2011 August : Packers Insider

Packers’ Mike Neal still aiming for Saints

August 29, 2011 by  
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By Pete Dougherty, Press-Gazette

~Defensive end Mike Neal says he has an excellent chance of returning to practice next week and playing in the Packers’ regular-season opener against New Orleans.

Neal has been out since injuring his knee in practice Aug. 16. “I’m on good time right now to be ready for the first game,” Neal said, “and that’s probably where we’re going to lay our money right now, to be ready for the first game. I feel good.”

Neal knows that he is being counted on to fill most of the shoes of Cullen Jenkins, but he doesn't know when he'll ever be healthy enough to get and stay on the field.

The Packers are looking to him to play a key role in their defense as an inside rusher after they lost Cullen Jenkins from that role in free agency.

“I should be able to practice next week,” Neal said. “I’m not saying that 100 percent sure, but as far as I’m concerned I’m on good pace to be able to do some things next week and take it from there.”

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Packers’ Rookie Tori Gurley has special talent

August 29, 2011 by  
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By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – The evolution of Tori Gurley, Punt Blocker Extraordinaire, traces back to a student/faculty basketball game.

Gurley was in the sixth grade. He broke free on a fast break and flushed his first-ever dunk. One year later, in a real game, Gurley palmed a missed shot in midair and dunked.

"We have an opportunity to win another Super Bowl," he said, "and I want to be a part of that."

“I was always just so long,” said the Green Bay Packers wide receiver, pausing to outstretch his arms in the locker room.

This sheer length has become Gurley’s best weapon. The undrafted rookie faced long odds from Day 1 here. His position is overcrowded. One roster spot – maybe – is up for grabs at wide receiver.

By his count, Gurley has blocked five punts in practice. And two days after his clutch catch set up Mason Crosby’s game-winning field goal in Indianapolis, the 6-foot-4 wideout from South Carolina put on a show on offense at practice Sunday.

With judgment day rapidly approaching, this dark-horse is picking up momentum at the best possible time.

“It’s happening,” Gurley said. “It’s something I’ve worked very hard for. I’m going to continue to work because that’s the only thing I can control.”

All camp, Gurley has been a problem for the Packers’ punt team. Block No. 5 came Sunday. Using his long arms, Gurley has closed in fast on punter Tim Masthay. He never played defensive end, but Gurley has enjoyed imitating two of his favorite players growing up, Jevon Kearse and Julius Peppers.

Gurley insists this was all part of his plan. All along, he wanted to leave college a year early for the pros. So, thinking ahead, the wide receiver asked to play on special teams as a junior. In addition to compiling 44 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns, Gurley lined up as the left tackle on kickoff returns, the gunner on the punt team and he rushed off the edge on punt returns.

Against the Colts, Gurley was a hiccup away from his first preseason blocked punt. With 5 minutes to go, he blew through safety Mike Newton and nearly lunged for the block. On the fly, he contemplated the game situation. Down, 14-13. Time ticking. Gurley lived for another day. At the last moment, he pulled up.

Gurley ended up getting the last word anyway. After Green Bay recovered its onside kick after tying the game at 21, Gurley caught a 12-yard pass from No. 3 quarterback Graham Harrell and toted a Colts defender on his back to get out of bounds. One play later, Crosby was in range for his game-winning 50-yard field goal.

“I thought that was the biggest play of the game for us – the throw, the catch and the ability to get out of bounds,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s making plays on a regular basis. He’s doing a nice job.”

Veteran Donald Driver understands this back-roads entrance to the NFL. He needed to excel on special teams to claw into the league himself. In Gurley, and all of Green Bay’s young receivers, he sees part of his old self.

“When he came in, he was nervous and didn’t know what to expect,” Driver said. “Now, he’s getting into his own. His confidence level is great. He’s going out there and making plays.”

Gurley will not be a burner, by any means, at this level. Competitors Chastin West and Diondre Borel are much quicker. To compensate, Gurley relies on focus and body control. With the Gamecocks, he never dropped a pass. And at 83½ inches, Gurley had the longest arm-span among wide receivers at the NFL scouting combine. Alabama’s Julio Jones was next at 81¾. No other receiver eclipsed 80.

Several times throughout camp, this pterodactyl build has helped Gurley in one-on-one situations. On Sunday, he beat fourth-round cornerback Davon House for a pair of deep balls. On one, Gurley adjusted to an underthrown pass from Aaron Rodgers in traffic. A flag was thrown, though Gurley says he was clean. Soon after, he caught another deep pass with Pat Lee in coverage.

“It’s not all about speed,” Gurley said. “Jerry Rice defined that a long time ago as well as Larry Fitzgerald. It’s like he has eyes on the back of his head and he turns into a ballerina/basketball player. It’s poetry in motion. That’s something I try to mold myself as. When the ball’s in the air, it’s mine.”

Full story from Tyler here

Lambeau Expansion plans to create a “Wall of Noise” for opponents

August 26, 2011 by  
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By Vic Ketchman, Packers.com

~Mark Murphy assured Packers fans the new Lambeau Field renovation won’t cause the league’s most venerable facility to sacrifice any of its charm or intimacy.

“I think it’s going to make it more intimate,” the Packers president and CEO told media at Thursday morning’s press conference. “We feel very confident these seats are going to be very popular. High seats in the end zone are very attractive.”

Packers president Mark Murphy explains the exciting new expansion plans for Lambeau Field.

The Packers also feel the 6,600 seats that will be added to the south end zone of Lambeau Field will make the stadium one of the loudest outdoor facilities in the league, and that is likely to translate into more wins for the Packers, and that should also make the project very, very popular with Packers fans.

“Wall of Lambeau,” Murphy said in painting a description of the planned expansion. “Wall of fans or wall of sound,” he added.

Head Coach Mike McCarthy will be most happy to hear about that. The Bears, Lions and Vikings, however, won’t be happy at all. By the start of the 2013 season, when the renovation will be complete, winning a football game at Lambeau Field will become even more difficult for visiting teams.

The two most asked questions about this latest renovation of Lambeau Field, which will begin on Sept. 1, are: 1.) What’s it going to cost the taxpayer? 2.) Will it in any way lessen the Lambeau experience?

Murphy and the Packers assure fans the answer to both questions is no.

OK, then, where are the shovels?

Adding a wall of seats will do more than allow 6,000 new fans seats in: It will create more noise for opponents to have to deal with.

“All of us feel a sense of responsibility that this is an icon. This is the best stadium in the NFL and you want to make sure you do it right,” Murphy said. “We want people to look at the south end zone and say it looks like it’s always been there.”

Murphy, Packers VP/General Counsel Jason Wied and Ann Patteson of the Stadium District stood in front of the media on Thursday, along with two handsome artists’ renderings of the planned expansion. The rendering that most clearly represents Murphy’s “Wall of Lambeau” is, in a word, inspiring. You could almost hear the roar of the crowd coming from it.

“By making them vertical, you’re going to hold the noise in the stadium. We think it’ll make a tremendous impact on the noise level of the stadium,” Wied said.

Lambeau has always been a difficult place for visiting teams to play, but it’s not an especially loud facility. Its noise tends to go straight up. The “wall” will hold it in.

Murphy’s “wall” will also guarantee continued success for the franchise’s financials. Just as the renovation that was completed in 2003 helped keep the Packers competitive with the explosion of new stadiums in the league over the last 10 years, this latest renovation of the “House Lombardi Built” will allow the Packers to keep pace with the next wave of facilities, a phase that was kicked off most recently by new stadiums in Dallas and New York.

“The real positives of the (CBA) are that we have certainty, we have 10-year labor peace and we have incentive for teams to move forward like this,” Murphy said, the latter positive referring to a league contribution to new stadium construction up to 1.5 percent of a team’s total revenue. In Green Bay, given the Packers’ revenue and how far 1.5 can go, that’s a very, very attractive incentive.

Murphy also assured fans the major portion of the construction won’t begin until immediately following the conclusion of the 2011 season, “right after the NFC Championship Game is here,” he said.

That would also be very popular.

Younger Green Bay Packers inside linebackers make noise during preseason

August 26, 2011 by  
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By Todd McMahon, Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers made some noise in the days before training camp started when they cut veteran linebackers Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar.

Those moves, which cleared about $8 million in salary-cap space for the team, not only solidified a change in on-field complexion with the inside linebackers that began last season but also brought a different tenor to the position room this preseason.

Linebackers Robert Francois, left, and D.J. Smith during Green Bay Packers training camp practice on Ray Nitschke Field on Aug. 24, 2011. / File/Press-Gazette

“It’s really like a library right now,” starter Desmond Bishop said Wednesday, after the Packers held their final practice of the week before tonight’s exhibition game at Indianapolis.

The release of Barnett, in particular, meant the end of a prolific but injury-marred run of eight years in Green Bay for the team’s 2003 first-round draft pick, who also had a reputation for being one of its more vocal players. If he wasn’t turning up the music in the locker room, Barnett would chatter away about any number of topics in the more confined meeting rooms.

“It’s different not having Nick in the (position) room,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said this week. “Nick was a piece of work. So, it’s a quiet room this year. That’s a relief.”

The hush that has pervaded Moss’ daily meetings with his group has created a different set of challenges for the longtime assistant coach. Beyond Bishop and fellow starter A.J. Hawk, who at 27 are the oldest players at the position, Moss has been doing a lot more teaching and molding with several young players who are battling to fill the backup spots.

“Their heads are down, grinding, they’re writing everything I talk about,” Moss said of the classroom work during camp. “They want to impress. It means a lot to them. They know there’s a great opportunity in front of them, and they want to take advantage.”

The 5-foot-11 rookie D.J. Smith, one of the shortest players on the camp roster, has stood out with a combination of innate and playmaking abilities. The sixth-round pick was a tackle machine in college at Appalachian State, totaling 525 in his career to lead all active Division I players in 2010. As much as Smith doesn't have the prototypical size for an NFL linebacker, Capers and Moss are quick to argue size can be overrated. "Maybe the best inside linebacker I was ever with was about (D.J.'s) size — Sam Mills," Capers said. "I was with Sam for 12 years at three different places, and he made five Pro Bowls. And, he's not as tall as D.J. "You don't want to make comparisons and that, but I think he's got some instincts," Capers said of D.J. Smith.

More than three weeks of practices and two games into the preseason, Moss as well as defensive coordinator Dom Capers and coach Mike McCarthy feel considerably better about the depth at inside linebacker.

When the Packers started camp July 30 with Barnett and the versatile but similarly injury-prone Chillar in the rearview mirror, one of the few concerns for the reigning Super Bowl champions was what to make of the unknown understudies to Bishop and Hawk. After all, none of the five non-starters the team has had on the field for most of the preseason has played one meaningful snap in an NFL game.

Full article here

Packers QB Graham Harrell solidifies roster spot

August 22, 2011 by  
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By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – James Jones took the two-second tour of Graham Harrell’s place.

One big screen TV, hooked up to a video game. One floor-level rocking chair for gamers. Clothes hung on doorknobs.

An air mattress.

“Yeah, but it’s a top-of-the-line air mattress,” said Harrell, citing the $200 cost.

Graham Harrell gives a little girl a hand slap while riding a bike to practice during training camp earlier this month.

That’s it.

That’s your third-string Green Bay Packers quarterback living large, rolling to work in his 2003 Nissan Altima and coming home to a sparsely furnished basement apartment.

“He needs a good girl to come around,” Jones, a veteran receiver, said with a laugh.

Or maybe an indication that he’s going to stick around.

With his performance so far, it is possible that Harrell might have a reason to hang up a Home Sweet Home sign in Green Bay.

In limited, late action against Cleveland and Arizona in preseason games, Harrell played very well. He completed 18 of 31 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown.

He looked comfortable rolling out in the bootleg or picking up a first down on the run. In a recent practice he wowed everyone with a 50-yard post throw to Tori Gurley.

“He’s always thrown a good ball, but he’s starting to understand the offense a lot more,” said Jones. “It’s a 360-degree change from last year to this year, especially when he gets in the shotgun; it’s like being back at Texas Tech.”

Harrell’s teammates say he’s at his best when he’s in the shotgun, the formation that helped him accrue 134 passing touchdowns and 1,403 completions at Texas Tech – the best in NCAA history – and 15,793 career passing yards, second best in NCAA history. Even behind Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn, Harrell’s ability is starting to stand out.

“The third team can be hectic, but when we go in the gun in two-minute, that’s how he played at Texas Tech,” said rookie receiver Randall Cobb. “That’s his bread and butter.”

Harrell looked even better against Arizona than he did in Cleveland, where he lost possession a couple of times. Getting sacked three times didn’t help – one hit came from Harrell’s blind side. Quarterbacks coach Tom Clements said Harrell just needed to be more conscious of ball security and that comes with experience.

“We had four balls on the ground when he was in there and I think two were his fault and two were not,” said Clements.

Against the Cardinals, the protection was better and so was Harrell. He led a drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Taylor, sealing a victory.

It’s a thrill for him, especially since Harrell might not be here if it weren’t for another NFL coach.

Even with 20 games passing for more than 400 yards with Texas Tech, Harrell wasn’t drafted. Just as Rodgers had to debunk some theories about Jeff Tedford-coached quarterbacks, Harrell may have to bypass a stereotype of quarterbacks who thrived in a Mike Leach spread offense.

“So many quarterbacks have come out of that kind of system, Leach’s offense in particular at Texas Tech, and all had great numbers,” said Harrell. “For one reason or another, they didn’t catch on in the league and they were all good quarterbacks.”

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy watches quarterback Graham Harrell throw a pass during NFL football training camp Saturday, July 30, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

At the combine, Harrell struck up a conversation with Carl Smith, then the quarterbacks coach in Cleveland who has since moved on to Seattle. Smith brought Harrell to the Browns as a free agent for a minicamp in 2009, but they already had a Brady Quinn-Derek Anderson quarterback battle.

So Harrell headed to the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was on their injured list, the CFL’s weird way of keeping players, especially American players, on the payroll so they aren’t claimed elsewhere. But he was healthy and practiced all season and said the bigger field helped expand his range.

“It forced you to make bigger throws,” said Harrell. “One of the knocks of Texas Tech quarterbacks – me or anyone out of there – is that we don’t make big throws, don’t want to go deep. You go to Canada with a 65-yard wide field, you have to make the big throw.”

The Browns called him back for a minicamp in 2010 again, but the numbers were against Harrell. He was let go. And then an unusual thing happened.

“Carl Smith said, ‘I’m going to get you somewhere,’ and he called six teams to get tryouts lined up,” said Harrell. “One of the teams he called was Green Bay. He knows Dom Capers pretty well and he called Dom. In this business, you don’t get people to do that for you too much.”

Capers is the defensive coordinator in Green Bay, and Harrell landed in Green Bay in May 2010. He spent most of last season on the practice squad until he was called up in mid-December to the active roster when Rodgers suffered his concussions. He didn’t play in any game.

Then the lockout offered a potential setback. Harrell missed all of coach Mike McCarthy and Clements’ quarterback school, instruction that Rodgers and Flynn found valuable in their development.

“The lack of the off-season probably did hurt him the most. Matt and Aaron had been through our off-season,” said Clements. “It’s a tough thing to refine the offense. It was hardest on Graham. The off-season would have been important for him.”

In quarterback school, the Packers go over the offense slowly, reviewing basics and instilling philosophies. They may work on a single drill in a 50-minute session.

There’s no time for that now in training camp, said Clements, so they’ve taken an abbreviated version, going over a drill or two a day and getting in a little extra meeting time.

Harrell seems to have responded. His off-season mostly consisted of running around with younger brother Clark. They’d lift in the morning and play tennis in the afternoon and basketball at night before Harrell would crash on Clark’s couch in Abilene, Texas.

“Every now and then I think Clark’s wife would get tired of me, but she’s a good sport,” said Harrell.

But Harrell is always around football-thinking family members. His father, Sam, was a high school coach, so dedicated to the game that even after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis he coached his kids from a golf cart. Harrell’s older brother Zac is also a coach.

Football is in Graham’s blood and that explains why the no-huddle shotgun remains an asset, because Harrell can fall back on his instincts and attack, keeping a watchful eye for a blitz to get him off his rhythm.

“It’s a lot of fun going no-huddle. You get the tempo up and the defense on their heels,” said Harrell. “Other guys can feel that too. Last year I was just trying to repeat what the coach told me and think, where is everyone going to be. Now, as soon as I hear it, I know what I’m doing.”

And where he’s staying.

Full story here

Green Bay Packers, Howard Green a good fit for each other

August 21, 2011 by  
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By Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~The rags-to-riches story of Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Howard Green last season is almost too good to be true and stretches the bounds of believability.

Howard Green forces Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw the interception that led to Nick Collins' touchdown during the first half of NFL Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas.

Green was cut by the New York Jets last October because he weighed too much. Within hours the Packers claimed him off waivers, and days later Green helped the Packers shut out the Jets in a late October regular-season game.

Vindication was sweet, but the story got better.

The Packers have appreciated the very thing the Jets fired Green for — his considerable girth. Green’s big body and run-stopping ability was considered a blessing in Green Bay and he became a valuable part of the Packers’ Super Bowl run.

Once in the championship game, Green’s story only got better.

Green rushed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first half and hit him as he was releasing a pass. The resulting errant throw was intercepted by Nick Collins and returned for a touchdown, a crucial play in the Packers’ 31-25 victory.

“I guess the Jets felt he wasn’t what they needed,” said Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji. “We’re grateful he was what we need. He came in and played well for us, and the rest is history.

He was a huge part of our Super Bowl success. Hopefully he’ll continue to be a great part of our success.”

It was as if Green fell into the Packers’ laps at just the right time.

The Packers were looking to give Raji and Ryan Pickett some help stuffing the run and eating up blocks.

“It kind of fit a need for us right at that point in time,” said defensive coordinator Dom Capers. “One thing about this league, if you get to where you aren’t very big up front and people can pound you running the football, it affects the whole shooting match.”

In other words, it never hurts to have an extra big body on the roster. Green is listed at 340 pounds, although it’s believed he weighs more than that.

Unlike the Jets, the Packers aren’t stressing about numbers on a scale. They’re more concerned with what Green can do on the field.

“It’s funny how things go in this league,” said Capers. “I don’t know whether it was the weight issue that (the Jets) got frustrated with. Sometimes you just have to be careful not to draw a line in the sand.”

Green didn’t report to training camp this summer in tip-top physical condition, which isn’t unusual for a man his size. It also didn’t help that the NFL lockout prevented the Packers from having any offseason contact with players.

“When big guys get away from you, you always worry about them,” said Packers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac. “When they’re away from the facility they have a tendency to (fall out of shape).”

But Trgovac isn’t worried about Green based on what he’s seen in training camp so far.

“(He’s) working hard to get into shape,” said Trgovac. “He didn’t come back so far out of shape that you’re looking at him like a huge mountain to climb.”

While he was initially angry when the Jets dumped him, Green has gotten over it. He harbors no resentment and has no desire to gloat.

“It’s business,” said Green. “They felt like it was something they had to do.

“It was time for me to go and this is where I need to be and this is where I should be. I’m here now and happy to be a Packer.”

Green plays mostly at end but is also getting reps at nose tackle. While other defensive linemen have fallen down with injuries in training camp, Green has remained steady.

It’s apparent Green feels at home with the Packers and is grateful to finally feel wanted by his employer. In return, he will attempt to move mountains if that’s what the Packers ask.

He knows he can plug me in anywhere he needs me at anytime,” Green said of Trgovac.

Things couldn’t have turned out any better since landing with the Packers, according to Green.

“It was pretty sweet,” he said. “Real sweet deal. I’ll take it.”

Not surprisingly, the Packers feel the same way about Green.

Full story found here

Packers Items, Gifts: Things you Don’t have yet

August 21, 2011 by  
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By Brian E Murphy

~Packers fans have everything. Well not everything.  Not yet.

This is an exclusive Packers calendar, created by our own Brian E Murphy, signed and Limited Edition pastel.

Here are a few cool Packers items, sets, collectibles that are exclusive to us here at Packers Insider.

This is a limited edition Randall Cobb pre-rookie card, not found anywhere else.

See items here, which are being added as fast as possible.

Defensive Line may function fine as-is

August 21, 2011 by  
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By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – Some thoughts on the Green Bay Packers after their 28-20 exhibition victory over the Arizona Cardinals Friday night at Lambeau Field.

When general manager Ted Thompson said at halftime that he wasn’t thinking about adding a veteran defensive lineman, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn undoubtedly were uppermost in his mind.

It was just another insignificant exhibition, but based on how well Wilson and Wynn played, there now is some tangible evidence that the Packers’ D-line might be fine as presently constituted.

As it stands now, the Packers probably enter the season with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal starting and Wilson, Wynn and Howard Green backing up. That’s assuming Neal’s knee doesn’t get worse and the head injury that Wilson suffered late in the first quarter and led to concussion testing doesn’t sideline him for long.

Linebacker A.J. Hawk (second from right) calls the play in the defensive huddle during Friday’s exhibition game against the Cardinals. Big Grease, Ryan Pickett, centers the photo.

Rookie end Lawrence Guy, who sat out with a concussion, still has a chance, too.Wilson’s night ended after just 11 snaps, including seven at right end in the 3-4, three at left end in the 3-4 and one at left tackle in the 4-1. His three best plays came against the run.

On the Cardinals’ first play from scrimmage, former Packers left guard Daryn Colledge appeared to miss an assignment and didn’t even block Wilson. He shot through and tackled Beanie Wells.

A series later, Wilson trashed Colledge and hit Wells in the backfield for minus-1.

And on the first play of his final series, Wilson kept his pads low and withstood a double-team block by right tackle Brandon Keith and tight end Jeff King. As Wilson looked for the ball, Wells powered straight into him and Wilson made the tackle for a gain of 2.

Wilson stayed in the game for one more play, but it can be presumed that his head injury occurred on the collision with Wells.

You could ding Wilson for allowing Wells to run past him for 7 yards as he was engaged with a blocker. He also was stymied on four one-on-one pass rushes.

All in all, the game probably represented Wilson’s finest moment since the start of camp. He has had a rather spotty summer.

While Wilson started for Neal in base, Wynn started for him in nickel. Then, after Wilson went down, Wynn played a full three quarters.

Wynn was the club’s best rusher. His pair of knockdowns came against Rex Hadnot, the starting right guard, and Lyle Sendlein, the starting center. In the second half, he had two flushes, including one against veteran left tackle D’Anthony Baptiste.

His best play against the run came on the goal line when he played off a double-team by Batiste and tight end Jim Dray to stop the ball carrier for no gain.

The Packers’ only sack was recorded by Pickett after Kevin Kolb held the ball for an eternity. The reason Kolb fled the pocket was an inside charge by Howard Green, who beat Hadnot. Green looked good against the run, too.

Nobody’s saying the Packers won’t miss Cullen Jenkins. The Packers will have to run an abundance of stunts in an attempt to get Raji in gear and moving away from the nonstop double-teaming that he will encounter. For the sake of the pass rush, as well as Raji, it’s essential that Neal stay on the field and perform well.

It’s just that on Saturday afternoon, the Packers must have felt better about their D-line depth than they did on Friday afternoon.

Rookie Derek Sherrod played as poorly as any Packers’ offensive lineman has played in a long time.

In the first half, Sherrod played strictly as a left guard and was on the field for 14 snaps. In the second half, all of his nine snaps came at left tackle. That’s 23 plays in all, the equivalent of about one-third of a regular-season game.

The fact that Sherrod was almost twice as bad as he was a week ago in Cleveland should be of major concern. Against the Browns, eight of his 43 plays were negative, or 18.6%. Against the Cardinals, nine of his 23 plays were negative, or 39.1%.

As a guard, Sherrod had fits against Calais Campbell, a fourth-year defensive end with tremendous size. Sherrod didn’t get his hands anywhere near Campbell’s chest before he whipped outside him to sack Aaron Rodgers in just 2.8 seconds. Later, he was bulled backward by Campbell only to be saved by a double-team.

On a run by Ryan Grant for 1, Sherrod simply fell off Campbell and he made the tackle. On the goal line, Alex Green would have scored standing up if Sherrod had been able to sustain against Vonnie Holliday, who made the tackle.

When lined up at left tackle, his position at Mississippi State, Sherrod wasn’t any better.

On the first play of the third quarter, Sherrod missed Holliday on the back side and the veteran tackled Green for no gain. On Sherrod’s last three plays, he failed to reach the second level and his man tackled Green for minus-1; he was beat wide by O’Brien Schofield for a sack in 2.9 seconds; and then he was beat again by Schofield on a spin move inside.

That would have been another sack except Matt Flynn got the ball out in 2.0 seconds to Chastin West for a 97-yard TD.

We all know the mitigating factors: Sherrod is playing two positions, never played guard until a month ago, didn’t have an off-season and other high picks at tackle have struggled early, too.

That might all be true, but this is about protecting the quarterback and defending a championship. Performance is all that matters for a team of this caliber.

There’s no longer a question that T.J. Lang is the better choice at left guard than Sherrod. In 26 snaps against Arizona (21 left guard, five left tackle), Lang had three negative plays, or 11.5%.

Lang played stronger this week, looked more sure of himself and made two or three excellent run blocks at the linebacker level. He has to be more aware and handle stunts better.

If Chad Clifton went down, the real question is whether Sherrod or Marshall Newhouse would be the better alternative.

Newhouse isn’t there yet. He has a tendency to get lazy with his hands and feet, and in his six-series stint he had two or three poor plays.

But Newhouse improved considerably from Cleveland, where he was a liability at right tackle. Four of his six series against Arizona were on the right side, and I never thought twice about him being out of his comfort zone.

He learned how to overcome, or at least compensate for his deficiencies. Sherrod hasn’t.

Erik Walden was given the big chance in practice last week and in the game to secure the right outside linebacker job. He didn’t do it.

Meanwhile, Frank Zombo quietly put together a solid performance playing on the left outside for injured Clay Matthews.

When Zombo came to Green Bay last year he was primarily a bull rusher. Now, he has a much wider repertoire of moves.

Against Arizona, Zombo used a spin move for a knockdown, split a double-team for a hurry and posted another knockdown against Keith.

Zombo and Walden represent the best positional battle of training camp. They hail from football nowheresville, and their tough, resourceful, no-nonsense style of play reflects it.

Each will play from scrimmage this season but don’t expect either man to back off until Mike McCarthy declares a winner.

Full story here

Packers WR’s extremely deep: tough roster decisions ahead

August 21, 2011 by  
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By Thomas Silverstein, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – For fledgling NFL players, trying to crack the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster is about as difficult as scoring a part in a Martin Scorsese film.

There’s too much A-list talent already signed up.

But the deliberations general manager Ted Thompson will have to make in casting the defending Super Bowl champions may be as challenging as any in his career because of potential talent hidden among the 86 players he has in training camp.

Take, for instance, the wide receiver position.

You can pencil in Greg Jennings, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb to the 53-man roster. And you can pretty much assume Donald Driver will be there, too.

But what does he do with a guy like Chastin West, who spent the entire 2010 season on the practice squad and blasted into the forefront with five catches for 134 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals Friday night?

Chastin West loses his helmet after catching a pass during Friday’s exhibition win. West had five catches for 134 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown reception, against the Arizona Cardinals.

It would be one thing if West were the only receiver causing Thompson a double-take, but rookies Diondre Borel and Tory Gurley have been pretty good, too. What in the name of roster limits is Thompson to do?

From West’s perspective, this is exactly the dilemma he wanted to create.

“You have really good receivers who just won the Super Bowl and played well in the Super Bowl,” he said after his big preseason performance against the Cardinals. “You have to change their mind and do what you can do to make the team.”

It might seem easy for Thompson to say he’ll go with six wide receivers on the roster – he usually goes with five – but that means taking from another position to pump up one that already is deep and talented.

He could carry one fewer running back, but he’s got a problem there, too.

In addition to James Starks and Ryan Grant, fourth-round pick Alex Green has shown considerable promise, John Kuhn is a lock as the top fullback and Dimitri Nance and Quinn Johnson are in the running for spots as well. The fewest running backs Thompson has kept is five in 2008 and six has been the norm.

If he keeps just five, that means there’s no chance to keep undrafted rookie Brandon Saine, who has looked surprisingly good, and might mean the release of Grant. If he keeps six at this spot, he then has to make up for the extra receiver somewhere else.

How about at tight end?

Forget about that. At this point, he could legitimately keep five of the six he has in camp. Jermichael Finley is the only lock, but Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor, Tom Crabtree and Spencer Havner are all options.

Cut Quarless and you’d be letting go of your second-best athlete at the position. Let Crabtree go and you lose your best blocker. Taylor has been too good to let go, and Williams has done enough to make you think he’s a prospect.

Say Thompson keeps five. He could count one as a fullback and keep just four backs, but there would be some risk involved in that since the tight ends really only serve as fullbacks on passing downs. If something happened to Kuhn, he’d be in trouble in short yardage situations.

There’s always the possibility Thompson could keep nine offensive linemen or defensive backs instead of the usual 10, but getting caught short in those positions can be deadly for a contender. He very well could want to keep an extra defensive back with youngsters like Brandian Ross and Josh Gordy pushing for a spot.

And so the deliberations continue.

“It’s like musical chairs,” West said of his chances. “Sometimes the chair is going to be there when the music stops.”

Quick to the line: In both preseason games, the Packers were slow out of the gate offensively.

Then they went to the no-huddle offense and marched down the field for touchdowns. It’s starting to look as if the no-huddle could be something the Packers use a lot more.

“We’ll see,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s something that we can use. It’s been in the plan for a while. We worked on it last preseason a lot, never really ran it in a game and didn’t use it until the Atlanta game. I think it was Week 12. We’ll see what happens.”

From Rodgers’ standpoint, it’s a good tempo-setter, but running it won’t be as easy in the regular season because opponents will prepare for it and be ready to defend it.

“Defenses have really passed up offenses as far as schematically and doing things that will make it difficult for the offense to know who’s coming and what coverage to play behind it,” Rodgers said. “When you get in the no-huddle, it can vanilla that down a little.

“But some teams are going to game-plan for us and we’ll figure out what kind of role that no-huddle is going to play for us.”

Loud and clear: Chalk up one thumbs up for the Packers’ new sound system at Lambeau Field.

“That’s an improvement,” Rodgers said. “They’re still playing that ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ song. I don’t know if we can get that out of there. But it’s nice to be back in Lambeau.”

Practice schedule: The Packers do not practice Sunday. They will be off until Monday when they take the field at 11:15 a.m.

They have a short week with practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then preseason game No. 3 Friday at Indianapolis.

Full story here

With their even-keeled leaders, the Packers could very well repeat

August 15, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By Peter King, Sports Illustrated

~This week, I thought of my conversation with Mike McCarthy on a bench next to the Packers’ practice field Tuesday night in Green Bay. It was around 9:45. The players were gone, the fans were gone, and now it was just me and McCarthy, with a couple of PR people in the wings, on a chilly night that felt more like Oct. 9 than Aug. 9.

McCarthy was telling me a story about the Super Bowl championship banner the Packers had installed at the Hutson Center indoor practice facility, across from Lambeau Field, when no one was looking. The players were back at practice on an inclement day, working indoors at the Hutson Center, when McCarthy elbowed a couple and said, “Hey, look.” And there it was.

Maybe it’s not a big deal that the Packers didn’t have a big ceremony to raise the banner or a ceremony when the fourth Lombardi Trophy was put in a case outside the locker room. And when the Packers play the opener Sept. 8 against New Orleans, there will be a simple “2010” unveiled near the other 12 years the team won a championship. No flags, no banners. Just a year, with, as GM Ted Thompson told me, “sort of a tablecloth over it, and we’ll pull that off, and then we’ll play football. That’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy deserve credit for what they've accomplished in Green Bay.

The celebrations are Ted Thompson’s responsibility. And so banners are going to be put up when no one is looking — in this case, by stadium workers on a quiet day in June with no attention — and there won’t be any pomp, because in Thompson’s world, this is the Packer Way. Act like you’ve been there before. This is what the Packers are supposed to do.

***

“It’s funny,” Aaron Rodgers told me. “When I was sitting in that Green Room at the draft in New York, and I was dropping, and no one would pick me, the last thing I was thinking was it was a good thing. But I’m glad I got to fall way down. I should be here. It’s the place for me. The game is bigger than us. The team is more than us. It’s a community team, blue-collar and understated and not at all about self-glorification. Vince Lombardi put it that way: Winning is the only thing that matters. It’s about the team.”

We’re in a me-first era. In most places maybe, but not in Green Bay. Not with Thompson and McCarthy and Rodgers, the leaders of this group. I have no idea if they’ll repeat (a dirty word to McCarthy, who thinks every year is a new year with new players), but I do know they’ve created a model that every youth coach, every high school coach, every college coach and, yes, a whole lot of pro coaches would be smart to emulate. It’s not just something they say in front of the minicams, and then sneak off to New York to make a commercial for Visa. It’s who they are.

There’s such a head-scratching lack of look-at-me in this organization. Then you see where it came from. Thompson, from the bedrock roots of Texas high school and college football. McCarthy, who learned the Pittsburgh way, who got his start in the coaching business by working at Pitt for nothing and collecting tolls at night on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to pay his rent. And Rodgers, who rose from no scholarship offers out of high school to a hardscrabble junior college to Cal to Brett Favre’s caddie to the Super Bowl. I told Rodgers I remembered the Dallas Morning News story about his roots during Super Bowl week in February, and his dad, a chiropractor in California, having no shred of evidence in his office — not a photo, trophy or framed ticket stub — that his son was an athlete of any sort.

“We’re not big public-eye people,” Rodgers said.

When he came to Green Bay and sat for three years, he was even less of a public-eye person. Favre was The Man. And when Favre continued to waffle about whether he wanted to play or not, Rodgers said nothing. When the Packers stood behind Rodgers, he said little. When Favre came back to try to regain his job, Rodgers said nothing.

And when it was the biggest story in sports back in 2008 — pick a side: you’re for Favre or for Rodgers, and there’s no middle ground — Rodgers said precious little. Rodgers knew Thompson and McCarthy had his back, and though it was going to be tough, he could trust them to keep their word. Which they did. And in the last three years, despite the mud that landed on all of them after the Favre debacle, every one of them today looks like a genius.

Thompson for sticking to his guns, McCarthy for believing in Rodgers, and Rodgers for shutting up and just playing football. Rodgers’ average season since 2008: 4,130 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, 10 interceptions. And a Super Bowl win.

***

Thompson, in a conference room in the team’s refurbished Lambeau Field office, sipped a Diet Coke out of one of those cute tiny bottles and considered what his regime had done. It’s not something he likes to do, because any time you take time to consider the past is time you spend not working on the future.

I thought back to the time I sat with Thompson in the middle of the Favre mayhem. Same voice. I thought back to Super Bowl Sunday night in Dallas, when he could have crowed but didn’t. Same voice. And now. Same voice.

“Honestly,” Thompson said, “it takes your breath away sometimes. When you win a championship in Green Bay, you’re part of a very special fraternity. You’re part of the men from the teams in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’60s and ’90s, the men who won a title. These players now can stand alongside the great ones. When you win in this town, you become a little bit immortal. Just like those before us. That’s the beauty of this place: We didn’t invent it. We’re just continuing it.”

Somewhere in Green Bay, maybe in the house across from Lambeau Field with the fence painted with IN COACH McCARTHY WE TRUST, pride in this franchise is at a level not seen since Vince Lombardi coached. It’s a beautiful thing, a town one-80th the size of New York on top of the football world, with a chance to stay there.

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