GREEN BAY — When it comes to the Green Bay Packers’ special teams, there are a few Ron Zook-isms the longtime coach has shared this season. But none is better than the way the Packers special teams coordinator likes to explain the realities of having issues with your long-snapper:
“It’s not a problem until it’s a problem,” Zook has said multiple times this season, including on Monday afternoon following the team’s win at Chicago the day before. “Then it’s a big problem.”
And it’s definitely been a big problem this season — one that the Packers are hoping is finally solved, once and for all, with the return of veteran long-snapper Brett Goode.
Goode, who sustained a significant hamstring injury in late September and was released off injured reserve after he reached an injury settlement with the team, was back in Green Bay on Tuesday and underwent a physical with the team’s medical staff to confirm the injury had healed. The Packers announced his signing in the afternoon and Goode is expected to snap Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens at Lambeau Field.
NFL rules prohibit players from re-signing with their former teams until after the injury settlement and an additional three-week period have expired. Goode’s settlement expired after the team’s Week 10 victory over the Bears, making him eligible to return — and not a moment too soon.
The Packers’ merry-go-round at a position most people don’t even think about — at least until there’s a problem, as Zook likes to say — began during the offseason. Instead of immediately re-signing Goode — a specialist who has appeared in 145 games since becoming the team’s long-snapper in 2008, without a significant errant snap during his tenure — in free agency, the Packers decided to go with undrafted free agents Derek Hart and Taybor Pepper.
The Packers cut Pepper before the start of organized team activity practices, handing the job to Hart, who held it throughout the offseason program and the first two weeks of training camp. But when Hart’s struggles during the annual Family Night practice at Lambeau Field led to a series of misses by kicker Mason Crosby, the Packers brought Goode back and released Hart.
Goode was the long-snapper for the first three regular-season games, then injured his hamstring during a Week 3 win over Cincinnati. He finished the game despite the injury — much as he did in 2015, when he played almost the entire game with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in a win at Oakland — but the team re-signed Pepper and reached a settlement with Goode with an eye on bringing him back later in the year.
Pepper handled snaps in the next four games without a major incident until breaking his foot in a freak accident in practice two weeks ago. That forced the team to re-sign Hart, who had been working part-time back home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on a potato farm and as a trainer for young athletes.
Hart had one low snap during the Packers’ Nov. 6 loss to Detroit, leading to a blocked field goal. The rest of his snaps were fine, though, and the Packers’ field-goal operation issues during their victory over the Bears were not his fault. Rather, rookie holder Justin Vogel dropped Hart’s snap late in the fourth quarter, causing Crosby to miss what should have been a victory-clinching 35-yarder. The Packers still went on to win, but the defense had to stop the Bears in the final minute.
“I feel bad for Mason,” Zook said Monday. “It’s just consistency. Consistency, consistency, consistency. You can’t buy experience. If you can buy it, I’d spend all my money on it. It’s just something we’ve got to keep working on, and we’re getting better, we’re making progress. We’ve just got to keep doing it.”
The Packers had only 52 players on the roster for the Bears game after waiving tight end Martellus Bennett and not filling his roster spot.
They’ll have another open roster spot once they place veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga on season-ending injured reserve. Bulaga underwent surgery last week after sustaining a torn ACL in his knee against the Lions.
The Packers are expected to activate second-year backup tackle Jason Spriggs from injured reserve to fill one of those roster spots. It’s also unlikely the team would keep Hart on the roster with Goode back in the fold.
Entering Sunday’s game against the Ravens, Crosby has made 11 of 14 field goals (78.6 percent) and 21 of 23 extra points (91.3 percent) this season while working with the two rookie long-snappers and a rookie holder.
“I think Mason is one of the top or the top kicker in the league, in my opinion,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But what I like about Mason is what he’s done from a leadership position. He’s had so much change.
“He’s had young players, multiple young players to work with. His leadership has been really important, and we’ve just got to keep working it because obviously we had the situation where we missed a field goal in the fourth quarter (against the Bears).”