Monday, September 05, 2005

Packers 21, Tennessee 17. It was good to end on a win, but there were some down notes in this game. It was a really sloppy game with bad offensive and defensive line play, along with multiple personal fouls against the Packers. This post is a combination post on the last preseason game and the final roster cuts. Plus, the Packers made it exciting by throwing in some trades for good measure.

What an awful start. Missed blocking assignments early stalled the offense and led to an immediate turnover. FB William Henderson was ran over on one play, C Mike Flanagan was run over on another play, while LT Chad Clifton missed a block assignment which led to a sack and fumble. Tennessee ran the ball immediately right at the Packers defensive line and they looked awful in the first half. NT Grady Jackson and DT Cletidus Hunt both played in their first games of the preseason and neither player looked 100%. Both players were moved off the line which created huge cutback lanes and both played bad enough to get cut, but it was still a big surprise that the Packers actually did cut Hunt. I thought Hunt should have been cut at the end of his disappointing 2004 season, but the Packers apparently wanted to make sure that he wasn't worth the money anymore.

One player who has really improved the last two preseasons games is LB Paris Lenon. Lenon looked confused in limited playing time during 2004 and wasn't too sharp early in the preseason either, however, he looked good against New England and he was excellent in pass coverage against Tennessee. He allowed the Packers to release LB Hannibal Navies last week.

Although the preseason is over, the Packers starting offensive line is still not decided. RG William Whitticker appeared to be the starter after the first two preseason games, but he took a step back against New England, and didn't step forward against Tennessee. OL Grey Ruegamer will start if Whitticker doesn't. Although he had been a major disappointment since the Packers signed him from the CFL last season, T Steve Morley actually brought a draft choice back in trade. The rest of the line is set with LT Chad Clifton and RT Mark Tauscher returning from 2004, C Mike Flanagan returning after missing 2004 with an injury, and veteran free agent LG Adrian Klemm.

WR Andrea Thurman and WR Craig Bragg were both cut, although WR Terrence Murphy hasn't played at all this preseason and WR Antonio Chatman is still trying to return from his neck injury. Both Thurman and Bragg struggled early in the preseason, but both looked much better against Tennessee. The Packers must expect Murphy and Chatman to play this season.

TE Sean McHugh was a surprising cut over TE David Martin. McHugh had a good amount of playing time this preseason since TE Bubba Franks was only signed in time for the Tennessee game and TE David Martin hasn't played much at all due to injury. Martin hasn't done much with the Packers since his rookie season, so it appeared McHugh would beat out Martin as the 3rd tight end (firmly behind backup TE Ben Steele who has been improving rapidly this preseason), however Martin makes the team and McHugh is unemployed.

One major factor in setting the Packers roster was the play of the second unit defense, the first and second season players who played in the 2nd half after all the projected starters. The second unit defense played outstanding, especially in the wins versus San Diego and Tennessee and played with a lot of energy while completely shuting down the opposing offenses in those two victories.

Two other significant cuts on the defensive line were NT James Lee and DE R-Kal Truluck. Truluck hasn't done much since the Packers traded for him last season, and Lee didn't play much with the Packers in his first two seasons, however at the start of the preseason I expected both players would make the team. 2003 6th round pick DT Corey Williams will now start alongside Jackson, DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and DE Aaron Kampman. Williams has played well and deserves a chance to start. NT Donnell Washington finally got to play the last couple of preseason games after spending his first season on injured reserve. The 2004 3rd round pick only got better as the preseason went on, he did outplay Lee during the Tennessee game, and is now the backup behind Jackson. 2005 6th round pick DE Michael Montgomery showed a lot of potential and was fantastic in pursuit on defense. Plus, Montgomery made some plays on special teams, which probably sealed his spot on the roster. DT Cullen Jenkins struggled at times as a tackle, but moved over to defensive end against Tennessee. DT Colin Cole and DT Kenny Peterson made the team by showing some pass rushing skills.

It is not surprising that free agent LB Ray Thompson was cut because he didn't make any plays this preseason. The play of LB Brady Poppinga and LB Roy Manning was surprising, but both rookies were part of the high energy second string defense and are now the top two backups. Poppinga had a great game against Tennessee. However, it was very surprising that the Packers traded CB Chris Johnson for LB Robert Thomas. Johnson had just gotten healthy two weeks ago after spending much of his career injured, he was burned on a couple of big plays against Tennessee, and Mike Sherman chewed Johnson out when he ran into Tennessee's punt returner during a 2nd half punt. So it was surprising when GM Ted Thompson praised Johnson after the game by saying that “The first one (Johnson) was off him and really didn’t have a play. The second one, he came pretty darn close. He covered pretty good. Pretty good throw and catch.” Except now he was just saying that because St. Louis was willing to trade their 2002 1st round pick for Johnson. St. Louis obviously has soured on Thomas, probably to the point they were about to cut him. However, St. Louis is desperately thin at cornerbacks, because they have already lost two starting cornerbacks this preseason, and one of their starters, CB Terry Fair, was a often injured journeyman to start with. Maybe St. Louis is desperate enough for any useful cornerback that they were willing to trade something of value. It will be interesting to see if Thomas can contribute this season.

CB Ahmad Carroll played very well against New England, but regressed back to his usual penalty filled ways against Tennessee. The improvement of CB Joey Thomas and the solid play of rookies FS Nick Collins and CB Mike Hawkins are where the Packers will improve this preseason. The secondary could be a major surprise this season.

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