What we've learned: Packers' specialists

July, 29, 2013
7/29/13
3:28
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When you have a kicker who converted an NFL-worst 63.6 percent of his field goals and had a slump during which he missed 12 of 14 attempts -- and for the first time in six years you have two kickers in camp -- every training camp kick will be scrutinized.

Through three days of practice, we’ve seen exactly one live kicking session. But it was enough to add to the intrigue of the Packers’ competition between incumbent Mason Crosby and young challenger Giorgio Tavecchio.

Here’s what we’ve learned about the Packers’ special teams so far:

Crosby vs. Tavecchio: If the first live field goal period was any indication, this could be a hotly contested race. Crosby appeared to pull himself out of his slump late last season by making his final six field goals (including playoffs). During the six-kick session over the weekend, he missed a pair of kicks (from 50 and 53 yards). Tavecchio missed just once, from 53 yards. Both also made 53-yarders. In reality, Crosby is competing against himself. If his percentage doesn’t improve, the Packers may decide to move on, whether Tavecchio or someone else is the answer. Whatever fundamental tweaks special-teams coach Shawn Slocum made to Crosby’s technique at this point have taken a backseat to Crosby’s mental approach. “As you come into camp, you want to find that [mental] picture, that thing where you get into that rhythm when you’re just swinging free and hitting the ball to the line you want,” Crosby said.

Returner rotation: Considering how much receiver Randall Cobb will be involved in the offense following the departure of Greg Jennings in free agency, the Packers would like to find someone else to return kicks. But they’re not willing to do so at the expense of special-teams production. That’s why Cobb, who has three career special-teams touchdowns in two NFL seasons, continues to take reps in the return game. But he’s not always getting the first rep, which can typically be used to figure out who tops the depth chart. During Sunday’s kickoff return period, backup receiver Jeremy Ross got the first rep. Cobb went second. Slocum also used starting cornerback Sam Shields, backup cornerbacks James Nixon and Loyce Means and rookie running back Johnathan Franklin. Ross is the most likely challenger, but he has to prove his costly muffed punt in the playoff loss at San Francisco was a fluke. Franklin is an intriguing candidate. He didn’t return kicks in games at UCLA but said he often did so in practice.

Rob Demovsky

ESPN Green Bay Packers reporter

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