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Personnel changes could be coming for Packers' special teams

LaFleur pondering deployment of offense/defense regulars to shore up problems

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – Head Coach Matt LaFleur suggested Monday that one potential change for the Packers' struggling special teams could be to employ more veteran regulars on offense and defense in the third phase.

Special teams were a major sore spot in Green Bay's 45-30 win over Chicago on Sunday night, allowing multiple long returns on both kickoffs and punts, and committing several other miscues as well.

"I think we're getting to that point where it's all hands on deck, and we're going to have to ask guys to maybe do a little bit more," LaFleur said.

LaFleur used the example of cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has become a significant playmaker as a defensive starter, but also stepped in against the Bears on punt return as a jammer, who blocks the opponent's gunner.

Early in the fourth quarter, Douglas "baited the gunner to run directly out of bounds without touching him," LaFleur said. The penalty on the Bears nullified Amari Rodgers' muff of the punt, leading to a re-kick and the Packers keeping possession rather than suffering a potentially game-changing turnover.

"That was just a very savvy play by such a pro … paying attention to detail and taking the coaching and knowing that guy had a tendency of doing that, and drawing that penalty."

It's that type of attention to detail that was clearly missing Sunday night as the Bears racked up more than 250 combined punt and kickoff return yards, including a 97-yard touchdown.

Players were not staying disciplined in their coverage lanes and executing their responsibilities. LaFleur also noted punter Corey Bojorquez hit a low line drive down the middle of the field on Jakeem Grant's first punt return (34 yards) and probably needed more hang time on the TD runback. Grant fielded that one at the 3-yard line, a risk less dynamic returners don't take but one the Packers had to be ready for.

For all the problems with the field-goal operation much of the season, and the disappointing lack of a return game on punts or kickoffs, the Packers' coverage units were not really a trouble spot until this week. But the sudden breakdowns aren't being dismissed as a one-off, either.

"They'd been pretty solid, but you don't want to just say, 'Oh, that was an anomaly. That was a one-time thing,'" LaFleur said. "No, we'll never approach it like that."

Hence the thought of personnel changes with veteran regulars, which carries greater injury risk but might be necessary so a special-teams blunder doesn't cost the Packers playoff positioning down the stretch, or worse, a playoff game.

Receiver Allen Lazard is another veteran player who has stepped in on special teams in the past. Unfortunately, Randall Cobb is out with an injury or he'd be an option to fill in at punt returner for the rookie Rodgers, who has muffed multiple punts now.

LaFleur didn't drop any other names, but who takes the field beginning next week at Baltimore on the return and coverage units will be watched closely.

"I think that is something that we'll ask of some players that have played 'teams' before that have been key contributors, and they're going to have own maybe one phase just for us to get to where we want to go," LaFleur said. "We know every game is so critical."

Injury update: Right tackle Billy Turner exited the Bears game in the second quarter with a knee injury, and LaFleur said he's "hopeful" Turner isn't out for the season, but he's still being evaluated.

All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari also could be on track to return to practice this week, if everything with his surgically repaired knee checks out OK come Wednesday. "Hopeful" again was LaFleur's word.

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