Training camp brings a fresh challenge for Packers' special teams

After three years of the same three starters, Giorgio Tavecchio could shake things up.

This is the 10th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers' July 26 start of camp.


Rating (1-to-10 scale): 5

Projected starters: Mason Crosby (kicker - seventh season), Tim Masthay (punter - fourth season), Brett Goode (long snapper - sixth season)

Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): Giorgio Tavecchio

The breakdown: The three primary special teams player in Green Bay aren't used to new faces in the group. Since Tim Masthay beat out Chris Bryan in 2010 to be the Packers' punter, he, along with Mason Crosby and Brett Goode, have been unchallenged in training camp. But, after a season in which Crosby finished last in the NFL in field-goal percentage, that streak ended.

Green Bay signed 23-year-old kicker Giorgio Tavecchio this offseason to give Crosby someone to go up against in training camp practices every day. Tavecchio has a strong leg -- as was shown during minicamp -- and could give Crosby a real battle. Tavecchio was cut a year ago by the San Francisco 49ers, but the Packers' front office and coaching staff liked what they saw from him during a tryout in March.

There's a reason Green Bay signed a kicker to a non-guaranteed contract, though. Had the Packers invested a draft pick in a kicker, it would complicate matters. Crosby still has three years and $7.85 million remaining on his contract, making it difficult for the Packers to part ways with him. If Tavecchio is clearly the better kicker in training camp, Green Bay will have little choice but to give him the job. But, if the competition is even, Crosby will likely win out by default.

The decision to bring in Tavecchio seems more like a wake-up call for Crosby than a passing of the torch. Crosby can't go through another season like he did in 2012, making just 21 of 33 field goals and hitting only 2 of 9 from 50-plus yards. If Crosby does have a repeat performance like that, it will all but certainly end his time with the Packers. But, for now, expect to see Crosby lining up as Green Bay's kicker again in 2013.

Masthay has become a very dependable punter. The analysis from graded Masthay as a positive last season, yet he is still ranked 21st overall in the NFL by their overall ratings. Masthay has become a weapon for the Packers' special teams, often able to pin opposing teams near the goal line, even in weather conditions at Lambeau Field late in the year that aren't always favorable to punters.

Goode is a solid long snapper. As long as his name isn't being mentioned, it means he's doing a good job. That's been the case since he took over in 2008.

Best position battle: Crosby vs. Tavecchio. The fact that there's a competition at all is telling of Crosby's status. Unlike every offensive and defensive position where snaps and opportunities are performance-based, Crosby hasn't had anyone to beat out since his rookie year.

This is Crosby's job to lose. He can lose it, but only if he falters badly. Before Crosby's career-worst season in 2012, he was coming off the best year of his career in 2011. It was during the 2011 season that Crosby made 85.7 percent of his field goals and appeared on his way of being well worth his contract. Then, everything fell apart last season.

Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and head coach Mike McCarthy both stood by Crosby through his struggles. While the San Francisco 49ers brought in late-season competition for their struggling kicker David Akers, the Packers did nothing. However, Green Bay couldn't continue just hoping that Crosby snaps out of it, which is Tavecchio was added this offseason.

Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Vikings; 2. Bears; 3. Lions; 4. Packers

Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh had a tremendous rookie season in 2012. Walsh was arguably the best kicker in the entire NFL, making all 10 of his field goals from 50-plus yards and giving the Vikings a significant scoring threat. With that success in mind, perhaps, Minnesota drafted a punter in the fifth round this year -- Jeff Locke. Locke's arrival meant the departure of outspoken punter Chris Kluwe.

Chicago has Robbie Gould, who's entering his ninth season with the Bears and consistently makes more than 80 percent of his field goals. Chicago's punter is Adam Podlesh, who's below average by league standards.

For the first time since 1991, Detroit's kicker isn't Jason Hanson. Though he never won a game at Lambeau Field, Hanson was mostly great for the Lions in his 21 seasons with the franchise. Detroit now turns to 38-year-old David Akers, who had a very poor season in 2012 with San Francisco. The Lions' punter is fifth-round pick Sam Martin.

Crosby: "I feel that every year there's always those eyes out there and I have to come out and perform. Every time I come into camps, they want to see me do my stuff and make kicks and have good kickoffs and things that that. Having a guy here has been motivating for me. It's pushed me. I watch his stuff and I really evaluate myself even more. That's what I do every offseason, though. It's about me. I evaluate myself and I take care of what I can control. If anything, this has made me really dive into that even harder and I'm focused in and feel good when I'm getting on the field and just taking advantage of every situation."

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