Packers.com reveals the Green Bay Packers' depth chart heading into training camp, offering an insider's look at key position battles, players to watch and locks to make the opening day roster. We analyze the special teams in the third of a three-part series.
Perhaps no player on the roster is as much of a lock to remain a starter as kicker Ryan Longwell. The Packers' career leader in points scored, the nine-year veteran connected on 24-of-28 field goal attempts last year and scored 120 points.
On the other end of the spectrum, punter should be one of the more hotly contested position battles during training camp. B.J. Sander, a third-round selection in the 2004 draft, initially is listed as the starter. Wanting him to improve his skills and add game experience, the Packers sent him to NFL Europe this spring. Playing for the Hamburg Sea Devils, he finished first in the league with 36.6-yard net average. However, Brooks Barnard, who has had stints with both the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots, has vowed to make the team. Bryce Benekos, an undrafted free agent from University of Texas-El Paso, is currently slated on the third team. The Packers carried two punters and a kicker on last year's opening day roster, but likely only one punter will make the 2005 active roster.
The coaching staff has listed Sander as the No. 1 holder as well. However, since he was playing in NFL Europe, he has not had a chance to work with Longwell during the organized team activities. Backup quarterbacks Craig Nall and Aaron Rodgers, who took repetitions at holder during the OTAs, are listed as the second- and third-string holders, respectively.
Going into training camp, wide receiver Antonio Chatman is the starting punt returner. He returned 32 punts for 245 yards last year. Second-string punt returner, rookie wide receiver Terrence Murphy, sports an impressive college special teams resume, having returned 31 kickoffs for 761 yards during his four years and earned All-Big Twelve Conference first-team selection as a kickoff returner in 2003. Their backups, wide receiver Andrae Thurman and running back Chaz Williams, hope to make an impact as well.
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson returned 21 kickoffs for 526 yards last year and remains the No. 1 kick returner as the team heads to training camp. The coaching staff has running back Najeh Davenport listed as Ferguson's backup. Despite being much larger than the typical kick returner, the 250-pound Davenport is effective. He has averaged 25.6 yards during his career. Murphy, Williams, Chatman and Thurman are slated as the backups to Ferguson and Davenport.
Known for his consistency, Rob Davis should occupy the first-string long snapping position. The 10-year veteran owns the Packers' third-longest active streak of games played behind quarterback Brett Favre and Longwell. The coaching staff has listed guard Grey Ruegamer as his backup.
Several players hope their work on special teams helps their chances of securing a spot on the opening day roster. Of the players returning from last season, tight end Ben Steele and cornerback Jason Horton are the first- and second-leading special teams tacklers, respectively. Fullback William Henderson, an 11-year-veteran whose roster spot seems not to be in question, is one of the select few NFL starters to consistently contribute on special teams. Tony Fisher, currently listed as the third-string running back, finished with 13 special teams tackles last year.