The Last Stand of Carl Bradford

Will the real Carl Bradford please stand up?

Will the real Carl Bradford please stand up?

By Jon Meerdink

In more ways than one, Carl Bradford is this year’s Johnathan Franklin. A fourth round pick, lacking ideal size for his position, Bradford, like Franklin, was expected to add depth and flair to a position in need of a shot in the arm. Instead, like Franklin, Bradford has slogged through and underwhelming and, at times, all together invisible preseason.

He’s struggled to the point that the Packers have moved him to inside linebacker. Some scouts thought he was better suited to that position from the get go, but the Packers kept him outside for the first few weeks of camp. Perhaps they thought he was better suited to that position. Perhaps they didn’t think he could make the switch. Whatever the case, such a late move seems more like desperation than an honest evaluation of his skills.

On the most basic level, Bradford does look the part of an inside linebacker. He’s the same height as A.J. Hawk, albeit 17 pounds heavier. He projects a physical presence more like San Francisco’s NaVorrow Bowman (6-0, 242) or Buffalo’s Brandon Spikes (6-2, 255) than an outside pass rusher, where long-limbed, rangy athletes are the norm.

Skill-wise, it looks like he’s also got a shot. Almost every scouting report out there describes him as a playmaker with a nose for the football. The descriptors are almost stunning in some instances: “shows an explosive burst to close emphatically,” “plays with urgency and beelines to the ball,”knifes into inside gaps with initial quickness, can be disruptive shooting gaps.”

Obviously, those are all attributes you’d like to see from any player, not just an inside linebacker, but we haven’t seen anything resembling that in the first three preseason games, where NFL.com credits him with just one tackle in three combined performances playing outside. Unless he truly flashes something fantastic and unexpected at middle linebacker tonight, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll still be with the team next week in Seattle.

But still, there’s the chance that we just haven’t seen the real Carl Bradford yet. Scouts don’t just give empty praise to give it. There’s something there. Perhaps he can still be that relentless, attacking player. Maybe the guy that shows up on the highlights is still out there somewhere, waiting for that place to play. Maybe inside linebacker is that place for Carl Bradford.

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An NFL Minor League?

By Jon Meerdink

In my day job, I occasionally get access to some cool people. This week, I got to have a pretty decent chat with the commissioner of the FXFL, better known as the Fall Experimental Football League. Brian Woods went relatively in depth for his with his vision for the league, which eventually includes something of a symbiotic relationship with the NFL, providing a true minor league for player, coach, and referee development.

Give it a listen. Do you think this concept can work?

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A Cut Day Roster Prediction

Carl Bradford: in or out?

Carl Bradford: in or out?

By Jon Meerdink

Today is cutdown day number one, so let’s take a quick look at who’s in and who’s out as we head toward the final roster.

Quarterbacks (3) – Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien
Analysis: It’s not impossible that the Packers will keep just two quarterbacks. I just haven’t seen a good reason to keep someone else in favor of doing so. If you have good quarterbacks, you might as well keep them.

Running Backs (4) – Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn
Analysis: 
Rajion Neal was an enticing prospect for that one game, but his knee injury has rendered him a non-factor since then. I think the Packers like their three-headed running back monster and are content with DuJuan Harris returning kicks. This group is set.

Tight Ends (4) – Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Jake Stoneburner
Analysis: Bostick’s injury complicates this decision a little bit. I think the Packers go with Stoneburner’s pass catching over Ryan Taylor’s special teams acumen at to shore up for the loss of Bostick in the short term. Everything else is set.

Wide Receiver (5) – Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis
Analysis: Unless the Packers surprise everyone and keep six wide receivers, this group is set in stone. Janis has shown too much to sneak him onto the practice squad, and no one else has really made it a hard decision to keep just five. If the Packers kept six, Kevin Dorsey would be next up.

Offensive Line (8) – David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, J.C. Tretter, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Derek Sherrod, Corey Linsley, Lane Taylor,
Analysis: I think Lane Taylor is the only real question mark here. If there’s another guard the Packers like better, they might keep that option over Taylor, but it’s hard to say without an in dept analysis. Derek Sherrod’s physical gifts are still superior to any of the other backup tackles in camp, and even if he’s not Don Barclay, he’s probably still better than anybody else. Corey Linsley slides into the starting center spot with Tretter’s injury, and he may never get it back if he shows a command of the offense in Tretter’s absence.

Defensive line (6) - Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Khyri Thornton, Mike PennelLetroy Guion
Analysis: Daniels, Boyd, and Jones will probably be your Week 1 starters along the defensive front, with Letroy Guion and Mike Pennel providing depth as necessary. Khyri Thornton remains the big question mark. At the beginning of camp, I had him pegged as Josh Boyd 2.0. Physically, they’re almost the identical, but I can’t think of one thing I’ve seen Thornton do in any one of the three preseason games. He’s been invisible, which is a heck of an accomplishment for a 300 pound man.

Linebackers (11) – Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Carl Bradford, Jayrone Elliot, Sam Barrington, Andy Mulumba
Analysis: 
The vast majority of the linebacker spots are no-brainers. Carl Bradford, though, is not. I want to believe the Packers won’t cut him, but really I have no concrete reason to keep him on this list. I know Ted Thompson is loathe to cut draft picks (no matter what he might say), but Bradford has been an unmitigated disaster at outside linebacker. If they really thought of him as an inside linebacker, I feel like they’d have made the switch much earlier. He’d better go gangbusters on Thursday, or he’ll find himself out of a job.

Cornerbacks (5) – Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Jarrett Bush
Analysis: A great effort by Jumal Rolle, but I think he’s headed for the practice squad. Demetri Goodson is headed somewhere else, so there’s at least one draft pick who won’t be making the roster. Other than that, no surprises.

Safeties (4) – Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson

Specialists (3) – Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode
Analysis: No challenges to anybody means no changes. Barring injury, these are set for the far foreseeable future.

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Quick Thoughts on B.J. Raji

B.J. Raji has been lost for the year. How will the Packers fare in his absence?

B.J. Raji has been lost for the year. How will the Packers fare in his absence?

By Jon Meerdink

Multiple sources are now reporting that defensive tackle B.J. Raji has been lost for the season due to a torn biceps. Obviously, this is a huge blow to the defensive line, both from a talent standpoint and as far as the depth along the defensive line. Here are three quick thoughts on the situation

1. This may make Raji’s return next year more likely.

Raji famously turned down a megadeal toward the middle of last season that would have paid him in the neighborhood of $8 million a year. That deal came off the table as his play declined, and he ended up returning on a one year, $4 million “prove it” deal. Well, there’s no chance to prove anything now, so Raji may find himself in the same boat next year. This injury puts Raji’s contract situation in a holding pattern now, since he has no chance to show he’s worth more than the deal he was supposed to play on this year.

2. Mike Pennel’s roster spot is now guaranteed.

Regardless of his performance in last night’s game, Pennel is the only true big body remaining on the Packers’ roster. Space eaters are a requirement along the front of a 3-4, and other than Raji, Pennel is the only one that exceeds 330 pounds. Sign him up coach, he’s ready to go.

3. Paging Mr. Pickett. Mr Pickett, please report to the Lambeau Field atrium.

Quick, name a big-bodied defensive lineman who’s a free agent that’s familiar with the 3-4 defense and has played in Green Bay before. There’s two, obviously: Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly. If the Packers make a move to pick up a new lineman, it’s almost assuredly going to be one of these two, and of the two, Pickett is the one not recovering from offseason neck surgery. I’m not saying it’s imminent or even likely, but if the Packers want to pick someone up quickly, it’s Pickett.

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Four Things to Watch Tonight

MicahHyde

Micah Hyde has played pretty well at safety, and how he plays tonight could affect the position in a big way moving forward.

By Jon Meerdink

A long, long time ago, in a training camp far away, we previewed four guys who could jump out during the first preseason game. Given the more “normal” flavor of tonight’s preseason game, here’s four things to watch for tonight instead.

1. Backup tackles bouncing back – First Derek Sherrod was good. Then Derek Sherrod was bad. First Aaron Adams was good. Then Aaron Adams was bad. Which pair of backup tackles will we get tonight? That’s tough to say, but it’d do a lot for the Packers’ peace of mind to know they could count on one or both Sherrod or Adams in a pinch.

This is the effect that Don Barclay‘s injury. It’s almost a guarantee that the Packers won’t make it through the entire season with their whole line intact. At some point, Sherrod, Adams, or someone else will have to to step in. Who that person is could be determined tonight.

2. Wide receivers battling – As many as five wide receivers could be said to be seriously contending for the Packers fifth wide receiver spot. Jeff Janis seems to have the clubhouse lead right now, but Kevin Dorsey, Chris Harper, Myles White, and Alex Gillett each have their own merits, too.

While the backups may not get as much time as normal, this is actually a good time to see who could be making a play for the fifth receiver spot. Special teams contributions make or break roster spots at the bottom of the depth chart, so pay special attention to who of the backup receivers shows up on punt and kick return and coverage for a good idea of who the coaches like.

3. Sorting out the safeties – The Packers have played mix-and-match at safety throughout training camp because – hold on to your hats – they actually have a bunch of good-to-above-average safeties. This is a good problem to have. It’s much better to have to figure out who your top guys on when you have a bunch of guys who could be top guys than to try to just put two competent guys on the field. But that’s obvious.

Anyhow, figuring out when and how the safeties will be used will be an interesting challenge for the defensive staff. Tonight could give us a couple of hints as to how it’s going to play out. It may also give us a good look of how things shouldn’t play out, which is fine too. It’s all about finding out what goes where.

4. Who returns what? – This sort of relates to point number two, but I’m putting it here anyway. Special teams contributions could have big ramifications for other positions, and the most obvious special teams contribution you can make is grabbing a kick and running with it. DuJuan Harris has more or less grabbed hold of the kick return job, but should someone else get a shot, we may end up with a suddenly interesting battle at a different position.

Hypothetically, let’s say Kevin Dorsey went and had himself a great night returning kickoffs. (There’s no reason to think this will happen, but for the sake of argument, imagine that it does.) Does that help him get a leg up on Jeff Janis for the number five receiver spot? Could the Packers keep six receivers? The return game matters, and if someone unexpected returns well, things could get interesting elsewhere.

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The (Possibly Fake) Mailbag

Brandon Bostick may be out until the start of the regular season. Will that affect things at tight end?

Brandon Bostick may be out until the start of the regular season. Will that affect things at tight end?

By Jon Meerdink

Everybody in the world does a mailbag column. Bill Simmons probably did them well before just about anybody else. A couple other Packers blogs do them. Vic Ketchman does them. Mailbags are everywhere

However, despite the fact The Packer Perspective has our very own email address, Twitter, and Facebook page, not one person has ever asked me a question. I’ve never asked anybody to ask me a question, but for the sake of this post, that’s beside the point. Anyhow, in a fit of mailbag envy, I’ve decided to put together a mailbag column. The questions may be fake, but the answers will be real. On to your (fake) questions!

Are the Packers still behind the Seahawks and 49ers? Have they closed the gap at all in the NFC?
Mike M. in Green Bay

It’s hard to say if the Packers have actually closed the gap, but I think if there still is a gap, it’s narrower than it was last season, and I think injuries might be the biggest reason. The Packers have famously been gutted by injuries the last two or three years, so it seems like they’ll get back on the right track sooner or later in that department. They’ve always been as deep of a team as anybody else, so maybe if the top end of the roster actually manages to stay on the field, they’ll be able to make a serious run at closing the gap.

Should any Packers veterans be worried about losing their jobs? I’m specifically thinking about linebackers who wear numbers in the upper 50’s. But not for any specific reason.
Brad J. in Green Bay

It might be a little surprising, but I don’t think any starters, even veteran starters, are in danger of losing their jobs or roster spots. The only immediately obvious position of weakness on the Packers’ roster right now is inside linebacker, and I”m not convinced that Jamari Lattimore or Sam Barrington are enough of an upgrade over A.J. Hawk or Brad Jones to make the move.

The only other position where I could see some turnover would be running back, and with Rajion Neal’s injury keeping him out for a while yet, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to make a serious run at DuJuan Harris‘s job.

Any Chance The Packers Could Sign A New Tight End? I Think They Could Use Some Help There Still.
JF in Texas

Even with Brandon Bostick possibly out until the start of the regular season, I think the Packers are set at tight end. Richard Rodgers has been as good as advertised, and there’s just enough other adequate talent on the roster to make a move unnecessary.

Will the Packers go light on the defensive line? I’ve seen some roster projections with the Packers only keeping six defensive linemen.
Letroy in some place that totally isn’t Green Bay

I think it’s almost a guarantee that the Packers only keep six defensive linemen, and it’s because of the flexibility afforded by guys like Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, and Nick Perry. All three of those guys are virtually linemen already. I think Mike Pennel makes it, but he’s unique. He has unusual physical gifts, which is what you need if you’re only going to keep a small number at a specific position.

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Jordan’s Trip to Training Camp

Our Jordan Huenink made a pilgrimage to Green Bay for training camp this month. Here’s some of what he saw.

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Cruisin’ in the STL

RodgersRefBy Jordan Huenink

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.

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Pre-Season Preview: Week 2 @ STL

Scott Tolzien could feature prominently in this weekend's preseason game.

Scott Tolzien could feature prominently in this weekend’s preseason game.

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.

 

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(Another) Way Too Early Roster Prediction

DuJuan Harris has some competition for his roster spot. Does he make it?

DuJuan Harris has some competition for his roster spot. Does he make it?

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.

Quarterbacks (3)
Aaron Rodgers
Scott Tolzien
Matt Flynn

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.

Running backs/fullbacks (4)
Eddie Lacy
James Starks
DuJuan Harris
John Kuhn

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.

Tight End (4)
Richard Rodgers

Andrew Quarless
Brandon Bostick
Ryan Taylor

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.

Wide Receiver (5)
Jordy Nelson
Randall Cobb
Jarrett Boykin
Davante Adams
Jeff Janis

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.

Offensive Line (8)
David Bakhtiari
Josh Sitton
J.C. Tretter
T.J. Lang
Bryan Bulaga
Derek Sherrod
Lane Taylor
Corey Linsley

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.

Defensive Line (6)
B.J. Raji
Mike Daniels
Datone Jones
Josh Boyd
Khyri Thornton
Mike Pennel

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.

Linebackers (10)
Clay Matthews
Julius Peppers
A.J. Hawk
Brad Jones
Mike Neal
Nick Perry
Jamari Lattimore
Carl Bradford
Nate Palmer
Sam Barrington

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.

Cornerback (6)
Sam Shields
Tramon Williams
Casey Hayward
Davon House
Jarrett Bush
Jumal Rolle

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.

Safety (4)
Micah Hyde

Morgan Burnett
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
Sean Richardson

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.

Specialists (3)
Mason Crosby
Tim Masthay
Brett Goode

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.

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