[size=18]Punt, kicking units performing well[/size]
[img_r]http://graphics.jsonline.com/graphics/packer/img/news/sep08/xwhite0919.jpg[/img_r]Green Bay - To the untrained eye, special teams look like mass confusion. To the Green Bay Packers, they're a well-choreographed, huge part of their formula for success.
In 2005 and '06, the Packers' special teams ranked last in the National Football League. They tied for seventh a year ago and now, with a roster chockfull of seasoned and athletic backups, they're aiming for No. 1.
"We're working toward it," coach Mike McCarthy said, calling his current units easily the best in his three seasons. "We've got more core players than we've had. I like the speed and the athletic ability."
Green Bay's physical superiority among players on special teams proved to be the deciding factor in a 24-19 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the opener. Linebacker Tracy White, the unit's acknowledged leader, saw it coming.
"Looking at film, our speed was far, far better than theirs," White said. "I guess we were more hungry than them, too. We're trying to move up to the No. 1 spot. I think we could be No. 1 and we should be No. 1 by the end of the year."
McCarthy was disappointed by the performance in Detroit, but aside from a fumble by punter Derrick Frost they were at least adequate.
It's just that the Packers expect to impose their will on opponents.
On Sunday night, they'll face the Dallas Cowboys, who got the best of them on special teams last November. It was one of the Packers' three or four worst performances of the season, and they intend to make amends.
"There's going to be a big difference this game," White said. "I mean, we got better. Looking at film, I think we're better than Dallas on special teams. Now we've got to prove that."
The Cowboys have a dangerous punt returner in Adam "Pacman" Jones, and kick returner Felix Jones returned six kickoffs for 247 yards Monday night against Philadelphia.
But White said the Packers wouldn't kick away from Felix Jones. Mason Crosby has boomed 14 kickoffs for averages of 71.9 yards and 3.95 seconds of hang time, and coach Mike Stock trusts his charges.
"We're going to do what we do," White said, "because we've got good speed in our coverage teams. We should get down and get past their front line."
Although the Packers kept 10 rookies and first-year players, tying for the ninth-highest total in the NFL, not one has made a tackle yet on special teams. In Detroit, none was on the kickoff-coverage team and Jordy Nelson was the only rookie on kickoff return.
According to White, newcomers are putting out harder than usual fighting to get the call on special teams, something he has not seen in his six-year career. Rookie running back Kregg Lumpkin would be one of them.
"Those are good problems to have," McCarthy said. "Think about it. Jeremy Thompson, Patrick Lee and (Jermichael) Finley, and their athletic body types. They can't get on teams."
Finley is behind fellow tight end Tory Humphrey, who runs well and, at 6 feet 2 inches and 255 pounds, represents McCarthy's ideal for special teams.
"That's the body type I'm after," McCarthy said. "When you play special teams, and you've got guys that are 6-2 and 245, 250 and can run, that's a problem. Because if you've got more of them than they got, he's either too strong for somebody or he's too fast for a big guy."
Humphrey excelled on special teams in August but McCarthy said fullback Korey Hall was the team's best this summer. McCarthy said White was the club's finest the past two seasons, but ticked off the names of Desmond Bishop, Jarrett Bush, Jason Hunter, Michael Montgomery and Brandon Chillar as other top players.
All but Chillar, who played extensively on special teams in St. Louis from 2004-'07, have played major roles in Green Bay for at least one season. Others back for another year in Green Bay are Aaron Rouse, Tramon Williams, Charlie Peprah and John Kuhn.
"We're definitely physical . . . big time," Will Blackmon said. "But I would say the (best) thing is our chemistry. They say the more you know the faster you play. Everybody on the special teams is very, very intelligent."
White, who also stood out in Jacksonville and Seattle, said the current unit was the best that he had played on.
Here's how White views some of his teammates:
Bishop: "He's got agility and knows how to get to the ball and make plays."
Humphrey: "Speed. Power."
Hall: "He's got smarts. He gets good (lane) fits."
Chillar: "He's good at playing off other players. If I get down the field first and I fit in one area, he will play off me."
Rouse: "He's got speed and he's aggressive."
Williams: "He's a superfast dude."
Bush: "Great special-teams player. He's got speed and he's competitive."
Hunter: "Power and speed and aggressiveness."
Peprah: "He's a hitter. He goes down there and gives himself up every down."
Blackmon: "As a returner I've got to say he's one of the best."
Kuhn: "He's almost like Chillar. He's not going to get down the field as fast but he's smart and can play off people."
For his part, Blackmon cited Bush as the early season standout.
"We just didn't play good in Dallas last year," Blackmon said. "I think a lot of people, including myself, got caught up in the whole Hollywood scene. You look down there (end zone), I saw my favorite player, Deion Sanders.
"We will have our hands full but we have a good attitude this week. Everyone's serious and ready to go."