GREEN BAY, Wis. –The Green Bay Packers are serious about upgrading a special teams unit that struggled for several years and suffered numerous breakdowns in a playoff loss last season.
If it wasn’t already evident when hiring former Las Vegas Raiders interim head coach Rich Bisaccia as special teams coordinator, the Packers’ decisions when putting together their roster of 53 players make the accent even more apparent.
“I think we’ve done a few things that might be irrelevant for us, in terms of some of the guys we’ve brought in who maybe don’t play as big of a role in attack or defense, but can “Maybe they’re more special teams heavyweight players,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “We’ll kind of see how that goes.”
That strategy continued on Wednesday when the Packers signed safety Rudy Ford a day after the Jacksonville Jaguars cut him. Gutekunst called Ford “one of the best gunners in the league,” referring to the role of the player who typically gets the fastest punt return coverage on the field.
The Packers released safety Micah Abernathy to make way for Ford, whose first name is actually Johnathan. Ford said his family gave him the nickname “Rudy” and he believes it was based on the film of the same name about former Notre Dame walker Rudy Ruettiger.
“If you watch this movie, you know it has heart,” Ford said. “So I also have that too. So I can definitely see that trait.
The Packers are looking for more guys with this trait as they look to improve their special teams.
Green Bay had the worst special teams unit in the NFL last season according to Football Outsiders efficiency measures. In their 13-10 NFC Divisional Playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers allowed an tying touchdown on a blocked punt, blocked a field goal attempt just before halftime and had just 10 men on the field when Robbie Gould kicked. a winning field goal when time runs out.
“We have to improve to achieve the goals this team wants to achieve,” Gutekunst said. “We have to be better.”
They made that clear throughout the offseason.
“We definitely made decisions that came down to just that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said.
Changes to special teams began shortly after the playoff loss.
The Packers fired Maurice Drayton as special teams coordinator and hired Bisaccia, a longtime special teams coordinator who led the Raiders to a playoff berth as interim head coach last season. They signed safety Dallin Leavitt and cornerback Keisean Nixon, both of whom played major special teams roles while playing for Bisaccia in Las Vegas.
They allowed punter Corey Bojorquez to leave via free agency and brought in former Chicago Bears punter Pat O’Donnell to replace him, noting that O’Donnell was a better starter. They cut outgoing long snapper Steven Wirtel to clear the way for Jack Coco.
Green Bay officials focused on special teams again this week while deciding final roster spots. Gutekunst acknowledged that keeping some players primarily because of their skills on special teams could reduce the Packers’ depth on offense and defense, but he was willing to take that risk.
“We kind of had to step out of our comfort zone and do something different,” Gutekunst said.
REMARKS: The Packers signed QB Danny Etling, WR Travis Fulgham, CB Rico Gafford, RB Tyler Goodson, LB La’Darius Hamilton, DL Jack Heflin, OT Caleb Jones, LB Kobe Jones, DL Chris Slayton, RB Patrick Taylor, CB Kiondre Thomas and LB Ray Winborn to their practice squad. Juwann Winfree’s agent tweeted that the wide receiver has also signed with the practice squad. … S Morgan Burnett, who hasn’t played since 2019, officially retired as a Packer on Wednesday. Burnett played for the Packers from 2010 to 2017.