Packers going with untested kicker and punter, with both set to make NFL debuts

AP News | by Steve Megargee | August 30, 2023

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Daniel Whelan was folding towels at a California hotel spa around this time last year. Now he’s about to become the first native of Ireland in nearly 40 years to play in an NFL game.

He’s part of the Green Bay Packers’ youth movement on special teams.

Mason Crosby, the Packers’ kicker the past 16 seasons and the leading scorer in franchise history, no longer is on the roster. Neither is Pat O’Donnell, a punter with nine seasons of NFL experience.

The Packers are going with kicker Anders Carlson, while Whelan handles the punting duties. Neither has played in an NFL game.

“We had a really competitive camp and we were just looking for the guys who performed the best,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said Wednesday. “And at the end of the day, that’s kind of how it shook out.”

The Cleveland Browns, in 2019, were the last team to begin a season with a kicker and punter making their debuts. It’s happened 13 times since 2000.

Green Bay visits Chicago on Sept. 10.

“Just treat it like every other day,” Whelan said. “Get better. That’s the goal. You can’t get too big in the moment. Just treat it like practice.”

Green Bay selected Carlson out of Auburn in the sixth round of the draft, signaling it planned to move on from Crosby. Carlson was the Packers’ only kicker in camp. Crosby, who turns 39 on Sunday, remains a free agent.

The change at punter was more of a surprise.

O’Donnell played for Green Bay last year after spending eight seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was beaten out by Whelan, who was born in Dublin before moving to California at the age of 13.

Whelan, who started playing football his junior year of high school, will become the first Irish-born player to appear in an NFL game since kicker Neil O’Donoghue played his final season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.

“Obviously when you bring in a guy like Daniel who hasn’t had a lot of experience, you don’t know what you’re getting,” Gutekunst said. “And I think just every step along the way he had a nice camp and earned the job.”

Whelan had signed with the New Orleans Saints last year as an undrafted free agent from UC Davis before getting cut in late July. He got a job at a hotel spa that lasted a couple of months.

“I folded towels for about eight hours a day,” Whelan recalled.

Whelan resumed his playing career with the XFL’s D.C. Defenders earlier this year. Now he has a new job that will include serving as the holder on Carlson’s kicks.

Carlson’s preseason showcased his leg strength while also providing hints of the risks that come with using a rookie kicker. He made a 57-yard field goal and a 52-yarder while also missing three extra-point attempts.

“I think there’s been a lot of good,” Carlson said Saturday after the Packers’ final exhibition game. “There’s been some bad, too. Every day is a learning lesson, no matter how good or bad I did.”

Whelan acknowledged the challenges that come with holding, something he started doing in college. He’s attempting about 250-300 holds per day in camp, but his early holding lessons came in a much different setting.

“My mom would actually throw me snaps at home,” Whelan said. “They’re not good, but it helps you work on bad-ball drills. Just on my knee in the kitchen, she’s throwing whatever she can.”

NOTES: The Packers released linebacker Tariq Carpenter and defensive lineman Jonathan Ford. … Gutekunst confirmed the Packers have claimed tight end Ben Sims on waivers from the Minnesota Vikings while noting Sims still must pass a physical. … The Packers signed tight end Austin Allen, cornerbacks Corey Ballentine and Kiondre Thomas, linebackers Keshawn Banks, Arron Mosby and Kenneth Odumegwu, wide receivers Grant DuBose and Bo Melton, center James Empey, safeties Innis Gaines and Benny Sapp III, quarterback Alex McGough, fullback Henry Pearson, defensive lineman Chris Slayton, running back Patrick Taylor and offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort to the practice squad.

___

AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

Source: Packers going with untested kicker and punter, with both set to make NFL debuts | AP News

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