Green Bay Packers’ special teams dramatically clean up play- so far : Packers Insider

Green Bay Packers’ special teams dramatically clean up play- so far

November 6, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Nov 7, 2010 by Bob McGinn

~Green Bay — It’d be the equivalent of failing a test one year and acing it the next.

The special teams of the Green Bay Packers remained among the National Football League’s poorest in the first half of the season. When it comes to penalties, more specifically, holding penalties, the Packers couldn’t be any better.

Due to the demands of coach Mike McCarthy, the teaching of special-teams coach Shawn Slocum and the diligence of their players, the Packers haven’t been hit with a single holding penalty after being tagged with 11 at midseason in 2009.

"It wasn't emphasized as much (last year)," fullback Korey Hall said. "We've really been working on fundamentals. Making a conscious effort to get your hands inside."

“You know, you usually get what you emphasize,” Slocum said. “That may sound corny, but it’s true.”

That emphasis was born from embarrassment and outrage.

Last year, Slocum’s first as coordinator, the Packers led the NFL in accepted penalties on special teams with 30. That was three more than runner-up Philadelphia and four times as many as Atlanta and Miami, which tied for the fewest, with seven.

Of those 30 penalties, 14 were for holding: seven on punt returns, six on kickoff returns and one on a punt.

Green Bay hadn’t been charged with more than 10 holding penalties in the previous 22 seasons for which records were available.

At midseason, the Packers’ special teams have eight penalties, including just three in the last five games.

“We definitely take pride in that,” tight end Tom Crabtree said. “When you’re that low in penalties, it’s an impressive thing.”

Impressive it is, which begs the question: Despite being buffeted by a league-worst run of injuries, how did Slocum basically take the same group of players and improve them from worst to first when it comes to holding avoidance?

Well, the anti-holding message started in March, when veterans filtered in for the start of the off-season program. Slocum preached it throughout the off-season and in training camp took the novel step of asking officials to throw flags for infractions during every return-game blocking drill.

Even now, at least once a week, linebacker Desmond Bishop said a segment of practice is devoted to “not holding and blocking right.”

Slocum and his new assistant, Chad Morton, were given even longer periods in August for their new blocking drills. McCarthy said he cut back jog-throughs to accommodate them.

“It wasn’t so much that we’ve been stressing, ‘Don’t hold, don’t hold,’ ” said Crabtree. “It’s what we can work on better as opposed to yelling at guys for holding. He’s being positive, and guys are responding really well to it.”

In the exhibition season, the only holding call on special teams was against safety Anthony Levine in Week 3.

Mike Pereira, the NFL director of officials through 2009 who now works as a consultant for Fox, said officials are more liberal regarding hand usage in the kicking game than on a running play.

“What we always talked about is when you’re blocking downfield on punts or kicks and you twist a guy around, so you actually turn him around in a 180-degree twist, that’s when it’s going to be holding,” said Pereira. “When the guy starts to beat you, you’ve got to let him go.”

The other major penalty in the return game is illegal block. The Packers have two this season compared to five all last year.

“If you are coming from behind in what we call a chase position, any contact on the back is going to be a foul . . .  even if you have one hand on the side,” said Pereira. “So if you get beat and you’re in a chase, you’ve got to get your head in front and make the contact on the side.”

Twelve players drew holding penalties last season. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith and safety Derrick Martin were the only players with two.

“We’re maybe not producing like we have in the past, but we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot,” said defensive back Jarrett Bush, who had an unprecedented total of six special-teams penalties in 2008 but only three in his last 25 games. “When it comes down to a crucial point in the game, you can’t get a holding call. That’s what hurt us last year.”

Slocum has demanded that his blockers keep their hands inside the frame of the defender, run their feet and be aware of their surroundings.

Full story from McGinn HERE

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