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Stability has Packers looking forward on special teams 

Matt LaFleur thrilled to have Rich Bisaccia back as head of improved unit

CB Keisean Nixon and teammates
CB Keisean Nixon and teammates

GREEN BAY – Once Rich Bisaccia was installed as special teams coordinator last February, the Packers made it a point to identify and develop a core of veteran special-teamers to help right the ship for the wayward unit – and the results spoke for themselves.

Keisean Nixon became the first Green Bay kick returner to earn first-team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press, while a chorus of special-teams stalwarts created sound building blocks for the future. Pat O'Donnell not only provided consistency on punts but also as a holder for Mason Crosby during the all-time leading scorer's bounce-back year.

This offseason, the Packers aimed to keep the momentum going.

The first 20 days of free agency saw Green Bay re-sign Nixon, Rudy Ford, Tyler Davis, Corey Ballentine, Eric Wilson and Dallin Leavitt, while adding long snapper Matt Orzech and safety Tarvarius Moore. The moves position the Packers to return 12 of their top 13 special-teams contributors from 2022, with only Crosby currently unsigned.

If you ask Head Coach Matt LaFleur, the unit's 2022 turnaround began with its no-nonsense leader.

"I think Rich has had such a big impact, obviously (with) how we address the special teams," said LaFleur at last month's NFL Annual Meetings. "It's ingrained to say, 'We-fense,' so how we address that, just the resources we put toward that, but also, it was a change of a mentality and I think you could see that. It was pretty reflective I think in our play."

LaFleur's gratitude for Bisaccia's green thumb was reflected in his decision to add assistant head coach to Bisaccia's job description, the first time a Packers assistant has carried that title since LaFleur was hired as head coach in 2019.

General Manager Brian Gutekunst has stood in lockstep with LaFleur on the importance of improving that phase, which was a season-long emphasis. Nixon originally signed in March, Leavitt joined the team before training camp in July and Ford arrived after camp in September. Both Ballentine and Wilson were added in-season.

After striking gold with Nixon, the Packers hope to have found another core contributor in Moore, a sixth-year veteran who also has played more than 1,000 defensive snaps during a five-year stint with San Francisco.

Eight of Moore's 13 career starts came in 2020, but an Achilles tear sidelined the 6-foot-1, 200-pound safety for the entire 2021 campaign. The former third-round pick made a full recovery and recorded eight coverage tackles for the 49ers last season.

Orzech comes to Green Bay after winning a Super Bowl during his two-year stint with the Los Angeles Rams. The four-year veteran is set to compete with incumbent long snapper Jack Coco, who beat out Steven Wirtel for the job last summer.

"It's going to be great to get two experienced guys that have done it and done it at a high level," LaFleur said. "I know Rich is super-excited about Matt. We'll let him and Jack battle it out."

With O'Donnell back for another season, the only outstanding question for the Packers is what they'll do at kicker. Increased stability on the field-goal operation aided Crosby in converting 25-of-29 field goals (86.2%), but the 16-year NFL veteran also turns 39 in September.

Green Bay has one kicker on its offseason roster, former South Carolina standout Parker White, who signed a futures contract with the Packers in January after working out for the team early in the 2022 season. It's still a possibility Crosby could join him.

"We'll kind of see where that goes," said Gutekunst in Phoenix. "Mason is the all-time leading scorer in this franchise's history, he had a good year this past year. Again, we're limited a little bit financially. But we'd never say never."

As the Packers ready to welcome players back into the building for the start of the offseason program next Monday, LaFleur is eager to watch Bisaccia continue to shape a Green Bay special-teams unit suddenly plush with experience.

It's a scenario LaFleur wasn't sure he'd see given Bisaccia's credentials. A former interim head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, Bisaccia received a second interview for Indianapolis' head job. The Colts eventually settled on Philadelphia offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.

Peering around the media breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore on March 28, LaFleur made his contention clear that Bisaccia deserves to be seated at one of the nearby tables reserved for NFC head coaches.

"I personally think he's one of those guys that should be here right now," LaFleur said. "I think he's one of the best leaders I've ever been around, just how he's able to coach guys really hard and these guys will run through a brick wall for him because they know he cares about the man.

"I just can't say enough great things about him. Somebody, if given the opportunity, I think they'd hit the lotto with this guy."