2017 Packers Previews: Specialists In Transition
For the second consecutive season, the Packers will enter training camp with two of their three specialist positions up for grabs.
Though Justin Vogel is currently the punter by default, he’d be well advised to keep an eye out for external threats to his employment. It was only a year ago that Tim Masthay seemed to win a training camp competition, only to find his ticket out of town during the final roster cutdown.
The same goes for Derek Hart: although he’s the only long snapper on the roster right now, Brett Goode is only a phone call away. The Packers have already shown a great willingness to bring Goode in on short notice.
It’s an interesting, if familiar, position for the Packers, who surely would hope that next year at this time this position group is undergoing a bit less change.
Veteran to watch: Mason Crosby
Crosby has now played a full season more than Ryan Longwell did during his tenure in Green Bay, and his post-2012 career renaissance has shown no signs of slowing down. While the punter and long snapper jobs have been in flux, Crosby remains as steady as ever. His staying power has been especially buoyed by his strong leg and his related ability to convert field goals from distance.
In 2012, Crosby was a disastrous 2 of 9 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or more. But since then, he’s converted 14 of 21 attempts from that distance. Only five players in the NFL have made more 50 yard kicks since 2013.
Notable newcomer: Justin Vogel
Vogel comes to Green Bay after a strong but relatively inconspicuous career at the University of Miami. He was All-ACC second team during his senior year, but that about completes the list of honors for Vogel, whose dad had a cup of coffee with the Houston Oilers in 1987.
Vogel is in a unique position this training camp. As we mentioned up top, he’s not really in a competition with anyone for his job. Not directly, at least.
But on the other hand, Vogel is competing with every other punter in the league for his job. Ted Thompson and the rest of the Packers front office will be keeping a keen eye on Vogel and an even keener eye on the rest of the camps in the league. If someone becomes available that the Packers like even slightly better, Vogel’s solo competition could come to an end quickly.
Biggest question: Are the Packers really set at long snapper?
In a way, the Packers have already cycled through three long snappers this offseason. Brett Goode was not retained at the end of the 2016 season, giving way to Taybor Pepper and Derek Hart.
Pepper left Green Bay after the rookie orientation camp, cut to make room for a couple tryout players.
As a result, Hart finds himself in a similar position to Vogel, competing against no one and everyone simultaneously. If he plays well and does his job in training camp, he should be able to hold the job into the regular season. But if he falters, a change could be worked quickly.
Key number: 89.7%
Since 2007, five kickers have attempted at least 20 field goals in the playoffs. Of those five, Mason Crosby is the third most accurate, converting 26 of 29 attempts (89.7%).
It’s also worth noting that Crosby averages the second longest average distance per attempt of that group, behind only Adam Vinatieri, about half of whose kicks came indoors.