Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Packers Sign Phillip Merling and Release Two Others

The Green Bay Packers announced a couple of roster moves. First, they released an undrafted rookie (Wake Forest TE Cameron Ford) after he apparently failed to impress at the rookie camp earlier this month. They also released former arena league QB Nick Hill, which wasn't a big surprise after he showed a lack of arm strength during the same rookie camp. I wouldn't be surprised if they signed another quarterback before the start of training camp so they can have four quarterbacks available during practice.

They also signed DE Phillip Merling, who the Dolphins had released last month because he wasn't very productive on the field and he wasn't showing up for the "voluntary" offseason workouts. But the commentators at The Phinsider believed Merling had played better late last season and they were a little surprised by his release.

Since Merling hasn't recorded a sack since 2009, the former second round pick is probably best suited for a role as a DE in their 3-4 base defense. At 6-5 and 315 lbs., he certainly looks the part. I was a little surprised to see the Packers lining up with C.J. Wilson as the starting DE in the base defense during this week's open OTA because Wilson didn't prove last season that he deserves to start. I'm not sure he's even worth keeping on the roster. It wouldn't take a lot for Merling to move ahead of Wilson and find himself starting in the base defense.

In addition to the lack of effort he's been showing in the offseason, Merling had some problems with the law when he was arrested for beating his pregnant girlfriend in 2010, but those charges were dropped after she wouldn't testify against him. The Packers haven't shied away from players with legal problems. Erik Walden was arrested during a similar incident in 2011 and he was recently re-signed.

The Packers won't tolerate him long if he doesn't show enough effort during the remaining offseason program, but if he can turn himself around and move into a starting role as the defensive end in the base 3-4 defense, he could be a solid value signing for the Packers.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The First Open OTA of 2012: Packers Take The Field

This was the first week of scheduled organized team activities for the Green Bay Packers that will run over the next three weeks. It leads up to the mandatory mini-camp on June 12 through June 14. After that, the coaches and players will be out of sight until training camp opens at the end of July. Only three of the OTA's will be open the public, and today was the first of them.

Here's a recap from the Press-Gazette. With the arrival of first round pick Nick Perry, Clay Matthews has moved back to the right side, which was the side he played on during his rookie season. Back in 2009, Aaron Kampman was bigger (and less mobile in pass coverage) so he played on the strong (i.e. left) side. My recollection was that Matthews switched sides in 2010 so he'd lineup opposite Cullen Jenkins, and give the Packers a strong pass rusher from each side of the field. With no returning pass rusher worth mentioning on the defensive line, I guess it doesn't matter which side Matthews plays on. It's probably better to keep Perry on the strong side, which might give him fewer coverage responsibilities.

Another note was that C.J. Wilson remained the starting defensive lineman in the base defense, while rookie Jerel Worthy is the only defensive lineman alongside B.J. Raji in the nickel defense. This is really the most interesting note from practice. It appears that the Packers are going to rely primarily on the same defensive schemes they used last season. With the addition of Perry, it was possible that they could have used more 4-3 alignments. While I wasn't eager to see a new defensive scheme, though it would have been understandable after last season's poor results, it's not as important to change the scheme as it was the players. Hopefully Worthy will become the pass rusher they need, and he'll give them the pass rushing duo on the defensive line (Raji and Worthy) that's as good as the one that worked so well in 2010 (Raji and Jenkins).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: Center

Last week, the Green Bay Packers hosted their rookie camp in Green Bay, and signed five players out of the 20+ undrafted rookies who attended it on a tryout basis. With the release of practice squad OL Chris Campbell, who was always a bit of a project, their roster is set at 90 players.

At first I was thinking about the expected 53-man roster. But Mike McCarthy has said that he doesn't "concern myself" with roster spots in May. "Create the competition and your roster will come to you." So instead of looking at the players who should make the roster, this is a look at the competition for each position. I'll start with the center position.
Player Height Weight Age Experience
Draheim, Tommie 6-4 309 23 Rookie
Genus, Sampson 6-1 315 24 1
Saturday, Jeff 6-2 295 36 14
Dietrich-Smith, Evan 6-2 308 25 3
With the departure of long time starter Scott Wells in free agency, veteran Jeff Saturday was signed after spending his first 13 seasons with the Colts. He'll be a good fit with their blocking scheme. Mike McCarthy even went as far as to have dinner with Saturday before he signed, something the coach hadn't done in years, which shows how highly they think of him. He may only play for two more seasons, and he was probably going to retire if the Packers hadn't signed him, so he's a short-term solution. But he should be a good one. He'll obviously be on the roster in September.

The big surprise in last April's draft was that the Packers didn't draft a center for the future. The only player they did add was undrafted rookie Tommie Draheim. He had a good college career at San Diego State, and he's the tallest center on the roster with almost ideal height for the position. But he's making the transition from college tackle, and expecting anything from him next season is speculative.

The Press-Gazette ran a nice story on Sampson Genus, who admitted that he wasn't ready to play last season, though he should benefit a lot from the offseason programs. His listed height of 6-1 is very generous but whether it's truly a detriment is yet to be seen. I think the coaches have to like his potential otherwise they would have brought in someone more likely to contribute in 2012 than Draheim.

Evan Dietrich-Smith was a surprise to make the roster in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, he was released in 2010 after a poor preseason, and he was a surprise returning player in 2011. That said, the Packers have little experienced backups to compete with him, and no other player has been given the opportunity to play multiple interior line positions. With the signing of Saturday, he appears to have no shot to become a starter, but they probably want to keep him around for depth. And he'll always have his highlight with Ndamukong Suh.

Overall competition level: weak. Saturday's the starter, Dietrich-Smith is probably not in a real competition since he'll back up three positions, and Genus should have the inside track for a return trip to the practice squad, if he isn't one of the last players to make the 53-man roster. Unless the offseason program really transforms Draheim into a legitimate option, he should be one of the early cuts this preseason.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Packers 2012 Undrafted Free Agent Class

The Green Bay Packers signed 15 undrafted free agents after the 2012 NFL draft, and I came away pretty underwhelmed. Even the big name player, USC RB Marc Tyler, isn't someone who should be considered a find. He deserved to be undrafted.

He ran a lousy 4.76 in the 40 at the NFL combine, and it gave him a poor 85 Speed Score. I would put him way behind Brandon Saine, who ran a 4.43 in the 40, and has a very good 114 Speed Score. But Tyler does a good job of avoiding defenders (field vision), following his blockers, and catching the football as a receiver.

However, these undrafted free agents may make up a big part of the roster. Looking back at the list of 15 undrafted free agents signed before the start of the 2011 season, I see that 11 of those players are currently on the roster. Some of them were released and re-signed, while Shaky Smithson spent all season on I.R., but there's no denying that they provided depth.

Though the 2011 undrafted free agent class might be a high water mark. The Packers didn't lose as many free agents as they had the previous year, and many of those 2011 undrafted free agents will still be eligible for the practice squad next season. The 2012 undrafted free agent class is going to have to outplay the returning players. Maybe they can do it, but right now it's just speculation whether any of them can. Here's the rest of the players signed:

South Dakota State WR Dale Moss.
Iowa State WR Darius Reynolds.
Vanderbilt DB Sean Richardson.
Buffalo WR Marcus Rivers.
Winston-Salem FB Nic Cooper.
Minnesota TE Eric Lair.
Gannon NT Randy Colling.
Tulane DE/LB Dezman Moses.
Southern Utah DB Dion Turner.
SD State OL Tommie Draheim.
Minnesota RB Duane Bennett.
Wake Forest TE Cameron Ford.
West Virginia OL Don Barclay.
Michigan Tech DE Drew Vanderlin.

Monday, May 07, 2012

In The 7th Round, Packers Select Andrew Datko and B.J. Coleman

My recap of the 2012 draft class for the Green Bay Packers has been a long, slow process over a couple weeks, but there's not much going on until the rookie camp begins this week Friday. However, I'm wrapping up the process with a look at both of the compensatory selections taken near the end of the seventh round.

Round 7, Pick 241. Florida State T Andrew Datko. This is a bit of a departure from what GM Ted Thompson usually does in the seventh round. He's often looking for someone who he thinks has NFL ability, but for whatever reason, they have fallen through the cracks and into the seventh round. The recent selection of guys like Matt Flynn and Brad Jones come to mind. However, Datko hasn't fallen through the cracks. He could have been a much higher selection if a "serious shoulder injury" hadn't derailed his senior season. The Packers must feel comfortable with his medical situation or they wouldn't have drafted him at all, but obviously a lot of teams passed on him. The most likely scenario is that this is a lost pick because of his shoulder, but it's only a seventh round gamble. Projecting his future with the Packers is a bit speculative until we see whether he can play in 2012.

Round 7, Pick 243. Chattanooga QB B.J. Coleman. When looking at late-round quarterback prospects, I was thinking about players like Matt Flynn, Brian Brohm, and Graham Harrell. Quarterbacks who started at schools in big conferences, but they didn't quite have the measurables to be viewed as a top prospect. But this choice is more like another quarterback drafted by Ted Thompson in 2006; Ingle Martin. While Martin started out at Florida before transferring to Furman, Coleman was a top recruit at Tennessee before transferring to Chattanooga. Unfortunately, Martin never figured it out and only lasted one season in Green Bay before his release. Coleman might be doomed to suffer the same fate.

Though it's really up to Coleman whether he succeeds. He's in the perfect situation. He'll be competing for a backup spot again two undrafted quarterbacks that have never started an NFL game. He'll have three excellent teachers in Mike McCarthy, Tom Clements, and Aaron Rodgers. Reading his scouting report, it looks like he has all the ability to succeed, and he just needs a lot more coaching. Something that probably wasn't in big supply at Chattanooga. I could his selection going anywhere from bust-to-boom, but there's no denying that he's got potential.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

In The 5th Round, The Packers Select LB Terrell Manning

The Green Bay Packers had already drafted a pass rusher to play outside linebacker when they chose USC's Nick Perry in the 1st round. But I also listed inside linebacker as a position of need because of A.J. Hawk's poor 2011 season, and I think that's what they've found with this pick.

Round 5, Pick 163. NC State LB Terrell Manning. Watching the film below, I actually formed a different opinion of Manning than the writer for NFL Draft Scout. Manning seems to have good instincts and doesn't appear to bring much as a pass rusher, at least not anything more than any of the other middle linebackers on the Packers's roster. It does look like he needs to work on his fundamentals because he didn't always make the tackle.

In college, he's playing weak side outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, which is why he's listed as an outside linebacker by most draft previews, but NC State did move him around a bit. He often played with a safety to his outside which made him look like an inside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. He was also asked to drop into coverage a lot, so he could make the transition to inside linebacker in the Packers's scheme. But he might be undersized at 237 lbs. to ever be seriously considered a full-time starter outside.

He reminds me a little of last year's late round selection, ILB D.J. Smith. And he's being drafted a round later than most had him projected, so he's got some value to him. He's also coming out of college early, so he might have been ranked a little higher if he could have put together a strong senior season. He shouldn't be a serious challenger for Hawk in 2012, but he'll pressure players like Robert Francois and Brad Jones for a spot on the roster.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Packers Drafted Jerron McMillian With Their Second 4th Round Selection

The Green Bay Packers need help at the safety position, and they needed to find it in the 2012 NFL draft. They selected a defensive back, Vanderbilt's Casey Hayward, in the second round, and maybe that will lead to another cornerback, such as Charles Woodson, being moved to safety. Or maybe Hayward could be converted to safety. But the coaches expect Hayward to remain at cornerback and I think he was selected to pressure Sam Shields, who slumped last season. Also, I don't expect any of last season's cornerbacks to change position. Mike McCarthy has said he's not going to move Jarrett Bush back to safety, and none of the coaches seem eager to move Woodson either. So the Packers needed someone else in the mix at safety, and they grabbed a talented, raw prospect in the fourth round.

Round 4, Pick 133. Maine SS Jerron McMillian. Most mock drafts are hopelessly wrong, and often the players themselves have no idea. McMillian was just hoping to be drafted in any round, much less the fourth round. The Journal-Sentinel also wrote about how shocked McMillian was to be invited to the draft combine in February, and the players at Maine are typically players who receive no scholarship offers.

At 5-11 and 203 lbs., McMillian is about the same size as former safety Nick Collins. He runs a 4.36 in the 40, and in college, he was known as a big hitting strong safety who played close to the line of scrimmage. His combination of size, speed and strength make him an intriguing prospect, but one with a steep learning curve as he goes from Maine to the NFL.

It's up to McMillian himself whether he'll be a candidate to start in 2012. Morgan Burnett was thrown into the mix as a starter in 2010 as a rookie by working very hard over the summer to learn the defense, and he went out and proved it to the coaches during the OTAs. It also depends on what role Burnett will play. Will he spend the offseason preparing to take over for Collins as the deep safety in coverage? Then McMillian might be a natural fit as a safety who plays closer to the line of scrimmage.

Sometimes a player emerges during training camp, but I haven't seen anything from Charlie Peprah, M.D. Jennings, or Anthony Levine that makes me believe in them as a starter. I wouldn't expect a player like McMillian to have a shot to start as a rookie, but he doesn't haven't a lot of quality competition either.