The Green Bay Packers’ special teams have long been a problem area for the team. When we last saw the Packers on the field, they lost a home playoff game by three points without giving up a defensive touchdown. The only time the 49ers reached the end zone was a jammed punt, which was recovered in the end zone. The Packers also had a field goal blocked in the final game of the first half that could have taken the 10-0 lead. Those two games alone cost the Packers 10 points in a game they lost by three. Unfortunately, weak special teams were a problem throughout the season.
Enter Rich Bisaccia. The Packers hired the former Raiders interim head coach this offseason with the goal of improving that area of the team. With the start of the 2022 NFL season still more than three months away, one thing is crystal clear: Bisaccia is here to change the culture around the Packers’ special teams.
Bisaccia has approximately two decades of experience coaching special teams. Throughout his career, he has been successful in teaching players how to excel in this long-neglected (by the Packers, at least) part of the game.
First meeting with the media after being hired by the Packers, Bisaccia told reporters, “We’re going to look into every nook and cranny to see what we can do to improve. There is no specific thing.”
Well, Bisaccia wasted no time making changes. The new special teams coordinator has already had an impact on roster decisions, adding players like Keisean Nixon, who was a regular with the Raiders under Bisaccia, and kicker Dominik Eberle, who is fighting Mason Crosby for the kicking job.
He also influenced the signing of player Pat O’Donnell to replace Cory Bojorquez. More consistent than Bojorquez and a better defending champion, O’Donnell has struggled the team throughout the 2021 season and was a major factor in Crosby’s trouble making field goals.
Many of the Packers’ Day 3 draft picks were also chosen with special teams in mind, such as Tariq Carpenter and Jonathan Ford. These rookies are expected to block, attack, and cover kicks and punts as they develop their game and prepare to play a bigger role on offense or defense.
Although the Packers have only just completed rookie camp and a round of volunteer OTAs, you can already see some of the things Bisaccia is trying to implement. He has introduced new drills for the special teams, including having potential return specialists catch tennis balls in practice instead of soccer balls. While the philosophy seems straight out of the Dodgeball movie (if you can catch a wrench, you can catch a ball), these drills have value and hopefully can help return specialists catch punts and kickoffs cleanly, as soon as we have them to full contact exercises and even games.
Bisaccia also had several established veteran starters conducting drills for special teams during last week’s volunteer OTAs. Having players like Aaron Jones, Adrian Amos and De’Vondre Campbell on the pitch for special team practice sends a message to all players in the roster that special teams are a legitimate part of the team and not something to look down on.
With no pads applied during these drills, the risk of injury for the veterans is minimal, but it gives the veteran leaders of this team insight into special teams and more opportunities to teach the younger players what’s needed in terms of cover and return teams. The fact that the team leaders can encourage the younger players and guide them through special teams only improves the atmosphere around the team and reinforces the importance of this aspect of the game.
Bisaccia has also referred to special teams as “We-Fense,” to be included as an integral part of the team on both offense and defense. This also creates a sense of unity and importance of the special teams.
It’s far too early to know how effective Bisaccia will be as Special Teams Coordinator, but he’s certainly making changes to the unit and trying to change the culture around a group that has long been a weak link in it team was. That alone is reason for hope for the Packers special teams.