Quartet of specialists provides stability for Packers

Four key veterans on special teams at different stages of their careers

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P J.K. Scott, K Mason Crosby, LS Hunter Bradley

GREEN BAY – Special teams are a group effort, but there are four players whose individual talents are relied upon more than others.

Kicker, returner, punter, long snapper.

Heading into 2020, the Packers have veterans at all four crucial spots – Mason Crosby, Tyler Ervin, JK Scott and Hunter Bradley, respectively – and that's comforting for coordinator Shawn Mennenga.

The interesting dynamic is those veterans are at different stages in their careers, and where they all go from here will be fascinating to watch.

Crosby's 13th NFL season in 2019 was his best professionally while being his most difficult personally, but the way he performed indicates the soon-to-be 36-year-old still has plenty of career left.

He tied the franchise record for field-goal percentage in a single season (22-of-24, 91.67%), which included hitting two walk-off kicks, while his wife was battling medical issues and his sister-in-law died of cancer.

The term "true pro" is tossed around a lot but it's an apt label for Crosby, who signed a new contract with the Packers shortly after last season ended.

"He does a great job in everything that he does, from taking care of his body to his routine throughout the week, his mental approach," Mennenga said of Crosby. "He's been in all the situations as far as nothing really shakes him. He's extremely mentally strong."

Mennenga worked in Cleveland previously with kicker Phil Dawson, who kicked for 20 years (1999-2018) and was just shy of 44 when his final season wrapped up.

As Crosby continues to put every franchise scoring record he owns further out of reach, there's no telling how much longer he might keep it up.

"I know that Mason will be able to continue to perform at an extremely high level," Mennenga said. "He's got his routine so that he knows how to take care of himself, so he's just as strong at the end of the season as at the beginning."

The end of last season was when Ervin saved the Packers' return game, or more accurately gave them one. Green Bay was getting little to no production on either punt or kickoff returns until Ervin arrived in December as a waiver claim from Jacksonville.

He proceeded to average 9.6 yards on 11 punt returns (the unit had negative yards on the season through 12 games) and post a 45-yard kickoff return, the Packers' longest since 2015.

As a fifth-year player now with his third team, Ervin is an experienced player whose career might be just getting ready to take off. The Packers re-signed him in late March, shortly after he became a free agent.

"I was really excited to get him back," Mennenga said. "He's got the veteran presence to him and has played in big games and played in playoff games. He did provide that spark for us."

Unfortunately, Ervin hasn't had the usual on-field work in the offseason with the return units to get even more in sync, but just being with the team from the get-go this year should help the units start stronger.

"We can tell him which way to start the return, but he's got great instincts, great vision and from there it's just setting up his blocks," Mennenga said.

If Ervin's career may be just about to launch, Scott's and Bradley's are about settling in at a consistent level.

Take a look at photos of Packers RB Tyler Ervin from the 2019 season.

A fifth-round pick in 2018, Scott has gone through his share of ups and downs through two years as a pro. While statistically overall he's been solid (44.7-yard gross average in '18, 44.0 last year; nets of 38.8, 39.9), and he improved his punts inside the 20 from 19 as a rookie to 29 in his second season (most by a Packers punter since 2012), he's hit some bumps along the way.

He faded toward the end of his rookie season, and then he snapped out of a midseason slump last year, only to have a costly shank in the NFC title game.

Mennenga believes the issue is mostly with what he calls Scott's "handle time," from when he catches the snap to when it hits his foot. When that's not consistent, rushing it can throw off a punter's strides, and the results can suffer.

"He knows what he needs to work on," Mennenga said. "He's got all the potential in the world, and there's no one who wants to do a better job than he does on game days.

"He'll continue to learn and grow as every experience, both positive and negative, can help you grow as a professional."

Bradley, a 2018 seventh-round selection, has a similar focus, though he hasn't had any outwardly disastrous snaps on punts or field goals through his first two seasons.

Mennenga said last year at midseason and again toward the tail end of the schedule, Bradley had a few "short snaps that had some wobble to them." But overall, he was better in his second year than as a rookie, and continued improvement is expected.

"He's learning how to do it, learning how to be that pro going into his third year here," Mennenga said. "We've talked about those (miscues) and he'll get those fixed and a few accuracy things. I look forward to what he's going to do this year for us."

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