Slocum Preparing New Approaches

(Continuing the profiles of some of the new members of the team's coaching staff, today's feature is on special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.)

The Green Bay special teams players who have worked under Shawn Slocum over the past three years probably think they know their new special teams coordinator pretty well.

But now that he'll be in charge of all of the Packers' return and coverage units after three seasons as the assistant, Slocum isn't guaranteeing those players have seen all facets of his coaching style.

"I heard a long time ago a quote from Bill Walsh that made a lot of sense to me, and that's one of a coach's greatest assets is the ability to be predictably unpredictable," Slocum said. "I think it keeps players on their toes.

"I think it's important as a teacher to do what's necessary to impress upon the pupil, the player, the point (you're trying to make), and there are a number of ways to do that. You can jump up and down a guy, or you can reason. There's a time and a place for everything. The bottom line is it's about production, and whatever is necessary in terms of teaching guys, that's what we'll use."

That's not to say Slocum is going to go all Jekyll-and-Hyde on his special teams guys from day to day. But his point is that in order to effectively communicate, the message and its delivery need to stay fresh.

And having been the assistant for three years to Mike Stock, who retired following the 2008 season, Slocum has to take caution against the approach and/or teaching becoming stale. So while the fundamentals of playing special teams don't change, the drills and schemes the players execute may be a mix of things they've done in the past and things they haven't.

"It's human nature, once you've heard a presentation one particular way, to feel like you've got that presentation down, and it's easy to let it go in one ear and out the other," Slocum said. "That's one of the challenges a coach faces as he stays at a place for a particularly long time is to challenge the players with different presentations

"I think it will be important for us as we go into meetings on a daily basis for it to be an environment of excitement. For us to come together in this room at the start of the day, we need to accomplish something."

In the big picture, that would be improving on the special teams areas that slipped quite dramatically for the Packers in '08.

After a strong year on special teams in 2007, during which the Packers rose from 32nd in the annual Dallas Morning News special teams rankings to seventh, the team dropped to 26th in 2008. The Packers were able to maintain top-10 rankings in punt coverage (fifth in '07, 10th in '08) and punt return (seventh in '07, sixth in '08). But the Packers fell off considerably in kickoff coverage (7th to 20th) and kickoff return (22nd to 32nd).

The differences in the two return games were particularly perplexing because Will Blackmon handled the vast majority of both the punt and kick returns, and while he averaged 11.1 yards and scored twice on punt returns, he averaged just 10 yards more on kick returns (21.0) and reached midfield only once in 55 runbacks.

Beyond the statistics and rankings, though, Slocum wants to look at special teams with "game management" in mind, meaning the circumstances at any given point in a game will factor into how Slocum's units play.

{sportsad300}"Maybe the offense is doing really well and the defense is just having a hard time stopping them, so we need to really try to create some bad field position for the opponent to try to help the defense out," he said. "On the other hand, if the offense is maybe not moving the ball that particular day or that half, and we're playing great defense, we probably need to do everything we can do to either create a turnover, get a big return, maybe take a chance on a return.

"Special teams is about troop deployment. It gets down to you have 11, they have 11. Now anytime that you double-team block a guy, you're turning someone free. So with that kind of a philosophy, where do you want to overload yourself? Where do you want to gain an advantage? Those are the kind of things we'll look at from a game management standpoint."

Unlike most of the Packers coaches stepping into new roles, Slocum has the advantage of knowing virtually all of the veteran players he's going to be working with on special teams. Rookies and other acquisitions will be added to the mix, of course, but for the most part Slocum won't have to study endless rolls of film to know what he has.

That said, though, Slocum isn't going to allow himself, or his players, to settle that way into familiar routines. That would be too, well, predictable.

"Day 1 it will be easier for me, because I have an idea," he said. "However, I don't want to place any pre-conceived notions about a player. I want to start with a purest mindset with the players, and I want them to start with me that way. Because things are different now, and we're going to go from there and we'll all grow together."

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