GREEN BAY - Brian Gutekunst used his first draft as the Green Bay Packers general manager to potentially solidify two-thirds of his special teams core for the foreseeable future.
Gutekunst pulled off a pair of surprise selections in the 2018 draft, taking punter JK Scott in the fifth round and long snapper Hunter Bradley in the seventh round.
But as the 2018 season unfolded, the Packers’ special teams group often struggled. By the end of the season it was largely considered one of the worst in the NFL. Special teams coach Ron Zook was fired and has been replaced by Shawn Mennenga.
This offseason is an important one for Scott and Bradley, as well as veteran place-kicker Mason Crosby.
“I’ve always been a really big critic of myself, especially at a position like this you’re not always going to have someone who’s played it – like a wide receiver’s coach was a wide receiver,” Bradley said after the season. “So you kind of always have to be critical of yourself in that aspect just because you’re not going to come across too many long snapping coaches as a position coach. So you’ve got to be critical of yourself and I look at footwork and my blocking and my protection and my pad levels and taking notes of things this offseason to really improve on certain things.”
Bradley didn’t have any snaps that resulted in a fumble, but there were some delivery inconsistencies and some overall technical issues that he felt could be corrected through offseason study and discussions with veteran long snappers around the league.
“There are coaching points, certain things I want to clean up this offseason and really help me in the long run,” he said.
Scott finished 21st in punting average, 17th in net average, 28th in number of punts downed inside the 20, led the league in touchbacks (nine) and had one punt blocked. The Packers were also the sixth-worst in punt return average, allowing 10.3 yards per return.
“I don’t see a problem with explaining why, explaining the failure,” Scott said after the season. “If anything, you need to know you messed up, you need to know what you need to do better. I don’t think that’s an issue. You have to kind of embrace it. The thing is about being a specialist, we are all a group, and we make as a team and we miss as a team. There are always ways we can do better on a miss.
“You gotta have a short memory. Sometimes when you make a mistake on a kick, a little mistake can cause it be thrown off by a foot. The worst thing you can do is go over and dwell on it and change a bunch. You really kind of just gotta let it go in a game situation and literally just move on to the next kick.”
And for Scott, that included all of his good kicks as well.
“Once you kick the ball it’s in the books,” he said. “You can’t get it back. It’s all about the next kick.”
Crosby had a better year than in 2017 in making field goals but he still missed seven (30-for-37). His 81.1% conversion rate on field goals was slightly better than his career average (80.4%) but ranked 23rd in the NFL. His two missed extra points placed him 19th in the league on point-after attempts.
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Though Crosby will turn 35 just before the start of the regular season and is in the final year of his contract, Gutekunst indicated at the scouting combine in February that he wasn’t sure Crosby needed competition in training camp.
“I don’t know if you need to,” Gutekunst said of bringing in another kicker. “I think if the right guy was there we’d consider that. At the same time, people underestimate how difficult it is to kick in Lambeau Field in the weather he has to kick it in. Mason’s done a good job of that over the years. He’s obviously a veteran, he’s been in a lot of situations. I think if we had the right guy, we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to that. But I look for Mason to have a bounce-back year.”
As for his offseason, Crosby said in late February he finished the year feeling good physically and it remains a slow buildup through the spring and summer.
“It’s a process,” Crosby said of his physical buildup to kicking. “I’m definitely not (into) as much (of the) load-bearing weight stuff as I’ve done in the past; more flexibility, strengthening kind of the core and the stability muscles,” Crosby said of his offseason. “Just making sure that I’m ready to perform whenever we come back but I also know it’s a long process. As a young kicker, you see some of these guys overdo it early and your body kind of breaks down. You can only kick a ball for so many months. So I have a process of just kind of building through that, building strength through the first three months of the offseason and then really tune in the kicking stuff. Usually when I show up to camp I’m close to where I want to be and I slowly take it up to the season.”