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McCarthy fires Slocum as special-teams coordinator

Jan 30, 2015 -- 4:35pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Brandon Bostick’s inability to recover a late onside kick against Seattle was one of two special teams gaffes that ultimately contributed to Shawn Slocum’s firing Friday.
 

GREEN BAY – After their special teams units followed up a poor regular season with two catastrophic mistakes with the Super Bowl on the line, the Green Bay Packers are in the market for a new special-teams coordinator.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy fired special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum Friday afternoon, after watching Slocum’s units finish dead last in the 32-team NFL in Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin’s annual rankings and commit two crucial mistakes in the team’s NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

“I would like to thank Shawn for all of his contributions over the past nine years,” McCarthy said in a statement released by the club's public relations department. “He was a positive contributor to our success, including helping us win Super Bowl XLV. We wish Shawn, Michelle and their family the best moving forward.”

Slocum had been the Packers’ special-teams coordinator since 2009 and was one of only five remaining members of McCarthy’s original coaching staff from 2006. McCarthy and Slocum had coached together since their days at the University of Pittsburgh in the early 1990s.’

In his first nine seasons as Packers coach, McCarthy had only fired one previous coordinator: Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, following the 2008 season.

“We have a format that we follow,” McCarthy replied Wednesday when asked during his season wrap-up news conference about the process of evaluating assistants. “Obviously [we start by] gathering information, documentation things like that. Then you have start having your exit interviews with the coordinators and you go through all the assistants. It usually takes about a good week or so to do that.”

Assistant coaches were supposed to be off all week, after their postseason meetings with McCarthy were postponed in the wake of McCarthy’s younger brother Joe’s death from a heart attack last week. 

The Packers could promote Ron Zook, whom McCarthy hired last year after the ex-Florida and Illinois head coach had been out of football since 2011. Zook coached the Pittsburgh Steelers’ special-teams units from 1996 through 1998.

Then again, Zook was part of a staff that was in charge of a special teams group that finished last in the NFL in Gosselin’s annual special-teams rankings, in which teams are ranked in 22 separate categories. The Packers had an NFL-high seven kicks blocked (two punts, three field goals, two extra points), their kickoff return unit was among the worst in the league, punter Tim Masthay struggled during the second half of the season, and both the kickoff and punt coverage units allowed touchdown returns.

Then came the loss in Seattle, where the field-goal block unit was burned for a 19-yard touchdown on a fake field goal and tight end Brandon Bostick failed to secure an onside kick with just over 2 minutes to play. Had Bostick, who was supposed to serve only as a blocker on the play, recovered the ball or allowed wide receiver Jordy Nelson to do so, the Packers would presumably be playing in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday

Slocum’s replacement will be the Packers’ third special-teams coordinator of the McCarthy era. Veteran special teams coach Mike Stock held the job from 2006 through 2008 but retired at McCarthy’s urging after the 2008 season.

Schneider was prepping concession speech before Seahawks' comeback

Jan 30, 2015 -- 8:00am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Seahawks GM John Schneider thought, as did many back in his hometown, that the Packers were headed to Super Bowl XLIX.
 

GREEN BAY – Green Bay Packers fans weren’t the only ones who figured their team was going to be hoisting the George Halas Trophy at the end of the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.

Seattle Seahawks general manager John Schneider, who grew up in the Green Bay area and got his NFL scouting start with the Packers under Ron Wolf, thought so, too.

In fact, Schneider was thinking about what he’d say to his team with the Packers up by 12 points and safety Morgan Burnett having just intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with just over 5 minutes to go in the game.

“I was thinking to myself how I was going to address each player after the game, what I was going to say to the coaching staff,” Schneider said during the pre-Super Bowl festivities this week in Arizona, where his Seahawks will go for back-to-back Super Bowl titles against the New England Patriots on Sunday. “I was going to be like, ‘Hey, we had a great season. We’ll get them next year. Let’s have a great offseason.’ All those things are running through my mind, and then at the five-minute mark, things just started snowballing there.”

Indeed they did, and in the end, the Seahawks advanced with a 28-22 overtime victory made possible by running back Marshawn Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown late in regulation, Wilson’s miraculous 2-point conversion to tight end Luke Willson after the TD, and Wilson’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in overtime.

“The quarterback and the running back basically just willed their way,” Schneider said. “The 2-point conversion was unbelievable. Wilson and Luke made a heck of a play. When you go back and watch the game, it’s amazing how it went down. I’m not quite as positive as (coach) Pete (Carroll) is all the time.”

“Anxiety, depression, you can throw it all in there. It was nuts.”

McCarthy agrees with Burnett's post-INT intent

Jan 30, 2015 -- 7:15am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Morgan Burnett is mobbed by his teammates after his interception with just over 5 minutes left in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18.
 

GREEN BAY – Of all the plays that defy explanation and cost the Green Bay Packers a berth in Super Bowl XLIX – and Lord knows there were a lot of them – perhaps the most confounding was safety Morgan Burnett’s interception and decision to give himself up thereafter.

Well, to most folks, anyway. Apparently not to Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that he had no problem with outside linebacker Julius Peppers’ decision to advise Burnett to go down and Burnett doing so – even after seeing on film that Burnett might have scored a game-clinching touchdown on the interception return had he not given himself up.

The Packers led, 19-7, at the time, and the Green Bay offense took over at its own 43-yard line after the pick, with 5 minutes 4 seconds left in regulation. After back-to-back-to-back handoffs to Eddie Lacy resulted in a net loss of 4 yards, the Packers punted – and the Seahawks rallied for a 28-22 overtime victory that has them playing for their second straight NFL title on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX against New England.

“Those are decisions that are made in the heat of the battle. I agree with the intent of the decision,” McCarthy said. “I clearly expected to move the ball and at least change the field position. The fact that Morgan went down, and then we give them the ball back on [the 43-yard-line]? That’s not Morgan’s fault, and I don’t think you go back and question that decision.

“Why he did it, I understand. The way we were playing at that point. Defensively we were in command of the game.”

That said, while defensive backs routinely give themselves up after interceptions when they occur at the end of games, one could argue that there was too much time left on the clock not to complete the play. The coaches film camera angle showed that had Peppers blocked instead of giving Burnett what the Packers call the “No mas” signal, Burnett would have had a big return up the left sideline and may even have scored to put the game away.

Nevertheless, McCarthy stood by Burnett’s decision.

“You’re playing in a game, it’s raining a little bit on and off, you’re on turf,” McCarthy said. “So he played the high side of caution there.”

Matthews' role could still include inside job in 2015

Jan 30, 2015 -- 6:45am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Clay Matthews is likely to see more action at inside linebacker in 2015, even if the team adds someone at the position.
 

GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews’ move inside apparently wasn’t a one-year thing.

Although the Green Bay Packers star linebacker’s primary position remains outside, coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday in his season wrap-up press conference that Matthews was too good inside not to consider continuing to use him there.

That said, McCarthy made it clear where he thinks Matthews should spend most of his time.

“I mean, Clay’s an outside linebacker. I think we all recognize that. But he was very productive in his role when he went inside. I think as we build our roster and go through the player acquisition phase [during the offseason], there will be more answers, hopefully more options and we’ll see how it goes.”

Matthews finished the season with 69 tackles, 11 sacks, one interception, six pass breakups and one forced fumble. The Packers’ 32 nd-ranked run defense improved significantly after Matthews started splitting his time inside and outside after the Week 9 bye.

“I think not only what we accomplished with Clay specifically [was positive], but I think the fact of the matter [is] that we were able to be more flexible in how we utilize Clay,” McCarthy said. “I thought all those changes were very positive for our defense and the way the play time was distributed, the stress that you’re able to apply to the opponent with different matchups [was also positive].”

Wolf hopes for Hall call

Jan 29, 2015 -- 10:55pm
 
Photo/Associated Press via ESPN.com 
Retired Packers general manager Ron Wolf could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.
 

Editor's note: Watch for a more in-depth story on Wolf and his impact on the Packers following Saturday night's Hall of Fame announcement.

GREEN BAY – Ron Wolf wasn’t entirely sure how to pack Thursday afternoon.

The retired Green Bay Packers general manager and his wife, Edie, were getting set for a Friday flight to Arizona, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 46-member selection panel will decide if the man who rebuilt Titletown merits enshrinement.

If Wolf gets the requisite 80 percent of the vote, he’ll be a member of the 2015 class, be introduced at the league’s annual NFL Honors event on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX and be on hand for Sunday’s game between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.

If not …

“If you don’t make it, you’re on the plane Sunday morning heading back,” Wolf said with a laugh from his winter home in Florida. “We’ll see what happens.”

Wolf and Bill Polian, who served as the GM for the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, are the inaugural contributor candidates chosen for consideration by the Hall of Fame’s new contributor committee, which is made up of nine members of the 46-person selection committee. The Hall of Fame defines a contributor as “an individual who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching.”

Wolf, Polian and Seniors Committee nominee Mick Tingelhoff are up for selection, along with an impressive list of 15 modern-era finalists that includes Kurt Warner, Junior Seau, Terrell Davis,  

Contributors had previously been part of the modern era nomination list that included coaches and players. Since 1963, when the Hall of Fame first opened, only 19 contributors have been elected, and 10 of those were elected in the first five Hall of Fame classes, including six as charter members. By putting them in a separate category, the Hall is hoping deserving contributors have a better chance at enshrinement.

Wolf isn’t sure if he’ll get in or not, and he’s trying not to worry about it.

“I’d like to say that I’m not nervous or edgy or antsy, but I’m probably a little bit of all those things as we get closer to it,” Wolf said. “However, what I try to tell myself is, I have no control over the outcome of this. I think I’m winning there. I really believe I’m winning there.”

Wolf did a lot of winning in his career, too. He began as a scout for the Raiders in 1963 and he spent 25 seasons in the team’s front office during three separate tenures. In 1976, he was hired as the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager, and while the Bucs went 2-26 in his two-year tenure – including 0-14 his first year – the 1979 team reached the NFC championship game two years after he was fired and did so with 16 starters Wolf had acquired.

Wolf was working for the New York Jets when the Packers hired him late in the 1991 season – and the downtrodden franchise’s fortunes were changed forever. Not only did Wolf hire coach Mike Holmgren, trade for quarterback Brett Favre and sign free-agent defensive end Reggie White, but his drafts yielded 16 Pro Bowl players, and the Packers went an astonishing 101-57 (including 9-5 in the postseason) on his watch. The 1996 team went on to win Super Bowl XXXI, while the 1997 team reached Super Bowl XXXII, losing to the Denver Broncos.

Wolf retired following the 2001 season, but the tradition he started in Green Bay has carried on while his protégés have found success themselves. Five current NFL GMs got their start in the NFL under Wolf in Green Bay: Packers GM Ted Thompson, Seattle Seahawks GM John Schneider, Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Kansas City Chiefs GM John Dorsey and new Washington Redskins GM Scot McCloughan.

“You think about what [the Hall of Fame] means and what a tremendous honor that is for one individual, [but] none of that would have happened if I didn’t have a heck of a cast around me,” Wolf said. “The people that we were able to hire there when I was there, they dedicated themselves to the belief that we could breathe some life back into this franchise, which we were able to do. Plus, the guys were very talented people. Five of the guys are general managers – when you stop to think about that, it’s incredible.”

Tags: Ron Wolf

McCarthy wondered about Matthews after collision

Jan 28, 2015 -- 4:35pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Clay Matthews left the game after a hit on Seahawks tight end Luke Willson early in the fourth quarter and spent the final two series of regulation on the bench.
 

GREEN BAY – We know Clay Matthews was not on the field for the Green Bay Packers’ last two defensive series during their Jan. 18 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. We also know that the Packers’ star linebacker returned for the defense’s final series, the Seahawks’ game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

And while we still don’t know exactly why Matthews missed those two series, coach Mike McCarthy didn’t exactly dispel the notion Wednesday that Matthews may have been experiencing concussion-like symptoms after the collision with Willson with 10 minutes 41 seconds left in regulation.

Asked during his season wrap-up news conference Wednesday whether Matthews was ever examined for a possible concussion, McCarthy said the only exam he knew the medical staff administered was for a knee injury.

But McCarthy also acknowledged that he saw Matthews on the sideline and was wondering if something was wrong with him.

“I don’t know about a concussion. I know he was being looked at there at the end [for] his knee,” McCarthy said. “But he did have a couple collisions, and we may be talking about the same play. I saw it and I actually walked towards him, because Jordy Nelson waved to me. I talked to Clay and he just said he needed a minute. Looking him in the eye and everything, I didn’t see any reason for concern there.”

After leading with his head to hit Willson on the incomplete pass, Matthews can be seen on FOX Sports’ replay putting his hands to his head while lying on the CenturyLink Field turf. He then jogs off to the Packers sideline, where he did not immediately interact with trainers.

Matthews returns for several plays later in the drive, which ended in Seattle punting. He was not on the field for Morgan Burnett’s interception on the ensuing series, then wasn’t on the field for the last two Seattle possessions of regulation, as the Seahawks turned a 19-7 deficit into a 22-19 lead.

After the Packers tied the game with a field goal in the closing seconds of regulation, Matthews was back on the field in overtime, when the Seahawks won the game on a 35-yard touchdown on the sixth play of extra time.

Asked after the game if his leg was bothering him, Matthews replied, "It was a medley of things just catching up to me. Fortunately, I worked with the trainers a little bit during that last drive and was able to get back out there for overtime. But you know I have enough time to rest now, so don’t feel sorry for me."

After the game, McCarthy said he wasn’t aware that Matthews was out of the game late in regulation. On Wednesday, McCarthy said because of his duties as the offensive play-caller, the medical staff may have checked Matthews out without his knowledge.

“As far as, the doctors, especially being a play-caller, I don’t get every play by play of what every guy was looked at [for] during the course of the game,” McCarthy said. “I really don’t even get that until after a home game until I go back through the training room and we have a list that we go through each guy he has seen. Just the way we’re structured, unless it impacts the game as far as a player injury, I’m not really notified.”

Here's a look at two screen captures from FOX Sports' broadcast of the play in question:

 

Rodgers visits kids from Camp Hometown Heroes for latest itsAaron.com episode

Jan 28, 2015 -- 11:22am
 
Screen capture/itsAaron.com 
The final installment of this year’s It’s Aaron series highlights children of fallen U.S. military personnel.
 

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers has spoken often of his respect for those who serve in the U.S. military, tracing that appreciation to being the grandson of a World War II veteran.

In his latest itsAaron.com video, the Green Bay Packers quarterback spends time with four children who lost their fathers in military engagements.

Rodgers visited kids from Camp Hometown Heroes, which puts on a weeklong camp for kids who’ve lost a loved one.

Rodgers is one of three finalists for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award, which will be presented Saturday in Arizona on the eve of Super Bowl XLIX. He was nominated for his work with the MACC Fund, itsAaron.com, Raise Hope for Congo and his other charitable efforts 

Here’s the video:

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

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