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Masthay gets some competition

Jan 26, 2015 -- 6:35pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Tim Masthay struggled during the second half of the season and now will have some competition from ex-Alabama punter
 

GREEN BAY – Tim Masthay has some competition, at least for now.

The Green Bay Packers signed ex-University of Alabama punter Cody Mandell on Monday, and if Mandell sticks with the team into training camp this summer, he’ll compete with Masthay, the team’s punter since 2010.

After the regular season ended, Masthay admitted that he had struggled mightily during the second half of the season, the first rough patch of his five-year tenure with the Packers.

Since winning the job in training camp 2010, Masthay’s net average had improved every year – from 37.6 in 2010 to 38.6 in 2011 to 38.9 in 2012 to 39.0 last season, breaking the team record for net average each of those four seasons.

In 2014, not only did Masthay have his worst net average – he punted a career-low 49 times, averaging 44.1 gross and 37.0 net yards per punt on the season – but he also had his lowest inside-the-20 percentage (14 of 49 punts, 28.6 percent) and his highest touchback percentage (4 of 49, 8.2 percent).

Masthay finished the season ranked 30th in the NFL in net average and 32nd in inside-the-20 punts.

At the bye, he’d punted 28 times and averaged 47.0 gross yards and 41.1 net yards per punt, which would have both been career bests had he sustained that pace. He also had placed nine balls inside the 20-yard line, an inside-the-20 percentage of 32.1.

During the second half of the season, though, Masthay punted 21 times, with disappointing results. His averages were 40.1 gross and 31.5 net, dented by a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Buffalo’s Marcus Thigpen on Dec. 14.

“[I’m] not as high on confidence as I have been in the past. I’d be flat-out lying if I didn’t say that,” Masthay confessed after the regular-season finale. “And that’s just because things haven’t gone very well the second half of the season, whether it’s been the touchdown we gave up, the second block we gave up (against Philadelphia on Nov. 16), just some poor punts. It’s been kind of myriad of negative plays that I have directly contributed to.

"I think I’ve got to regain confidence. The trick is doing that. But that’s what I’ve got to do. I’ve got to figure out how to regain confidence and be the punter that I’ve been in the past.”

On Aug. 30, 2012, Masthay signed a five-year, $6.005 million contract that included a $1.2 million signing bonus and runs through the 2016 season. His base salaries are $1 million in 2015 and $1.2 million in 2016.

The 6-foot-2, 217-pound Mandell appeared in 52 career games for Crimson Tide during his career after joining the team as a walk-on in 2010. He was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a senior and averaged 42.6 gross yards per punt for his career.

He spent part of the 2014 offseason with the Dallas Cowboys and was one of three punters the Cowboys had in camp this summer. He ended up punting only three times in preseason play, averaging 43.7 gross and 42.0 net yards before being released.

If Mandell makes it to training camp, he would provide the first summertime competition for Masthay since Masthay beat out Chris Bryan for the job in 2010.

Two years ago, kicker Mason Crosby was coming off his worst pro season and found himself competing throughout the offseason and training camp with free-agent Giorgio Tavecchio. After beating Tavecchio (and Zach Ramirez) out in camp to keep his job, Crosby credited Tavecchio with helping him rebound – and Crosby went on to have the best year of his career.

Like Masthay, Crosby hadn't had any in-camp competition for his job since beating out Dave Rayner in camp as a rookie in 2007.

Highsmith reportedly piques Redskins' interest

Jan 25, 2015 -- 8:21pm
 
Photo/ESPNWisconsin.com 
Alonzo Highsmith (in white) is a trusted member of general manager Ted Thompson’s top level of personnel staffers.
 

GREEN BAY – There are now five NFL general managers who are descendants of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate Ron Wolf, who could be called to the Hall on Saturday.

And one of those general managers – Washington Redskins new GM Scot McCloughan – wants to talk to the next generation of Green Bay Packers upwardly-mobile scouts: Senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith.

FOX Sports and the Washington Post reported Sunday evening that McCloughan, whom the Redskins hired on Jan. 9, wants to interview Highsmith for a position in the Redskins’ personnel department. The two worked together in Green Bay under Wolf from 1994 through 1999, when McCloughan left to join ex-Packers coach Mike Holmgren and current Packers GM Ted Thompson in Seattle.

Highsmith is one of Thompson’s three top lieutenants, along with director of player personnel Eliot Wolf and director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst. He was promoted to his current position in 2012 after being an area scout in the southwest region for nearly two decades.

It’s unclear whether the Packers will grant the Redskins permission to speak to Highsmith since the move would not be for a general manager position. The Packers have historically blocked all interview requests for assistant coaches but their personnel staffers have seldom received interview requests for positions below GM in recent years.

Thompson was in western Pennsylvania on Sunday, attending the visitation for coach Mike McCarthy's younger brother, Joe, who died of a heart attack on Wednesday.

Packers special teams finish last in Gosselin's annual rankings

Jan 23, 2015 -- 11:29am
 
Photo/Associated Press via ESPN.com 
Shawn Slocum’s special teams units wound up dead last in Rick Gosslein’s rankings in the Dallas Morning News.
 

GREEN BAY – After two special teams plays were huge factors in their gut-wrenching defeat in the NFC Championship Game, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Green Bay Packers’ special teams units are the worst in the NFL.

That’s where they landed in Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings, which the paper released Friday.

In Sunday’s 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC title game – a game in which the Packers held a 16-0 halftime lead and a 19-7 lead with less than 5 minutes left in regulation – two special-teams blunders proved costly: Allowing a fake-field goal pass from holder Jon Ryan to tackle Garry Gilliam for a touchdown and the Seahawks’ first points of the game, and tight end Brandon Bostick’s decision to try to field an onside kick with just over 2 minutes remaining, even though his job was to block on the play.

Instead of Jordy Nelson recovering the kick, the ball bounced off Bostick’s hands and helmet and into Seattle’s Chris Matthews’ arms, setting up the go-ahead touchdown.

Of course, with how bad the special teams were all season, it was only a continuation of the group’s issues.

The Packers allowed an NFL-worst seven kicks to be blocked – two punts, two extra points and three field goals – while getting next to nothing from their kickoff return game. After a strong first half to the season, punter Tim Masthay struggled down the stretch.

This is the 35th year of Gosselin’s special-teams analysis, which ranks each team in 22 different categories. He then takes each team’s ranking in each department and tallies it up for a composite ranking. The Packers finished with 450 points, the worst in the 32-team league and just behind Carolina, which was 31st.

Troublingly, over the past decade, the Packers have frequently been near the bottom of Gosselin’s rankings.

In 2005, in coach Mike Sherman’s final season, the Packers finished dead last. They did so again in 2006, in coach Mike McCarthy’s first season, with Mike Stock as the special-teams coordinator.

In 2007, they improved to finish tied for seventh, their best ranking under McCarthy. Then they plummeted to 26th in 2008, leading to Stock’s forced retirement and McCarthy’s decision to promote current special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum.

Since Slocum replaced Stock in 2009, the Packers have ranked 31st in 2009, 29th in 2010, tied for 13th in 2011, 12th in 2012, 20th in 2013 and now 32nd. When they ranked 29th in 2010, it tied them with the 2009 New Orleans Saints for the lowest ranking ever for a Super Bowl champion.

In 2012, despite kick Mason Crosby’s unexpected struggles, the Packers’ special teams units still fared well in the Gosselin’s annual rankings, finishing 12th in the league. But in 2013, with Crosby back on track, the Packers fell to 20th in the 32-team league

Packers postpone McCarthy press conference due to 'personal matter'

Jan 21, 2015 -- 11:07am
 
Photo/Associated Press via ESPN.com 
Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s season-ending press conference was postponed Wednesday.
 

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s season-ending press conference and reporters’ session with assistant coaches were both abruptly postponed Wednesday after what the team’s public relations department described as a personal matter within the coaching staff.

Packers PR director Jason Wahlers notified reporters of the postponement about an hour before McCarthy’s press conference was set to begin at 11 a.m. CST.

The Packers weren’t saying what the personal matter was or identifying which coach it involved. But Wahlers made it clear that the situation is not football-related and did not involve any sort of staff changes.

The team has not announced when McCarthy’s press conference will be held or when assistant coaches will speak to reporters. The Packers’ season ended with a 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

Rodgers' calf should fully heal within six weeks

Jan 21, 2015 -- 2:12am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Aaron Rodgers says his calf would have been OK for Super Bowl XLIX had the Packers been playing in it.
 

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers’ injured left calf should be back to normal within the next six weeks, but the Green Bay Packers quarterback would have been good to go had his team advanced to Super Bowl XLIX.

Since the Packers lost, 28-22, in overtime to the Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Rodgers won’t have to push his torn calf muscle any more this season. He pulled out of next Sunday’s Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona because of the injury Tuesday.

Rodgers initially injured the calf Dec. 21 at Tampa Bay and reinjured it against Detroit on Dec. 28. He then had a bye week to get ready for the team’s Jan. 11 NFC Divisional Playoff victory over Dallas.

“We would have had two weeks [before the Super Bowl], so I didn’t think it would have been a problem,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday. “It’s kind of where it was after Detroit, with a week off there, so I would have been ready to go, for sure.”

Rodgers doesn’t expect the calf to hinder his offseason work, either.

“Without having to play on it, I think a month or six weeks it should be ready to go,” Rodgers said.

Packers reportedly block Van Pelt, which should please Rodgers

Jan 21, 2015 -- 2:03am
 
Photo/Associated Press via ESPN.com 
Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt won’t be leaving to become the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator.
 

GREEN BAY – During the season, Aaron Rodgers’ iPhone would vibrate every so often with a message from quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, who would send his star pupil play ideas that he’d drawn by hand and couldn’t wait to share.

“He’d send me his scribble drawing of something and I’ll see if I like it or not,” Rodgers explained on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday. “If it’s past 10, I usually say yes just so he knows that his hard work is not in vain.”

Apparently, those late-night exchanges between the Green Bay Packers star quarterback and his position coach will continue. One day after the St. Louis Rams reportedly asked the Packers for permission to interview Van Pelt for their open offensive coordinator position, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jim Thomas reported that the Packers denied the request.

That’s hardly surprising, as coach Mike McCarthy has repeatedly denied teams’ requests to interview his assistants under contract. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements, former quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt have all received interview requests and had them turned down by McCarthy in recent years, so the news on Van Pelt was not unexpected.

Van Pelt spent two seasons as the Packers running backs coach before moving over to quarterbacks after McAdoo left to become the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator last offseason. McAdoo declined to sign a contract extension after the 2012 season, giving him the freedom to interview with the Giants after being blocked from interviewing for the Miami Dolphins’ offensive coordinator job after the 2011 season. Ex-Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin had wanted McAdoo as his coordinator.

NFL rules state that teams can block assistants from interviewing for jobs with other teams as long as the interview isn’t for a head-coaching job. The rule does not differentiate between lateral moves (position coach to position coach) or promotions (position coach to coordinator). The rule views any interview for anything other than a head-coaching position a “lateral” move.

It’s unclear if Van Pelt, who played quarterback in the NFL for nine seasons and has been an offensive coordinator before, was even interested in the Rams’ post.

“Alex came in this year and we had a blast,” Rodgers said. “He’s an excellent teacher of the game. He understands the quarterback position, having been a guy for a long time playing in the league and been around it. He’s a student of the game and a great teacher of the game and a gym rat. He’s in there some long hours. He’s always coming up with great ideas.”

Backup quarterback Scott Tolzien also had high praise for Van Pelt, saying, “He’s an awesome coach and a great person, too. I’ve been extremely lucky to have him as a coach this year. I know everyone in this locker room thinks very highly of him because he’s a good coach, smart guy. But also he’s a very good person, too.

“It’s been very valuable playing for a guy that played quarterback for a number of years in the NFL. He sees the game through your lens and is a very understanding coach from a quarterback’s perspective. I know a lot of us think the world of him.”

Meanwhile, although the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported that the Browns might have an interest in Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements, it’s unclear whether they will ask for permission to talk to Clements and if the Packers would grant it. The Packers blocked Clements from interviewing for the Chicago Bears’ coordinator job after the 2011 season before promoting him to coordinator themselves. He also interviewed for the Bears’ head-coaching job after the 2012 season, when Marc Trestman was hired.

“Tom, in the older days – I’m not going to say ‘the old days’ because it hasn’t been that long ago – but in the older days, Tom and I spent a ton of time together in the quarterback schools and going through our offense and defenses and quizzing me all the time and trying to help me become an expert in our offense and start to understand defenses,” Rodgers said. “Over the years, starting in the middle of March, especially as a backup, I’d have a good couple months before Brett would come back for OTAs to really kind of hone my skills and study the offense, and Tom was instrumental in helping me in those times.”

Rodgers pulls out of Pro Bowl

Jan 20, 2015 -- 10:52am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was named to his fourth Pro Bowl team but won’t play in the game on Sunday.
 

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers was ready to play another game with his torn left calf. But that game was Super Bowl XLIX, not the Pro Bowl.

In an utterly unsurprising move, the Green Bay Packers quarterback pulled out of Sunday’s Pro Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona because of the injury that has plagued him since he initially went down at Tampa Bay on Dec. 21.

Rodgers did not miss a start because of the calf injury – although he did have to temporarily leave the team’s Dec. 28 regular-season finale against Detroit after reinjuring it – and played in the Packers’ season-ending 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game. He would have played in Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1 had the Packers advanced.

With the Pro Bowl no longer being split up by conference, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton is replacing Rodgers on the roster. Rodgers has been named to four Pro Bowls, but this will be the second that he has not played in. He played in the 2009 and 2011 games but sat out the 2012 game with an injury, too.

Rodgers will presumably still be in Arizona for the annual NFL Honors event, as he is a candidate for the NFL MVP award and also a finalist for the league’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Sam Shields were added to the rosters Monday, with Cobb replacing injured Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and Shields replacing New England’s Darrelle Revis, who is playing in the Super Bowl. Four other Packers – wide receiver Jordy Nelson, linebacker Clay Matthews, fullback John Kuhn and guard Josh Sitton – were picked for the game previously.

Burnett has no regrets about 'no mas' INT fall-down

Jan 19, 2015 -- 7:11pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Morgan Burnett, whose interception with 5:04 to play seemingly sealed victory, walks off the field after the Packers' loss.
 

GREEN BAY – Julius Peppers signaled “No Mas.” In the end, it was one of the reasons the Green Bay Packers will be playing no more football this season.

When safety Morgan Burnett intercepted Russell Wilson’s pass with 5 minutes 4 seconds left in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game – a game that the Packers, stunningly, ended up losing in overtime, 28-22 – Green Bay had a 19-7 lead and seemingly was in total control of the game.

The Seahawks’ only points had come on a fake field goal, and Burnett’s interception was the Packers defense’s fourth takeaway of the game – and the Packers’ fifth overall.

Maybe that’s why Peppers, the team’s veteran outside linebacker, put up a stop sign like a third-base coach after Burnett caught the ball, and Burnett obliged and slid into the fetal position instead of returning the interception farther than the 4 yards he’d gotten before going down.

Instead of taking over at the Green Bay 43-yard line, the Packers likely would have been in Seattle territory to begin their drive. The Packers went three-and-out and punted after Burnett’s pick.

“It was late in the game when I caught it, I saw Julius Peppers look at me and give me the ‘no mas’ signal. That means get down,” Burnett explained Monday as he and his teammates cleaned out their lockers. “We were just more so concerned about securing the possession of the ball, getting our offense back on the field for another possession.

“I don’t take nothing back that I did. It’s easy to sit here after it happens to sit here and say you should’ve done this or should’ve done that. If the outcome was different, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.”

Of course, perhaps the outcome would have been different if Burnett hadn’t given himself up. The “No Mas” is usually reserved for the closing moments of the game, not with 5 minutes to play.

Asked if he would have gone down had Peppers not told him to, Burnett replied, “That play was an interception, it’s not like that was the determining factor in the game. We had a lot of things go on throughout the course of the game. … It’s nothing that I would change or nothing that I would take back.”

Burnett finished the game with the interception, 10 tackles, two sacks, three tackles for loss and a pass breakup.

Cobb, Shields get Pro Bowl nods

Jan 19, 2015 -- 5:23pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Randall Cobb was added to the Pro Bowl rosters Monday, along with cornerback Sam Shields.
 

GREEN BAY – Now both the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers can call themselves Pro Bowlers.

The NFL added Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb – and cornerback Sam Shields – to their all-star rosters on Monday. Cobb replaces Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who is unable to participate due to injury, while Shields replaces New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who cannot participate in the Pro Bowl because he has a more important game the following Sunday – playing in Super Bowl XLIX. Neither Cobb nor Shields has been named to a Pro Bowl before, and both were alternates when the initial voting ended.

Cobb finished the regular season tied for ninth in the NFL in receptions (91), 11th in receiving yards (1,287) and tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (12), all career highs. He joins fellow Pro Bowl wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Shields had 42 tackles (32 solo), two interceptions and 13 pass breakups and also had an interception in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle. The Packers had five players selected to the Pro Bowl when the teams were first announced: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews, left guard Josh Sitton, fullback John Kuhn and Nelson.

Rodgers is unlikely to play because of the calf injury that has bothered him since he initially injured it on Dec. 21; Sitton was non-committal when asked Monday if he intended to play. Sitton has been playing with torn ligaments in his left big toe since Oct. 26.

Bostick: 'I'm human. I made a mistake.'

Jan 19, 2015 -- 4:39pm
 
Photo/ESPNWisconsin.com 
Brandon Bostick speaks to reporters in the Packers’ locker room on Monday.
 

GREEN BAY – Brandon Bostick was gone. He’d entered the Green Bay Packers locker room toward the end of the end-of-the-season media availability session Monday, dropped something off in his cubby hole and was headed out of the room when a pair of reporters asked him – two strides from being out of earshot – if he had a few minutes to talk.

Some of Bostick’s teammates who’d entered the same locker room had declined similar requests. One claimed he’d already spoken to reporters, which apparently meant he’d done so after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game loss at Seattle, since he certainly hadn’t spoken Monday.

And so, there Bostick stood, answering questions just as he had in the visitors locker room of CenturyLink Field 15 hours earlier about his decision to try to field the Seahawks’ late onside kick – and his failure to secure the ball.

As he did after the game, Bostick acknowledged that he was supposed to block on the play, allowing wide receiver Jordy Nelson to catch the ball. Instead, the ball caromed off Bostick to Seattle’s Chris Matthews, whose recovery set up the Seahawks’ go-ahead touchdown.

“I guess I just reacted to it. I just saw the ball and went to get the ball, which wasn’t my job,” Bostick said Monday. “That’s all I can say about that.

“I’m human. I made a mistake. But if I would’ve made the play, we wouldn’t have been in this [situation], or if I would’ve made the block, we wouldn’t be talking about this. But it’s over now, so I’ll just try my best to get over it.”

That won’t be easy, of course. Even though Bostick’s gaffe was one of an alarmingly high number of them committed by the Packers during the game’s final 5 minutes, it was easily the most glaring and possibly the most preventable. When it was suggested to Bostick that there was plenty of blame to go around, he dismissed that notion.

“If I would’ve done what I was supposed to do, we wouldn’t be here right now talking about it,” he said.

Bostick’s year as a whole was a disappointment. After flashing potential before a foot injury ended his 2013 season early, Bostick came into training camp with a chance to see extensive playing time on offense. He got plenty of snaps with the No. 1 offense and was playing well before a preseason leg injury sidelined him. He struggled to get into the rotation after that, played almost exclusively on special teams (34 offensive snaps, two receptions for 3 yards and a touchdown) and now this.

“I’m at a low point right now,” said Bostick, who was set to meet with special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum and tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot before heading home to South Carolina. “The whole world is on my back about this thing, but my teammates are here to pick me up. They know it’s just a mistake, and they’ve been my side. They’ve definitely helped me out a lot.”

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