Packers turn to Zook to fix special teams

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers assistant special teams coach Ron Zook talks with Jamari Lattimore during training camp practice at Ray Nitschke Field last August.

The Green Bay Packers officially turned the keys to their special teams over to Ron Zook on Thursday afternoon.

Now, it's up to the 60-year-old assistant coach to fix a wayward unit that allowed seven blocked kicks in 2014 and crumbled in the NFC championship game against Seattle last month.

Zook spoke for upwards of 20 minutes with reporters on Thursday and agreed with coach Mike McCarthy's assessment that the team needs its veterans on special teams to step up. Here's a little of what Zook had to say:

On consistency

Our veteran guys they have to be consistent. It's been the Green Bay Packer philosophy and obviously it's a great philosophy that we're going to have young players and we're going to develop young players. I think the one thing that happens, particularly with special teams. They've played offense or defense. They've played receiver or defensive back all their lives. Now, a lot of times they haven't played special teams. Special teams has got techniques just like a defensive back or offensive linemen or wide receiver. There's a lot of things that you're trying to play catch-up with. I think your scheme has to be conducive to change. It has to be a situation where you're doing things where it's not reinventing the wheels so to speak.

On what the unit needs

Well, I think No. 1 the veterans buying in. I'm not saying they didn't buy in. But the emphasis is those young guys, particularly early, they're going to pay attention to what the veterans are doing. If you go back and you look at the top special teams in the league. Usually they're veteran guys are leading those younger guys. We have a large number of young guys. We've got to get them coached up. The system has to be in a situation where they can play simple. I don't foresee a lot of change. I think the things we did this past year were good, really good. I don't foresee a lot of change. I think once again you're going to have new guys in there and guys that are coming back have to be better than they were.

On if special teams will be under a microscope

I think special teams is always under the microscope because it's one play. You don't get second down or third down on special teams. It's one play and that's what people remember. You have to get them to understand that it is one play. Usually it's a long play. It's a 6, 7, 8, 9 second play and they have to play it wide open and to the fullest extent. Once again, how the ball bounces and all those kind of things. It's an area that people sometimes don't pay a lot of attention to until there's a problem.

On Mike McCarthy's presence in room:

Yeah, we talked about that. I think that's great. I think once again when you start bouncing around ideas, if there's one way of doing things that's the best everybody would be doing the same thing. Obviously the goal is for everybody to win and so forth. I think the fact with having Coach in there. I think it's a great thing because once again it's another idea, it's another thought. As I said earlier, Mike is a great football coach all the way around. As an offensive football coach, he knows what defenses are trying to do and what causes defenses problems. When I was the head coach, I was the defensive coach and being involved with the offense I knew what defenses were trying to do. I think it helps. Of course, the special-teams thing. Mike is an all-around football coach and it's going to be good.

On what his role was last season:

I made a lot of suggestions. The ones that Shawn liked, we did. I think that's part of it. I told him when I came in, I'm going to suggest things and if you like them, great. If you don't, that's your priority. I think Shawn and I worked great together – Shawn did a great job. The ball didn't bounce right sometimes.

On it being a discouraging year for special teams:

Well, I think what happens is you go back and you look at the 12 bad plays. You can't let that – there were an awful lot of good plays on special teams. There were 12 plays that weren't good. Over the course of the season, percentage-wise there's probably that many bad plays on defense and that many bad plays on offense percentage-wise. It's just special teams can have a serious outcome on the game.

On benefits to working with McCarthy:

I think No. 1, particularly for the older guys the importance of just how important it is. They have to buy in. Everybody, I always had a saying in football of everybody needs to have a little fear for their job whether it be the players, the coaches or whoever. I think he adds that a little bit.

What changes are in store?

That's a good question. I'm not sure. Hopefully, we're a little more lucky than what happened to Shawn at times. A lot of times that's the nature of the business is you have injuries and you have guys in there who haven't worked a lot at it. It becomes a critical thing. All we can do is coach them the best we can and get them playing as hard and as fast as we can. That's kind of the way it is in this league.

Are you a special-teams coach at heart?

When I was at Pittsburgh I couldn't wait to get away from special teams. I said I never want to deal with the punt team again. As soon as I became a head coach … then I obviously got very, very involved again with it because it is a phase that there's certain games where maybe it's not quite as important. The Chicago game or the Minnesota game where you're up and you just have to keep from losing, but there's a lot times where you have a chance to win the game. We have a chance to win the game in Seattle. We stop the fake field goal, which should've been stopped. There's no reason for that. Anyway those kind of things you just have to (laughs) ride the wave so to speak, I guess.

On if he knew he was getting promoted after Slocum's firing:

No, I was actually in shock when Shawn called me. Shawn and I were very, very close. Shawn is a great football coach. Shawn was very good to me. We had a great relationship, still do. Talked to him two days ago. No, I had no idea what direction coach was going to go.

On what happened on the fake field goal:

Once again, I don't want to relive that. It's over. I'll suffice to say it's not all that everybody says it was. It wasn't necessarily the call, either. There's a lot of things that could have happened to keep that from happening. You learn from that and you go on.

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