This is the10th in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Green Bay Packers' July 26 start of camp.
July 10: Quarterbacks
July 11: Running backs
July 12: Wide receivers
July 13: Tight ends
July 16: Offensive linemen
July 17: Defensive linemen
July 18: Linebackers
July 19: Safeties
July 20: Cornerbacks
July 23: Specialists
July 24: Coaches
July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp
July 26: Fans' guide to camp
TODAY'S POSITION: SPECIALISTS
Rating (1-to-10 scale): 8
Projected starters: kicker Mason Crosby (sixth season), long snapper Brett Goode (fifth season), punter Tim Masthay (third season), kick and punt returner Randall Cobb (second season)
The breakdown: When it comes to the Packers' specialists, the team is set up nicely for the 2012 season, and likely for many seasons to come. Crosby is coming off his best season in his five-year NFL career, connecting on 24 of his 28 field goal attempts (85.7 percent). Crosby didn't miss his first field goal until Week 11 after making his first 16 tries early in the season. Considering the wind gusts that can swirl around Lambeau Field, especially late in the season, Crosby handles it well. At age 27, Crosby's right leg appears to be getting stronger every year, adding a 58-yard field goal last season, which is the longest in Packers history.
Cobb exploded onto the scene as the Packers' kick and punt returner in his rookie season. In his first NFL game, the season-opener against the New Orleans Saints, Cobb returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. Cobb also returned a punt for a touchdown midway through the season against the Minnesota Vikings. Overall, Cobb proved to be the game-changing, dynamic, speedy returner that the Packers had been lacking in recent seasons. At the moment, with Green Bay loaded at wide receiver, Cobb may not get a lot of opportunities in the passing game yet. But he can still make an impact in every game as a return specialist, and based on what Cobb showed last season, he can be counted on for at least a couple touchdowns in that role.
Goode has been super dependable as the team's long snapper, holding down that spot for the past four seasons.
Masthay improved in 2011, his second year in the NFL. He set all-time team records for gross yards (45.6) and net yards average (38.6). He was solid at getting the ball downed inside the 20-yard line and had good hang time to help prevent much alone time and open space for the opposing team's returner.
The Packers are young and talented throughout each of these positions. It's a very impressive group that should be set up for a very good 2012 season.
Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Bears; 2. Packers; 3. Vikings; 4. Lions. Chicago has Devin Hester, who is still one of the most dynamic returners in the NFL. But Hester will be turning 30 midway through this season, so it remains to be seen how much longer he's the type of player that needs to be avoided in the return game. The Bears also have kicker Robbie Gould, who was 6-for-6 in field goals of 50-plus yards last season, and missed only four of his 32 kicks all year. Minnesota released veteran kicker Ryan Longwell to give the job to rookie Blair Walsh. Percy Harvin is a dangerous kick returner, but split those opportunities with Lorenzo Booker and punt returner Marcus Sherels last season. Detroit's returner, Stefan Logan, now at age 31, was not a threat last season. Plus, the Lions are still hanging onto 42-year-old kicker, Jason Hanson. When Hanson began kicking for Detroit in 1992, Cobb was two years old.
Crosby says: "Now I set a benchmark of where I want to be, in the mid-80s percentage-wise, in that range. I was able to capitalize on long field goals, and that's a huge part of it, too. We try a lot of long field goals, so if I'm making those, my percentage will be higher and where it needs to be. So I have to keep getting those to fall."
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