By GERY WOELFEL
When it comes to patience, the Green Bay Packers are among the most patient teams in the NFL.
For better … or for worse.
The Packers penchant for tolerance has been rather conspicuous in recent years – especially when it pertained to high draft picks.
You may recall – how can you not if you’re a member of Packers Nation? – when the Packers seemingly tolerated forever Amari Rodgers’ continual blunders.
Rodgers botched kick/punt returns time and time again, and he was virtually useless as a slot receiver as well. He had a grand total of eight receptions in his two seasons with the Packers. He didn’t score a single touchdown as a receiver or returner.
Yet, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur always had Rodgers’ back. And the overarching reason they stuck with Rodgers was because he was a third-round pick.
But Gutekunst and LaFleur finally acknowledged Rodgers was a bust and released him. Rodgers was picked up by the Houston Texans and spent last season with the Texans. He appeared in a mere six games, doing virtually nothing.
Rodgers is now in Indianapolis with the Colts. On the team’s depth chart, he is listed as a third-string receiver. He isn’t even listed as a returner.
While the Packers exhibited uncommon and foolish patience with Rodgers, they also have shown unusual patience with Darnell Savage.
In the last two seasons, Savage has had stretches where he wasn’t bad but was horrible. He had a slew of missed tackles. He didn’t play with any physicality. He wasn’t a playmaker. He’s intercepted only three passes in the last two seasons, a span of 33 games.
At one point, in Week 12 last season, the Packers simply knew they couldn’t afford having the former No 1 pick in the 2019 draft on the field and benched the veteran safety.
To his credit, Savage got back into the starting quickly and performed better down the stretch. He seems to be back on track
Now, with the Packers’ regular-season opener less than four weeks away, Gutekunst and LaFleur are having their patience tested again.
This time, it’s with rookie kicker Anders Carlson. The Packers drafted Carlson in the sixth round of the 2023 draft. The selection of Carlson clearly indicated the Packers were moving on without Mason Crosby, the franchise’s all-time leader scorer.
Prior to the draft, most NFL scouts contended there were two kickers who were clearly the cream of the draft crop: Jake Moody of Michigan and Chad Ryland of Maryland
Moody was chosen by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round, the 99th overall selection. Ryland was taken by New England in the fourth round, the 112th overall pick.
The next kicker taken was Carlson, the 207th overall pick.
Of the 259 players chosen in the ’23 draft, Moody, Ryland and Carlson would be the only kickers selected.
While Ryland has yet to kick in a preseason game, Carlson and Moody made their professional debuts last weekend and neither had auspicious showings.
Moody missed both of his field goal attempts from 40 and 58 yards. He made his only extra point attempt. Carlson, meanwhile, converted on his first four kicks: a 45-yard field goal and three PATs What’s more, his kickoffs were high and deep.
But then Carlson missed back-to-back extra points. He not only missed them; he missed them badly. It was simply inexcusable and embarrassing. It was something a professional kicker just doesn’t do.
Can you imagine if an undrafted kicker had botched consecutive routine PATs? He’d be in the unemployment line right now. But Carlson was a draft pick, and the Packers being the Packers are, of course, going to be patient.
“It’s one game,’’ LaFleur said. “As long as you learn from it and get better and make the necessary adjustments, then a lot of times you come back stronger from it.’’
And Gutekunst claims he expected Carlson to have his struggles while making the transition from college to the NFL. Gutekunst was acutely aware of the wildly inconsistent ways Carlson exhibited at Auburn, where he went 12 for 17 (70 percent) on his field-goal attempts last season.
Seventy percent won’t cut it in the NFL. Crosby connected on 86.2S percent of his field goal attempts last season. There were SEVEN kickers with at least 30 FG attempts who made 90 percent, or more, of their FG attempts.
It’s amply apparent Carlson is a work in progress. But can the Packers afford to wait for him to become a certifiable NFL kicker, a kicker they can rely on, a kicker who can respond in pressure-packed situations?
After all, the Packer are a relatively-young but good team that figures to be in several close games this season, games that could come down to a field goal or even extra point.
The question now is whether Carlson will be the guy Gutekunst and LaFleur entrust to make those ever-so-important kicks.