This is the last installment of grading out the Green Bay Packers coaching staff. The grades earned by the staff haven’t been overly impressive. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Packers 2022 season turned out to be a disappointing one. However, there was one unit that saw some improvement this season. Under Rich Bisaccia, the Green Bay Packers special teams saw improvement from seasons past.
READ MORE: Offensive Coaching Staff Review | Defensive Coaching Staff Review
Rich Bisaccia Helps Fix Green Bay Packers Special Teams
Before we dive into the work that Rich Bisaccia and his staff did with the Green Bay Packers special teams, we still have some more grades to hand out for defensive assistants. Similar to the previous defensive coaches that we graded out, the grades earned won’t earn them Dean list honors.
Grading out the assistants under defensive coordinator Joe Barry weren’t as easy as some may think. The coaches working under Barry, were tasked with teaching their players to play in Barry’s scheme. As most saw, that scheme, was very flawed. Still, as assistant coaches, they are gauged by how well their players did.
Since Kirk Olivadotti took over as the inside linebackers coach in 2019, the play at the inside linebacker position has been similar to a roller coaster ride. If one player steps up, another one regresses. Once again, that was the case in 2022.
De’Vondre Campbell, who signed a big-money contract leading up to the season, struggled mightily in 2022. His play was nothing close to what he displayed in 2021 when he earned first-team All-Pro honors. Campbell was consistently a step behind and looked slow, even before missing time with an injury. Against the run as well as in pass coverage, Campbell looked, at best, like an average NFL inside linebacker. For the contract he signed, the Packers didn’t get nearly what they paid for
While Campbell struggled, rookie Quay Walker had a strong first year in the NFL. Walker posted 75 solo tackles, forced three fumbles, recovered one fumble, and had one and a half sacks. Walker’s speed, one of the reasons Brian Gutekunst drafted him in the first round, was displayed at times this season. While he will need to learn how to control his emotions, Walker displayed the ability the Packers envisioned.
Along with his work with Walker, Olivadotti should be commended for the work he did with Isaiah McDuffie. Forced into action because of Campbell’s injury, McDuffie displayed some good instincts and became a reliable backup this season. He finished with 43 combined tackles and was also a key contributor on special teams.
Defensive Backs/Pass Game Coordinator
As we mentioned earlier, there are some Green Bay Packers defensive assistants that did their job by preparing their players the way Joe Barry wanted them to play. Jerry Gray was one of those assistants.
Even with having secondary personnel that is made for playing an aggressive in-your-face style of defense, Barry leaned heavily on a more passive/zone defensive approach. While it turned out to be flawed, it was what Gray was asked to teach, so he had to teach it.
Barry did adjust late in the season, and not surprisingly, the Packers cornerbacks, Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas started to excel. The style that Barry finally started to deploy is a style not only Gary played when he was a player but something he has taught throughout his long career as an assistant. It isn’t surprising that when Barry finally decided to use it, it turned out well.
Sadly, it appears Jerry Gray will be moving on. It was reported that he will be leaving to join the Atlanta Falcons coaching staff. His departure is a major hit to the Packers. Not only are they losing a solid reliable coach/teacher, but it also means Matt LaFleur will be looking for a replacement. LaFleur has struggled as of late to hire good assistants. So there isn’t much faith he will find someone who is at Gray’s level.
Prior to this season, Ryan Downard was promoted from assistant defensive backs coach to safeties coach. Unfortunately, in his first season in charge of the safeties, the unit took a step backward.
In the 2019 NFL Draft, Brian Gutekunst traded up to select Darnell Savage in the first round. Gutekunst and the Packers envisioned Savage, who displayed speed and pass coverage ability at the University of Maryland, becoming a playmaker for the Packers secondary. It appeared that he would become just that. In 2020, Savage posted 12 passes defended, one sack, and four interceptions. But since then, Savage’s career has been in a spiral.
After poor tackling and constantly being beaten in coverage, Savage found himself on the bench. Savage was able to win back his starting position late in the season, but even when he returned, he had some struggles. The Packers are stuck with him after Gutekunst picked up his fifth-year option prior to this season. So it will be up to Downard to get Savage to play up to his potential. Something that seems like a long shot at this point.
While Adrian Amos didn’t lose his starting spot as Savage did, he did struggle in 2022. Amos has been one of the most reliable players on the Packers defense since signing as a free agent in 2019. But this season, Amos struggled, especially in pass coverage. He will be a free agent this off-season and it isn’t a lock he will return. But with the Packers not having a reliable option to replace Amos, it might force the Packers to re-sign the veteran safety.
If there was one bright spot this season, it was how the Green Bay Packers special teams improved from 2021. There was only one direction the Packers special teams could go, which is upward, and that is what they did.
In 2021, former special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton coordinated one of the worst special teams units in NFL history. While Packers fans had grown accustomed to poor special teams play, they hadn’t witnessed a unit that bad ever in the Packers long storied history.
The bar was set pretty low for new special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia. But still, Packers fans held their breath going into this season when it came to the special teams. While Bisaccia’s unit didn’t finish top 20, they did go from 32nd to 22nd in Rick Gosselin’s special teams rankings. The ten-spot jump more than earned the big contract that Rich Bisaccia was given last off-season.
Under Bisaccia, veteran kicker Mason Crosby had a bounce-back season in 2022. Crosby went 25 of 29 on field goals as well as 37 of 39 on extra points. The Packers brought in punter Pat O’Donnell to stabilize the punter position. He wasn’t flashy, but he finished the season with a 44.5 yards per punt average and had 24 punts land inside the 20.
The biggest factor in the special teams improvement was the ability of Keisean Nixon. The Packers have been in search of an explosive returner and they found it in Nixon. He returned 35 kicks for a total of 1,009 yards. Included in that yardage was a 105-yard kickoff for a touchdown. He also had a 12.7 yards per punt return average. His returning earned him first-team All-Pro honors.
(the grade would have been higher if it didn’t take Bisaccia so long to replace Amari Rodgers with Nixon)
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