Packers kicker Mason Crosby getting off to a fast start with new holder Pat O'Donnell
GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers' offense and defense were in team drills Tuesday, Mason Crosby stood in his kicking stance while new holder Pat O’Donnell and snapper Jack Coco worked out the kinks.
One snap was a touch high for O’Donnell’s liking. The veteran offered his correction while an assistant coach watched over the drill. After a correction, the next snap was squarely in O’Donnell’s catch zone.
A couple minutes later, the three trotted out for a 56-yard field goal. Crosby, using a 20 mph wind at his back, cleared the crossbar midway up the uprights.
“There were a couple times the gusts were a little tricky,” Crosby said at his locker after the Packers concluded their organized team activities session. “I was leaning back into it. So you have to kind of stay within yourself, or you start launching it all over the place. Hitting those balls, you can stay smooth and launch it a long way.
“I would’ve been good from 68, 70 (yards). It was just trying to stay smooth and hit good balls. You have to get them on line right off your foot. It just takes them and throws them.”
Crosby, entering his 16th season, is no stranger to Green Bay’s climate wreaking havoc on kicks. Though usually northeast Wisconsin’s winds are an obstacle in the winter, not the final day of May. With that experience, Crosby was perfect Tuesday, making each of his six kicks. Five of those kicks were from 45 yards or longer.
What the veteran kicker does from here until the end of training camp will be significant given the competition he faces this offseason. The Packers signed Dominik Eberle on the recommendation of new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia, who is familiar with the youngster from their time with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Eberle was 4 for 6 on field goals during last week’s open OTA day, missing wide right from 45 and 47 yards with much calmer weather conditions.
There’s a long way to go in the Packers' kicking battle, but Crosby’s experience is a clear advantage. Of course, experience isn’t always positive. Crosby knows he’ll need better results than last year, when he made only 26 of 36 field goals while missing two extra points. It was tied for the most kicks he has missed in a season, joining his disastrous 2012.
Crosby said he’s using last season as motivation this spring.
“I don’t think you ever truly flush something,” Crosby said. “You’re going to learn from it and make sure that you continue to improve on the things that didn’t go well, and build on the things that did go well. So I always just continue to focus in on what I can continue to do to be the best at my position, the best locker room guy and the best guy on the field for this team.”
Crosby is pleased with how well he and O’Donnell have clicked. The ninth-year punter spent his entire career with the Chicago Bears before signing with the Packers this offseason, familiarizing himself with harsh weather conditions. Crosby’s family hosted O’Donnell’s family at their home for three weeks after arriving in Green Bay, allowing the two veterans to start building their chemistry.
It was the first time Crosby has hosted a new teammate at his home, he said.
“We’ve been into that for a little while now,” Crosby said of their chemistry on field goals. “Him coming in right when he came in, staying at our house and just getting to know his routine and how he operates. Relationally, you couldn’t ask for a better guy. I feel like we’re on the same page with how we come into the building and how we operate on a daily basis.
“I think it’s constantly just building that, building that trust, so whenever we get on the field on Sunday we look at each other, if we need to make adjustments pregame or whenever it is, there’s just a trust there that we can go out and do it very quick so stuff doesn’t linger and move into a bad spot.”
Matt LaFleur fighting that lonesome feeling
Coach Matt LaFleur is working with what he has … even if what he has is a depleted roster during OTA’s. The NFL calendar states this week of offseason workouts is purely voluntary. Teams will host practice for players that need the time in the playbook and to develop chemistry with their teammates.
Consequently that means some players, primarily veterans, elect not to attend. As such, LaFleur and staff are installing a playbook for a portion of the team.
“Each guy has that right to make that choice," LaFleur said. "If you're asking me, I want everybody here. So you know, I think some of the thought process may have changed over what's transpired over the last two years, especially with our COVID situation where we didn't have OTA’s.”
“So obviously now with everybody being open, you’d like to see as many guys as possible.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not in attendance this week, unsurprisingly. He’ll likely pick up his workout bonus by attending mandatory minicamp next week. Rodgers’ new contract calls for a workout bonus of just $50,000 for his participation in the three-day mandatory minicamp, which runs from June 7-9.
Others who were not seen Tuesday include corner Jaire Alexander and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. LaFleur indicated there could be “new faces” Wednesday and that nationwide travel issues kept some players from returning in time.
“Our guys have done a really good job of letting us know when something comes up or they can't make it; apparently it was pretty challenging to get into Green Bay last night,” LaFleur said. “A lot of flights got canceled all across the country. So we're missing a couple guys that we had anticipated being here.”
Defensive lineman T.J. Slaton spent two days trying to make it back to Green Bay in time, eventually taking a convoluted route in order to be at practice Tuesday.
As offseason work has transitioned more to a voluntary program, coaches have had to shift how they approach the playbook introduction. It makes for a visibly frustrated LaFleur, if not resigned. If Alexander had been at practice, for example, LaFleur said they would have matched Alexander against young receivers for a quick lesson.
“If he was here, for sure, that’s what we’d do,” said LaFleur. "But he’s not here.”
Those who were at practice Tuesday and in attendance for the rest of the week will receive ample attention from their coaches.
“I think it's just more of the mindset that we're going to coach the guys that want to be here," LaFleur said. "We're going to try and get those guys as as good as possible and hopefully you know, that they're in contention to make the roster when it comes down to it.”
The Packers' remaining OTA days are June 1, June 3, June 13-14 and June 16.
David Bakhtiari still working his way back
Tackle David Bakhtiari continues to be present and active at the Packers' offseason practices, but has yet to join the field work. A week after observing voluntary workouts on the practice field, Bakhtiari found himself yet again working on the stationary bike ahead of practice Tuesday.
Bakhtiari tore his ACL before the NFC playoffs during the 2020 season, then reaggravated the injury while recovering. He appeared in one game during the 2021 season, the regular-season finale at Detroit.
Asked Tuesday if Bakhtiari was close to being play ready, LaFleur said, “Yeah, he was out there for a game (against the Lions). So it's just part of our process right now.”
That process includes Bakhtiari being held out of physical work for the time being.
"Our plan all along was to kind of hold him back from this time of year. And just make sure he continues to get stronger and ready to go for training camp,” LaFleur said.
Given the fact Bakhtiari has now spent almost a year and a half recovering from an injury that typically has a nine-month timeline, there is some question as to whether the Packers should be concerned. LaFleur is steadfast that concern isn't present, though. This is simply Green Bay being careful.
“We just thought that, this is a guy who’s played a lot of ball and it’s best to hold him from this portion of it.”
Kylin Hill hopes to return for camp
When the Packers visited Arizona last October, two players ended their seasons with the same devastating knee injury.
Tight end Robert Tonyan and running back Kylin Hill tore their ACLs against the Cardinals last season. Tonyan’s injury was a noncontact fluke in the open field. Hill tore his ACL when colliding with Cardinals special teamer Jonathan Ward after returning a kickoff from deep in the end zone.
“We’ve got some beef with the Cardinals,” Hill quipped, “but it is what it is. We got the dub. That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”
Hill said he doesn’t regret taking the kickoff out of the end zone, even if it was unnecessary. He’s optimistic about his return, saying his goal is to be back by training camp. That would put the timetable for his return at nine months.
Hill doesn’t expect to do any running in his cleats until next month, he said.
Before his injury, Hill’s explosiveness and agility had impressed the Packers. Entering his age-24 season, he’s young enough to return to full speed. He expects the torn ACL to be a minor setback.
“I feel like once I come back,” Hill said, “I’m going to be the same player. I know I’m going to be the same player. I’ve always been in adversity all my life. So it’s just a little stepping stone for me.”