Penalties On Special Teams Under Scrutiny

As the Packers special teams units continue to search for a new punter in 2010 and look for kicker Mason Crosby to bounce back from his 2009 second-half slump, they have another area not specific to any one position or player that is in need of a major clean-up. Penalties.

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That's why during the team's mini-camp last month there were officials at practice who were monitoring not only the "live" full-squad plays but also the special teams drills, throwing flags and pointing out infractions without a ball or actual return man anywhere in sight.

It's an approach that likely will continue during training camp as the Packers look to decrease dramatically the 32 special teams penalties that were enforced against them last season in 17 games, including playoffs.

"That's a major point of emphasis to the point where in our individual drills as you saw out there we have the officials refereeing that, and they were extremely tight," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said in reference to the mini-camp workouts. "Some of it is by design where I want to make a point to the guys. That's something we're going to fix. It's about identifying the problem first of all and to get a plan to fix it, and I feel good about the direction we're going with that."

The Packers certainly didn't feel good about the negative impact special teams penalties had on the team in 2009. There were several noteworthy, and in some cases disturbing, details surrounding those 32 penalties.

--There weren't just a couple of players repeatedly committing fouls. The 32 penalties were committed by 19 different players, and eight players were called for multiple infractions. Special teams penalties are somewhat expected among rookies and other young players, but only three of the eight players called for multiple special teams penalties last year were in their first or second years in the NFL.

--Either by virtue of the penalty itself or by wiping out the result of the play and enforcing penalty yards thereafter, the Packers lost at least 15 yards of field position as a result of a special teams penalty a total of 11 times. That includes the holding penalty against Detroit in Week 6 that wiped out a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Jordy Nelson.

--Along those same lines, penalties on Green Bay returns forced the Packers to start on offense at their own 10-yard line or worse five times, and between their 11- and 20-yard lines eight additional times, when they otherwise wouldn't have been in such a field-position hole.

With so many of the penalties coming on the Packers' returns, the major culprits were holding and illegal-block-in-the-back calls, which accounted for more than half of the infractions – 18 of 32 (14 holding, 4 illegal block). That's the primary reason for the increased officiating scrutiny in practice.

While upsetting, those fouls are also very correctable in Slocum's view because they're a direct result of breakdowns in the players' fundamentals.

"There was way too much illegal-blocks-in-the-back-slash-holding, … and when you're unsound fundamentally you get into a problem," Slocum said. "You have a defender who's beat your feet, (so) you need to be in better body position on him to cover him up. We're going to get better in that area."

The Packers did get better toward the end of the 2009 season, so that's a positive sign. Twenty-five of those 32 special teams penalties came in the first 11 games last year (2.3 per game), while the number dropped to seven over the final six contests, including the playoffs (1.2 per game).

That's the kind of improvement that must carry over to 2010 so the Packers special teams can be a bigger help to the overall cause.

"With our team's makeup, we have a very explosive offense, and we have a defense that turns the ball over," Slocum said. "I think it's important for us to play special teams to set our team up to win games.

"Our deal is about performance. We have to perform and we look to perform better. We have a challenge here to get our young players up to a level of play that's going to help us play better."

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