3/4 inch depending on the condition of the field. The sloppier the track, the deeper a spike must dig in search of traction, which is why many players wore 3/4 inch spikes in the snow last weekend.
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“I think with those, with the detached, you get more grip and kind of get down into the grass so you can plant,” Burnett said. “Versus the molded cleats that kind of sit on the surface of the grass and you’ll see a lot of guys slip with molded cleats.
“Depending on how bad the weather is, you might need a little longer spike to get down into the grass. Sometimes you might just need short spikes. When you see that, you probably see guys (on the sideline) getting their spikes switched out or make sure your spikes are tight to make sure they’re not coming out.”
Added Montgomery: “I always go with what I know I’m going to need. If I’m not sure about a certain pair of spikes … I’ll go with the ones that might seem a little excessive.”
Kickers and punters are different animals. Jacob Schum, the Packers’ punter, wears two soccer cleats in every game regardless of weather. And because soccer cleats are molded — meaning the spikes don’t come off — Schum relies on the same length spikes for every condition.
The only alteration he makes, and kicker Mason Crosby does the same, is to shave down the spikes near the front of the cleat to reduce the chance of scraping the ground as his leg swings through the ball.
“I wear the same sizes, same spike on each foot,” said Schum, who became accustomed to cold-weather punting during college at the University at Buffalo. “That’s just kind of how I’ve always been. If anything for me I just adjust my steps, it will be shorter steps, just in case you don’t slide or anything.
“I know not to take a giant plant step so I don’t fall on my butt.”
Which is what almost happened to Crosby on two separate occasions against the Texans. Unlike Schum, Crosby wears one soccer cleat on his kicking foot (right) and one football cleat on his plant foot (left).
Crosby began last week’s game with 1/2-inch spikes for his plant foot but quickly realized he needed something longer. Along the sideline, members of the equipment staff retooled his cleat with longer spikes in a process that takes approximately two or three minutes.
“I ended up going to the 3/4 inch (spikes), the long, black cleats just because the ice kept caking in there,” Crosby said. “First extra point and first kickoff I almost ate it just because I was doing everything I could — if you saw me on kickoffs — and every time I would get set, I would knock that (snow out of my cleats). It’s not ideal obviously. … But that just kind of became part of that routine for that game.”
The snow was problematic for his soccer cleat as well, and by halftime the kicking shoe was heavy with moisture. Crosby, who keeps a handful of cleats broken in at all times, switched to a new soccer cleat for the second half. (An interesting aside: Part of Crosby’s routine for breaking in new kicking shoes includes softening them in the steam room at Lambeau Field.)
The switch of the kicking shoe worked, and Crosby made all three of his extra points over the course of the game. Neither Crosby nor Texans kicker Nick Novak attempted a field goal.
“I just kind of went with it and made sure my cleats were cleared off as much as possible, or at least to start,” Crosby said. “I knew by the time I got to the ball there would be a little bit of accumulation there as far as that ice. You just have to trust that (the footing) will be there.”
But sometimes trust isn’t nearly enough.
Just ask Lane Taylor. You might have seen his spikes turn to skis.