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Pressure on Packers punter JK Scott to finally live up to prodigious potential


Ryan Wood   | Packers News
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Last in a series of nine position previews leading into the Green Bay Packers' 2020 training camp.

GREEN BAY – When Shawn Mennenga was hired as the Green Bay Packers' special teams coordinator last year, a job he’d never before held in the NFL, his task was daunting.

Mennenga was charged with cleaning up one of the NFL’s worst special-teams units. In 2018, there were botched field goals that cost games, shanked punts, turnovers that led to points, protection breakdowns that led to blocked punts, coverage miscues and a bounty of penalties.

It was likely too tall of a task for any coordinator to take on in one year. But the Packers showed progress in Mennenga’s first season, particularly with limiting penalties. The Packers had only 13 special-teams penalties last season, costing them 95 yards. In 2018, they had 26 penalties that cost 220 yards.

The diminished penalties came at a price. The Packers were not explosive in their special-teams units most of last season, emphasizing fundamentals over flash. As a collective, they were better than the previous year.

They’ll need to continue that improvement this fall.

Specialists

Roster locks: Mason Crosby, JK Scott, Hunter Bradley.

Biggest offseason move

The biggest move the Packers made on special teams really came one month before the offseason. In December, the Packers acquired return specialist Tyler Ervin off waivers from the Jacksonville Jaguars, breathing life into a historically dormant punt-return unit. Before Ervin’s arrival, the Packers had minus-8 punt return yards through the first 12 games, flirting with potentially becoming the first NFL team ever to record negative punt-return yards in a season. Ervin took his first punt return 10 yards, and the Packers were never in the red again. That the Packers re-signed Ervin this offseason could make a big difference for their return units if he's around for the entire season.

Position battle

Unlike a year ago, when the Packers brought kicker Sam Ficken into camp to compete with the veteran Crosby, there are no apparent position battles. Crosby is poised to enter his 15th season with the Packers after signing a three-year, $12.9 million extension in February. Punter JK Scott and long snapper Hunter Bradley also appear to have a lock on their jobs.

Keep an eye on

Now that Ervin has saved the Packers from the embarrassment of having a historically futile return team, will he take the next step? It has been six years since the Packers have had a return touchdown on special teams. Their last came from former defensive back Micah Hyde, who returned a pair of punts for touchdowns in 2014. Their last kickoff return for a touchdown came from former receiver Randall Cobb to start the 2011 season. Ervin also has never returned a punt or kick for touchdown in four seasons. So there are three droughts he could potentially end this fall.

Key question

At his best, Scott has shown Pro Bowl potential. Scott, the punter general manager Brian Gutekunst drafted in the fifth round in 2018, opened last season on a tear. He averaged 49.2 yards per punt through the season’s first seven games, including a 53-yard average on four punts against Denver, a 51.7-yard average on three punts against Detroit, and a 55.3-yard average on three punts against Oakland. If Scott had held that average, he would have finished second in the NFL in punting last season. Instead, he hit a funk. His average dipped 20 yards after Oakland, to 35.3 yards on four punts at Kansas City. Starting with the game against the Chiefs, Scott failed to average 40 yards per punt over the next four games. Scott’s 44-yard average last season ranked 28th among NFL punters, surely not what Gutekunst had in mind when he spent a draft pick on him. The question is simple: Can Scott find consistency?

Prediction

Here’s guessing Scott finally puts it all together in his third season. His leg is too talented to rank near the league’s bottom. Mennenga said the key is finding consistency in his process, particularly the time it takes Scott to catch the snap to the moment a punt leaves his foot. On talent alone, Scott is a top-10 punter in the NFL. He’ll perform like it in 2020.

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