Packers notes: Kentrell Brice saves special teams from game-opening debacle
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers nearly opened their season Sunday with a special-teams disaster.
After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Packers kicked off to the Seattle Seahawks and their dangerous return man Tyler Lockett, a player that Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said is among the top three returners in the league.
The goal was for kicker Mason Crosby to boom his kickoffs out of the end zone, or at least deep enough to where Lockett would think about taking a knee. But the first kickoff traveled only four yards deep, and Lockett decided to bring it out.
“The stadium is a little bit different, you know?” Zook said. “You can’t just look at the flags and think you know where the wind is going to be. Sometimes it’s a little bit harder to kick them out. You’d rather kick them out if you could against that guy, but you’re going to have to be able to cover, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We have to do a better job of it.”
Lockett bolted out of the end zone and angled his return toward the left sideline. He found a sliver of daylight and raced upfield with a potential touchdown in his sights.
But safety Kentrell Brice, the player who lines up closest to the sideline, ran at Lockett on an angle. He dove with full extension and got enough of a push on Lockett to force him out of bounds.
Otherwise, Zook believes Lockett would have scored.
“Yeah, probably,” Zook said. “The frustrating thing for us — and like I told them today — is they’ll probably never be as prepared as they were for a team in terms of seeing everything or practicing against everything that we saw.
“Once again, a little bit hesitant with guys going down there and not letting it go, not letting it out. That’s the one thing we’ve got to work on. It wasn’t anything we haven’t worked on, but now they’ve just got to run down there and make the play.”
Davis' decisions: When opposing punters try to pin the football deep into Packers territory, returner Trevor Davis usually plants his feet at the 10-yard line.
That’s how Davis can tell whether to catch a punt, or let it roll into the end zone. But Sunday’s opener against the Seahawks wasn’t like most weeks. Against Jon Ryan, one of the NFL’s best at locating punts, Davis said he was supposed to plant his feet at the 7-yard line.
It’s what Davis did on Ryan’s first pin punt of the game. From the Packers’ 42-yard line, Ryan dropped his punt at the 4. Davis wisely didn’t catch the football, hoping it would bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
Instead, Ryan’s punt bounced almost straight up off the field, and the Seahawks downed it at the 2-yard line.
For whatever reason, Davis didn’t line up at the 7-yard line on the Seahawks’ next attempt to pin a punt deep into Packers territory. On the first play of the second quarter, Davis planted both feet at the 10. He said it threw off his ability to locate where he was on the field, leading him to call fair catch at the 5-yard line.
“When I was backing up,” Davis said, “I didn’t really know if I was past the 7 or not.”
The play served as a lesson for a second-year player the Packers hope will become their regular punt returner, replacing departed safety Micah Hyde. Davis didn’t make a difference in the return game Sunday, gaining no yards on two returns. He was tackled immediately on his first return, deciding to field the punt without a fair catch despite an unblocked gunner barreling down on him.
But Davis has shown big-play potential with his speed in the open field, most clearly on a 65-yard touchdown return against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Packers' preseason opener. The Packers hope he can bring more big plays to their return game. First, he’ll undergo a learning curve.
“Trevor is going to get better,” Zook said. “There’s some decisions there that we need to work on.”
On his next punt after fair catching at the 5-yard line, Davis made another error.
There wasn’t a defender within 10 yards of him, providing an opportunity to pick up yards. After watching film, Davis said he had enough room to play the punt. Instead, he let the football drop.
Davis said he noticed the punt’s rotation would bring it back toward the defense, leading him to let it drop instead of fielding it. The same happened during the fourth quarter.
“In my mind,” Davis said, “it was probably going to bounce the opposite way, not bounce toward our goal line. So rather than running up there and fair catching, I might as well let it bounce. But coaches want us to catch everything
“You don’t want to judge it. Coaches, you don’t want to take the chance at it. You just might as well go up there and try to catch it.”
Both decisions to let the football drop worked out Sunday. The Packers know it usually doesn’t.
“Both times,” Zook said, “he didn’t catch the punt it bounced in our favor. Usually it’s the other way. So he’s got to go get them. Once again, we’ll get that strengthened out.”
Tired Mike: Last season, Mike Daniels played 64.4 percent of the Green Bay Packers' defensive snaps as a result of defensive line coach Mike Trgovac’s determination not to wear him out.
Against Seattle, Daniels played 77.6 percent (38 of 49) snaps, seeing a much greater increase in third-down rushes.
Given the way he played — seven tackles, 1½ sacks, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble — it wasn’t exactly easy for Trgovac or defensive coordinator Dom Capers to take him off the field. Daniels wrecked Seattle’s offense time and time again with his play upfront.
“He played quite a bit for us on third downs,” Capers said. “You think about it, we had Julius (Peppers) and Datone (Jones) that we mixed in there (last year).You saw on third down, you saw Ahmad Brooks to start out with until he had to leave the game (with a concussion).
“But Mike, you obviously saw what he did rushing and it’s hard to dispute the impact he had out there as a rusher. He really had some good moves and created some havoc.”
Pulling up: Backup left tackle Jason Spriggs played one snap on special teams against the Seahawks, and that was enough to sustain an injury.
Spriggs said he tweaked his hamstring on the first extra point attempt by Mason Crosby and did not return to the game.
On film, Spriggs can be seen blocking linebacker K.J. Wright along the right side of the line early in the third quarter. He goes low, and Wright winds up falling on Spriggs’ back.
Spriggs immediately grabbed at his left hamstring and toppled over in pain.
The Packers will release their next injury report Wednesday afternoon.