Special circumstances: the injury factor : Packers Insider

Special circumstances: the injury factor

December 2, 2010 by  
Filed under News

Dec 2, 2010 ~ by Tom Silverstein, Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — The Packers’ most recent additions to the injured reserve list are yet another example of how much damage the missing players have meant to the special teams units.

Both Spencer Havner (hamstring) and Brandon Chillar (shoulder) were on the starting kickoff return unit Sunday against Atlanta. They had practiced all week at their positions and were prepared for the game plan assistant coach Shawn Slocum had prepared.

On the very same kickoff to the Falcons at the end of the first quarter, Havner and Chillar were knocked out of the game. Havner’s hamstring gave out, making it look like he had been shot in the leg, and Chillar was slumped over holding his left shoulder after a collision with a blocker.

Two plays earlier, running back Dimitri Nance was knocked out of the game with a concussion. He was also on the starting kickoff cover team. Havner was replacing cornerback Pat Lee, who aggravated an ankle injury and left for good midway through the first quarter.

Compared to the opening day kick coverage unit: On the final kickoff failure in Atlanta, Nick Collins was in the place of Desmond Bishop. That's how thin the Packers have become from injuries. That's a position, unit, that requires cohesion, and when 3 of them get hurt in the same game, it spells trouble.

On the two first-half kickoffs, the Falcons got no further than the 28-yard line. On the following one, kicker Mason Crosby hit it deep for a touchback. When the final fateful Packers kickoff occurred, the unit was without three starters and one top backup.

The three new guys on the cover team were Nick Collins, Sam Shields and Tom Crabtree.

Collins was one of the players Slocum identified as not playing the kickoff correctly.

To give you an idea of how much the special teams units have changed let’s look at the kickoff coverage unit in the season opener (Philadelphia), six games in (Miami) and Sunday (Atlanta). The fourth column is the coverage unit on the final kickoff Sunday when Eric Weems returned it 40 yards and an additional 15 were added on for Matt Wilhelm’s facemask.

PHILADELPHIA MIAMI ATLANTA ATLANTA II
B. Swain B. Swain B. Swain S. Shields
J. Bush F. Zombo M. Whilhelm J. Bush
D. Bishop P. Lee B. Underwood N. Collins
T. Williams B. Poppinga P. Lee T. Crabtree
T. Crabtree T. Williams K. Hall E. Walden
M. Crosby M. Crosby M. Crosby M. Crosby
B. Jackson Q. Johnson D. Nance Q. Johnson
D. Martin M. Simpkins Q. Johnson K. Hall
K. Hall K. Hall E. Walden M. Wilhelm
N. Collins J. Bush J. Bush B. Underwood
B. Underwood B. Underwood B. Chillar B. Swain

This isn’t to make excuses for the Packers, but rather to show how much change they’ve gone through over 11 games and how alert the coaches need to be to this. The lesson the players learned Sunday was that no matter who is out, his replacement has to find a way to get the job done. The coaches should have learned that you better have the right guys on the field regardless of injury or status.

Players in backup roles need to assume they’ll be playing.

Recently added players Robert Francois and Josh Gordy are two who could see action Sunday. Francois, as you probably remember, made the fateful formation error on a punt that gave Miami new life and allowed them to score a touchdown instead of giving up the ball.

Both better be ready Sunday.

“Injuries happen, that’s why you always have to be ready, no matter what,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “Guys might not have much playing time, but you have to keep us rolling.”

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