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Kickoff Coverage All About Attitude


A solid kickoff coverage team has speed to get down the field, discipline to stay in coverage lanes, and sure-tackling ability.

But it also possesses something that has nothing to do with skill, according to special teams coach Mike Stock.

"The most important element for us at this time of the year, or anytime of the year, is attitude," Stock said. "We have to go in with the attitude that we're not going to be blocked, and then let's just go down there and cover the kicks."

The Packers' kickoff coverage unit has displayed that attitude for much of the season, but the occasional slip-up transformed into an all-around poor performance against Seattle last Monday night. It's a trend that can't continue with the New York Jets bringing the league's leading returner in Justin Miller to Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The first notable mistake this season came on the opening kickoff at Buffalo, when Terrence McGee broke free for a 61-yard return and set a bad tone for the day. The following week, Minnesota's Bethel Johnson ran back the second-half kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown, but fortunately for Green Bay it was called back for an illegal block.

Then came Monday at Seattle. After bringing down Nate Burleson for just a 16-yard return to the 25-yard line on the opening kickoff, the coverage unit experienced repeated breakdowns.

"The first one, we did perfectly well, just like you draw it up, and that's how it should have been the rest of the evening," Stock said. "But they blocked us better than we got off the blocks."

Burleson averaged 28.3 yards on his final four kickoff returns, and two holding penalties prevented the defense's field position from being much worse. The two returns without penalties were especially damaging.

Just after the Packers' defense scored late in the first half, Burleson muffed the ensuing kickoff but managed to pick it up at the 25 and return it 25 yards to the 50, giving the Seahawks the field position needed to kick a field goal just before halftime.

Then in the fourth quarter, after Green Bay kicked a field goal to pull within 27-24 and needed to keep the momentum on its side, Burleson ran back the kickoff 45 yards to the 49, and Seattle went on to score the game-clinching touchdown.

The attitude was definitely missing, and the effort dropped the Packers from a top-five ranking in kickoff coverage to 14th.

"On kickoffs when we're running down, it's one-on-one," said Noah Herron, a regular on the coverage unit. "You just have to decide not to get blocked. Sometimes they win, sometimes you win, but if you're winning at a higher percentage than the other guy, then we'll be successful."

{sportsad300}That becomes of paramount importance this week against Miller, a second-year pro who ended his rookie year with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season finale. This season he picked up where he left off, averaging a league-best 28.9 yards per return with two runbacks - 103 yards against Indianapolis and 99 yards against Cleveland - for scores.

"He gives you size and speed, and second-effort running ability," Stock said. "He's a north-south guy, and if he needs to go sideways momentarily, he's got the speed to get around the corner if you give him the edge."

Stock refuses to use the changes in coverage personnel as an excuse for the uneven performances of late. His response is that all the players involved in special teams have been trained in their technique since training camp, and they all know how to do it.

The Packers simply can't afford poor technique against Miller, because he'll make them pay. The way to recognize proper technique by the unit, says Herron, is to see multiple players in position to make the tackle.

"We're going to have to attack their scheme first, because if we get enough guys around the ball, he won't have anywhere to run," Herron said. "He has been playing well, but at the same time if we get enough guys around him he won't make any plays."

That sounds like the attitude Stock is looking for.

"Coach Stock told us what he expects out of us as far as kickoff coverage," said rookie Jason Hunter, another regular on the cover team. "All the fellas took heed to what he said this week."

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