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Position battles abound on Packers' special teams 

Green Bay seeks returner; JK Scott and Hunter Bradley face challenges

LS Hunter Bradley and P JK Scott
LS Hunter Bradley and P JK Scott

GREEN BAY – The Packers and new special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton have made it clear they want to create a culture of competition to turn the unit around.

And they have plenty of players to do it.

While the search for a featured returner on kickoffs and punts continues, Green Bay has battles brewing at all three of its specialist positions with veterans Mason Crosby, JK Scott and Hunter Bradley set to face challenges later this summer.

There's little reason to believe Crosby, the team's second-longest tenured player to Aaron Rodgers, is in much danger of losing his 14-year grip on the kicking job.

The Packers' all-time leading scorer shattered his own franchise record for single-season accuracy in 2020 when he drilled all 16 of his field-goal attempts, while extending his active games played streak to 224. The next closest player is Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker (144).

Green Bay still opted to retain JJ Molson, who was signed to the practice squad late last season as an emergency kicker with all the COVID-19 restrictions in place. He also spent time with the Los Angeles Chargers last season.

The more compelling competitions will come at punter and long snapper, where Scott and Bradley will look to fend off Ryan Winslow and Joe Fortunato, respectively.

Scott, 25, has regularly flashed the leg talent that made him a fifth-round pick out of Alabama in 2018, but also has had bouts of inconsistency, particularly late in the season. Opposing teams also returned two punts for touchdowns last year, pulling down Scott's net average to a career-low 37.0 yards.

Bradley, a seventh-round pick from the same 2018 draft that netted Scott, has played in all 52 games over the past three seasons, but had a bad snap in the divisional playoff game with the Los Angeles Rams that resulted in an aborted extra point.

Winslow, 26, joined the Packers late in the 2020 season as an emergency punter on the practice squad. He's been well-traveled since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent with Chicago in '18.

After being cut at the end of training camp that year, Winslow resurfaced with the San Diego Fleet and Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football before latching on with the Arizona Cardinals after the league shut its doors.

While the Cards cut Winslow at the end of training camp, they brought him back a month later after Andy Lee suffered a hip injury and missed two games. Winslow averaged 44.2 net yards on his six punts, landing two inside the 20. He camped with Arizona again in 2020, but was again a victim of final cuts.

At long snapper, Fortunato represents Bradley's first challenge since he beat out Zach Triner as a rookie in 2018.

The former Delaware long snapper has quite the backstory, having played in his last game back in 2015. Fortunato has worked out for several teams over the past five years, even signing contracts with Indianapolis (2017) and Dallas ('20), but has yet to make it to an NFL training camp.

Meanwhile, the competition for the Packers' return job is wide open with Tyler Ervin still a free agent. Ervin's persistent wrist and rib injuries threw a wrench into Green Bay's plans for the return game last year, resulting in the Packers finishing tied for 30th on punts (4.8 yards per return) and 31st on kickoffs (18.9 ypr).

Green Bay finished the year with receiver Malik Taylor (18.6 ypr) and veteran Tavon Austin (4.7 ypr) handling kickoffs and punts, respectively. Like Ervin, Austin remains unsigned.

With the re-signing of veteran Will Redmond, the Packers bring back all their "core-four" special-teams players with Oren Burks, Ty Summers, Randy Ramsey, Vernon Scott and Taylor all under contract for 2021.

Position-by-position series

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