Countdown to Camp: Packers making changes on special teams at kicker, long snapper

Return and coverage units remain almost entirely intact


"Countdown to Camp" is a daily look at the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to the start of training camp. The series concludes with the specialists.

GREEN BAY – In the midst of changing starting quarterbacks for the first time in 15 years, the Packers are changing kickers for the first time in 16.

Auburn's Anders Carlson was drafted in the sixth round this past April, the same round in which the Packers chose Mason Crosby back in 2007. Crosby went on to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer, putting marks in the team record book that might never be touched.

That's a huge kicking shoe to fill for Carlson (6-5, 219), whose older brother Daniel is an All-Pro for the Raiders and was aided in reaching that level by Rich Bisaccia, the Packers' assistant head coach and special teams coordinator. Bisaccia's endorsement of the younger Carlson's talent and makeup strongly influenced General Manager Brian Gutekunst to select him despite an underwhelming finish statistically to his college career, which was significantly impacted by injuries.

Healthy and no longer wearing a brace on his non-kicking leg, Carlson kicked free and easy this spring, showing off an impressive leg in the June minicamp. He's the only kicker on the roster as training camp opens.

The other specialist position changing in 2023 is long snapper, where veteran Matt Orzech and undrafted rookie Broughton Hatcher were brought in to battle it out to replace Jack Coco. Orzech (6-3, 245) won a Super Bowl during a two-year stint with the Rams, while Hatcher (6-4, 242) played in 35 games over four seasons for Old Dominion.

The following is the last installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the special teams.

The Packers also have two punters in camp, though it doesn't appear change is afoot. Pat O'Donnell (6-4, 220), who signed with the Packers last year as a free agent after eight seasons with the Bears, provided the veteran presence and production Green Bay expected in 2022, averaging 44.5 yards per punt (38.9 net) and placing 24 of 52 punts inside the 20. He also brought much-needed stability as a holder on placekicks.

The potential future prospect at punter is Daniel Whelan (6-5, 216), who entered the league undrafted last year with the Saints but didn't make it to the preseason. The UC-Davis punter played in the XFL this past spring before coming to Green Bay.

As for the return and coverage units, the Packers remain as intact from one year to the next as any in recent memory, if not more so.

All-Pro kick returner Keisean Nixon, who had five kickoff returns of 50-plus yards when no one else in the league had more than two, is back. But with an increased role on defense awaiting him as the nickel corner, whether or not he also continues as the Packers' punt returner isn't clear. Rookie second-round draft pick Jayden Reed from Michigan State could be an option there and took his share of return reps in the spring.

Coverage-wise, the Packers' top seven tacklers on kick and punt coverage are all back. Linebackers Isaiah McDuffie and Eric Wilson, along with safety Dallin Leavitt, tied for the team lead with 13, followed by tight end Tyler Davis with 10, cornerback Rasul Douglas with nine, former safety turned inside linebacker Tariq Carpenter with eight, and Nixon with six.

Defensive backs Corey Ballentine, Rudy Ford, Innis Gaines and Shemar Jean-Charles, who each had either three or four coverage tackles a year ago, also return.

Countdown to Camp series

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