Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday's Training Camp Report

I've got no idea why the Green Bay Packers would need to sign another TE. This time it's DeMarco Cosby who's been out of football for almost a year. My best guess is that they need another body for special teams drills. If they needed depth at any position, it would be at defensive back. They could use someone to replace Charlie Peprah, but they probably want to give their young guys, like M.D. Jennings, as many reps as possible.

Tuesday's practice wasn't an injury-free affair. The Press-Gazette reported that DE Ryan Pickett injured his knee, rookie RB Marc Tyler hurt his shoulder when he took a big hit, and rookie DL Mike Daniels injured his knee and/or groin. Daniels was starting to draw some praise during practice, and he was recovering from an injured shoulder during the offseason, so his injury is probably the one to watch.

As if the AP college football rankings weren't already suspect, they've decided the time is now to launch a similar subjective ranking system for the NFL: The AP Pro32. Of course, I'm glad to see the Packers are No. 1, but the ranking is only there for fans and ESPN's talking heads to argue over.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Packers First Full Week of Training Camp

The Green Bay Packers's practice schedule this week features three morning practices, an evening practice on Thursday, and Friday's Family Night televised scrimmage. My first thought was that it looked like a challenging week of practice in hot and humid weather, but without the two-a-day practices anymore, it's probably better than it used to be.

Unfortunately, these televised scrimmages aren't very informative, players emerge or disappoint during the preseason games, and they've been rained out in recent years. Still, it's always good to see some football.

I'm not expecting much news this week. Some players may look awful or great in practice, but it doesn't matter until the preseason games begin. There will be some injuries to watch, but most of the big injury news (Bishop, Kuhn) came last week. There shouldn't be any significant roster moves, like the release of Charlie Peprah, until the end of the month.

Friday, July 27, 2012

While Charlie Peprah Was Released, The Packers Demoted Sam Shields

One thing I got wrong when I wrote about the new alignment of the Green Bay Packers's secondary was that Sam Shields would still be the nickel back. Instead, M.D. Jennings played in the nickel defense. From Tyler Dunne:
Charles Woodson lined up at safety in the team's base alignment, a defense used 25% of the time last season. But in the team's nickel package -- which Dom Capers used much more often -- Woodson slid down into the slot and M.D. Jennings was with the No. 1 defense at safety. For now, Jarrett Bush ran with the starters at right cornerback.
Dunne opened his article with an earlier quote from Mike McCarthy, who said he doesn't talk about his players as a "starter" because it's all about how often his players are on the field. Just because they don't start the game on the field doesn't mean they won't be playing a lot.

So Woodson is the "starter" at safety, but he'll probably spend more time at cornerback. The coaches now think Bush is their 4th best defensive back, and Jennings is their No. 5. The loser here is Shields, who seemed to hold onto his nickel spot during the OTAs (of course, it seemed like Charlie Peprah was going to be the starter too), but now he'll have to play his way back onto the first team nickel defense.

The rookies aren't playing a role in this discussion, yet, but a lot can change over the course of a training camp. However, I'm not expecting much from Casey Hayward or Jerron McMillian. Though Shields himself came out of nowhere as a rookie in 2010 to become the nickel back, the Football Outsiders 2012 Almanac has a great discussion about Cowboys rookie CB Morris Claiborne, and why no one should expect great things from rookie defensive backs.

In the end, I don't see a big mistake being made. I'm no fan of Jarrett Bush, but Sam Shields played poorly last season. It's hard to make a strong case that another season from Charlie Peprah is better than giving M.D. Jennings a chance at safety. These might be marginal improvements, but they don't look like a big step back either, and Shields will still be given an opportunity to turn himself around.

The entire situation reminds me a little bit of the Baltimore Ravens, who seemingly run out a new set of starting cornerbacks every season while still having a strong pass defense. The changes in personnel don't seem to make a huge difference because their pass defense is keyed by a strong pass rush, and it might actually struggle for the first time in many seasons because of the likely absence of Terrell Suggs. On the other hand, the Packers made a big push to improve their woeful pass rush by the addition of Nick Perry. The combination of Bush and Jennings might appear to be a big improvement in 2012, if the pass rush is a lot better.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Charlie Peprah Era Comes To A Close

As the Journal-Sentinel noted, it was a little surprising that the Green Bay Packers chose to release Charlie Peprah. I'm surprised that they didn't release him sooner. His 2011 season was horrible, and he was one of the players responsible for the team's worst play of the season: the Hail Mary touchdown pass against the Giants. I don't know if they did him a favor by releasing him now, but at least he's got a month to try and catch on with another team.

Peprah was originally with the Packers as a special teams player for three seasons before he was released in 2009. He re-signed in early 2010, the Packers were really looking for some help on special teams, but he looked better on defense, and he was a solid replacement for the injured Morgan Burnett in 2010. Unfortunately, his 2011 season was a giant step back, despite the five interceptions he recorded, and he was rated by Football Outsiders as one of the worst players at his position.

Of course, the next question is who will replace him at safety? They drafted a safety in the 4th round (Jerron McMillian) and second year player M.D. Jennings is returning, but neither one was seriously considered as a starter during the offseason. There was some talk of moving Charles Woodson to safety, but no one from the Packers seemed in favor of that move. I didn't think much of it either: why move Woodson if he's so good defending receivers in the slot?

However, when the first practice began, it was Woodson on the field at safety and Jarrett Bush at cornerback (another player involved in the Hail Mary fiasco). I'm never in favor of more playing time for Bush, but it's hard to say that Peprah is a better player. Mike McCarthy did an interview a few months ago during which he regretted not giving more playing time to Bush last season, so he's a believer in his ability as a corner and the team did just re-sign him to a new contract. I wouldn't be surprised to see Woodson stay at safety this season.

Bush had been playing the understudy role to Woodson for at least the last couple seasons, so I expect he'll now take over his job in 2012, if Woodson stays at safety. Bush might technically start at corner ahead of Sam Shields, but when the defense goes into the nickel, Shields will be lining up against the outside receiver, and Bush will be covering the receiver in the slot.

I wouldn't think that choosing Bush over Peprah, which isn't a straight swap since it requires moving Woodson to safety, to be a big improvement, but obviously the coaches and GM Ted Thompson disagree. I'm not crazy about either option, but things couldn't get any worse than they were last season, so it doesn't hurt to try.

Desmond Bishop Failed His Physical?

The Green Bay Packers announced via the NFL transaction wire the players who failed their physicals. Among them were three expected players that Mike McCarthy named earlier, a couple of backups (Brooks and Jones) who I'm not expecting much from anyway, and two new names: LB Desmond Bishop and LB Frank Zombo.

I'd written recently about Bishop's poor 2011 season, and inside linebacker isn't a position they need to panic about. I'm not expecting much of a difference if D.J. Smith was forced to play, and he's taken over for Bishop during the Packers's first practice. Still, the Packers just reported the injury late on Wednesday and it might not be a big deal.

When I wrote about the linebackers, my only comment about Zombo was that he's going to have to prove he's healthy, and he's been unable to do it. I'm not rooting against him, but I'm not optimistic about his tenure with the Packers either. He's got a lot to prove on the field anyway, and the Packers aren't going to show a lot of patience with him if he's hurt.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mike McCarthy On Injuries And The Offensive Line

Usually the only bits of good information to be gained from a Mike McCarthy press conference are about injuries, and his presser on Wednesday was no exception. Here's the complete recap from Tom Silverstein:

TE Andrew Quarless, OL Derek Sherrod, and FB John Kuhn might all fail their physicals. I doubt this is a surprise to anyone with the Packers. Quarless's (torn knee ligaments, see below) and Sherrod (broken leg) were very serious injuries. I'm not counting on Quarless at all this season, and I expect he'll spend it on I.R.

McCarthy said that Sherrod is "getting close." I don't expect he'll be on the PUP list so he can practice at least on a limited basis. He still has so much to learn that he'll need that time with the coaches, even if he isn't ready to play.

McCarthy sounded more optimistic about Kuhn than either Quarless or Sherrod, but in hindsight, they might have made the wrong decision by choosing rehab over surgery for his MCL injury. I would have guessed that Kuhn would have been fine without surgery too, and that his knees are strong enough for the MCL to heal on it's own. They really don't have an obvious Plan B with only a couple of undrafted free agents behind him on the depth chart. This could lead to a change in strategy this season with the full back being de-emphasized in the offense. Of course, a similar thing happened in 2010 when Kuhn spent significant time at running back after Ryan Grant's injury, and the offense didn't struggle.

Finally, along with the news that McCarthy will spend more time with the offensive line after Joe Philbin's departure, he spoke about his confidence in Marshall Newhouse, and that the quarterback has confidence in him too. That's a pretty ringing endorsement. The stats haven't shown that Newhouse really deserves it, he did give up a lot of sacks last season, but McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers seem to think Newhouse really turned a corner late last season.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Some Deep Thoughts From Mike Tice

I'd really like to thank the Chicago Bears for bringing Mike Tice back into prominence in the NFC North, which makes unintelligible quotes like this possible, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, via Pro Football Talk:
“I’ve helped establish some good offenses over my career and I’ve played in some good offenses over my career. I think I know what a good offense looks like,” Tice said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have a certain personality and at the end of the day it will be one of explosiveness and one of intelligence and one of rhythm and one of tempo and one of enthusiasm. You have to have all of those to be an elite offense.”
On a sarcastic note, I don't recall ever seeing players worked out at the NFL combine on their ability to bring rhythm and tempo to the field. If that was very important, maybe Donald Driver is the missing link to a dominant Bears offense.

I can't tell what type of offense the Bears will be running based on that quote. Does explosiveness involve a short passing attack, or will Brandon Marshall be used more as a down field threat? Will it look a lot like it did in 2011, except Tice won't be trying to kill Jay Cutler?

Maybe Tice was just using coach-speak, answering a question without really telling you something new. But it's not like a Tice is a noted offensive genius. Instead, he's the coach best known for bringing the Randy Ratio to the NFL. It doesn't look like he'll be bringing anything to the field other than some rah-rahs for his players while they're watching Jason Campbell take the field for an injured Jay Cutler.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Football Outsiders 2012 Almanac: Looking At The Problems On Defense

July is a boring month for football, but it's also when the Football Outsiders Annual Almanac is released. It can be a tough read that makes me wonder if I've stumbled into a college textbook on statistics, but the team chapters are great, even if you're only skimming over the percentages. I'm not going to copy-and-paste the entire chapter on the Green Bay Packers, but overall it's going to reassure fans that they have a very good team.

I will bring up one group of players: the linebackers. Selecting Nick Perry in the 1st round has been a big first step towards improvement, but I've been worried about the return of A.J. Hawk at starting middle linebacker. However, according to Football Outsiders, he was better against the run and pass than any linebacker who wasn't named Clay Matthews last season.

Instead, the linebacker who came out with major egg on his face was Desmond Bishop, who graded out as poorly against the run (worst) and pass (bottom five) as any linebacker in the NFL. Bishop's never been great in pass coverage so it's not surprising to see he had some problems, and he'll much better in 2012 if the pass rush is improved. But I've always thought he was great against the run, so his terrible ranking was a surprise. However, plays like this one didn't help his stats.

Football Outsiders probably counted this play against him. Adrian Peterson ran right at the spot where Bishop should have been. Instead he was blocked out of the play, though he did manage to catch up 50 yards later to make the tackle. This is a really good example of his problems and why he needs more help from his teammates.

At the snap, Bishop's lined up behind B.J. Raji at NT, and Howard Green at DE. Green, who won't be back next season, was pushed outside by the left tackle while Raji did nothing against a double team. In fact, the center was able to come off Raji and move up into the second level to block Hawk too. Raji's poor effort was probably due to the fact that this was late in the game (the last play of the 3rd quarter) and it was the point last season when he was starting to look completely winded because he never left the field. With a wide open path on the left side, the full back ran untouched through the hole to knock Bishop off his spot and gave Peterson a lot of room to run. Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett each missed an open field tackle that could have limited it to a 10 to 15 yard gain. To Bishop's credit, he disengaged quickly from the full back to get back into the play.

This, of course, wasn't the whole story. The Packers were among the league leaders by playing with five or more defensive backs on 70% of their plays, and they were one of the worst overall, as a team, allowing 4.7 yards per rushing attempt. As much as Bishop struggled against the run, the defense wasn't lined up to prevent the run, and overall did a poor job against it.

What should happen next season is that the Packers will have a better player (rookie 2nd round pick Jerel Worthy) at that defensive end spot, Raji won't be as worn down from playing so many reps, and they'll give Hawk or Bishop a much better chance at making a play. Now we have to wait a couple more months before that can become a reality.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: Linebackers

The Green Bay Packers are bringing thirteen linebackers into training camp next month, so this has to be one of the biggest areas of competition on the roster based on size alone. Though they could keep as many as ten on the 53-man roster. Overall, this may be the best group of linebackers to play for the Packers since the early 1980s.
Player Height Weight Age Experience
Bishop, Desmond 6-2 238 27 6
Francois, Robert 6-2 255 27 3
Hawk, A.J. 6-1 247 28 7
Jones, Brad 6-3 242 26 4
Lattimore, Jamari 6-2 230 23 2
Manning, Terrell 6-2 237 22 Rookie
Matthews, Clay 6-3 255 26 4
Moses, Dezman 6-2 249 23 Rookie
Perry, Nick 6-3 265 22 Rookie
Smith, D.J. 5-11 239 23 2
So'oto, Vic 6-3 263 24 2
Walden, Erik 6-2 250 26 5
Zombo, Frank 6-3 254 25 3
Unless there's a big shake-up in training camp, it will be Bishop, Hawk, Matthews and Perry starting at linebacker. There should be no doubt about Bishop and Matthews, and while Hawk had a poor 2011 season, the coaches are publicly supporting him and I can't imagine they'd take away his starting job in training camp.

I don't believe the Packers would have drafted Perry in the 1st round if they didn't expect him to be good enough to start immediately. They might limit his snaps if he struggles in some situations, such as obvious rushing downs or on defensive calls when they need a linebacker to drop into pass coverage, but I expect he'll start one way or another.

While the Packers should keep six (or seven, if a linebacker is kept on the practice squad) of the remaining nine players listed, I have no idea who they might be. It all depends on whether they can stay healthy, and how they play this preseason.

Francois has been cut before, so he's not a lock. Jones has been in-and-out of favor for the past three seasons, he's been lining up inside this summer, and he'll need a strong camp to stay. Lattimore looked good last preseason, but he did little when he had a chance to play during the regular season. Smith might be the one sure thing among the backups, but a poor preseason could doom his chances too. So'oto followed an outstanding 2011 preseason with a MIA regular season due to injuries, and he did little when he was able to play. Walden received little interest in free agency, and despite his limitations as a pass rusher and in coverage, he's probably the best outside LB after Matthews and Perry. Zombo had a lost 2011 season due to multiple injuries, and he'll have to prove that he's healthy and productive. Overall, there's a lot of potential with the returning backups, but an awful lot of question marks too.

Finally, Manning and Moses are the other promising new additions. Manning looks like he could be a solid middle linebacker in coverage, and he could be a Brandon Chillar type of player. Moses has been the star of the OTAs, the undrafted player who's already earned some reps with the first team defense. It's very early in their careers, but so far so good.

Overall competition level: high. There are a lot of good players here, and at least one promising player or former starter is going to find himself released before the start of the regular season. The Packers needed to upgrade the position, and they've certainly done it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: Guards

I feel like I'm cheating. There's not much to write about with the guards for the Green Bay Packers. The Packers have two young, established starters, and a group of undrafted free agents battling for a reserve job.
Player Height Weight Age Experience
Barclay, Don 6-4 305 23 Rookie
Brooks, Jaymes 6-2 300 22 Rookie
Cook, Grant 6-4 318 23 Rookie
Dominguez, Ray 6-4 334 24 2
Lang, T.J. 6-4 318 24 4
Sitton, Josh 6-3 318 26 5
Sitton was outstanding during 2009 and 2010, and he was rewarded early last season with a huge contract extension. He's not going anywhere, and he should be in the discussion when people are talking about the best right guards in the NFL. He was a little off his game last season as he played through some injuries and missed two games, but he should be back strong.

Coming into the 2011 season, T.J. Lang had a lot to prove. He'd shown some promise at guard during his first two seasons, but faced only mild competition from Derek Sherrod during the preseason before securing the starting left guard job. And he did a fantastic job in his first season as a starter. He'll be a free agent next March, but the Packers are almost certain to extend his contract before then. With the departures of Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, and Scott Wells over the past two years, there's room for him under the salary cap. Bryan Bulaga won't be a free agent until after the 2014 season, so they can afford to take care of Lang now.

Ray Dominguez has played at both guard and tackle, but he's currently listed as a guard. He spent most of the last season on the practice squad, and he'll be eligible for it again in 2012. He was as good as any reserve lineman who played last preseason, but he wasn't great, and the pool of undrafted rookie free agents (Barclay, Brooks, and Cook) could challenge him with a strong preseason of their own.

Overall competition level: medium. While the starters are set, the backup position is wide open. Not only are four players battling for what could be only one spot on the practice squad, they also have to worry about spill over competition from the tackle position (that'll be a future post). This will be a position I'll be watching this preseason because I really want one of these players to step-up and establish himself as the clear backup guard.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Drew Brees Confirms It: Aaron Rodgers Should Be Paid $20 Million Per Year

Though the Saints's new contract with Drew Brees did set a record with $60 million guaranteed, it's about the same contract that Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos a few months ago. Zack Kruse has all the contract details. The difference between Brees and Manning is that, due to Manning's well known neck injury, he's only guaranteed $18 million in the first year, and it becomes $60 million guaranteed in 2013 only after he passes a physical.

Since Brees has no similar medical problem, the Saints aren't waiting a year, and they're bringing the total guaranteed money to $60 million immediately. It makes me wonder what took the Saints so long. They basically gave Brees the same contract as Manning, without the medical concerns.

So this probably means the Green Bay Packers will come agree to a new contract with Aaron Rodgers sooner rather than later. As Zack Kruse points out, Rodgers is underpaid compared to other elite quarterbacks, and none of them are the defending MVP. I'd be shocked if GM Ted Thompson hasn't been planning to give Rodgers a raise, and that he's just been waiting for Brees to confirm the market price ($20 million per season).

This reminds me of what happened two years ago. Darrelle Revis signed a new five-year contract and established the cornerback market, and two days later, the Packers gave Charles Woodson a contract extension so his annual average salary would match Revis's. But since Woodson was already under contract, the discount the Packers received was that Woodson received less guaranteed money, while his average salary was the same as Revis's.

If the Packers do the same thing with Rodgers, they might give him a three-year extension with around $40 million guaranteed. When that guaranteed money is added to the approximately $20 million he's scheduled to be paid through 2014, the Packers would be paying him around $60 million over the next three years. Then they'd set his base salary in 2015 and 2016 at $20 million per season, and he'd be scheduled to be paid $100 million over the next five seasons. That would accomplish the same thing the Packers did with Woodson two years ago: set his average compensation at the top of the market while keeping the guaranteed dollars less than comparable players. That agreement would seem like a win-win for both sides.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: The Backs

While these three positions are all on the offensive side of the ball, they don't have much in common, except that they should each produce little competition.

Player Height Weight Age Experience
Cooper, Nic 5-10 249 23 Rookie
Hoese, Jon 6-2 238 23 1
Kuhn, John 6-0 250 29 7
Kuhn made the Pro Bowl last season, Hoese was signed onto the practice squad in December 2011 after his release the previous September, and Cooper's an undrafted free agent. There had been battles at this position in recent years, but now, Kuhn's guaranteed to start, while Hoese and Cooper would be lucky to make the practice squad. The overall competition level here is very low.

Player Height Weight Age Experience
Coleman, B.J. 6-3 231 23 Rookie
Harrell, Graham 6-2 215 27 1
Rodgers, Aaron 6-2 225 28 8
The only competition is for the backup job, and Harrell might not even be battling Coleman for it. If not Harrell, would the coaches trust Coleman or look elsewhere for a veteran backup? While Matt Flynn was named the backup as a rookie in 2008, the odds are very long that it would happen again, especially for a small school player like Coleman. I'm expecting Coleman to spend a year developing on the practice squad no matter what happens to Harrell. The coaches are speaking highly of Harrell's development, and they've made no effort to find a veteran to compete against him, so I'm expecting him to look sharp this preseason. The overall competition between these three players is low, but Harrell's got a lot to prove this preseason.

Player Height Weight Age Experience
Bennett, Du'ane 5-9 213 23 Rookie
Green, Alex 6-0 225 24 2
Saine, Brandon 5-11 220 23 2
Starks, James 6-2 218 26 3
Tyler, Marc 5-11 226 23 Rookie
I haven't looked closely at every position on the roster, but I'd be shocked if there's a position with less experience. James Starks has played in only 21 career NFL games (including the playoffs) but he's by far the most experienced player of the bunch. Green appears to have a solid hold on the backup spot because the Packers made no effort to find a Plan B by either re-signing Ryan Grant or drafting another young back. So I expect the top three running backs will be Starks, Green, and Saine, with Saine's only concern whether he'll make the 53-man roster or have to stay on the practice squad again in 2012. However, Bennett and Tyler could challenge Saine with a strong preseason, and the three undrafted players may find themselves in a real battle for that final spot. The overall competition level is average, but only for the job as the No. 3 back.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Jaws Calls It: A-Rod's The Best

I'm not going to make a big deal about Ron Jaworski's decision to call Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers the best QB in the NFL. Everything Rodgers has done over the past four seasons has been very impressive, including his continuing development. He gets better every season.

But I found Jaworski's Top 30 quarterback rankings interesting. When I was reading through it, I split the list into two parts: before Cam Newton at No. 15, and after Alex Smith at No. 16.

First, it's ironic that Jaws ranked those two quarterbacks next to each other since Smith's been making some headlines for himself by talking about Newton this summer. But I thought the same thing about every quarterback ranked No. 1 through No. 15: he's good enough to win a title. If Newton or Stafford or Schaub was my starting quarterback, I'd leave him alone as the starter, make sure he has a good coordinator and supporting cast, and look to improve the rest of my team.

But if I had Smith, or Josh Freeman or Matt Hasselbeck, as my starting quarterback, I wouldn't be all-in. Some teams, the Titans for example, already have second year player Jake Locker waiting in the wings. I wouldn't have spent a high draft choice on a backup for Sam Bradford, who deserves a chance to start with better teammates and away from Josh McDaniels, but I'd have at least one other young QB on the roster to develop.

I'm just surprised the line is so bright between Newton and Smith, and that's it's right in the middle of the list of the Top 30 quarterbacks.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Randall Cobb Better Be Returning Kicks Next Season

Jason Wilde spoke with the Green Bay Packers special teams coach about Randall Cobb, and Shawn Slocum said that Cobb will remain in his role as a kick returner "no matter how vital he becomes on offense." Of course he should. The alternative, sitting an outstanding kick returner so he's ready to play as the No. 4 WR, is a ridiculous waste.

The Packers's special teams unit has been a sore spot for many seasons, but they finally played well in 2011 and earned a No. 8 overall ranking from Football Outsiders. Mason Crosby had a good season too, but the Packers scored a 3.1 and 3.8 on kick returns and punt returns, respectively. Those numbers were a dismal -6.1 and -2.4 in 2010. That's a hidden part of the game that helps explain, in part, why the Packers went from 10-6 in 2010 to 15-1 in 2011 while their defense was swirling the bowl.

Cobb's good enough to start at receiver in the NFL, but the Packers have the luxury of not needing him to. And as a late 2nd round pick, it's not like his salary is a drag on their salary cap, or on their ability to acquire help at other positions.

As a side topic, I haven't understood the rumors of trading James Jones. Those rumors were started once it was made known that Donald Driver was coming back next season, and his trade could also give Cobb more playing time. But Jones is more valuable to the Packers than to any other team. According to Football Outsiders, Jones was the No. 18 WR overall in 2011, and he wouldn't be that good on any other team as a No. 1 or No. 2 WR. That's the equivalent of Vincent Jackson's production, but at the price of a No. 3 WR. Unless another team wanted to give a high draft choice in return, and he's not worth that much on his own, the Packers wouldn't receive equal value in return.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Packers Drop A Lot of Passes

Kevin Seifert breaks down the good and the bad receivers in the NFC North, the ones who do and don't drop passes, and it's not a surprise that three Green Bay Packers made the bad list. 

TE Jermichael Finley. Despite all the potential he's shown over the past four seasons, 2011 was his career year because he finally played in every game. But there's still room for improvement. He's inconsistent, which is surprising because the Packers should be able to find a mismatch for him to attack each week. But he's also got to stop dropping so many passes. I'm not sure this is an area he'll actually show improvement next season.

WR James Jones. Seifert mentions his troubles in 2009, but he might have been thinking about 2010, when a thumb injury was revealed late in the season by Mike McCarthy. Jones has been inconsistent throughout his career, but once his thumb was healed, he rebounded with a very good 69% catch rate in 2011. While Finley has to improve his catch rate, only 60% in 2011, Jones just has to maintain his improvement from last season.

WR Donald Driver. Over the past couple of seasons, there have been some frustrating moments when he's dropped passes in the middle of the field on a slant route that it seemed like he should have caught. However, his 2011 catch rate of 66% is actually higher than other seasons. His current job to catch fastballs from Aaron Rodgers in-between multiple defenders is probably a lot harder than it looks.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Where In The World Is Ryan Grant?

I'm a little disappointed the Green Bay Packers didn't make an effort to re-sign RB Ryan Grant. I'm not exactly inspired by a group of running backs led by an oft-injured back (James Starks), another coming off a major knee injury (Alex Green), and a bunch of undrafted players (Du'ane Bennett, Brandon Saine, and Marc Tyler). However, that might be good enough for an offense that doesn't rely on the running game.

There's also some comfort in the fact that John Kuhn is still around if an emergency strikes. But Grant could have provided something none of them could: a back who can still play and was playing at an elite level as recently as 2009. Also, he did finish strong last season.
Grant's agent says that he's made visits and received multiple offers, but "the deals haven't been right." I'm sure that's why the Packers aren't paying him anymore. With the exception of Donald Driver, the Packers don't pay for veteran backups who aren't contributing on special teams. And even Driver is arguably a valuable special teams performer for when they need him to play on the hands team during an onside kick.

Grant was OK last season, ranked No. 27 overall by Football Outsiders, but the guy ranked ahead of him at No. 26, Raiders RB Michael Bush, just received a four-year, $3 million per season, $7 million guaranteed contract from the Bears. I think the Bears overpaid for a backup RB, that's starter's money, but Grant is arguably Bush without as many attempts. It's reasonable for him to believe that he should be paid the same.

But Grant is two years older and there's only one Bears team out there will to overpay for a backup RB. No one is obviously viewing either player as a starter, or they'd be starting for that hypothetical team. Hopefully his agent isn't waiting for just the right opportunity and a contract in the $2 to 3 million range because I don't think it exists. There will be an injury or two during the preseason, there always is, but that doesn't mean that team will consider Grant as an option.

It would really be a shame if he doesn't play next season because he should still be playing football. He's still a good backup, and he'd be a better replacement starter than many backups on other teams. While he's never done much on special teams with the Packers, back when he was with the Giants, he was great at playing on the scout team and pretending to be the opponent's starting running back. That's probably not worth $3 million, but that should be worth something to many teams.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Packers 90-man Roster: Cornerbacks

One of the biggest surprises in last April's draft was that the Green Bay Packers selected a cornerback (Casey Hayward) in the 2nd round. Maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise based on the terrible 2011 season, but I thought the coaches were looking for a bounce back season from Tramon Williams and/or Sam Shields. Instead, they added a shot of competition to the position.

Player Height Weight Age Experience
Bush, Jarrett 6-0 200 28 7
Hayward, Casey 5-11 192 22 Rookie
House, Davon 6-0 195 22 2
Merrill, Otis 5-11 188 24 Rookie
Ross, Brandian 6-0 191 22 1
Shields, Sam 5-11 184 24 3
Turner, Dion 5-11 194 23 Rookie
Williams, Tramon 5-11 191 29 6
Woodson, Charles 6-1 202 35 15

At first glance this looks like a tough spot for three rookies, and a 2011 practice squad member (Ross) who's had zero regular season experience. Unless Hayward is a complete disaster in training camp, which is very unlikely, he'll move into the spot vacated by former Packer Pat Lee, who's now with the Raiders.

Then it comes down to whether one of the three undrafted free agents (Merrill, Ross, Turner) can move ahead of House. While the most likely result is that they're only competing against each other for a spot on the practice squad, the fact remains that House was given zero opportunities last season while the secondary was imploding. If House struggles during the preseason, he could have reason to worry.

But other than a possible competition for the final spot on the 53-man roster, the depth chart should remain the same. Woodson is back, and Bush was re-signed to back him up. Shields took a big step back in 2011, but he played with the first team defense during the open OTAs. Some concern remains about whether Williams is fully recovered from his shoulder injury, but his injured nerve will heal at some point and he kept his starting job throughout 2011 despite his bad shoulder.

Overall competition level: low. Other than a potential battle between Shields and Hayward/House/Bush for the nickelback, there shouldn't be too many surprises here once the longshot, undrafted undrafted cornerbacks fail to move up the depth chart. The cornerbacks need to play a lot better in 2012, but that doesn't mean that there will be a lot of changes to the roster.