Packers' commitment to special teams evident

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have trusted Ron Zook to turn around their special teams. But they're also making sure he won't be empty-handed.

One look at the Green Bay Packers' draft class, and it's apparent the coach and general manager are serious about their commitment to special teams.

A strong case could be made that other than fifth-round pick Brett Hundley, the UCLA quarterback, every player drafted could make an impact on special teams.

The top-three picks -- cornerbacks Damarious Randall (first round) and Quinten Rollins (second round) plus receiver Ty Montgomery (third round) -- all have kick-return potential and have the speed to make the kickoff and punt coverage teams, too.

McCarthy called linebacker Jake Ryan (fourth round) a four-down player and fullback Aaron Ripkowski (sixth round) a "four-core special-teams player." The Packers also will try the other two sixth-round picks -- tight end Kennard Backman and defensive end Christian Ringo -- on special teams, too.

"I think the whole draft helps your special teams," McCarthy said. "I think every one of these guys helps us on special teams."

Although McCarthy denied that he was in the midst of a special-teams overhaul, the reality is he has a new coordinator and the team has moved on from three of the top-four players from last year's special-teams snap count list.

So he did not wait long to introduce special teams to his rookies. It happened right away during the first rookie orientation practice last weekend.

"Every one of these guys will have an opportunity," McCarthy said.

Drafting with an eye toward special teams, Thompson picked versatile players who can help Zook, who was promoted after McCarthy fired Shawn Slocum following last season.

Lest you think McCarthy isn't serious about special teams, you should know that he's been sitting in on that unit's meetings since the offseason program started. It was one of the things he wanted to do but rarely had time for before he gave up play-calling duties after last season.

It's part of an effort to improve a unit that ranked dead last in the Dallas Morning News' annual NFL special-teams rankings.

Montgomery might be the most intriguing special-teams prospect. The receiver left Stanford as the school's career leader in kickoff return yardage and as a senior brought back two of his 12 punt returns for touchdowns.

"Not just a return man -- any special teams," Montgomery said during last week's rookie camp. "If I'm covering punts. I'll cover kickoffs. I'll play gunner. It really doesn't matter."

But kickoff returns seem perfect for Montgomery. McCarthy likes to use running backs because they're used to cutting through traffic. But at 5-foot-11 and 221 pounds, Montgomery is built like a running back.

"He's a powerful young man, especially for a receiver," McCarthy said. "He doesn't go down very easily. With that, being built a lot like a running back, I think that's what I personally favor in the return game. So I think he's a heck of a young player, and I think we were fortunate to get him in the third round."

With former backup running back DuJuan Harris as the primary kickoff returner last season, the Packers ranked 31st out of the 32 NFL teams in kickoff return average. The team's West region scout, Sam Seale, said point blank that Montgomery is "faster than the guy we had last year returning kicks."

"We will be better on kickoff return," McCarthy said. "And Ty will definitely have the opportunity to help us improve."

And that goes for all areas of special teams.

"To me, I think he ought to be able to play return and coverage," Seale said.