Countdown to Camp: Punting competition could get interesting

Packers K Mason Crosby in an extended groove, while return game has veteran options, rookie candidate

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This is the eighth and final installment in a series of stories that's examining the Packers' roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series concludes with the specialists.

GREEN BAY – Last year's punting competition didn't even last until the first preseason game, but this year's might not conclude quite so soon.

Veteran punter Tim Masthay was never seriously challenged by Cody Mandell a year ago. Newcomer and Green Bay native Peter Mortell is the competitor this year, and he could make a stronger push to unseat the incumbent.

His credentials are impressive, including a Big Ten punter of the year award following his junior season at Minnesota, and a career gross average of 44.0 yards that broke a 30-year-old Golden Gophers' record.

It would make quite the story, for a local kid whose high school games took place two miles down the road from Lambeau Field at Green Bay Notre Dame Academy to earn a job with the team he idolized as a child.

But sentiment won't win this battle. Consistency will, and while Masthay's name is splashed all over the Packers' record book – including for his 40.2-yard net average in 2015, a single-season best in Green Bay – the seven-year veteran knows he needs to eliminate the occasional bad punt that last season would mar an otherwise solid day.

There's no way for a punting competition to have the same documented drama as a kicking one, such as the Mason Crosby vs. Giorgio Tavecchio saga three years ago, but if Masthay and Mortell are indeed trading punts in the preseason games, statistical comparisons are inevitable.

Holding for Crosby could factor into the equation, too, a job Masthay has performed for each of his six years with the Packers. Crosby has been in a good groove since beating out Tavecchio back in 2013, so there's a lot to be said for the consistency of the operation.

Rick Lovato took over as the new long snapper late last season following Brett Goode's knee injury, and Lovato enters camp as the only long snapper with Goode, an unsigned free agent. Lovato has suffered no notable hiccups to this point.

As for Crosby, his value was probably never higher than after last season, when he was one of only five full-time kickers to be perfect on extra points at the new 33-yard distance. He also didn't miss a field goal from 40 yards or less, and he made at least four kicks of 50-plus for the third straight year.

That said, Crosby was never really interested in testing free agency, and he came back to Green Bay with a chance to put the franchise's career scoring record, previously held by Ryan Longwell, practically out of reach.

In the return game, the Packers have veteran options for both kickoffs and punts.

Ty Montgomery began his rookie season last year with a bang on kickoff returns, but his injury thrust Micah Hyde, Jared Abbrederis and eventually Jeff Janis into the role. With three returns of at least 45 yards, Janis had taken over by season's end.

On punts, Hyde and Randall Cobb have both done it plenty, and plenty successfully, with Abbrederis another potential candidate.

The one rookie who could try to make a mark in both areas is fifth-round draft pick Trevor Davis, a speedy receiver from Cal. His 6-1, 188-pound frame would seem to lend itself more to punt returns than kickoff returns, but he had more experience in college at the latter, bringing back two for TDs in the same game in 2014.

Countdown to Camp series

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