Countdown to Camp: Two kickers a rare occurrence

K Sam Ficken
K Sam Ficken

This is the final story in a series that has examined the Packers’ roster, position by position, leading up to training camp. The series concludes with the specialists.

GREEN BAY – Not often in Mason Crosby’s 13 seasons have the Packers had two kickers in training camp.

The first time was in Crosby’s rookie year, when the 2007 sixth-round pick from Colorado beat out incumbent Dave Rayner for the job he’s held ever since, setting numerous team scoring records along the way.

Next came 2013, after Crosby endured the worst season of his career and had to fight off a challenge from Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez. Crosby then responded with his best year, making 89 percent of his field goals (33-of-37), including a career-high five from 50-plus.

Now it’s 2019, and the Packers claimed Sam Ficken off waivers from Seattle in April to see what he’s got. But how much Crosby’s job is truly in jeopardy isn’t entirely clear.

On the one hand, Crosby made a respectable 81 percent of his field goals last year (30-of-37) and tied that career high from 2013 with five from 50-plus. His season looks even better when one nightmarish outing in Detroit is removed. That game accounted for four of Crosby’s seven misses, and one of his two missed extra points. His recovery from that forgettable day showed his true professionalism.

But on the other hand, two of Crosby’s other three missed field goals were in clutch moments when the Packers really needed the points. He missed a 52-yarder on the final play of regulation against the Vikings in a Week 2 game that ended in an overtime tie, and he missed a 49-yarder on the final play of regulation that would have tied the Cardinals in Week 13.

So, is Ficken here potentially to replace Crosby, or just to limit the wear and tear on the veteran’s leg through the spring and summer? Either way, it’s worth noting Crosby is in the last year of his contract, so that could be a factor in taking a look at someone new.

In any event, Ficken has shown a strong leg of his own since arriving in Green Bay. In two brief stints with the Rams over the last two seasons, he made 3-of-6 field goals and 14-of-15 PATs, with 16-of-21 kickoffs going for touchbacks.

The Packers were on the practice field Tuesday afternoon for Phase 3 of the offseason program.

The Packers’ other two specialists, punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley, are coming off their rookie seasons, and the goal for both 2018 draft picks is greater consistency.

Scott’s 44.7-yard gross average was the third-highest in team history, and the fifth-round selection from Alabama started strong with a punt of at least 58 yards in each of his first three pro games. But Scott admitted to wearing down as his rookie season progressed, and inconsistency was an issue. There are also areas he’d like to improve, such as hang times and punts inside the 20, as Scott had 19 but also had nine touchbacks.

Bradley, a seventh-round pick from Mississippi State, didn’t have any obviously bad snaps in his 16 games, but one pro year under his belt should help all the factors in long snapping – velocity, accuracy, lace placement – smooth out over time.

As for the rest of the Packers’ special teams, new coordinator Shawn Mennenga has the important task of getting all the units back on track after a rough 2018. The Packers were flagged for 26 accepted penalties on special teams last season, and reducing those alone will help field position.

Trevor Davis’ injuries led to a game of musical chairs with returners, as five different players returned at least one punt and seven different guys brought back at least one kickoff. The constant change certainly factored into the Packers losing five fumbles on special teams. Whether it’s Davis or a new face on returns, stability is needed.

Coverage-wise, linebackers James Crawford and Oren Burks led the team with 13 and 10 tackles, respectively, and it’s worth noting they combined for just one penalty between them. Mennenga will be on the lookout for other, reliable members to play fundamentally sound snaps.

COUNTDOWN TO CAMP SERIES

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