Mason Crosby holding off strong challenge; Aaron Rodgers a game-time decision

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GREEN BAY – Mason Crosby, who turns 35 two days before the Green Bay Packers open their season against the Chicago Bears, is making it tough for his team to move on from him.

Since returning from a right calf injury that resulted in him missing the first two weeks of training camp, Crosby’s kicks have been straight, and his leg has looked lively. During practice, he has connected on 16 of 17 kicks (94.1 percent) ranging from 22 to 51 yards. Hardly a one has been mishit or has knuckled through the uprights.

In the two exhibition games, he hit his only field-goal attempt (43 yards) and both of his extra points.

“My ball striking feels really good,” Crosby said. “I feel balanced, just really trusting the operation and the tempo on that, and so I’m feeling really nice.”

After Crosby missed seven field goals last year and hovered around the 80% success rate for the second straight season, general manager Brian Gutekunst decided to claim Sam Ficken off waivers from the Seattle Seahawks on April 15.

Ficken has connected on 28 of 35 field goals (80 percent) in practice with a long of 63 yards. His misses have been from 45, 54, 50, 40, 41 and 44 yards. He connected on his only exhibition-game attempt, a 41-yarder against Baltimore last Thursday.

Green Bay Packers' Mason Crosby and Sam Ficken talk during training camp practice Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at Ray Nitschke Field in Ashwaubenon, Wis.

Ficken, 27, displayed a big leg in regular-season stints with the Los Angeles Rams in 2017-18, connecting on 5 of 8 field goal attempts in four regular-season games and one playoff game. His strong leg was evident from his 68.0 touchback percentage (17 of 25) on kickoffs, which would have ranked third in the NFL last season.

In two games, Ficken has registered touchbacks on three of his six kickoffs and reached the end zone on two others.

Crosby started out with an out-of-bounds kick in the opener but reached the end zone both times in the Baltimore game, including one that was a touchback. In practice this week, he was far more consistent off the tee.

“The first week, I was just a little rusty,” Crosby said. “Kind of got that knocked off. There was no issue with my calf, but it was really more just trusting to go after it, having the timing with that with the steps and everything.

“I feel like the two in practice I hit really solid the other day and just every day I feel like I’m getting better hang, better distance with each opportunity.”

There are two more games left for Ficken to try to prove he’s the better choice, but he’s battling an incumbent who is the team’s all-time leading scorer. Crosby’s calf injury opened the door for Ficken to show he could handle the job here or somewhere else.

Unfortunately for him, Crosby seems to have finally gotten comfortable with his operation team, which over the past three years has had a considerable amount of turnover. This is the second time around with long snapper Hunter Bradley and holder JK Scott, both of whom were learning the ropes last year as rookies.

“I’m really happy about where we are right now,” Crosby said. “I think we grew a lot as a unit through the year. Early on, it was just working through the timing and getting to know each other and how it worked and just being consistent and all.

“I felt like second half of that season, we really took a step and have carried that forward.”

Since the Chicago Bears, the Packers’ opponent in their opener Sept. 5, may still be in the hunt for a kicker, Gutekunst will have to decide whether cutting one of the two kickers would put him at risk of facing the other in Week 1.

As a result, he could decide to keep both for at least a week. But it would mean having to cut someone from another position and he might not be willing to do that.

It will all be part of the decision when he chooses his kicker.

Rodgers a 'game-time decision' for Raiders

Coach Matt LaFleur said he would wait until Thursday to decide whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers will play against Oakland in Winnipeg.

Rodgers missed the Baltimore game with back tightness and then sat out practice Sunday. He returned Monday and practiced again Tuesday, but LaFleur declined to say if he would play.

“That is to be determined,” he said. “I want to wait and see. I’m not going to say one way or the other right now. That will be a game-time decision.”

Tight end Jace Sternberger (concussion) returned to practice, but he is still in the concussion protocol and isn’t expected to play Thursday.

Close call

After making a tackle on Ravens running back Justice Hill, rookie cornerback Ka’Dar Hollman got up, stumbled to his left and then crumpled to the ground.

Initially, it looked like he might have suffered a concussion.

Hollman got hit in the head, but it turned out to be a stinger, a nerve injury in the neck and shoulder area.

“I had made a tackle and on my way down one of my teammates had come down on me, so it was kind of like we were head-to-head and then my neck got jammed and I just felt it all the way down,” he said. “And then my left side went numb.”

Hollman said X-rays showed he had not suffered any structural damage, but he was held out of practice this week and won’t play against the Raiders. He said he feels lucky, all things considered.

“Now I’m waiting for the symptoms to go away,” he said. "You watch it on film, it looked much worse. I’m just blessed to come away with just that.”

New schedule

As the public practices of training camp wrapped up with afternoon sessions Sunday and Monday, LaFleur said his team had moved into its regular-season schedule. That meant Tuesday’s practice was a hint at what Fridays will look like after the season opens.

Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers did not practice on Fridays but rather focused on recovery. Saturday was reserved for a fast-paced walkthrough.

For LaFleur, Friday is an important day that requires field work while Saturdays will be mainly for mental preparation and fine-tuning game plan details.

“Just from my past experience, Friday has typically been our emphasis on the red-zone day, so we’d like to keep it that way,” LaFleur said. “We lighten the practice up certainly, because you want to start to get these guys in recovery mode. A typical Friday about half the practice will be full speed, and then the later half of the practice will be walk-through tempo or jog-through tempo just to lighten the load on the guys. It’s the first time the red-zone plan is going in for the game, or the complete red-zone plan, so if there are any adjustments, that’s why I like to do it on Friday, so you can make those necessary adjustments on Saturday and not on the day of the game.”

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