Wednesday, August 27, 2003

The Akili Smith era is over. It's not too surprising after he played awful on Saturday and threw an interception returned for a touchdown against Carolina's backups, especially considering Doug Pederson and Craig Nall both have played better this preseason and both would be more likely to be able to step in as a starter than Smith. Some team might take him on as a number 3 QB but he would be better off on the practice squad for the Packers and learn how to play QB by watching Brett Favre. It is obvious Smith hasn't learned how to play the position, but I can't imagine his agent will let Smith sign up to anyone's practice squad. Tyrone Davis got cut too, which I feel is long overdue. He showed some promise in Mike Holmgren's last year (yes that long ago) but didn't live up to expectations and kept getting injured. This moment was inevitable the moment Wesley Walls signed. Steve Warren got cut which surprised me, because the Packers just signed Larry Smith for some emergency depth at defensive tackle and if one of the two got cut I would thought it would be Smith. This would have been Warren's fourth year with the club, but he has missed most of that time with injuries, notably a torn muscle that kept him out for over a year. But Warren has been working in the system for a while, so it must have just been obvious that Smith is a superior player.

Monday, August 25, 2003 Panthers style! I wasn't able to watch the Packers game vs. Carolina, nor get a sneak peek at the remodeled Lambeau, but I didn't miss much either. The Panthers offense is offensive and unable to run or pass the ball effectively, and the Panthers defensive line is one of the best, and probably the best young defensive line, in football. Three guys (Peppers, Rucker, and Jenkins) have 10 sack potential and are effective against the run too. Off the top of my head, as long as Simeon Rice continues to hold up against the run, only the Bucs defensive line is better than the Panthers. The Packers had trouble moving the ball against the Panthers just like the rest of the NFL will have problems with them all year long, unless the offense against the Panthers has an effective scheme and game plan devised against it, while the Packers aren't showing any of their tricks on offense in the preseason. Ahman Green scored the lone touchdown and it sounds like he is completely healthy which is great news. Akili Smith struggled big in the game, but that is why he has to be number 3 behind Craig Nall or Doug Pederson. Smith doesn't know how to read and react to NFL defenses. That is why the Bengals got rid of him. I was afraid that Smith had lost all of his physical ability to play QB but he has proved to me this preseason that he has a great arm and good footwork, he just needs to learn how to play QB in the NFL, which, not surprisingly considering his entire career up to now has been with the Bengals, he hasn't learned yet. I am looking forward to what Smith will show next preseason. The Packers made a great move by trading for Scott McGarrahan. McGarrahan will not play much on defense but was huge for the Packers on special teams in his first tenure with the team. He seemed to be involved on every special teams tackle. Special teams last year was a weak link in last year's team, and this is the biggest improvement to the unit in the last year. Really. The defense got a bye this week vs. the anemic Panthers offense so it will be important for Ed Donatell to put his opening game defense on the field vs. Tennessee this week to show that they are ready, or it could be like last year where the defense gave up a lot of points to Atlanta and New Orleans in the regular season before they finally put it all together.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

A couple of notes on this week. Gilbert Brown is coming back and playing through the injury? At best I would imagine he would be playing with one arm, but the Packers have a couple more weeks of camp to determine if that is realistic. Larry Smith is an interesting signing, but Jacksonville wouldn't give up on a former 2nd round pick if he wasn't useful. Maybe he just needs a second chance, and at least he appears to be healthy. Robert Ferguson won the job for #2 WR but there is some degree of winning by default. Javon Walker hasn't looked good in preseason. All the speculation regarding Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher's availability appear to be over since they have finally gotten on the field in the preseason. All that appears left to be sorted out is who is playing where in the secondary, who is going to be healthy enough to play on the defensive line, and making sure the special teams are ready for opening day.

Monday, August 18, 2003

I blew it and missed the first half against the Cleveland Browns on Friday night. I missed the Packers offense looking good and the defense looking bad.

Third Quarter: The Steves (Warren and Martin) have an impact. Neither one is good enough to start but both are solid depth and a reason why the Packers second team defense looked better against Cleveland's second teamers then the Packers first teamers did against Cleveland's first team. Nice drive single handed by Herbert Goodman, but he still won't make the roster, unless Lamar Smith just looks done. Nick Luchey got some time at RB which surprised me, and Phil Simms got excited and compared him to Jerome Bettis. Luchey is still over 260 lbs. and just doesn't move that well like an Ahman Green, but he did have a nice touchdown run showing quick feet to the hole and he might become the short yardage back and take away valuable fantasy football TDs from Green. Jamal Reynolds is showing a nice speed rush to the QB but he can't stop the run. James Jackson got Cleveland's biggest rush of the second half through the whole vacated by Reynolds. Craig Nall has not impressed me this preseason, mostly because he is holding the ball too long against second team rushers. He isn't ready to be the #2 guy. Marques Anderson is still in the game which is proof he has completely lost the starting job to Antuan Edwards; no other projected starters are still in the game. I've liked Edwards when I have seen him play in past seasons, once he got a couple games under his belt each year, which was easier said then done due to his frequent injuries, and I don't have any problem with him starting as long as a reliable backup, Anderson, is on the roster too for the inevitable Edwards injury protection. Anderson was in the game and took a bad angle on a short yardage screen pass, allowing a touchdown (that wasn't a touchdown because Cleveland's RB stepped out of bounds but it still counts). Packers 31, Browns 28.

Fourth Quarter: Jamal Reynolds still can't stop the run. This was Akili Smith's quarter. He was playing against a bunch of guys that probably won't make Cleveland's roster, but he looked good. Much better than I expected. He probably doesn't know the offense, he missed all the mini camps, but he showed me that he can play, and the Packers probably have themselves a future starting QB. His feet looked good, his passes looked sharp with strong throws but with a light touch. He is still a work in progress, but he should be #3 this year and #2 next year if he keeps this up. Chris Johnson looks promising at cornerback, he got flagged for interference but he just got his right hand into the receiver's body which he will learn to avoid doing with more experience. Packers 38, Browns 31.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

And I missed the Bryant Westbrook season ending ruptured achilles, the second time that has happened in his career. I have heard of multiple knee and elbow injuries, but never multiple achilles ruptures. Unbelievable. The loss of Westbrook is a major blow to the defensive back depth, and although the starting positions are strong (Al Harris, Mike McKenzie, Darren Sharper, and Marquis Anderson) the top reserves are now the frequently injured Antuan Edwards and Bhawon Jue, with rookie Chris Johnson thrown into the mix. Westbrook was the best of that bunch. And what the hell was Chukie Nwokorie doing in Monday's practice that led to Craig Nall hyperextending his knee? Nwokorie was going full steam when the offense, including Ahman Green who was assigned to block Nwokorie, wasn't. Mike Sherman chewed out Nwokorie but if Jamal Reynolds can continue to show signs of life, this stunt by Nwokorie might have just cost him his job. This week has been a big set back for the Packers.

Monday, August 11, 2003

I missed the Packers preseason game at Atlanta on Saturday, not on TV in my area, but it sounded like a stinker. The special teams allowed big plays by Allen Rossum, and the defense couldn't recover from them allowing two early touchdowns, on what I would assume was the Packers first team defense. Yuck. It almost replayed like the wild card loss at Lambeau against these same Falcons; big special team plays, and no big plays on offense or defense put the Packers in a hole they couldn't come back from. They eventually came back to win this game, but neither team had a first team players left on the field at the end either. Maybe I would have felt better watching it, but reading the scoring drive descriptions and the box scores on left me disappointed. The team doesn't seem any better now then they were at the end of last year. Individual player notes: Torrence Marshall had a big game. I am really surprised, but he has finally come on after a couple of season's on the roster, similar to another linebacker the Packers drafted in the 3rd round a few years ago named Brian Williams. Marshall might keep his roster spot after all, which is good because the player he backs up, strongside linebacker Hannibal Navies, has had a history of injury problems. Bryant Westbrook is playing safety and he might make a good safety, but the Packers need a quality 3rd cornerback more than they need a quality 3rd safety, so I don't know if this is a good idea. Akili Smith, not surprisingly, did not have a good first game. I am still not a fan of Smith, and I would have like the Packers to have at least given Eric Crouch a chance before he quit on him. Crouch might not have been great, but neither the Packers nor Rams even gave him a chance at QB in a preseason game, and I would have liked to have seen him play. Could he have been worse than Smith's first couple of NFL seasons? Is Carl Ford the Packers best WR so far? That is really disappointing. I wouldn't be surprised if some "Antonio Freeman is coming in for a work out" rumours started up if Javon Walker continues to disappoint as he did for me in the game vs. Kansas City and Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson's injuries persist. Gilbert Brown; after the promise he showed in 1996, basically everything since has been a disappointment. Almost signing with Jacksonville, injuries, weight problems, almost signing with Washington, and now a possibly career ending injury. I didn't like Gilbert's 6 year deal he signed just a couple of weeks ago and I hate it now. Big Daddy Wilkenson's name has been mentioned as a possible signing, but anybody with some size and can plug the middle might be useful at this point. Better luck to the Packers next week. Three more preseason games to go to sort out the roster, defensive line starters, and starting wide receivers.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The Packers played their first preseason game yesterday and they looked in preseason form. A lot of players sitting out, including their best defender Darren Sharper, but I watch these games to see who is going to be making the second team.

First Quarter: I missed the first two "drives" by both teams so I didn't get to see Priest Holmes except on replay. Second offensive "drive" had poor tackle play with a Marcus Spriggs false start and Kevin Barry did a little matador blocking to allow a sack. That's why these guys are free talent playing on the second unit. Mike McKenzie and his twin brother Al Harris both defend lob passes from Trent Green. I am really looking forward to the McKenzie/Harris duo at cornerback this year, and I am expecting them to be the best pair of corners for the Packers that I have ever seen in person. Antonio Chapman has two returns so far and I would consider him to be the best returner the Packers have had since 2001 and Allen Rossum; that is how bad the return game was in 2002. Two 7th round picks in action; Chris Ford made a tough first down catch and Chris Johnson is getting a lot of playing time at corner. Packers 0, Chiefs 3.

Second Quarter: Jamal Reynolds sighting! Speed move ala KGB around right tackle Willie Jones for the sack. But both of Jamal's fans shouldn't get too excited as Marcus Wilkins abused Jones for two more sacks in the quarter before Jones suffered a dangerous neck injury so if the injury wouldn't have happened Jones probably was in danger of losing his roster spot. The last I heard Jones had movement in his hands and feet and hopefully he will recover completely. On the fumble caused by Reynolds' sack, Kenny Peterson recovered the football while playing at the tackle spot. I really like Peterson and I expect him to effectively replace Vonnie Holliday on the line. I don't remember Holliday's name getting called at all by the Chiefs tonight. Javon Walker doesn't look fluid running his routes; he isn't ready yet which is a real disappointment. I haven't seen Robert Ferguson yet due to his injury keeping him out, but it probably will be him or Karsten Bailey starting opposite Donald Driver on opening day. Davenport fumbled but his fumble was a non-fumble so it shouldn't hurt his backup status. Craig Nall did not look good at all; first he holds the ball too long and gets sacked and then he throws two interceptions (one disturbingly right threw Walker's hands, Walker is not ready). At this point I think he is trying too hard and I need to see him in more preseason games before I can consider him further. Tony Fisher gets a long gain on a screen pass but the Chiefs completely blew the coverage. Nick Barnett looked good and made two open field tackles in this quarter while I can't remember a single one by Hardy Nickerson until past midseason last year. Packers 0, Chiefs 6.

Third Quarter: Wilkens gets his third sack of the night, but the Chiefs backup tight end also got a big gain on what appeared to be a blown coverage and he might have been Wilkens' responsiblity. Larry Johnson is the Chiefs' fourth string running back? Why did they draft this guy in the first round when they could have upgraded their defense with the pick. Rain, rain, rain, rain...Oh well, at least we got to see some Packers football. Final Packers 0, Chiefs 9.

In summary it was a sloppy game but that's the preseason for you. Barnett, Harris, Wilkins impressed while Walker was the real disappointment. Four more preseason games to go to see who gets to keep his roster spot.
A little roster management first as the Packers sign tight end Wesley Walls for the veterans minimum. For the second week in a row the Packers beat out the Redskins for a free agent (has there been a free agent this year they haven't bid on this offseason?). Walls says he's healthy but the Panthers have probably heard that story before. Walls wasn't very good last year but he has been a big touchdown threat near the goal line and teamed in the red zone with Bubba Franks they could be the best tight end pair since Chmura and Jackson in 1996. Hopefully this means the five (or six?) year Tyrone Davis experiment can finally be ended.