This is the eighth and final in a series of stories that has examined the Packers’ roster, position by position, heading into training camp. The series concludes with the specialists.
GREEN BAY – For the past few years, the Packers have been trying to find a long-term replacement for veteran long snapper Brett Goode.
But injuries and other issues have resulted in Goode returning at some point to retake the position and continue an impressive run at the unsung special-teams spot that began back in 2008.
Once again, Goode was not re-signed as a pending free agent for 2018, and the efforts to find a capable successor will continue this summer with a head-to-head competition through training camp and the preseason.
The young contenders are Zach Triner and rookie seventh-round draft pick Hunter Bradley.
Triner was signed to the Packers’ practice squad in Week 17 last year and was with the team throughout the past offseason. A linebacker at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., Triner spent some time as a rookie free agent in the spring of 2017 with the Jets.
Bradley was the 10th of Green Bay’s 11 draft picks in April, chosen in the final round at No. 239 overall out of Mississippi State. Originally recruited as a preferred walk-on at tight end, Bradley sustained ACL tears in back-to-back years to begin his college career. Those came on top of an initial ACL injury as a senior in high school.
In order to continue playing football, he switched to long snapper, a position he held for his final three seasons with the Bulldogs, earning a scholarship along the way.
As is the case with almost all specialists, Triner and Bradley will be competing not only against one another, but against any other long snappers who might become available during or at the end of the preseason.
Rookie punter JK Scott is in the same boat. Drafted in the fifth round out of Alabama, Scott immediately became the lone punter on Green Bay’s roster as Justin Vogel, a rookie free agent in 2017 who set a franchise single-season record for net average (41.6 yards), was released. (Note: Net average statistics have been kept only since 1976.)
The move was requested by Vogel but also signaled the organization’s confidence in Scott, a long-legged record-setter for the Crimson Tide who spent a decorated college career punting on the biggest of stages.
By all accounts, Scott will be the Packers’ punter in 2018, but his camp and preseason will be about not giving the personnel department any reasons to look elsewhere.
Regarding the punt team, the Packers also will want to find another reliable gunner to replace departed wide receiver Jeff Janis. His effectiveness getting downfield quickly in coverage was a big reason the Packers posted the top three net averages in team annals over the past three seasons with three different punters (Tim Masthay in 2015, Jacob Schum in ’16, Vogel in ’17).
Defensive backs Demetri Goodson, Josh Jones and Quinten Rollins have all performed the duty in the past, while rookie corner Jaire Alexander got some work there during OTAs.
Alexander is also among the candidates at return man, along with receiver Trevor Davis, who ranked in the top 10 in the league on both punts (third, 12.0 average) and kickoffs (eighth, 22.8). Running back Ty Montgomery has returned kickoffs in the past as well.
The most stability amongst the Packers’ specialists resides in veteran kicker Mason Crosby, of course. Entering his 12th season, the 2007 sixth-round pick has his name plastered all over the team record books, and he’s still going strong.
His streak of 10 consecutive seasons with at least 100 points was snapped in 2017, through really no fault of his own. With the Packers playing without Aaron Rodgers for 10 games, Crosby attempted by far the fewest field goals of his career (only 19, with the previous low 28) as well as the fewest extra points (35).
Over the past three seasons, Crosby has been forced to adjust to different snappers and holders, even multiple times within the same season. He’ll be making those adjustments again in 2018, but he’s plenty used to them.