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OTA Preview: Special Teams Feature New Leader

The Green Bay Packers’ four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) begin this week. caught up with the three coordinators on the Packers coaching staff and got their thoughts on the goals, objectives and points of emphasis they have for their units over the next month. Those thoughts have been presented in a three-part OTA preview series, concluding with the special teams.


*The Green Bay Packers' four weeks of organized team activities (OTAs) begin this week. Workouts, all in shorts and without pads, will be open to the public once per week, weather permitting, beginning this Thursday, May 28 (the other open dates are the following three Wednesdays - June 3, 10 and 17).

After OTAs will be a three-day full-squad mandatory mini-camp from June 22-24 before the players take a roughly five-week break prior to the start of training camp. The first training camp practice is Saturday, Aug. 1. caught up with the three coordinators on the Packers coaching staff - Joe Philbin on offense, Dom Capers on defense and Shawn Slocum for special teams - and got their thoughts on the goals, objectives and points of emphasis they have for their units over the next month.

Those thoughts have been presented in a three-part OTA preview series, concluding today with the special teams.*

As an assistant special teams coach the past three seasons, Shawn Slocum has seen the Packers special teams move up and down the league rankings, and in his first season as coordinator of the unit, his task is to get the special teams back near the top, and keep them there.

"Special teams become so important in these ballgames," Slocum said. "The NFL is so close and the teams are so comparable in terms of personnel and schemes and what-not, that the games are very even. Field position has so much to do with the outcome of a ballgame and scoring opportunities, both for and against."

With that in mind, here are the keys in Slocum's mind for the work his units need to get done over the next month.

Establish leadership and mindset.Slocum has worked with all of the Packers' core special teams players over the past three years, but he's now in charge and he wants to get his way of thinking and his approach to special teams across from the beginning.

"My idea of us playing good special teams is to be a unit that's unpredictable, that's very aggressive, and that creates problems for our opponent, in both our play style and the things that we do," Slocum said. "To create that aggressive mindset, ... we're going to set the bar high.

"I think it's very important that we get off to the right start. I want to create an air of accountability among one another."

Set the tempo.During practices, special teams periods are mixed into the schedule appropriately, but the days of a special teams coach getting an entire workout of 60 or 90 minutes to work exclusively on special teams are long gone.

That puts a premium on those 5- or 10- or 15-minute special teams periods for the coaching staff, even in OTAs when players aren't in pads. Slocum and new special teams assistant Curtis Fuller plan to pack a lot of work into the time they're allotted each day, with players constantly on the move.

"I want to practice fast and I want to practice efficient, because that's the way the game is played, that's the way special teams is," Slocum said. "You're clicking in, and then you're out. You go out there for a play and it's highly combative, it's fast action, it's large chunks of field position, it's usually an exchange of the ball or a direct scoring opportunity, and it happens fast.

"When we get on the field, we're going to get focused, we're going to do it fast, do it right, and get out of there."

Introduce changes to the playbook.The coverage and return schemes won't be the same as they've been the past three years, but in introducing the changes, Slocum isn't planning a large addition of volume to the playbook.

With virtually all special teams players aside from the kicker, punter and long snapper playing a position on offense or defense, Slocum believes if the playbook is too large to learn, players won't be able to execute as well for that one "highly combative" snap.

"I've always felt like it's not what you do, it's how you do it," Slocum said. "We can have a million different schemes or a million different plays, but we have to make sure we can do a few things very well, and if we can do that and those few things create problems for our opponent, then we're on the right track."

Look for new contributors amongst the rookies.With the emergence of Will Blackmon as the primary punt and kick return specialist in 2008, there won't be as much attention paid to the competition for that job as in years past. But Slocum will still be studying the rookies closely to see who can potentially contribute in the return and coverage phases.

"They all have a high level of athletic ability or they wouldn't be here," Slocum said of the rookie group. "So the next thing I really look for is intelligence. Can they learn? Can they decipher what we're trying to do? Can they understand what is going on on the football field."

{sportsad300}Three draft picks to keep an eye on in that respect are first-round selection Clay Matthews, fifth-rounder Brandon Underwood and seventh-rounder Brad Jones. Matthews and Jones, both linebackers, were special teams standouts their entire college careers at USC and Colorado, respectively. Meanwhile, Underwood, a defensive back, was his squad's special teams player of the year at Cincinnati in his final collegiate season.

Begin the punting competition.Because of the 80-man roster limit for training camp, the Packers are likely to keep only two punters beyond the three-day mini-camp in late June. That means Jeremy Kapinos, Durant Brooks and Adam Graessle are fighting for, at this point, two spots.

But with three punters with little to no experience - Kapinos and Brooks have played in 11 NFL games between them, Graessle none - Slocum said he's looking for the punters to measure themselves against league standards rather than against one another at this stage.

"We've got to be able to accomplish a net punt and a gross punt, and be able to handle all the situations a punter does in a ballgame," Slocum said. "The three guys that are here now are competing with what needs to be done to be a good punt unit for a National Football League season, much moreso than three guys competing for a job.

"They're all competitive, they've all got talent, and it's going to be an interesting process as we go through it to see who can rise to that level."

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