Our Jordan Huenink made a pilgrimage to Green Bay for training camp this month. Here’s some of what he saw.
On Saturday, the Packers traveled to St. Louis for Week 2 of the pre-season. After dealing with monsoon-like weather down in Nashville last week against the Titans, the team welcomed the pristine conditions inside a dome. The lack of weather also allowed the coaches to get an ideal look at some of the players jockeying for their spot on the depth chart, or fighting to even make the final roster. Here are a few things that popped out to me:
1. Aaron Rodgers is amazing. Okay, on to the next point.
2. No really, Rodgers and the first-team looked fantastic on Saturday. The hurry-up offense rattled off a 12-play, 86-yard opening drive in a little over five minutes that resulted in a Rodgers touchdown to Randall Cobb. Rodgers went 6-6 for 47 yards on the drive with a 14-yard scramble, and Eddie Lacy took care of the rest on the ground – doing that “run-you-over-like-a-Mack-truck” thing he does pretty well. They really got my fantasy football juices flowing!
The second drive was much of the same as the team marched 80 yards down the field in a seemingly easy fashion, but disappointingly had to settle for a Mason Crosby 31-yard field goal after a Jordy Nelson touchdown was waived off due to a David Bakhtiari penalty. After the game, Rodgers stated, “We scored and we stayed healthy. That’s a perfect pre-season game.” Head coach Mike McCarthy also commented, “I was very pleased with the first offense. I thought Aaron was excellent.” Hard to argue with them there!
3. J.C. Tretter and the rest of the offensive line held their own against the Rams D-line. Rodgers was flushed out of the pocket and had to scramble once, but never really faced any threatening pressure from the Rams. They also provided Lacy with nice running lanes over the first two series. Rodgers had nothing but praise for Tretter after the game saying, “It was pretty seamless. He’s done a great job. He’s not somebody you worry about.”
4. Scott Tolzien was given nearly two quarters of work on Saturday to prove himself, and went 10-15 for 107 yards. He also had a touchdown to Myles White called back due to a Corey Linsley penalty. While Rodgers was provided a comfortable pocket on his first two drives, Tolzien wasn’t quite as fortunate. Tackle Derek Sherrod seemed to resemble a turnstile at times, as he allowed rookie DT Eric Westbrooks a few too many hits on the quarterback.
The Packers now turn their attention to the Oakland Raiders who will be visiting Lambeau Field on August 22 for Week 3 of the pre-season.
By Jordan Huenink
Tomorrow brings us yet another glorious Packers game – even if it’s “just” Week 2 of the pre-season. The Green and Gold will be traveling to St. Louis to face off against Sam Bradford and the Rams. Thankfully the game will be in the Edwards Jones Dome, so the likelihood of another monsoon drenching the field is quite low.
As with any pre-season game, there are things to keep an eye out for or players to watch. The 2014 careers of some of these players hang in the balance during the second and third pre-season games, so positional and depth chart battles are key. Getting cut or not getting cut could depend on one, firmly made tackle in the flat or a risky catch across the middle.
While we will see the starters for possibly half of the game, the second half is equally as important for those fighting for a final spot. That being said, here are a few things to watch for in tomorrow’s game.
1. It is still undetermined what the split in playing time will be between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien. While Flynn (5-10, 49 yards) started last week’s game at Tennessee and was able to facilitate a quick, opening scoring drive, it was Tolzien (8-12, 124 yards) who looked more comfortable in the pocket and sharper on his throws. It’s unclear how close the battle for backup quarterback currently is, but Tolzien made a good case for himself in the driving rain of Nashville last week. If he’s to have a chance of jumping up to #2, he needs to do more of the same – if not better – this week since the starters will play a majority of the third pre-season game.
2. Keep an eye on the starting offensive line tomorrow as well. They will be battling the highly-touted D-line of the Rams, featuring defensive end Robert Quinn who posted 19 sacks last year – as well as three other first round draft picks. Guard T.J Lang commented, “It will be a good test up front to see where we’re at right now. Last week we only had eight plays against Tennessee in those conditions, and we’ve really been going against ourselves the last couple weeks.”
3. While concerns are being eased at the talent and depth at tight end, it’s still a battle for the starting spot. Andrew Quarless still sits at the top, but with Brandon Bostick and Richard Rogers hot on his tail. Watch to see how each player handles ideal field and weather conditions in the dome tomorrow to get a better sense of what each of them can bring to the table – particularly the speed and precision of their routes as well as how well they can hold onto the ball. This is a competition that intrigues me the most – but maybe that’s just because of the fantasy football impact that the eventual starter could bring to the table.
By Jon Meerdink
With one preseason game in the books, at least a few of the names on the Packers roster are starting to move, but not all of them. Unfortunately, some position groups are becoming even more muddled than they were to begin with. Let’s take another quick look at where the roster could stand just over three weeks from the first roster cutdown.
Analysis: Tolzien moves slightly ahead of Flynn with a strong showing in Saturday’s preseason game, but not by much. His arm strength was on display, while Flynn struggled against the wet conditions. That said, I still think the Packers could carry three quarterbacks. There’s enough breathing room elsewhere on the roster to make it a possibility.
Analysis: I’m backing off the first prediction of four backs on the roster, but at least one other position group could make four running backs a possibility. If there is a fourth running back, it’d be Rajion Neal, not LaDarius Perkins, at this point. Ina Liaina is big and runs angry, but he’s not quite enough to unseat John Kuhn, at least not this year.
Analysis: The first three are locks, and Ryan Taylor wins the fourth job by default. Jake Stoneburner didn’t flash in the preseason game, Justin Perillo is just a guy, and Colt Lyerla is hurt. Richard Rodgers was just as advertised in the first preseason game, so he retains his top spot.
Analysis: Three veterans and a draft pick all have their spots locked up. I think the fifth spot could go to Jeff Janis by default, simply because nobody else has been that impressive. It’s not for lack of opportunities either. Chris Harper had two big drops (on top of two big catches, to be fair) and Kevin Dorsey was just average on Saturday.
Analysis: Don Barclay‘s injury forces another addition to the o-line group. The Packers now have to keep a backup at both guard and tackle to make up for Barclay’s absence. Lane Taylor is the first guy up at this point, while Sherrod gains a little job security in Barclay’s absence. Corey Linsley sticks around as a backup center.
Analysis: Not a lot of mystery here. The three big guns (Raji, Daniels, Jones) are locked in. Boyd and Thornton are safe. The sixth spot is the only question mark, and the wide-bodied Mike Pennel occupied the most snaps on Saturday. It feels like it’s his job to lose. Flexibility at linebacker (Peppers, Neal, Perry) give the Packers the option of carrying only a few defensive linemen.
Analysis: The defense makes up some ground on the defensive line with the new elephant position. It seemed like a couple undrafted free agents might be pushing for playing time at inside linebacker, but Jake Doughty’s injury throws that into question. If Carl Bradford ever moves inside, it could open up a spot for an undrafted rookie at outside linebacker. Jayrone Elliot is a possibility.
Analysis: It’s possible I could be suffering from some recency bias, but man was it nice to see Jumal Rolle making a couple plays on Saturday. Micah Hyde‘s hybrid skills does make it possible that only five cornerbacks could make the final roster, but for now, let’s stick with six.
Analysis: Nothing too shocking here. Sean Richardson continues his stellar camp, while Hyde, Burnett, and Clinton-Dix all had their spots locked up from day one. If the Packers choose to go with five cornerbacks, the Chris Banjo could fill an extra safety spot here, or that roster spot could potentially end up being filled by a running back.
Analysis: No competition means no doubt here. These three roster spots are safe.
Conclusion: Injuries have forced a couple small shifts, but overall the roster seems surprisingly set. We could still seem a couple surprising shifts at running back, or perhaps even quarterback.
By Jon Meerdink
A bulldozing touchdown run is as good a way as any to “jump out” on film, and of all the rookies on the field in Nashville on Saturday, Rajion Neal certainly did the most to earn himself a little bit of an extra look.
Whether or not the coaching staff agrees is their business, but we can certainly look a little bit into the backstory and upside of the latest UDFA to star for the Packers (if you can indeed call it that during the preseason).
In a word, Rajion Neal is beefy. Not in the Eddie Lacy sense of the word, where some of the beef might be, well, not beef (if you catch my meaning), but more the extremely well-muscled sense. At 5-11, 220, Neal is the second heaviest back on the Packers roster, and of all the undrafted free agent running backs (along with Michael Hill, LaDarius Perkins), he comes the closest to passing the eyeball test: he looks like an NFL running back.
After a productive senior season, Neal entered the draft as CBS’s 17th ranked running back. Scouts praised his build, along with his power and pass catching and quick feet. He played out a spread offense with zone blocking elements in college, and most scouting reports out there suggest he’d likely do well in a similar system in the pros.
However, Neal’s power and size comes at a cost, as he’s not the swiftest back in the world. He’s not a plodder, but clocking a 4.48 on the high end puts you pretty far from the front of the pack. Scouts have also criticized his one-cut running style, although that can be a pretty minor concern. Ryan Grant was a classic one-cut runner who churned out three productive seasons in Green Bay.
The physical tools are there, but Neal is likely facing the biggest problems from numbers: he’s no higher than fourth on the depth chart at the moment and it could be a stretch for the Packers to keep four running backs and John Kuhn. That said, it’s not impossible for DuJuan Harris to lose his job, and if he would happen to do so, Neal likely would be the guy to take it from him.
“I want somebody to jump out,” said Mike McCarthy in his news conference Thursday. “To do what they’re supposed to do where they’re saying ‘I deserve more opportunities.”
That, in a nutshell, is exactly what preseason football is all about. Sure, there’s guys who have their spots completely sewn up, but for everybody else, this is time to get noticed, hopefully for good reasons. Here are four guys I think have a good shot at being the first to jump out this week.
1. Kevin Dorsey – The second year wide receiver has been all over the field in practice, and with Jared Abbrederis to miss the year with his knee injury, a spot may have just opened up on the bottom of the Packers’ wide receiver depth chart. Dorsey is bigger than Myles White, more consistent than Chris Harper, and could get a leg up on both those two and the rest of the less-established receivers with a good performance in the first preseason game.
2. Sean Richardson - A year removed from starting the season on the PUP list, Richardson has been the toast of camp, flashing around the ball and picking off passes. His physical traits are still jaw-dropping, and it’ll be interesting to see what he can do in an actual game setting. A solid performance could sew up a roster spot for the big safety.
3. Mike Pennel – Paul Imig of Fox Sports has the mountainous Mike Pennel making the Packers roster as their sixth defensive lineman in his first roster projection, and it’s easy to guess why: he’s freaking enormous. That’s why I used the word “mountainous” to describe him. But seriously, he’s 6-4 and 332 pounds, which makes him the second heaviest lineman behind B.J. Raji. With fellow behemoths Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly out to pasture, Pennel could have the opportunity to bring some bulk to the line if he can show some movement up front. He’ll get his first opportunity tonight.
4. Derek Sherrod – It’s now or never four Sherrod, who should have every possible opportunity to show what he can do with Don Barclay done for the year. Sherrod has the opportunity to be the Packers’ top backup at both tackle spots, but he has to show at least a reasonable approximation of the skill that made him a first round pick. Just something. Please. Anything, really.
By Jon Meerdink
It goes pretty much without saying that the 2013 version of the Green Bay Packers was not good enough to win a Super Bowl. The offense was too unimaginative, the defense too limited, and the quarterback situation too injured. It just wasn’t going to happen.
But how much better do the 2014 Packers need to be to be Super Bowl contenders?
I did a quick study on a few of the key stats from the last 20 Super Bowl winners to see if we could get an idea. 20 teams is still a pretty small sample size, but I think it should at least give us a reasonable profile of what a Super Bowl winner looks like.
For time purposes, I couldn’t do an exhaustive breakdown of the complete statistical record of every team, but I looked at the five I thought would give us the best idea where the Packers stacked up: points scored, points allowed, point differential, turnovers, and takeaways.
Here’s a chart of the last 20 winners and how the Packers compared.
Let’s get the obvious talking point out of the way: the Packers allowed too many points and turned the ball over too many times, and didn’t force enough turnovers. The question is, how much do those measures need to improve for the Packers to be a real Super Bowl contender?
Point differential is likely the best place to start, but that’s a multifaceted issue. Despite a 2-5-1 stretch without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers still managed to stay nearly even with their opponents. The average Super Bowl winner however, beat their opponents by an average of 8.9 points per game, a significantly better mark than the Packers, although that mark can hardly be blamed on the Packers offense, which was still top ten in the league in scoring.
How can the Packers narrow that gap? Forcing more turnovers would be an obvious starting point. Your opponent can’t score when he doesn’t have the ball (duh), and a turnover frequently puts your offense in position to score more easily than otherwise (duh, again).
The Packers can also improve their differential by scoring more, but that’s a tall order. There’s less room for improvement on that side of the ball, which makes it difficult to rely on the offense for the necessary improvement to improve the Packers’ point differential. However, with the return of Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have the potential to field their most potent (and balanced, with Mr. Lacy’s running) offense in quite some time.
If Green Bay can add just two points per game on offense, that eases the burden on the defense, but not by much. It still leaves about six points per game for the Packers to make up the difference in average point differential and where the Packers were last year. That’s doable, but it’s a tall order, and it would still put the Packers among the most generous teams in term of points allowed for Super Bowl contenders.
All this makes me a little bit concerned about the chances for the Packers’ overall success in 2014. They may not be quite ready yet to make the leap to Super Bowl contender, but there’s a slight ray of hope. Recent Super Bowl winners have a far narrower point differential than the 20 year average. That means the Packers need to improve slightly less over last year to be a contender. Perhaps having an elite quarterback for an entire season is the edge they need.
By Jon Meerdink
This time next year, the Green Bay Packers could look remarkably different, and it’s all thanks to free agency.
Or guys heading to free agency, rather.
Thirteen players will be up for new deals after this season, including five starters. Not all of them can return, but to stay competitive the Packers have to fit at least a few of them under the cap. Let’s take a quick look at all 13.
1. Randall Cobb – WR – If there’s any impending free agent that must be re-signed, it’s Cobb. Playmakers that can strike from multiple positions are rare finds, and Cobb certainly has that kind of ability. We talked a bit earlier this week about what sort of salary Cobb could command, which could be considered good news. Cobb has to be a priority. Let’s hope the Packers can get it done. I think it’s likely the front office makes it happen.
2. Bryan Bulaga – RT – Bulaga started his career strong, but he’s battled injuries each of his last three seasons. It’s hard to say exactly how good Bulaga is, since we haven’t really seen him at full strength for a full season since 2010. His injuries might drive down Bulaga’s price a little bit, but if he has a strong, full year this year, he could command a more premium price.
3. B.J. Raji – DT – “The Freezer” famously turned down an $8 million a year offer midseason last year, and unless he puts together a ridiculous season he almost certainly will not see something close to that number again. However, if Raji performs this year, he could price himself out of the Packers’ range. Now, on the other hand, if Raji plays like an average starting defensive tackle, he still could be a worth keeping, but with a lower price tag…and appropriately lowered expectations.
4. Tramon Williams – CB – Williams has not lived up to the deal he signed after his breakout 2010 season, but he is still a pretty decent starter. If he’s willing to come back at a significantly lower salary, Williams might be one of Ted Thompson‘s rare over-30 signings. If I had to guess, though, I’d say ascending younger players might force him out.
5. John Kuhn – FB – Folk hero, short yardage back, heroic block-thrower…and 31 year old fullback. John Kuhn is a bit of a mystery. He’s a cerebral pass blocker, an experienced run blocker…and a 31 year old fullback. His value is constantly mitigated by the fact that he’s an aging player at a dying position. Kuhn might mean more to the Packers than anybody else, but determining what that number is will go a long way to sorting out Kuhn’s future. If I had to guess, I’d say he comes back on a year-by-year basis.
6. Derek Sherrod – LT – Sherrod has been a three season mystery. He couldn’t beat out Marshall Newhouse as a rookie, then shattered his leg and missed two seasons. Sherrod has great physical gifts, and could represent a solid, affordable backup if he could show some of the potential that made him a first round pick. I think he’s back next year.
7. Matt Flynn – QB – Like Kuhn, Flynn is probably worth more to the Packers than to anybody else. He doesn’t practice well, he has limited physical abilities, and at 29 he’s as good of a player as he’s ever going to be. His future with the Packers might depend on what Scott Tolzien does this year.
8. Scott Tolzien – QB – Tolzien’s future depends less on Flynn and more than what he does during training camp. He has to show that he’s making the most of his physical tools. If Tolzien can demonstrate a command of the offense and a skillset that makes full use of his big arm, he could be back on a team-friendly deal. If he doesn’t, the Packers may be looking for multiple backup quarterbacks next offseason.
9. Davon House – CB - House is playing the best football of his career, and his previous underachievement could drive his price down. House is still young, still physically talented, and could still play a role in the Packers’ defense in the future. I think he’s back next year.
10. Jarrett Bush – CB – Bush keeps on keepin’ on, but he’s not getting any younger. He’s pretty much a one-dimensional special teamer at this point of his career, and if the Packers could find someone to duplicate his insane drive to succeed, even in the little things, he could become expendable. But…I think he’s coming back. He’ll be affordable and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting all the time.
11. Jamari Lattimore – ILB – His spot on this year’s roster is hardly guaranteed, and even if he does make the team, this is a “prove it” year for Lattimore. He’s not especially big or fast, but he plays tenaciously in spurts. He could be an affordable, stop-gap option next year.
12. Ryan Taylor – TE – Like Lattimore, Taylor doesn’t have a guaranteed spot, and even if he makes the roster, Taylor just isn’t that unique. It’s hard to see him staying around, even with his special teams contributions.
13. Letroy Guion – DT – Guion is a replacement level tackle. It’s hard to see him coming back next season.
Obvious statement alert: the vast majority of the players currently on the Packers’ roster will be all but an afterthought less than a month from now. 37 men have to be cut by the time the Packers piece together their final roster, and not even all 53 of those jobs are safe as the season goes along.
For many players, this is as close to NFL stardom as they’ll ever get. Toiling away in July, far from the bright lights of Monday Night Football and light years from the big stage of the Super Bowl, most of the names on the roster will be barely a footnote in the history of the Green Bay Packers.
Alex Gillett is one of those names.
It’s important to remember that virtually everybody on roster right now was one of the two or three best players on their college team, and before that they were likely the best on their high school teams, perhaps even one of the best in their whole state at the high school level.
Alex Gillett was one of those players.
His senior year of high school, Gillett was named the Player of the Year by his local newspaper, the Sandusky Register, and for good reason. An option quarterback, Gillett posted a monster season, passing for 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushing for 1,689 yards and a whopping 29 touchdowns. Here’s just a glimpse of what he accomplished.
Gillett’s dual threat ways continued at Eastern Michigan. While never dominant and rarely even a standout, Gillett was a versatile threat, rushing for 1,138 yards and 7 touchdowns, catching 14 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, and completing 154 passes for 2,052 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Again, never dominant, not terribly spectacular, but impressively versatile. Take a look:
Despite all that versatility, though, Gillett is just a guy in Green Bay. Receivers that can throw passes are unique in college, but an afterthought in the NFL. Gillett suffers under the curse of being a good football player, but not one who is big or fast or strong.
Gillett is back for his second go-round in Packers camp. He is one of 11 wide receivers on the roster presently, and by all accounts he’d need a miracle to make the cut. Three roster spots are occupied by returning veterans (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jarrett Boykin), three more are taken up by draft picks from this year (Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Jeff Janis), another belongs to a draft pick from last year (Kevin Dorsey), two more are guys who spent time on the active roster last year (Myles White and Chris Harper), and the other belongs to a recently signed guy (Gerrard Sheppard) who is bigger and faster than Gillett.
And yet still he’s there. He’s practicing with the team, making money playing football, and getting some great life experiences. For all intents and purposes, he’s in the NFL.
He’s a lot closer than I’ll ever be.
By Jon Meerdink
Who am I kidding? It’s never too early to make a prediction on who’s going to make the final roster. We don’t know much about the rookies yet. We don’t know what veterans are going to fade through camp. We don’t know about the undrafted free agents.
What we do know is that predictions are fun, and totally unfounded predictions are always hilarious to look back on later. Let’s give it a shot.
Analysis: No real surprises here. I think Mike McCarthy and Company would really like Tolzien to win the number two job. He has a higher ceiling and probably has a bigger future with the Packers than Flynn.
Running Backs/Fullbacks (5)
Analysis: On a total gut feeling, I think the Packers could keep four true running backs in addition to John Kuhn. Today, that random fourth back is mighty-mite LaDarius Perkins, who makes DuJuan Harris look big by comparison.
Analysis: The Packers’ three holdovers from last season have their spots locked up, as does second round pick Davante Adams. Abbrederis has always proved doubters wrong, and it would not be at all surprising to see him overcome any size or speed limitations to snag a spot. Last year’s seventh round pick bumps Jeff Janis (who’s already missing too much practice) for now, but that spot is very fluid. Be careful Kevin.
Tight Ends (4)
Analysis: Richard Rodgers locks up the top spot, but Bostick and Quarless give versatile, veteran support. Taylor could be supplanted by Stoneburner or Perillo if they show something resembling his special teams acumen. The Colt Lyerla redemption project heads to the practice squad for now.
Offensive Line (8)
Analysis: Again, no real surprises here. The five starters are all but set in stone and Don Barclay is the top backup at both tackle and guard. Corey Linsley provides great strength at center, and Derek Sherrod has just enough potential left to justify one last shot.
Defensive Line (7)
Analysis: Beyond the top five names, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. Worthy remains a question mark. Mike Pennel is enormous. Letroy Guion is a free agent acquisition, but the Vikings didn’t exactly put a huge amount of effort into keeping him. Some roster churn seems probable.
Analysis: This is where extremely early predictions go awry. Notice that there’s virtually changeover from last year, aside form Julius Peppers joining the group. There’s no Andy Mulumba, no Nate Palmer, no undrafted free agents either inside or outside. If you were to skim a roster spot from the running backs, it’d go here. I could also see the team cutting down on defensive linemen in favor of a lighter, faster scheme. Who knows? I guarantee that this is one of the position groups I have completely wrong, but that’s what these things are for!
Analysis: Not too complicated here. Micah Hyde‘s slide to safety makes this a relatively easy group to predict. As much as the Packers might like to see someone jump into Jarrett Bush’s spot, I don’t think there’s someone who can unseat him just yet.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Analysis: Burnett is the only guaranteed starter here, but Hyde and Clinton-Dix are both assured roster spots. Richardson remains an intriguing prospect because of his physical gifts, but his roster spot is far from guaranteed.
Overall, I feel pretty good about this prediction, but there are almost surely a couple areas where this roster isn’t quite perfect. Looking back now, keeping four running backs may not be a luxury the Packers can afford. Linebackers and linemen make the 3-4 go, and there are only 15 in this group. We’ll make another prediction in a couple weeks.