Quick thoughts on Packers position groups: Special teams from weakness to strength?

Green Bay Packers place kicker Anders Carlson (17) is shown during organized team activities Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Green Bay, Wis.
Green Bay Packers place kicker Anders Carlson (17) is shown during organized team activities Tuesday, May 23, 2023 in Green Bay, Wis. /

As part one of my training camp preview, I have been examining each of the Green Bay Packers position groups as they currently stand on the 90-man roster.

In this series, I have been diving into each specific position, sharing my thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard during the handful of open practice sessions throughout the offseason programs. I’ll also discuss my expectations for each position group, questions I still have, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

To conclude this series, I will be taking a closer look at the special teams unit. If you’ve missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them all below.


Running back

Tight end 

Offensive tackle

Interior offensive line

Wide receiver

Interior defensive line

Edge rusher




Current roster: Anders Carlson, Pat O’Donnell, Daniel Whelan, Matt Orzech, and Broughton Hatcher

– Perhaps it’s still a bit too early to call the Packers’ special teams unit a strength, there are still big questions at kicker, but this is a unit that was playing quite well by the end of last season. After the addition of Rich Bisaccia to the coaching staff last offseason, many of Green Bay’s key contributors from 2021 were gone. Now, the top eight players in snaps and the top 10 in tackles are all back.

– The top five players from 2022 in special teams snaps, according to PFF, were Tyler Davis, Dallin Leavitt, Isaiah McDuffie, Keisean Nixon, and Josiah Deguara. The top five in solo special teams tackles were McDuffie, Eric Wilson, Tariq Carpenter, Leavitt, and Davis.

– Special teams play is often the deciding factor when it comes to who earns the final roster spots on the 53-man roster. Running backs coach Ben Sirmans has already said that it will play a “huge role” in deciding who the third running back is. However, given the continuity within this unit this season with so many key players returning, there may not be as much playing time up for grabs this summer as there has been in past years for Green Bay.

– During the offseason programs, we only got a glimpse of rookie kicker Anders Carlson, but one thing was evident–he’s got some power. On three kicks from 50-plus yards, Carlson cleared the bar with ease and looked effortless in doing so. Overall, he made 11 of his 12 attempts that ranged from extra point distance to 54 yards. Although Crosby was reliable from inside 40, his distance from 50, especially later on in the season when the temperature dropped, came into question. He also had one of the highest kick return rates in football.

– The Carlson selection may have been a big head-scratching given that his college numbers don’t leap off the page, but as GM Brian Gutekunst said after the draft, Bisaccia’s familiarity with him played a big role in the pick. Bisaccia spent time with Carlson one-on-one as part of the pre-draft process. He also worked with his brother Daniel Carlson when coaching in Las Vegas. Bisaccia has gone on to say that he likes Carlson’s “strong mental makeup” and that he’s kicked in a lot of big games.

– The Packers appear to be fully prepared to weather the storm that comes with relying on a rookie kicker, with Carlson being the only one on the 90-man roster. While not an easy decision, ultimately, with the Packers transitioning to Jordan Love, I think not bringing back Mason Crosby was the right move. Their priority should be finding their kicker of the future, not holding on to Crosby for one more season. What they don’t want is to be better positioned in 2024 to make a run and have uncertainty at kicker. The same concept applies to brining in any other free agent kicker—first see if Carlson can be the guy.

– One of the changes from an organizational standpoint that had to take place was how this Packers team viewed special teams. Specifically, making it a priority and not an afterthought. Well, under Bisaccia, that has happened, and this year’s free-agent signings are a prime example of that. This offseason, the Packers would sign or re-sign Dallin Leavitt, Eric Wilson, Corey Ballentine, Rudy Ford, Tarvarius Moore, Matt Orzech, and Tyler Davis–all either core special teams players with the Packers from 2022 or players with ample special teams experience.

– There are two long-snappers on the roster in Broughton Hatcher and Matt Orzech, but Orzech is the clear front-runner for that job. Not that it would be all that difficult to get out of, but the Packers did sign Orzech to a three-year contract this offseason. He is also a former Super Bowl winner with the Rams. In the last two seasons, Rams’ kicker Matt Gay made 68 out of his 74 field goal attempts and 90 of his 92 extra point attempts, with Orzech snapping and punter Riley Dixon graded out as the third-best punter by PFF in 2022.

– The Packers have a second punter on the roster in Daniel Whelan, perhaps in Green Bay to push Pat O’Donnell. Again, I saw very little of Whelan during the offseason programs, but he was holding for Carlson on some of his field goal attempts and has a big leg, averaging 4.74 seconds in hangtime during one punting session. O’Donnell, meanwhile, was averaging 4.2 seconds during that same drill.

– Whelan was named to the All-XFL team this spring. He averaged 45.6 yards per punt with 11 punts inside the opponent’s 20 and just two touchbacks. He was an All-American punter at FCS UC-Davis.

– If I were to guess right now, I would still give O’Donnell the benefit of the doubt. Although the Packers can save $1.25 million in cap space by releasing him, that isn’t enough to dictate the decision. O’Donnell is also a reliable holder with a young kicker, which is very valuable, and Bisaccia has spoken highly of him. But with that said, if the Packers want to take the same approach at punter as they are at kicker in trying to find a long-term answer, a strong summer from Whelan could give him a shot at making the final roster, as long as Green Bay is willing to weather the ups and downs.

– Along with Kesiean Nixon, the other primary return man during OTAs and minicamp was Jayden Reed, who averaged 19.6 yards per kick return on 43 attempts at Michigan State and an impressive 15.0 yards per punt return on 37 attempts. Nixon is such a playmaker that you don’t want to take the ball out of his hands, but I do wonder, with him starting on defense in the nickel this season, if some of his return responsibilities are reduced, for example, he only returns kicks. Matt LaFleur did say earlier this offseason that defense is Nixon’s No. 1 focus.