The Green Bay Packers special teams have been a problem area for the team for a long time. 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 on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone. The Packers also had a field goal blocked on the final play of the first half that could have put the ahead 10-0. Those two plays alone cost the Packers 10 points in a game they lost by three. Sadly, 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 this area of the team. While the start of the 2022 NFL season is still more than three months away, one thing is abundantly clear: Bisaccia is here to change the culture surrounding the Packers special teams units.
Bisaccia has roughly two decades of experience coaching special teams. He has enjoyed success throughout his career teaching players how to excel at this long neglected (by the Packers anyway) portion of the game.
When he first met with the media after being hired by the Packers, Bisaccia told reporters, “We’re going to look in every nook and cranny to see what we can do to make ourselves better. There’s not one specific thing.”
Well, Bisaccia hasn’t wasted any time starting to make changes. The new special teams coordinator already has had input on roster decisions adding players like Keisean Nixon who was a special teams regular with the Raiders under Bisaccia and kicker Dominik Eberle who is battling Mason Crosby for the kicking job.
He also influenced the signing of punter Pat O’Donnell who is replacing Cory Bojorquez. O’Donnell is more consistent than Bojorquez and is a better holder, something the team struggled with throughout the 2021 season and it was a major factor in Crosby’s struggles kicking field goals.
Many of the day three draft picks the Packers made were also selected with special teams in mind like Tariq Carpenter and Jonathan Ford. These rookies will be expected to block, tackle and cover kicks and punts while they develop their game and prepare to play bigger roles on offense or defense.
Even though the Packers have only completed rookie camp and one round of voluntary OTAs, you can already see some of the things Bisaccia is trying to implement. He has introduced new drills for the special teams units including having potential returns specialists catch tennis balls in practice rather than footballs. While the philosophy seems straight out of the movie, “Dodgeball,” (if you can catch a wrench, you can catch a ball), there is merit to these drills and hopefully they can help return specialists catch punts and kickoffs cleanly once we get to full contact drills and even games.
Bisaccia also had several established veteran starters running special teams drills during this past week’s voluntary OTAs. Having players like Aaron Jones, Adrian Amos and De’Vondre Campbell on the field for special teams drills sends a message to all the players on the roster that special teams are a legitimate part of the team and not something to be looked down on.
Because there are no pads on during these drills, the risk of injury to the veterans is minimal yet it gives the veteran leaders of this team insight into special teams and more of an ability to communicate what is needed on coverage and return teams to the younger players. Having the leaders of the team being able to 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 added to offense and defense as an integral part of the team. Again, this creates a sense of unity and importance about the special teams units.
It’s far too early to know how effective Bisaccia will be as special teams coordinator but he is certainly making changes to the unit and trying to change the culture surrounding a group that has long been a weak link on this team. That alone is reason for hope for the Packers special teams.