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Mason Crosby recovered from a horrendous 2012 season to deliver the best year of his career in 2013.

ST: Packers offseason by position

Mason Crosby got his groove back, but that doesn’t mean all of the Packers’ special teams problems are solved, based on the coaching staff changes.

Players under contract
No.
Name
Pos.
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
2
Mason Crosby
K
6-1
207
29
7
Colorado
61
Brett Goode
LS
6-1
255
29
6
Arkansas
8
Tim Masthay
P
6-1
200
26
4
Kentucky

The good news:  What a bounce-back year Crosby had after a god-awful 2012, when he made his first five field-goal attempts to start the season, then missed 12 of 24 attempts before finishing the season at 21 for 33, for a career-low 63.6 percent accuracy rate that was the worst in the NFL. A year later, after surviving training-camp challenges from Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez and taking a major pay cut, he delivered in a huge way, making a career-best 33 of 37 regular-season kicks (89.2 percent) to earn back all $1.6 million he gave up in salary when he took a pay cut to $800,000 before the season.

“We had a plan, and it really started at the end of (the 2012) season,” special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. “He finished up strong and he really followed through with it and good production this year.”

Now, Crosby is aiming for a 90 percent conversion rate in 2014, which isn’t unattainable given that 11 kickers who attempted at least 25 field goals made 90 percent or more of their kicks.

“My goal was 90 percent (for 2013) and I wanted to be there,” Crosby said. “So in that sense it’s almost a positive to me. I accomplished a lot of goals and a lot of things I wanted to do. But I want to get to that 90 percent and be over that 90 percent for a season. So that definitely will keep my focus sharp for the offseason and I’ll keep working toward that.”

The bad news:  Last year, despite Crosby’s unexpected struggles, the Packers’ special teams units still fared well in the annual rankings. According to Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin, who has been doing his composite special teams rankings for 34 years now, the Packers ranked No. 12 in the 32-team league in 2012. But in 2013, with Crosby back on track, the Packers fell to 20th in the 32-team league. With little to show for themselves in the return game beyond rookie Micah Hyde’s 93-yard punt return for a touchdown at Minnesota on Oct. 27 and finishing 30th in the league in kickoff return average (20.3 yards per return), the Packers landed in the bottom half of the league once again.

 Since Slocum replaced Mike Stock in 2009, the Packers have ranked 31st in 2009, 29th in 2010, tied for 13th in 2011, 12th in 2012 and now 20th. The Packers' best ranking under head coach Mike McCarthy came in 2007, when the group finished tied for seventh. Perhaps that’s why McCarthy dismissed assistant special teams coach Chad Morton and now has three coaches dedicated to special teams – Slocum, ex-Florida and Illinois head coach Ron Zook and young assistant Jason Simmons.

“I wanted to put more of an emphasis on that area,” McCarthy explained. “One of our challenges ever year with youth, some of the injuries we’ve had with younger players playing early, there’s a lot of one-on-one time that goes into special teams coaching. Everybody in the league goes through it. We just want to maximize that structure as far as to make sure our players are getting the one-on-one time and I thought Ron brought a whole different dimension to the room.”

The big question:  Thequestion a year ago was whether wide receiver Randall Cobb, who finished 2012 as the team’s leading receiver, had become too valuable on offense to continue as the full-time return man. Then Cobb was felled by a fractured tibia – suffered on a play on offense at Baltimore on Oct. 13 – and the question went away. The hodgepodge on returns that followed included Hyde, who showed potential, but also could be in the mix for a greater role on defense after emerging as a viable nickel corner. In the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Cobb was back in the return mix. Ideally, though, the Packers would love to have a backup receiver, defensive back or running back as the returner, as Jeremy Ross was before being released following his costly fumble at Cincinnati in Week 3. Ross went on to success in Detroit, while the Packers’ search continues.

Offseason outlook:  While Masthay, Crosby and Goode have the specialist gigs locked down – now that Crosby has returned to form – the Packers’ focus will be on not only finding out whether Hyde or someone else gives them their best returner, but on how they can improve their blocking and coverage units. The reality? Being healthy would be a wonderful start, since the trickle-down of injuries clearly had its impact as McCarthy at times had trouble finding 46 healthy players to dress on gameday.

“Realistically, it’s a challenge when you change personnel. Ideally you would have the same guys on the right side of the punt team and the left side of the punt team working with one another, working on their releases, working on coverage and where the other guy’s going to be. But it’s not reality,” Slocum said. “Very few teams have that luxury. I think it’s important that you accept the challenge and you deal with it and you become productive and you create production regardless of what your personnel circumstances are. Because in the end, it’s all about winning. You can make excuses, but it doesn’t matter, because our goal is to win. That’s the way I look at it. Whoever’s playing has to do the job. It’s well defined: Get. It. Done.”

– Jason Wilde