Training camp begins on Wednesday for the Green Bay Packers. As part of my preview, I will be highlighting all 91 players on the Packers roster as I make my way through each position group, taking a look at what I’ve seen during the offseason programs, where things stand, expectations, and more. I’ll also be making a final roster prediction as well.
To finish out my preview series, I will now take a look at the Packers’ specialists. In Rich Bisaccia’s first season as special teams coordinator, the Packers ranked 22nd in Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings. While on the surface, that ranking is nothing to write home about, it’s also a far cry from the 32nd place finish we saw from Green Bay in 2022, and a few other times over the last decade.
Along with Bisaccia’s presence, another factor that has led to the Packers improved special teams play is that it has been a bigger priority for them in free agency rather than an after thought, which was often the case in previous years. This offseason was a prime example of that with the team re-signing Keisean Nixon, Dallin Leavitt, Rudy Ford, and Corey Ballantine – all core special teams players – while also bringing in Tarvarius Moore and Matt Orzech.
After a lot of turnover on the special teams unit last offseason, the Packers will have quite a bit of continuity carrying over to this season in Year 2 with Bisaccia. The top eight players in total special teams snaps are currently on the 90 man roster as are the top 10 players in tackles. Where there was some turnover is with the specialists, specifically, with Green Bay moving on from long-time kicker Mason Crosby and long-snapper Jack Coco.
With a young offense and first time starting quarterback, much like the defensive side of the ball, there will be a premium on sound special teams play. Winning the field position battle, capitalizing on field goal and extra point attempts, and limiting the mistakes will be a must for a Packers team that could have issues putting up points.
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The Packers appear prepared to weather the storm that can come with relying on a young kicker as Anders Carlson is the only one of the roster. When GM Brian Gutekunst was asked on Tuesday about adding some competition, he first said that they would see how training camp went.
Carlson, a sixth-round pick by the Packers, dealt with some injuries during his college career and, at times, inconsistent kicking. But it also appears that he was handpicked by Bisaccia. The two met one-on-one during the pre-draft process. Bisaccia also coached Anders’ brother, Daniel Carlson, while in Las Vegas. At Auburn, Carlson kicked in a number of big games and has a “strong mental makeup,” as Bisaccia put it.
"“The relationship Rich had with him was a positive factor,” said Gutekunst after the draft. “The familiarity there helped. With kickers, Rich has a long track record and a very successful one, and I felt really good about how he felt about him.”"
Carlson packs some power, which was evident during minicamp as he easily cleared the crossbar from 54 yards. Overall, he went 11-for-12 during those two practices.
Pat O’Donnell’s numbers from his first season in Green Bay don’t leap off the page by any means, ranking 26th in yards per attempt, 22nd on punts inside the 20 yard line, and 17th in total fair catches, but he provided some stability and consistency at the position. O’Donnell’s veteran presence was also felt on field goal and extra point attempts with his ability as a holder and working with a rookie long-snapper. This was one of the big reasons he was signed last offseason.
Daniel Whelan was signed this offseason after spending the spring in the XFL, where he averaged 45.6 yards per punt, good for the third best in the league. He also had 11 of his 29 punt attempts finish inside the 20 yard line and had just two touchbacks. At FCS UC-Davis, Whelan was an All-American in 2021.
We had just a small glimpse of Whelan during minicamp, but it’s evident that he packs some power. His average hang time on six punts during those practices was 4.74 seconds, in comparison to O’Donnell’s 4.2 seconds. Whelan also was a holder on several of Carlson’s field goal attempts.
O’Donnell should still be the favorite to make the team at punter, but if the Packers are willing to weather the storm at kicker, perhaps they’d be willing to do the same at punter if it means potentially finding their long-term answer at the position. In order for that to be the case, Whelan is going to have to put together a strong training camp performance.
There may be two long-snappers on the roster, but you can bet that Matt Orzech is the favorite to make the team. Not only because of his track record, but the Packers also gave him a three year deal. Although it’s not all that difficult to get out of from a salary cap standpoint, that probably doesn’t happen either if there are questions about him making the final roster.
Orzech won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams in 2021. Rams’ kicker Matt Gay has made 90 of his 92 extra point attempts over the last two seasons and 68 out of 74 field goal attempts with Orzech long-snapping. Punter Riley Dixon had PFF’s third-highest punting grade in 2022 as well.
The Packers had Broughton Hatcher in for a tryout during rookie minicamp and signed him after the three practices. He is a 2023 undrafted rookie from Old Dominion, where he was on the field for 302 special teams snaps, making three tackles. Hatcher’s kicker in 2022, Ethan Sanchez, made all of his extra point attempts and was 10 for 13 on field goal attempts, with him long-snapping.
Anders Carlson, Pat O’Donnell, and Matt Orzech
I don’t see the Packers adding another kicker. They drafted Carlson and are prepared to see what he can do. Orzech’s experience and track record will put him on the roster over Hatcher, while for the time being, I’m still going to give O’Donnell the benefit of the doubt over Whelan until I see more. Whelan may pack more power, but O’Donnell’s experience as a holder can be very valuable with a rookie kicker. Also, from a salary cap perspective, moving on from O’Donnell comes with little cap savings for Green Bay, so that shouldn’t be a deciding factor in the decision.