Matt LaFleur frustrated with Packers' special teams, especially in preseason finale at Kansas City

Kassidy Hill
Packers News
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GREEN BAY — This offseason was supposed to fix the Green Bay Packers special teams. Personnel changes were made, Rich Bisaccia was hired and the practice schedule was tweaked to accommodate the oft-troubled unit. Through three preseason games, and two weeks out from the regular-season opener, coach Matt LaFleur has a grim diagnosis. 

“Is it where we want it to be? I think I can honestly say no, it’s not where we want it to be,” he said Saturday. “It was definitely not good enough the other night, that's for sure. I think we definitely got it taken to us pretty good by Kansas City.”

After signing former Chicago Bears punter Pat O’Donnell this offseason, the Packers' punting game has seen improvement thus far. O’Donnell punted six times Thursday against the Chiefs with a gross average of 56.3 yards per punt. One punt in particular went for 69 yards with 5-second-plus hang time. But his unit was lacking, resulting in O’Donnell often out-punting his coverage. 

The Chiefs returned all six punts for 118 yards, an average of 19.7 per return, and a long of 35 yards. Kansas City punted five times, of which the Packers returned one for no yardage. 

On kickoffs, the Chiefs returned only two kicks, but did so for an average of 31 yards per return. The Packers' kickoff-return unit brought out four kicks for an average of 14 yards per return. Rookie Tyler Goodson had the best return of the day, 19 yards, but also muffed one in the end zone, then still elected to bring it out for a return of only eight yards. 

It all added up to a subpar performance that had LaFleur baffled when watching the tape. It’s not what Bisaccia is coaching, LaFleur is quick to point out, but an attitude that must be shifted before kickoff against the Minnesota Vikings. 

"The thing that I would like to see," LaFleur said, "is just some of the things that we do in practice, you’d like to see that carry over into the game. And not just these made-up techniques that we don't necessarily, that we don’t coach and we don't see in practice. So that I think that's the most frustrating thing is when you see that; or a lack of effort, the things that you can control. 

“Because, you know, there's some things that are out of your control, but the lack of effort, and it wasn't everybody, but there were a couple of guys that it was glaring on tape. It's like ‘you can not put this on film.’ Not only for the Green Bay Packers, but for the entire league. Everybody's watching this tape.”

The preseason opened with promise, as embattled returner Amari Rodgers broke off a 50-yard kickoff return against the San Francisco 49ers. Rodgers has seen marked improvement throughout the preseason, but often without the blocking necessary for a bigger return.

LaFleur has openly contemplated playing more starters on special teams this year. Few of those starters played in the preseason, with the Packers sitting 25 or more players each game. In their absence, a bevy of young guys played, all looking to make the 53-man roster, either in Green Bay or elsewhere. It possibly led to some of the disjointed plays. 

“We certainly played a lot of guys and that was by design," LaFleur said. "We wanted to get a good evaluation on each and every individual that could potentially contribute to our football team. So that's been a big-time emphasis.” 

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Playing so many though is why LaFleur was frustrated after watching the tape. This was an opportunity for many to prove they deserve a roster spot, and for the Packers to prove special teams had received the emphasis needed.

With starters playing Week 1 against the Vikings, the chances for improvement are vast. But, for now, Green Bay and its bubble players are still left with questions on special teams. 

“You're only as good as your last game and we understand the criticism that comes with it," LaFleur said, "and that this is the big-boy league. And you know, there's a lot of eyes on every player that steps out on that field.

“I think we're gonna have to go out there and prove it, and we're gonna have to prove it Week 1 and then we’re gonna have to prove it every game after that.”

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