Monday, August 29, 2005

Of the players cut after the disaster against New England, only G Matt O'Dwyer and LB Hannibal Navies were a surprise. Not too much of a surprise if you watched the New England game; I didn't see O'Dwyer at all and Navies didn't play until the 4th quarter.

O'Dwyer was signed to start at right guard, but 7th round pick G William Whitticker came out of nowhere to impress the team. O'Dwyer was slowed down by minor injuries and a tendency to draw a lot of penalties in the brief time he made it onto the field this preseason.

Navies played with the first team defense early in the preseason, but was pushed behind LB Ray Thompson and LB Paris Lenon as the preseason went on. Still, it was a surprise to see Navies demoted. With LB Na'il Diggs injured, possibly out for the season, and Lenon a constant target of abuse in pass defense (New England picked on Lenon for most of the 3rd quarter), keeping Navies around might have been valuable.
Packers 3, New England 27. Just an awful game. Bad 1st quarter special teams contributed to 10 early New England points. Frequent offensive turnovers. Far too many penalties. Poor run defense. Several key injuries during the game including WR Antonio Chatman, WR Javon Walker, DE KGB, and FS Nick Collins. It does not sound like the injuries are a cause for concern.

The major problem on offense was that QB Brett Favre wasn't in any rhythm, and that was as much to do with New England's great defense. Favre had three interceptions, one was called back on a penalty but it lead to the neck injury to Chatman. Was it bad routes by the receivers? Was it bad throws by Favre? It wasn't clear watching the game, but it looked more like poor routes by the receivers.

The run offense didn't have much success, but New England has an interesting 3-4 defense with essentially 3 nose tackles on the defensive line. If one team is built to stop the run in the NFL, it is New England.

QB Aaron Rodgers looked pretty good (for a rookie), once he stopped fumbling the snaps (he fumbled his first two snaps from center). Remember, Rodgers is a rookie quarterback, and most rookie quarterbacks are bad to awful, with only a few exceptions. He shouldn't look very good, yet.

G William Whitticker had won the starting right guard spot, but he might have lost it with his play against New England. His biggest sin was moving too far to his left on a pass play when the defensive lineman to Whitticker's left ran a stunt, ran around Whitticker's right side, and got a clean shot at Favre, leading to a painful grimmace from Favre. Whitticker can probably win the job with a solid last preseason game, otherwise G Grey Ruegamer will start. C Scott Wells had a lot of playing time backing up LG Adrian Klemm at left guard and might convince the Packers to move Klemm to right guard and let Wells start at left guard.

The Packers defense had some bright spots. FS Nick Collins started with the first team, and his biggest mistake was dropping an interception that would have stopped a New England TD drive. CB Ahmad Carroll played very well, although far too much taunting (calm down Ahmad!). CB Mike Hawkins backed up CB Al Harris again, but got burned on the 2nd quarter TD pass. CB Joey Thomas looked better as the 3rd cornerback. There are still a lot of question marks on the Packers overall, but the secondary has made a lot of progress this preseason.

So has P B.J. Sander. He launched some giant punts and has a lot of hang time. He has completely turned his career around, after spending the entire 2004 season inactive. He could be a valuable field position weapon in 2005.

The run defense looked awful. New England ran almost every run play right at Gbaja-Biamila and was most successful when DT Cullen Jenkins played next to him. The Packers are about 30 pounds heavier per player with DT Colin Cole and DE Aaron Kampman to the right side. Gbaja-Biamila had success on run defense when he was able to use his speed to run past the left tackle, but that rarely happened. DT Cletidus Hunt will play next to Gbaja-Biamila when he returns from his injury, so hopefully that will help. Defensive coordinator Jim Bates has to figure out how to stop teams from running right over Gbaja-Biamila.

WR Terrence Murphy (2nd round, 2005) hasn't played yet, and now Chatman and Walker got hurt. Walker's finger injury isn't as serious as Chatman's neck injury, but a finger injury for a wide receiver can't be a good thing. The wide receiver depth is now WR Donald Driver, WR Robert Ferguson, and you don't want to know. In one game, this position just became a problem.

Friday, August 26, 2005

$6 million signing bonus for Bubba? TE Bubba Franks finally signed a contract with the Packers after remaining a free agent ever since the Packers slapped the transition player tag on him back in March. The signing bonus is one of the top 5 largest signing bonus ever paid by the Packers, only QB Brett Favre, DE KGB, FS Darren Sharper and WR Antonio Freeman have ever gotten more. Should the Packers have paid this much for Bubba? If they had this much cap room available, should they have used it to try and resign G Marco Rivera or G Mike Wahle instead? Should they have used the money to cut and resign FS Darren Sharper?

Bubba is a three time Pro Bowl tight end. He has developed into a very good receiver after starting out in his rookie season with a bad case of the drops. He never has too many catches or too many receiving yards, but he always catches a few touchdowns, which may be more an indication of playing with a great quarterback. He is an excellent run blocker and deserves credit for contributing to the great Packer run offense in 2003 and pretty good run offense in 2004. He plays a position without a lot of depth around the NFL, and some teams seem plagued to never have a good tight end (Hello Chicago!) so it is probably a good idea to keep a good one once you've got him. He is only 28 years old and is likely to continue to play well for at least two more seasons.

However, Bubba had been a free agent for months now, and had not received an offer from any other team, as far as had been reported. If another team had signed Bubba, they wouldn't have had to pay any compensation for him, because the Packers only used the transition tag and not the franchise tag. Maybe teams weren't interested in pursuing Bubba because they knew the Packers would match any offer. Maybe no other team in the NFL was interested in Bubba. If the Packers had held a hard line for Bubba, what were his options? No other team appeared interested in signing him. Would he sit out a season? If Bubba had no other options and had to eventually sign with the Packers, why give him one of the richest deals in team history?

It is a mixed signing. There is a lot of good although it looks like the Packers didn't have to overpay for Bubba. Instead they gave him big money anyway. It is a good signing for the 2005 season, but the Packers might come to regret it by 2007 if Bubba doesn't age well. I have heard criticism on the radio by Peter King of SI that the Packers only spent $50,000 in signing bonuses this offseason on defensive players when they knew that their defense needed help. I didn't think they had the cap room for a multi-million signing bonus, but apparently they had it for Bubba, although most NFL teams only spend modest amounts on their tight ends. It seems like an odd allocation of money and cap room for a team tight against the salary cap.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Head coach Mike Sherman signed a two year extension. This is supposed to help a coach in two ways; first he gets a bunch of guaranteed money, and second he receives the all important vote-of-confidence. I don't quite understand how receiving a contract beyond the current season really helps his relationship with the players by showing confidence in your coach. In today's NFL, everyone is one injury or one bad game/decision away from unemployment. I still don't think it will help Sherman beyond this season. If the season goes bad, new GM Ted Thompson might put the blame on Sherman for the collapse or decide he really wants his own guy as head coach, and fire Sherman anyway; two years left on his contract or not.

And NT Grady Jackson might be able to play! One of these weeks. His knee still isn't good enough to pass a physical. Who knows.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Packers 7, Buffalo 27. I didn't watch the game so I don't have much to comment on. I watched Buffalo during their scrimmage with the Packers a couple of weeks ago and I was very impressed with their defense and their depth at defense. The Packers' backups really struggled against Buffalo's backups, so it was not surprising that they lost a preseason game played mostly by backups. It was good to see the first team offense score (QB Brett Favre TD pass to RB Ahman Green) against their great defense. But it looks like Buffalo was able to run all game against the Packers and kept their offense on the field a long time, which probably means that the Packers poor run defense is still poor, and no one is stepping up on the defensive line or at linebacker while LB Na'il Diggs and NT Grady Jackson are out.

QB Aaron Rodgers probably didn't look good again because his stat line sure didn't look good. But he shouldn't be very good as a rookie (very few rookies are good in the NFL), plus he is playing with all backups who haven't played together for very long. Overall, he shouldn't look very good right now. Hopefully he looks good fundamentally and the rest will come with practice and experience.

I did watch part of Minnesota's preseason game this weekend. Minnesota made many mistakes and lost a game they could have won. It has been the biggest problem of Minnesota in recent seasons; they look great on paper but it doesn't translate into a dominant team. The rest of the NFC North is struggling; Detroit lost to a very weak Cleveland team at home and Chicago has its usually soap opera of quarterback problems. All this means if the Packers can maintain their great offense and the defense can rebound back to its 2002 and 2003 performance level, then the Packers should be the favorites to repeat as NFC North champs.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

S Arturo Freeman was cut after the preseason game against San Diego. Freeman didn't play in the scrimmage or San Diego game until late and played behind S Earl Little. It probably didn't help him at all when he committed a penalty in the San Diego game and that he has been playing through an injury to his right hand. The announcers always gave Freeman a little more credit than the other defensive players because he is the only player who played for defensive coordinator Jim Bates in Miami last season. But the Packers have brought in a number of safeties this season; Freeman, Little, 2nd round pick S Nick Collins and 4th round pick S Marviel Underwood. Freeman probably had the inside track coming into training camp at the starting safety spot alongside S Mark Roman, but for whatever reason, it didn't work out for him. The Packers didn't sign him to a big free agent contract this offseason, so the Packers don't have a financial incentive to give Freeman any second chances.

There is talk of trading WR Robert Ferguson? To rival Philadelphia? Ferguson has not been huge success in his career with the Packers, but his stats are generally what a team should expect from their 3rd wide receiver. If Ferguson is traded, behind WR Donald Driver and Javon Walker is only Antonio Chatman, Terrence Murphy (who hasn't yet recovered from a hip injury) and a bunch of guys I don't want to see on the field during the regular season. The Packers were in a major bind during last season's playoffs when Walker was injured. For most of the game, QB Brett Favre's only receivers were Driver, Chatman, and the Packers practice squad in the form of WR Andrea Thurman. Thurman's lack of time with the team caused at least one of Favre's interceptions in the game. This preseason, Thurman hasn't been too impressive and neither have any of the other young receivers. Any insight Ferguson would bring to Philadelphia about the Packers offense would be minimal; Philadelphia's Andy Reid knows how it works from first hand experience and Philadelphia managed to completely shut down the Packers in 2004 anyway. suggested Philadelphia might offer a 2005 4th round pick for Ferguson. Although, Ferguson has been disappointing as a Packer, if Driver or Walker is injured, the Packers depth is suspect or very inexperienced behind Ferguson and Chatman. Ferguson isn't worth a 1st round pick, but even if Philadelphia would trade it, Ferguson is more valuable as a Packer right now than a 1st round pick is worth next season. Ferguson can't be replaced so close to the start of the 2005 season if the Packers have an injury to Driver or Walker. Added concern; Walker is in a similar contract situation/dispute with Green Bay as WR Terrell Owens is with Philadelphia and both players are represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Walker appears ready to play, unlike Owens, but who knows?
Preseason. Packers 10, San Diego 7. The first string offense looked good, except they had trouble running the ball. QB Brett Favre looked sharp, which had been an early season problem for him a couple of seasons ago. Favre was injured during a preseason game against Denver in 1999 and then he didn't play much over the next few preseasons to either avoid injury or recover from previous injuries. This cost the Packers the first game of the 2003 season when Minnesota won the opening game at Lambeau and Favre looked unusually awful in the first half of it; he used the first half to shake the rust off instead of doing it during the preseason. The last two preseasons, Favre has gotten more work in the preseason and it has helped him.

LG Adrian Klemm started with the first team ahead of LG Grey Ruegamer. Klemm was signed as a free agent this offseason to start at left guard, but Ruegamer started ahead of Klemm during the scrimmage against Buffalo. Rookie RG William Whitticker started with the first team, ahead of free agent RG Matt O'Dwyer, who had been battling some injuries this season after missing all of 2004 with injuries. O'Dwyer didn't play well when he did play in the second half and he was flagged for at least two penalties. The Packers didn't sign O'Dwyerfor big money, he signed for the veteran's minimum, so it would not cost the Packers anything to cut him if he is beaten out by Whitticker.

The Packers run defense didn't look good; the main problem is that they are letting running backs cut back or get outside for big gains. San Diego didn't have much success running up the middle, although San Diego only used their backup running backs against the Packers defense and star RB LaDainian Tomlinson sat it out. Hopefully this is something that can be improved over the course of the preseason.

Rookie 2nd round pick WR Terrence Murphy sat out again with his injured hip. He is probably a lock to make the team as the 5th wide receiver, but it would be great to see him play. All the receivers battling for a roster spot or maybe a practice squad spot haven't looked impressive so far.

The Packers gave a long look at QB J.T. O'Sullivan in this game and it wasn't pretty. He moved the offense into field goal range on the last drive of the game, but did nothing with his other chances against San Diego's backup defense. O'Sullivan doesn't appear to have any chance at beating QB Craig Nall out for the 3rd string job.

TE Ben Steele looked really good in this game. He made some good catches, including a key reception on the game winning field goal drive. He might be turning into a valuable receiver for this season, if he can hold off TE David Martin and TE Sean McHugh for a roster spot.

San Diego burned CB Mike Hawkins for their only touchdown of the game, but it looked like Hawkins played it perfectly. Hawkins kept the receiver in front of him, in the center of the field, and didn't get spun around by the receiver. It looked like S Todd Franz blew it and came in late when the receiver slanted in toward the goal post. Hawkins has been one of the big surprises in training camp and right now would be starting opposite CB Al Harris. CB Joey Thomas will probably start when he returns from his calf injury, but Hawkins has to be considered the 3rd cornerback, which is essentially a starter in the NFL today. CB Ahmad Carroll has to have slipped down to 4th cornerback; he was called for another illegal hands penalty.

The player who made the most noise in this game was rookie 6th round pick DE Mike Montgomery. Montgomery had the only sack of the game, was all over the field on defense, and even made at least two special teams tackles. The entire second unit defense looked energized; LB Paris Lenon made a couple of great tackles and LB Roy Manning looked very active.

Finally, P B.J. Sander has played so much better in the first scrimmage and preseason game in 2005 then he did in 2004. Whatever he has done to improve himself over the last two seasons, including a stint in NFL Europe, has really worked. His punts aren't long distance, but most of them have been high, giving the punt coverage team a chance to get down the field. Sander's problem last preseason was that all his punts were line drive 30-35 yard punts. His punts are only traveling around 35-40 yards but they have a lot better hang time.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Crap! LB Na'il Diggs looked good during the scrimmage on Friday night only to injure his knee at practice the next Monday. The article plays down the injury, saying it could have been worse, but either way its bad. Diggs struggled through an injury in 2004 that took away his speed and effectiveness in coverage and outside the tackles, and this knee injury might do the same to him in 2005.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Scrimmage! The Packers scrimmaged against Buffalo during Family night at Lambeau field. This is an annual event, but the first time the Packers scrimmaged against another team.

Defensive tackle is a question mark with the bad knee of NT Grady Jackson and bad attitude
of DT Cletidus Hunt. In their places started undrafted 2nd year DT Colin Cole and 2004
6th round draft pick DT Corey Williams. Cole made some good plays on the first series
while Williams didn't stand out either way. Buffalo had some success running the ball and
the Packers didn't create much pass rush without a blitz. DE KGB didn't make a play and the camera angle was right on DE Aaron Kampman as he was pushed out of nearly every play.

It was obvious that LB Na'il Diggs and Hannibal Navies look better already. Both played
hurt in 2004 and both looked much better on Friday. Especially Diggs, who looked great
getting outside in run support. Free agent LB Ray Thompson looked good when he came clean on a blitz for a sack, however, LB Paris Lenon was confused, especially in pass coverage.

CBs Ahmad Carroll and Leigh Torrence started at cornerback, and neither played well.
Carroll continued to look like a 1st round bust, getting beat in coverage and still
putting his hands all over the wide receivers. Torrence is an undrafted rookie free agent
and was beaten in coverage at least 3 times in Buffalo's first 2 series. It was a lot to
expect out of a undrafted rookie, but he didn't play well either. 2nd round pick S Nick
Collins looked confused when he played against QB Shane Matthews (Buffalo's 3rd QB) but he
has a lot to learn too. The secondary was abused by backup QB Kelly Holcomb. However, CB Mike Hawkins played a lot early, he looked very good, and he almost intercepted a ball that would have been returned for a TD. S Mark Roman played well, but remember Roman played well in 2004 until mid-season when the wheels came off on his season. The Packers awful 2004 season tackling performance wasn't obvious until Roman started missing tackles too. Maybe he caught the bug from the rest of the team. It looks like right now, S Earl Little would be the starting safety alongside Roman.

The entire Packers defense, unfortunately, might have looked better than they actually
played on Friday, because Buffalo's 2nd year starting QB J.P. Losman looked awful, playing in true preseason form. Commentator and outstanding WR Sterling Sharpe counted at least 3 mental mistakes and 3 bad passes.

Buffalo blitzed on almost every play, frequently bringing 6 on the pass rush, and made the
Packers rebuilt offensive line look awful. Of the veterans, LT Chad Clifton looked good,
it is great to see C Mike Flanagan back on the field, and RT Mark Tauscher had some
problems, but nothing to be worried about yet. G Grey Ruegamer, who played in all 16
games last year for the Packers, has held off free agent G Adrian Klemm so far, Klemm came
into the scrimmage after Ruegamer, and started at left guard. It is not surprising
Ruegamer is ahead of Klemm since Ruegamer has worked in the offense the past 3 seasons while
Klemm is new. G Atlas Herrion started in place of probable starting RG Matt
O'Dwyer and didn't stand out for good or bad. The offensive line really came apart when
all the backups (G Steve Morley, G William Whitticker, C Scott Wells, etc.) came into the
lineup and had problems with the blitz assignments.

TE Ben Steele dropped another pass. Steele's appearances in 2004 usually involved a
dropped pass, and he started off with it again in 2005. With TE Bubba Franks out, Steele
is probably the number 1 TE with TE Sean McHugh as number 2. Steele did recover and catch
two TD passes from QB Brett Favre and Steele was the only Packer who scored during the
scrimmage. Both Steele and McHugh came in late last season after they were the final cuts from the 2004 camps for Minnesota and Tennessee and both looked better on Friday than they had at any time during 2004. For purposes of tight end analysis, it will be assumed that TE
David Martin is always injured.

QB Aaron Rodgers got some playing time and looked really good. His dropback form is
nearly perfect, he keeps the ball at his chest so no one can knock it away, and he has a
quick release despite his funky windup. Unfortunately for Rodgers, his receivers kept
dropping the ball. WR Andrae Thurman was a late 2004 signing after the injury to WR
Robert Ferguson, he didn't play very well during his brief 2004 apperances, and he looked
even worse on Friday. He dropped one pass from Rodgers over the middle and misplayed a
deep pass into the corner of the end zone. Undrafted rookie WR Chad Lucas was another
receiver who dropped a Rodgers pass.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Unsurprisingly, WR Javon Walker reported to training camp. Someone on ESPN was talking about how Walker had to report because Walker got on the bad side of QB Brett Favre and had to report otherwise Packer fans would turn on Walker. Walker had to report because the Packers weren't offering a new contract, they could start collecting fines from Walker, and Walker could never actually miss the season because then he would be another year away from a big contract. It is good to see Walker report right on time and deliver the inevitable resolution (Walker in camp with the same contract) sooner rather than later.

NT Grady Jackson threatens a holdout for a new contract, but when he does report to camp he flunks his physical? It was some serious nerve on Jackson's part to threaten a holdout when his knee is still injured. If the Packers had actually fallen for it, they would have been the joke of the NFL.

It is surprising to see QB Aaron Rodgers signed so soon. I thought he would ask for money comparable to QB Alex Smith, since Rodgers and Smith were seen as pick 1A and 1B for so long during this offseason. Smith received approximately $24 million in guaranteed money, which is appropriate for a quarterback picked first overall, and Rodgers's approximately $5.4 million guaranteed is appropriate for a late first round QB. If Smith and Rodgers really were 1A and 1B, then is more proof what a great value pick Rodgers was for the Packers. Rodgers could not afford to lose his first training camp in a holdout; it would have held back his development for the rest of his career.

TE Bubba Franks is sorely missed, apparently. The Packers are right in holding a hard line with Franks. His best skill is in run blocking and quality run blocking tight ends are floating all over the NFL. The unique skill Franks has is his pass catching ability, but that skill has been more promise than production. Franks hasn't produced anything like a top catching tight end; such as TE Antonio Gates or TE Tony Gonzalez. Franks catches a lot of touchdowns, but does anyone think that has more to do with Franks than Favre? The big advantage for Franks in negotiations is that the Packers roster has no other tight ends capable of starting 16 games this season.