Countdown to Camp: Specialist competitions will be worth watching

Packers hoping return game gets a spark from rookie Amari Rodgers

P JK Scott

As training camp approaches, is examining Green Bay's roster, position by position. The series concludes with the specialists.

GREEN BAY – When Maurice Drayton became the Packers' new special teams coordinator this past winter, he immediately put two of his three specialists on notice.

Given the inconsistencies of punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley, Drayton said better was expected, and the two fourth-year pros and members of the 2018 draft class will be competing for their jobs this summer.

The competition for Scott at punter is Ryan Winslow, who entered the league undrafted in 2018 out of Pitt and has spent time with both the Bears and the Cardinals, punting in two games for Arizona in 2019. He was on the Packers' practice squad late last season.

Bradley will do battle with Joe Fortunato, who has yet to make an NFL roster since signing with Indianapolis as an undrafted rookie from Delaware back in 2017. Fortunato also spent some time in the offseason with Dallas last year.

It's reasonable to consider the incumbents the favorites. Bradley has no disastrous snaps on his ledger, but more consistency is desired.

A record-setting punter and All-America selection at Alabama, Scott has put up solid numbers overall – a 44.6-yard gross average over three seasons and nearly one-third of his punts (63 of 194) placed inside the opponents' 20-yard line, against just 16 touchbacks.

But occasional slumps and costly lapses, including a shank in the NFC title game at San Francisco two seasons ago and a couple of poorly placed punts last season that led to TD returns, must be eliminated for Drayton's units as a whole to be at their best.

There's also a second kicker coming to camp in JJ Molson, a UCLA product whom the Packers signed to the practice squad late last season after spending time on the Chargers' practice squad. Molson also was a CFL draft pick last year.

The following is the eighth installment in a series of photos examining the Packers' roster position by position. This installment examines the specialists.

It's hard to imagine veteran Mason Crosby's job truly being challenged, though, not after the franchise's all-time leading scorer has set team records for field-goal accuracy each of the last two years. Crosby made 22-of-24 (91.7%) in 2019 and then was a perfect 16-for-16 last season, including a clutch 57-yarder late in the win at Detroit that was just one yard shy of his franchise-record long.

Crosby is entering his 15th season and sits just a little more than 400 points away (a little less than four years' worth at his career pace) from having twice as many points as anyone in Packers history. He also owns the eight longest field goals in team history, ranging from 55 to 58 yards.

As for the return game, Drayton is hoping the trade up to select Clemson receiver Amari Rodgers in the third round of the draft will provide the boost it sorely needs.

The Packers had a productive, albeit short, run with Tyler Ervin sparking the return game late in the 2019 season, but injuries limited Ervin's chances last year and no one stepped forward as a productive alternative.

Rodgers has plenty of experience returning punts, with 68 returns over four seasons, including one for a TD in 2018. He only returned a couple of kickoffs in college but he's likely to get a look there as well.

On the coverage units, the top five tacklers from a year ago – linebackers Ty Summers, Oren Burks and Randy Ramsey, plus safeties Vernon Scott and Henry Black – are all back in 2021, but their roster spots are by no means guaranteed. Veteran safety Will Redmond also has been a special-teams leader over the past couple of seasons and re-signed with the club.

Countdown to Camp series

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