2012 August : Packers Insider

Benson ‘leading off’ in Packers’ backfield

August 29, 2012 by  
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By Paul Imig, Fox Sports Wisconsin

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — It sounds like Cedric Benson is about to officially be named the Packers’ starting running back for this season.

Benson’s biggest competition for that spot during Green Bay’s recent training camp practices has been second-year running back Alex Green. However, with Green still somewhat limited 10 months after tearing his ACL, Benson will likely get the nod as the starter. 

Cedric is leading off.

“Cedric is leading off,” Green told FOXSportsWisconsin.com when asked if he or Benson would be starting when the Packers begin the regular season on Sept. 9.

Green added that it could be a “combo” effort between he and Benson, with the coaching staff further addressing the situation on Wednesday.

“He’s doing a great job of picking things up,” Green said of Benson, who signed with the Packers on Aug. 12. “He’s a very smart player, obviously a good running back. We’re just working with what we got right now and making the best of it.”

Green started the team’s third preseason game last week, with Benson not getting his first carry until the third drive. Green gained 10 total rushing yards on five attempts in that game, while Benson exploded for 38 yards on six carries.

Benson, 29, was signed to a one-year contract, a move necessitated somewhat by the turf toe injury to James Starks. Entering training camp, Starks was projected to be the starting running back. But the third-year pro struggled in Green Bay’s first preseason game in San Diego, dropping a pass and fumbling on the opening drive, and has not been able to play or practice since due to his injury.

As Benson continues to shine with his new team and Green gets closer to being cleared for full participation, the news on Starks is not so good.

“James Starks, just talking to the medical staff, is coming along slow,” coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. “So we’ll just continue to treat him. He hasn’t made a whole of progress here of late.”

Starks has already been ruled out of the Packers’ preseason finale this Thursday and could be in jeopardy of not being ready for the start of the regular season.

Green Bay did not have much success last season running the ball, finishing 27th in the NFL in total yards on the ground. In a pass-first offensive system behind MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers won’t look to break any rushing records in 2012 now that Benson is on board. But if the combination of Benson and Green can be better than the 2011 duo of Starks and Ryan Grant, Rodgers will have more options at the line of scrimmage when the team runs its no-huddle offense.

“The sky’s the limit for the offense,” Green said. “I believe that we could be unbeatable, and that’s what our goal is coming into the season.”

Benson is coming off of three consecutive 1,000-plus yard seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. From the look of Benson’s quick cuts during his 16 days so far in Green Bay, if he gets near the 273 carries he had last season, 2012 could be his fourth year in a row with more than 1,000 yards. 

Alex Green still needs time to recover from his torn ACL before he becomes the explosive back Ted Thompson was expecting when he drafted the surprise pick in the third round in 2011.

 
Green, 24, was the Packers’ third-round pick in 2011. He was the third-string running back as a rookie and had only three carries before his ACL injury occurred in Week 7 on special teams.

“It’d be good to get more than three carries, but if three carries is what I get, then that’s what I have to deal with to make the best of my situation,” Green said. “It definitely feels good to be able to complete training camp with no major setbacks. No new swellings, things like that.

“I had a couple nicks and bruises, but it was just good for me to feel that early on to know that I can overcome it, and have confidence that my knee is strong. It’s a good start for me to head into the regular season.”

The starting offense won’t play much in Thursday’s final preseason game at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, but Starks has already been ……..  Full story here

Q & A with Ted Thompson

August 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson has plenty to say. But first, he needs a Kleenex.

“I think it’s a seasonal thing,” the Green Bay Packers general manager says, wiping his nose as he sits down in a leather office chair in a third-floor conference room at Lambeau Field, where he’s about to do one of his least favorite things in this job – talk to the media. 

Ted Thompson has done a very good job as Packers GM, obviously.

“I don’t have allergies, but we’re meeting right now and you get that many people in a room …”

Thompson’s voice trails off. Enough small talk. He has a couple of these Q&A sessions lined up for this morning, and he wants to get back to what’s really important to him – talking about players with his scouting staff, figuring out how to make a Super Bowl contender even better.

“I’m not sure why you guys do these,” he says with a wry smile, referring to his well-known commitment to not telling reporters much of anything. Of course, this is not entirely accurate. There are certain things the close-to-the-vest GM will discuss, as he did during a 25-minute interview last week. A transcript of that conversation follows:

ESPN Wisconsin: So, this is your eighth year of doing this now …

Ted Thompson: It is?

ESPN Wisconsin: It is. How do you think you’ve improved at this job over that time, and how has the personnel game changed during that time?

Thompson: In terms of whether I’ve improved or not, I would hope that we’re all improving. That’s sort of our mantra among the scouts – that we’re always going to be scouts, no matter what, and we’ve always got to try to improve our craft. Experiences, mistakes, successes – as you go through, as long as you want to continue to grow, I think you never stop trying to get better. That’s what we ask our players to do, so we try to do the same thing.

I think the evaluation part of the job is still similar. As you go through changes in your scheme, what you’re looking for might change a little bit, but the evaluation of a player has never changed. Some of the machinery we have to do that is better now. The digital video, being able to get it very quickly, I think that levels the playing field for most teams.

ESPN Wisconsin: So when Ron Wolf locked you in that film room in 1992 to do your evaluations and see if you could do this job, what did you use? Film? Tape?

Thompson: It was on a Beta machine. And now, if we wanted to see all of Aaron Rodgers’ plays from the preseason, all we have to do is hit a button and it’ll show all the plays. It’ll go from game to game to game and show all his plays. Back then, I was looking for Plan B free agents, so none of these guys played in the regular season, they only played in the preseason, and you had to hunt and find when they’d come in the game and try to evaluate them that way.

ESPN Wisconsin: What about the changes in your staff? You’ve lost two of your right-hand men over the last couple years in John Schneider (Seattle’s GM) and Reggie McKenzie (Oakland’s GM). You promoted some guys like John Dorsey, Eliot Wolf, Brian Gutekunst and Alonzo Highsmith – do those changes reinvigorate you? Do you welcome the challenge of continuing your group’s success with different people in different roles?

Thompson: I think it’s kind of bittersweet. No. 1, I’m very proud of the guys that have left and are going to do great jobs at those places. But there also becomes this vacuum, this hole, because they took up a big footprint here. We’ve promoted from within, which we like to do. We’ve given people more responsibility. And I think the group is working very well. They’re mad at me right now because I told them I had to go do some interviews. 

Ted Thompson's very first draft pick as Packer GM was a bold, and brilliant move.

ESPN Wisconsin: Wolf and Gutekunst are 30 and 39, respectively. Do you like the idea of putting younger guys in those roles, and is this a change for you to maybe mentor them the way Ron mentored you?

Thompson: To some degree. I think it’s more an issue of, if you have good people, then you try to promote them. There are other good people around that we could’ve hired, but we like the idea of promoting from within.

ESPN Wisconsin: When we did one of these five years ago, before the 2007 season, and again in 2008, in the throes of the Brett Favre saga, the only personal thing you ever said during that time was that you just wanted people to feel that the Packers were in good hands. Do you think people believe that now? And was that a difficult time for you, for so many people to not just question you but attack you?

Thompson: Like I said then, and I say it now, I do want people to think the Packers are in good hands. I don’t need accolades or anything like that. But as an organization, we’d like for the people that care about this place to know that it’s in good hands. … There were some dark times. But that’s … that’s part of the business. Especially here, because people care so much. There are places you could go to and ham it up a little bit and maybe not get in so much trouble. But here, it’s watched. Grandmothers watch it. Little kids watch it. And if the consensus is that I’m nuts, then they get mad at me. That’s just the way it works.

ESPN Wisconsin: Did it mean something to you, then, that at the last two shareholders, you got a standing ovation and there were people chanting “We love Ted!” and “In Ted we trust!” when you were introduced?

Thompson: I think it’s nice, (but) I think it’s a reflection of the fact that all these players that have come in have done a good job. Our coaching staff, the personnel guys, the whole organization is designed to try to help this football team win. And from a personal thing, I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to take too many accolades because there’s so many people doing all that work.

ESPN Wisconsin: During that summer of 2008, someone told me that when you were in all those meetings trying to figure out what to do with Favre, you were the one who kept saying, “It can’t be easy for Brett, you guys have to think about what he’s going through.” I don’t think a lot of people understand that or know that. Do you think at any point while you’re still working here that that relationship could be mended and Favre could come back, or do you think the feelings are so strong on the other side toward you that it won’t happen?

Thompson: I don’t know. There hasn’t been any real contact, so I don’t know what people are feeling. But I think with time, I think things tend to work out OK. Or so I hope.

ESPN Wisconsin: You’ve made some funny references about doing out-of-character things this offseason, from “Opposite George” to not being your father’s son anymore. But you really have broken from your modus operandi a lot – trading up in the draft multiple times, diving into the unrestricted free-agent pool, adding veterans like Cedric Benson and Reggie Wells in camp to positions where you appeared weak. Is the team in a different place that you’re doing these things? Or do you insist that you’re more than the draft-and-develop, anti-free agency GM we see you as?

Thompson: I think it’s easy to say that because that’s my tendency. I do believe in drafting and developing, and I do believe it’s the best way. But we have never shied away from trying to sign free agents. It hasn’t always worked, but we have a number on our team now. And we have traded up to get a specific player that we felt could do something for us. But I think my tendency and conservative nature is what it is.

ESPN Wisconsin: How difficult was the way last season ended, with the loss to the Giants in the playoffs, and how has that influenced your approach this year?

Thompson: Not a lot. It was disappointing, but unless you win the whole thing, if you’re in the playoffs, you’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to have that feeling that we had. But I was very proud of our team last year, and I still am. And I’ve tried to defend it a little bit. I think people have been a little hard on it. I know everybody was kind of in this mode of, ‘Here we go, we’re going to win a second one,’ but this is a hard, hard business, the Giants are a great, great football team, had a remarkable run in the playoffs. And we just got caught up in it.

ESPN Wisconsin: Dom Capers put together back-to-back top-5 defenses in 2009 and 2010. What do you think happened to the defense last year, and how much do you feel is your fault? Did you give him the personnel to be better than the 32nd-ranked defense in the league?

Thompson: I think as a whole, the entire organization, we were disappointed we didn’t play better in certain aspects of defense. At the same time, I think our defense led the league in turnovers, which is a huge catalyst for our offense. I think statistics can sometimes be misleading, but it’s really, literally, if you go back and do the study, it’s a question of, “On this play in the second quarter, if we get off the field, we save 90 yards of offense and blah blah blah.” It’s stopping the guys on third down, things like that. But yeah, we’re going to try to be better there. But I don’t want to say that the reason we didn’t win the Super Bowl last year was our defense. We were 15-1, we had a pretty good team.

ESPN Wisconsin: You could argue that your offense was just so good that it overcame the defense’s struggles, though. You have the NFL MVP at quarterback in his prime, you have a ton of skill-position players you’ve surrounded him with, you have four of the five young offensive line starters tied up for the next several years, how much of a priority is it when you have an elite quarterback to make sure you give him everything he needs to be great?

Thompson: Well, it’s important to have a really good player at quarterback. The quarterback position is hugely important. But you’re always trying to get better. It doesn’t matter what position, it doesn’t matter what you have there, you’re always trying to push the envelope. We’re trying to be as good as we can be at every position. And obviously the better we are at those skill positions and the offensive line, the more that helps Aaron. But it’s hand-in-hand. It’s not, “We’ve got this, now let’s go do this.”

ESPN Wisconsin: I just always got the impression that one of Ron Wolf’s biggest regrets was not getting Favre more elite receivers, that he relied on Brett to make receivers better instead of using higher draft picks on them. I just wondered if that was a philosophical thing with you.

Thompson: I mean, yeah, we like to have really good players at the skill positions, and yeah, this is an offensive league and you have to score points and move the ball. But it’s done in concert with everything else.

ESPN Wisconsin: Speaking of Rodgers, are you a genius for taking him at No. 24 in 2005 and not trading that pick or are you the luckiest GM in football that he fell to No. 24 and you didn’t trade that pick?

Thompson: I never really entertained trading that pick. I think it’s luck. To get the best player of that draft – I mean, I don’t know, I’ve never gone back and studied that draft, but I’ve got to believe he’s pretty close to being the best player from that draft – at the 24th spot and have all those teams already be set at quarterback or decide the best thing for them to do was not to take him? It’s luck. But you have to be prepared sometimes to use that luck.

ESPN Wisconsin: He admits that when you signed him to the extension in 2008 after seven starts that he was overpaid based on his experience to that point. And now, he appears to be legitimately underpaid by NFL quarterback standards. How important is the structure of a franchise quarterback’s contract as it relates to the salary cap? How important is having that cost certainty of knowing how much it will cost you to keep him? Because while he’s signed through 2014, you’re not going to wait until then to redo his deal.

Thompson: Well, I won’t speak to that individually, but any player that you deem to be a core player, you want to try to factor that in – not only the now, but in the future. And we’re always doing that. We’re always trying to identify the core players that we want. Because even if you had 53 great players, you can’t keep ‘em all. The system is set for some of those fellas to go elsewhere. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them all. It’s just the nature of the beast. But you’re always trying to identify core players, and obviously he’s one of our core players.

ESPN Wisconsin: Ron Wolf used to complain about how hard it was before his retirement to improve his teams through trades or getting guys off the street as the game changed. This year notwithstanding, did those frustrations you saw from him shape your draft-and-develop philosophy? Did you feel that you had to build from within because going outside was just too much of a crapshoot? 

Thompson's second big move was firing Mike Sherman and hiring the almost-unknown Mike McCarthy. That was another bold and brilliant move. If only McCarthy's playoff record vs Tom Coughlin was 2-0 and not 0-2.

Thompson: I believe on a couple levels it’s the best way to go. But certainly, as it applies to the business side of the thing, the draft and development is the best way to go. Because everything fits better.

ESPN Wisconsin: It would seem there are two key parts to making a draft-and-develop philosophy work: Drafting well, drafting the right guys, and then being able to keep those right guys with contract extensions, those core players. When you have some fairly significant core players’ contracts coming up on the horizon – Greg Jennings, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Rodgers – how challenging does that make your job? How confident are you that you’ll be able to keep most if not all of them?

Thompson: Well, I think we will. Russ (Ball, the team’s chief contract negotiator) work on this all the time. This doesn’t just happen. These discussions sometimes last years. But there can be frustrations as you go along. I’m sure it’s frustrating for the players from their point of view, and it’s frustrating from the organization’s point of view because you can only do so much as you go along. You can have this brilliant plan and say, “In March we’ll do this, and in April we’ll do this, and then June we’ll do this,” but sometimes all the dance partners aren’t dancing in the same step. So it takes time, it takes perseverance. Thank the Lord I have Russ Ball to do that with, because there’s a lot of work involved in things like that. You can do good things, you can also make mistakes. And you can’t erase the mistakes.

ESPN Wisconsin: How many times have you seen a guy change when he changes teams? I’m thinking about Cedric Benson – it would seem that this is a place where he could succeed, but what makes him a good fit for you?

Thompson: We think so. We think we have a good environment here, we think we have a good locker room. Our locker room is what it is – you know, you’ve been in it: One person is not going to come in and take over that locker room because it already belongs to other people. I think it’s a good opportunity for him. We have some very young backs. We felt like adding one with a little more experience was a good thing. We think we’ll need those backs as we go through the season. He has been productive at the places he’s been, and we’re going to give him an opportunity to help our group out. I don’t know how this is going to go. I don’t know that it’s going to be all him and none of the other guys or some combination. We’ll see how that works out.

ESPN Wisconsin: When you have to sign him, when you have to add Reggie Wells to the offensive line mix, is that in any way saying that you left those positions a little light, or that you put your faith in some young players who aren’t ready?

Thompson: No, I think it’s more a process of, sometimes you’re going along and you realize that it only takes a sprained ankle to be pretty darn thin at some spots. I think you try to dress those things up as you go along. I think we’ve always done that.

ESPN Wisconsin: There’s been a lot of talk about your backup quarterback situation and reports that you could trade for Cleveland’s Colt McCoy or Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson. Since you’ve done some other out-of-character things this offseason, do you have any inclination to make some trades here down the stretch, or do you feel pretty good about the guys that you have already?

Thompson: It’s very hard to predict. As a rule, we haven’t really done a lot. We’ll usually claim a guy or two, but in terms of making trades, I would think every year we make one.

ESPN Wisconsin: How important do you think the backup quarterback position is in today’s game, given the new concussion rules and other factors?

Thompson: I think it’s an important spot, sure.

ESPN Wisconsin: But you feel good about the one you have?

Thompson: Hmm-hmm.

Complete Q & A here

Time running out for Packers LB So’oto

August 27, 2012 by  
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By SARAH BARSHOP, ESPN Milwaukee

~GREEN BAY – After seeing limited action in the Green Bay Packers’ 27-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Vic So’oto needs to impress his coaching staff in the Packers’ final preseason game against Kansas City.

He’s spent most of camp longing for an opportunity. Thursday night – about 24 hours before the roster must be pared from 75 players to 53 – he’ll get one.

“I think up until this point I haven’t had a lot of opportunities on defense, but it is what it is. You can’t control that, so this last game is for guys like me who are on the bubble and could go either way making the roster or not,” So’oto said after practice Sunday. “It’s huge for us.

“We’ll have a lot of opportunities and hopefully I’ll be able to capitalize on my opportunities when they come.”

So’oto recognizes the importance of this game because his performance in last year’s final two preseason games – in which he recorded 2.5 sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced two fumbles – led directly to his spot on the final roster as a longshot undrafted free agent from Brigham Young. 

Green Bay Packers' Vic So'oto reacts after intercepting a pass for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL preseason football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

This preseason, So’oto has recorded just two defensive tackles, one sack, and one assisted tackle on special teams.

“I only got nine plays (against the Bengals), so it’s tough to get into a groove there,” So’oto said Sunday. “For me, it’s really about making the most of my opportunities. Last year, I came in with the guy they drafted, (sixth-round pick) Ricky Elmore, and it kind of feels the same way.

“For me, I’m used to it. I can’t really change anything. You can only make the most of what you have.”

Coach Mike McCarthy noted that So’oto’s sack in the opener against the San Diego Chargers was promising, but that he needs to see more consistent play from the linebacker.

“He’s definitely flashed, and I don’t think it’s a matter of the big play or big sack,” McCarthy said. “It’s his overall play and contributions on special teams. Those are the goals he needs to reach.”

One of those goals was to spend more time in the weight room. Listed seven pounds lighter than last season, the 256-pound So’oto has put significant time into his training regimen this preseason in order to develop into a more all-around player.

“I changed the way I trained,” said So’oto, who spent part of the offseason training with his friend and fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews in Southern California. “I played D-end and bounced around a lot in college, and playing outside linebacker in the NFL is totally different, so I have to train differently.”

In his second season, So’oto has had the benefit of being more comfortable in training camp, and has been able to focus more on playing.

“It doesn’t seem as brand new,” So’oto said. “I mean, there aren’t a lot of things that seem as brand new anymore. It’s been fun.”

“I feel more comfortable in the defense and playing naturally and being out there is becoming more second nature so it definitely feels better and more fun now.”

Even though he’s not a rookie anyone, So’oto is still treating this preseason as he did last year, and fighting as hard as he can to earn a roster spot.

“With the uncertainty of what could happen, you just have to go out there and make plays and when I get my opportunities I try to go in there and change momentum if we’re down,” So’oto said. “It’s definitely the same feeling as last year where you just have to go out and make plays.”

Like others who seem to be on the fine line between making the roster and being released, So’oto knows that one way to earn a spot on the team is to make an impression on special teams.

“Special teams are huge and we all know that. The young guys all know that, and there are a lot of older guys that made their name on special teams and played well enough to make their name on defense. The kind of example is Desmond Bishop. He played a lot on special teams his first two years and cracked the roster, so that’s kind of where I’m at.”

So’oto said that……. Full story here

RB Benson picks up fans among his fellow Packers

August 26, 2012 by  
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By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette

~Rare are the years when after the start of training camp an NFL team picks up a player who immediately and meaningfully upgrades its fortunes.

For the Green Bay Packers over the last 20 years, there was Ryan Grant, who rushed for 939 yards in the last 10 games of 2007 after he was acquired in a seemingly minor trade at the end of camp; Grady Jackson, who salvaged the Packers’ hemorrhaging run defense after they claimed him off waivers in November 2003; and Andre Rison, who provided a quality receiving threat and caught a 54-yard touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXXI only a few weeks after the Packers claimed him off waivers late in 1996.

Maybe the next name on that list will be Cedric Benson in 2012.

Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson greets fans after an NFL preseason football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, in Cincinnati. Green Bay won 27-13. (AP Photo/John Grieshop)

The Packers’ signed the running back off the street just two weeks ago, and in his first preseason game with them last Thursday at Cincinnati he looked at age 29 like the same player who was the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher over the past three years combined.

Yes, it was only one preseason game, and yes, the sample size was small (six carries for 38 yards). But based on Benson’s head-turning performance, it looks like the Packers have upgraded their run game from last season, perhaps significantly, with an aging but talented veteran who is highly motivated after going unsigned all offseason.

“You usually pick up a guy that late to help with your depth or because you have an injury,” said starting right guard Josh Sitton. “So (getting Benson after camp started) is huge. I was shocked he hadn’t been picked up before that. Good for us.”

Until Benson’s performance last week, the Packers’ backfield had been something of a mess this training camp.

James Starks, the No. 1 halfback going into camp, wasn’t sharp early and then sustained a bad turf-toe injury that could keep on the sidelines into early in the regular season. Backup Alex Green has played fine but is on a limited snap count because he’s coming back from knee-reconstruction surgery. And Brandon Saine, the No. 3 back who figured to get his share of snaps on passing downs, just returned to practice Sunday after missing the first three preseason games because of a hamstring injury.

After Starks’ injury in the preseason opener, the Packers turned to Benson, who was available because the free-agent market didn’t deliver a contract offer anywhere near what he thought he could get, believed to be in the range of $3 million a year or so. The Packers ended up signing him for the $825,000 veteran’s minimum that included no incentives for carries, rushing yards or the like.

Though Benson has played most of his career in two-back offenses and never in a zone-oriented blocking scheme, he showed Thursday night the ability to function well in the Packers’ one-back, zone system. Whether it was almost immediately after the hand-off or after taking a couple of steps, he read the zone blocks, planted his foot and cut back to the biggest hole.

Benson looked like he was in good shape when he hit the practice field with the Packers and ran like it Thursday. He played well enough that it’s hard to see how he won’t be the Packers’ starting halfback.

“He definitely played well,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “He’s an explosive guy. He reads the line and holes very well, hits seams and creases and gets to the second level and makes moves.”

So what kind of difference might Benson make this season? That will depend on his health and whether his age shows later in the season — he was, after all, more fresh than most players against the Bengals after sitting out the first two weeks of camp.

But he won’t have to be a heavy-volume ball carrier or 1,200-yard rusher to make a difference. Last Thursday night, for instance, the Packers’ play-action passing opened up when Benson was in the game, and defensive coordinators will have a tougher time game planning in the regular season if Benson is a threat to pound out runs between 4 and 10 yards on any carry.

Benson also has won over teammates with his commitment by diving into the learning offense. Besides the daily running backs meetings, which last about 1 hour and 15 minutes, he’s also been attending the quarterbacks meetings that run at the same time as special-teams meetings and last another half hour to 45 minutes.

Benson grounded out over 100 yards rushing a few years ago at Lambeau Field when his Bengals with Carson Palmer defeated Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Cheeseheads hope to see Benson in open space like this a lot in 2012.

“He’s definitely been impactful since he’s been here,” center Jeff Saturday said. “Works hard, doesn’t say much off the field, kind of quietly goes about his business. Then when he hit the field on Thursday the guy played a pretty good football game.”

It’s worth asking just how important the Packers’ running game is, considering they were a Super Bowl contender and had the NFL’s best regular-season record last year without much of one. They went 15-1 almost solely on the strength of their passing game, which is as deep in quality talent as any in the NFL.

Their leading rushers, Starks and Grant, averaged 4.2 yards on 267 carries, and the team finished No. 27 in the NFL in rushing yards per game and No. 26 in average yards per carry.

But the Packers also lost in the playoffs to the New York Giants, who were one of the only teams in the NFL last season that could consistently pressure quarterbacks with only a four-man rush. The Packers played from behind for most of that game, but even so, they were only one score behind as late in the third quarter, and ….. full story here

Woodson grapples with new job title: safety

August 26, 2012 by  
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By Jarrett Bell, USA Today

~GREEN BAY, Wis. – People keep telling Charles Woodson that switching to safety is a natural progression that will extend his career. He is looking for examples.

“The only two people I know of are Ronnie (Lott) and Rod (Woodson),” the Green Bay Packers star said, mentioning Hall of Famers as he pondered the topic in a lobby at Lambeau Field. “But people are always saying it.”

Two more names come to mind: Aeneas Williams and Everson Walls. “Yeah,” Woodson said. “That’s right.”

Perhaps Woodson, entering Year 15 of a stellar NFL career, will become a handy example of a standout cornerback who transitioned to safety.

“Hopefully,” he said.

Woodson was an 8-time Pro-Bowler at cornerback. Can he follow Nick Collins' path and become a Pro-Bowler at safety for the Packers?

After earning his eighth Pro Bowl selection and tying for the NFL lead with seven interceptions last season, Woodson is embracing change.

For several years, he has moved off the island to play slot cornerback, in addition to special packages as a safety. He will continue to work the slot role in nickel and dime packages, but in the base defenses, he no longer will man the outside.

The change has been an intriguing story line of training camp, as the Packers try to fix a defense that gave up more passing yards (4,796) last season than any other unit in NFL history.

While Tramon Williams returns at right corner, Jarrett Bush and Sam Shields are battling for Woodson’s old post at left corner. Woodson and Morgan Burnett are the starting safeties.

“It’s a new challenge,” Woodson said. “It’s been fun to learn the nuances of playing more safety. I’ve played some of it when we had three or four plays for me at safety. Now I know the whole package. It’s kind of refreshing.”

He downplays the adjustments that come with his switch, such as attacking from different angles and surveying the field with a broader scope of vision.

“The only real difference I will see is when I’m backpedaling and having to come from that position to make the tackles,” he said.

At 35, Woodson is undeniably an old man in a young man’s game. He is the league’s second-oldest defensive back, after Tampa Bay Buccaneers 37-year-old nickel back Ronde Barber.

“I’ve got some grays,” Woodson said, rubbing his fingers across his close-cropped head. “But it really doesn’t feel like it’s been 15 years. I feel good. I’m in a good space.”

That space will be better if the Packers defense can rebound.

Green Bay was 15-1 last season, but its worst-ranked pass defense was often a liability.

In the NFC divisional playoff loss to the New York Giants, Eli Manning stung the unit for 330 yards and three touchdown passes.

Woodson knows what’s coming. The Packers open Sept. 9 against the San Francisco 49ers and Randy Moss — “I’ll be interested to see where he’s at after we play him,” he says — and then host the Chicago Bears four days later.

Chicago’s passing attack has been revitalized by wideout Brandon Marshall, reunited with Jay Cutler, his former Denver Broncos quarterback.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith catches a deep pass from quarterback Cam Newton during fourth quarter action as Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson applies defensive pressure, Sunday, September 18, 2011 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Packers defeated the Panthers 30-23. (Jeff Sine/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

The early matchups might add a few more gray hairs.

“It’s about to get tough,” Woodson said. “Right off the bat, we’ll find out where we’re headed as a defense.”

Original article found here

Charles Woodson bashes NFL’s replacement refs

August 26, 2012 by  
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By Jarrett Bell, USA Today

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — Add Charles Woodson to a growing chorus expressing concern with the prospect of opening the season with replacement officials.

The Green Bay Packers safety told USA TODAY Sports that during three preseason contests he hasn’t been convinced the replacements can handle the speed of the NFL game, and he expects it will be reflected with missed calls during the regular season if the league doesn’t settle its labor dispute with locked-out officials.

"Third down."

“They haven’t been very good,” said Woodson, a 15-year veteran. “That’s the honest opinion. Before preseason started, I think you’re optimistic. But it’s almost like a young guy coming into the NFL. The game goes too fast for them.

“Now, could they go through a season and get better? Sure. But there’s going to be a lot of bad officiating going on until they catch up to the speed of the game.”

Asked to project how games will be affected, Woodson said: “There will be some things you normally wouldn’t get away with. It’s not that you’d be trying to get away with them, but you will because the official didn’t see it or he didn’t know to make the call. We need the (regular officials) back.”

NFL officials insist they have seen improvement with replacement officials during each week of the preseason, and Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is preparing to start the regular season without the locked-out crews.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “It’s a work in progress.”

Nonetheless, the Packers’ preseason victory at Cincinnati on Thursday night kicked off another weekend of intense scrutiny of the replacements — and more apparent gaffes that sparked criticism:

* Bengals coach Marvin Lewis questioned whether a replacement official knew the rule for protecting a defenseless receiver in flagging safety Taylor Mays for a hit against Packers tight end Tom Crabtree.

* Friday night, officials erred in ordering an untimed down the end of the first quarter after Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman was penalized on the final play of the quarter in a game at the New York Giants.

* The Minnesota Vikings’ Chris Kluwe, following Friday night’s preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, tweeted that the NFL should “kiss and make up” with the locked-out officials.

“Frankly,” Kluwe tweeted, “it’s kind of embarrassing.”

In Woodson’s view, at least two cases on Thursday night raised questions. He said officials missed a pass interference call by a Bengals defender against receiver Jordy Nelson. The defender didn’t turn his head while making contact, Woodson said.

Woodson also maintained that an official demonstrated a lack of confidence in making a holding call after a lengthy delay.

“I think all of us were about to come off the sideline and throw the flag for him,” Woodson said. “You’ve got to be confident in what you do.”

Is Woodson nit-picking with his criticism? He acknowledged the locked-out officials had their share of calls questioned, too.

“Whether you liked their calls or didn’t agree with their calls, you always knew that they’re good at what they do,” he said.

Caution: Packers’ Marshall Newhouse needs some finishing touches

August 26, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~

Green Bay – The real issue with the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line isn’t identifying a third tackle or unearthing another backup on the inside.

It’s whether Marshall Newhouse can provide championship play in his first season as the full-fledged starter at left tackle.

The two exhibition games that Newhouse has played provide a sobering picture of a third-year man with physical gifts but without the aggressiveness that the best offensive linemen almost always possess.

After sitting out the opener in San Diego with a concussion, Newhouse played 17 snaps against Cleveland. His opponent, defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, entered the league as a free agent in 2010 and already has been cut.

Twice in that three-series stint, Newhouse made contact with the 255-pound Stephens only to fall off the block and allow Stephens to slide into the tackle and stop Alex Green after a modest gain.

Much the same thing happened Thursday night in Cincinnati when Newhouse played 40 snaps.

On the first play, Green was limited to a 3-yard gain largely because Newhouse didn’t sustain his block on the back side and his man, defensive end Michael Johnson, assisted on the tackle.

Johnson, a talented player with 15 starts and 11 ½ sacks in his first three seasons, gave Newhouse all he could handle. He beat Newhouse for a flush, he came off Newhouse to hold Green to a gain of 2 and he knocked Newhouse back and helped tackle Cedric Benson after a gain of 3.

Marshall Newhouse allowed 10 ½ sacks a year ago in just 77% playing time, the most allowed by a Green Bay player since Tony Mandarich was trashed for 12 ½ in 1990.

Newhouse also drew a false-start penalty, was called for holding lightning-quick defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a stunt and cost Green a much larger gain than 2 with a poor back-side cut block against Atkins.

Excluding the false-start penalty, Newhouse had seven negative plays by subjective judgment, or 17.5%. That means he did his job 33 times in 40 snaps, which is OK but not what the Packers were looking for when they basically handed Newhouse the job that had been Chad Clifton’s for 11 years.

Personnel people around the same league see the same thing. “He’s got the feet, but he has to play physical,” said one after the Cleveland game. Added another: “He just needs to finish. He gives it up way too easy.”

Newhouse has looked improved in pass protection this summer, but you can’t really tell until the regular season. For all his ability, he still allowed 10 ½ sacks a year ago in just 77% playing time, the most allowed by a Green Bay player since Tony Mandarich was trashed for 12 ½ in 1990.

The numbers for Newhouse in pressures allowed and “bad” runs yielded weren’t pretty, either.

On opening day against San Francisco, Newhouse will have to deal on his side with defensive end Justin Smith and outside linebacker Aldon Smith. Last week, guard Josh Sitton said Justin Smith was the strongest player he has ever faced, and the long and speedy Aldon Smith posted 14 sacks as a rookie.

To become a top player, Newhouse will have to ear-hole a pass rusher if he gets the chance on a double team or screw some linebacker or strong safety into the ground on a running play.

When talent runs equal, as it often does among the upper echelons of players, the temperament to finish separates offensive linemen.

Newhouse appears to have the tools even though at 6 feet 4 inches he is at least an inch shorter than the prototypical number. Now it remains to be seen if he has it in him to cut loose and dominate someone.

As for the backups . . .

The release of tackle Herb Taylor on Friday can be related to the waiving of safety Charlie Peprah last month.

Peprah, to be sure, is a far more accomplished player than Taylor. But in each case, with no sure-fire replacement on the roster, the Packers simply forced themselves to find a better alternative.

After a brutal outing against front-line opposition in San Diego, Taylor certainly didn’t embarrass himself the last two games. He had three negative snaps out of 20 playing right tackle in the third quarter against the Bengals, which was the exact same ratio as Reggie Wells had playing left tackle.

Everything that Taylor did was just OK. He didn’t possess a distinguishing characteristic that might have endeared himself to either coaches or scouts.

So what does Green Bay do now?

T.J. Lang could always move outside if Bryan Bulaga or Newhouse went down. But Lang is a better guard than tackle just as the next man up inside, Evan Dietrich-Smith, is a better center than guard.

Don’t expect much from Derek Sherrod this year. Mike McCarthy basically ruled him out until at least mid-season because of his major leg injury, and just how effective he would be at that time is anyone’s guess.

At least Wells has started almost 100 games, and he’s more willing to go after people than Taylor.

Andrew Datko should be back practicing before long from his concussion. Still, the Florida State product hasn’t demonstrated that he can be counted on even in a year or two, let alone this season.

Unless the Packers acquire a player by trade, waiver or free-agent signing, the best bet on the roster might well be Don Barclay.

A rookie free agent from West Virginia, Barclay looked overmatched in the first two weeks of training camp, particularly in pass protection. At one point, he had a record of 8-14-7 in the one-on-one pass-blocking drill. Since then, he has gone 11-2.

Barclay made all 40 of his starts at left tackle in the Mountaineers’ spread offense. The Packers played him strictly at guard until earlier this week, when he took a few snaps outside.

Having played 14 series at left guard and six at right guard in the first 2 ½ exhibition games, Barclay played the last 21 snaps at right tackle in the fourth quarter Thursday night.

Granted, Barclay was rusty, but not so much that his potential at tackle wasn’t evident. He had a few bad plays, but the Packers might have looked at the Bengals tape and decided they’d rather work with a four-position rookie such as Barclay than a two-position journeyman such as Taylor.

The difference in toughness between Barclay and Taylor was glaring.

Barclay has tried to be aggressive all camp. On his second play at tackle, he got into defensive tackle Devon Still, the Bengals’ second-round draft choice from Penn State, on a running play and finished him off.

Just 30 seconds were left when Marc Tyler turned the right side for 5 yards on fourth and 5. Barclay actually pulled toward the sideline, locked onto cornerback T.J. Heath and kept driving and driving until Heath was pinned beneath him 5 yards out of bounds near the cheerleaders.

Barclay stands an even 6-4 but does have good arm length and enormous hands. He’s not a bad athlete, either.

Every team is looking for tough guys with ability. With a strong showing in the exhibition finale, Barclay might parlay his grittiness into a roster berth.

Rookie rushers

Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, the rookie defensive tackles from the Big Ten, showed more Thursday night than in previous outings.

Late in the second quarter, Worthy had his first preseason pressure. Lined up as the right end in a three-man line on third and 10, he cleanly beat left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals’ best offensive lineman, with an inside charge that sent Andy Dalton scrambling.

In his 20 snaps, Worthy also beat Whitworth inside on the first play of the third quarter and tackled the ball carrier for no gain.

Daniels also registered his first pressure of preseason in an 18-play stint. It came on an inside move against Canadian right tackle Matthew O’Donnell, a third-stringer who at 6-9 doesn’t seem to bend very well.

There’s no questioning Daniels’ high effort and rugged on-field demeanor. It’s just a matter if he has the physical attributes to beat starting O-linemen.

Nick Perry played 28 snaps on the left outside and gave as good as he got.

He used his long arms to stuff tight end Donald Lee and make a tackle for a 1-yard gain. He knocked tight end Colin Cochart right back into Dalton’s lap. He registered another hurry with a bull rush against right tackle Andre Smith.

Perry might have made a few other plays if his hustle and level of intensity approached that of fellow rookie Dezman Moses. At this point, Perry just doesn’t play with the all-out zeal of Moses.

Moses, a free agent from Tulane and Iowa, might have been the best player on the field.

He had three or four pressures. He dropped, then flew forward and tackled wide receiver A.J. Green on a third-and-4 crossing route a yard shy of the sticks. He blew up a lead block by fullback James Develin and made a tackle for loss. And he ran right over the top of right tackle Dennis Roland, a former starter, for a knockdown.

Together with Clay Matthews, Erik Walden and Perry, Moses gives Dom Capers perhaps the deepest corps of outside linebackers in his four years as coordinator.

Full story here

Showtime: No-huddle could boost already high-octane Packers offense

August 26, 2012 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY – In Buffalo, chemistry was years in the making. In Indianapolis, same deal. After thousands of snaps with the same receivers, Jim Kelly and Peyton Manning turned their offenses into well-oiled, no-huddle machines.

With more possessions came more cracks at the end zone. Games became wind sprints. Huddling was a nuisance.

“Short yardage and goal line,” said Jeff Saturday, Manning’s center. “That was it.”

“You saw it in the fourth quarter,” added Green Bay running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, Kelly’s backup for two years. “You saw it in the defense getting worn down.”

Could going to more no-huddle give Aaron Rodgers even more of an advantage in 2012?

This is how the Packers’ offense is staying fresh, is continuing to evolve. In 2012, the Packers may use the no-huddle with more regularity. It takes a cerebral quarterback, receivers who read his mind, an experienced center as the point man and – of course – rare conditioning.

The Packers scored 560 points last season. Aaron Rodgers set the passer rating record. But there’s still innovation around here. Mike McCarthy’s offense has reached the tipping point Kelly’s Bills and Manning’s Colts did.

Experienced personnel will likely lead to more no-huddle.

“I would say so,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “I guess we saw what we did last year to teams when they get fatigued and tired. We’re trying to put a little bit more of that in the offense this year. I think it’s a plus.”

Van Pelt wasn’t around for Kelly’s peak in Buffalo, but he was exposed to that manic pace in 1995 and 1996. The Hall of Famer wasted no time between plays, remaining in constant two-minute mode. And the “K-Gun” attack promptly finished sixth, first, second and sixth offensively during its four-year Super Bowl run.

There are similarities here, Van Pelt says. Everything is called at the line – and most of it is called by the quarterback.

“Maybe a difference in the K-Gun is you weren’t always trying to get in the right play, you were just trying to go super fast,” Van Pelt said. “You might be in the wrong play and have an extra guy in the hole in the run game but eventually you wear them down with the tempo. Here, we do a nice job of getting into the right play.

“It’s a little slower in tempo than the K-Gun as far as time snapped on the 25-second clock. But there were definite similarities.”

After three straight no-huddle drives against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday night’s 27-13 win at Cincinnati was another sneak peek. Rodgers led two first-quarter scoring drives that ended in his touchdown runs. One five-play, 75-yard drive lasted 2 minutes 6 seconds. The other seven-play, 69-yard drive lasted only 3 minutes 14 seconds.

The Bengals were on the heels by the end of each drive with Rodgers racing to each pylon for scores.

“The play number we had in the first half was excellent,” Rodgers said. “It’s good for our conditioning, I’ll tell you that much. There were a lot of plays. . . . That’s good for us. It was up-tempo.”

A year ago, the no-huddle served more as a shot in the arm. When the offense stagnated, McCarthy sped things up. Now with Rodgers clearly in his prime, he’ll likely have more freedom at the line.

The Bills truly saw the effect of the no-huddle in the fourth quarter. Defenses wore down and running back Thurman Thomas went for the jugular. His 4.9 yards per carry led the NFL in 1991. Gaping holes – ones like those that had Cedric Benson smiling Thursday night – opened up.

Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, whoever’s at running back could become second-half closers in this regard.

“You saw it with short runs popping into big runs,” Van Pelt said. “You’d get 2 yards in the first half. Then it’s 8, 10, 12 yards in the second half. And you saw the pass rush die. By the end of the game, those guys are so gassed it’s tough to get a good pass rush.”

With freedom comes responsibility. Kicker Scott Norwood was vilified and immortalized in Buffalo’s crushing 20-19 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. But the game should have never boiled down to a 47-yard field goal attempt. Kelly threw the ball (30 attempts) twice as many times as Thomas ran it (15 carries), even though Thomas was averaging 9 yards a carry. 

Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly (12) flings a pass during Super Bowl XXVIII, a 30-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on January 30, 1994, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

The Bills were crushed in time of possession, 40:33 to 19:27. If he is given the reins to this offense, Rodgers must find a balance.

Also, Van Pelt points to center Kent Hull as the “quiet piece” that held everything together up front. The center must keep up with the quarterback, must make all protection calls in a snap. In Saturday, the Packers may have that player. Manning, Saturday and the Colts took the K-Gun to another level one decade later.

The Packers aren’t operating as fast as those Bills and Colts teams right now, carefully making sure they’re in the right play at the line. Saturday will be key in speeding the process up.

In Indianapolis, Saturday was responsible for “controlling the tempo,” he said.

“You get more shots at the end zone,” Saturday said. “You increase your ability to have opportunities for big plays as long as you’re a consistent offense. The negative to it is you can go three and out quick and it puts your defense in a strain, but if you keep the tempo going and you’re an efficient offense, you can be very productive.”

Manning didn’t calibrate with his receivers overnight. Neither did Kelly. Saturday said the Colts went no-huddle full-time about five years into Manning’s career. That’s why the time is right for the Packers. Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Finley have all played with Rodgers at least four seasons.

Right now, the short-term concern for the Packers’ no-huddle offense may be conditioning. Jennings and Finley missed a large chunk of training camp due to injuries. Finley says one series of the no-huddle can feel “like you’ve been playing the whole game.” They’ll be busy receivers at practice now until the season opener Sept. 9 against San Francisco.

Keeping defenders huffing and puffing for four quarters is the goal. 

"Last year's goals were ridiculous," Finley said. "If we top that, we'll be great."

“It’s just that consistent tempo,” Finley said. “You get up to the ball and….  Full story here

Packers QB Graham Harrell gets no guarantees

August 25, 2012 by  
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By Jason Wilde, ESPN Wisconsin/Milwaukee

~GREEN BAY – While votes of confidence don’t guarantee anything – ask any coach or general manager in NFL history who got one and later got canned anyway – it seemed noteworthy that Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy opted not to give backup quarterback Graham Harrell one on Friday.

McCarthy has been vocal in his support of Harrell, who has struggled throughout the team’s three preseason games, but when asked directly whether Harrell will be NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers’ backup when the season starts Sept. 9 against San Francisco, the coach went to his tried-and-true line about personnel decisions in preseason.

“We don’t make roster decisions today,” McCarthy said Friday after Harrell completed just 5 of 12 passes for 26 yards (49.3 rating) in the Packers’ 27-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night.

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 23: Graham Harrell #6 of the Green Bay Packers passes the football against the Cincinnati Bengals during a preseason NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 23, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

”There’s still plenty of work to be done with three more practices. We have a game (next Thursday against Kansas City). Graham will play in that game and have more opportunities.”

Then, McCarthy added: “Graham Harrell improved from the first two weeks. Last night, he graded out higher than the first two weeks. He’s making improvement. … As a whole, I thought the offense was one of our better performances of the preseason, but we still have work to do. In Graham’s particular case, I’m happy with his progress.”

Harrell was handed the No. 2 job behind Rodgers after backup Matt Flynn left as a free agent this spring. Flynn, viewed as one of the best backups in the league last year, got a $10 million signing bonus from the Seattle Seahawks but may lose out to rookie third-round pick Russell Wilson, the ex-University of Wisconsin quarterback, for the starting job there.

In three preseason games, Harrell has completed 32 of 63 passes for 261 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 53.7, leading to harsh criticism from some quadrants of the franchise’s fervent fan base. Several well-respected national NFL reporters – ESPN’s Adam Schefter, CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora and Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole – have either posited or reported that the Packers have expressed interest in trading for Cleveland’s Colt McCoy or Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson

“There was some positive and there was plenty that we can improve on again,” Harrell said of his performance against the Bengals. “The Bengals brought some different pressures and stuff and did a decent job on defense, and we did some decent things. It’s all about trying to handle that and get better. We did some positives things, and there’s plenty that we’ll watch film on and say we can do better. But we just have to keep trying to get better.”

McCarthy did defend Harrell immediately after the game, explaining that injuries at tight end and running back forced him to alter the play-calling game-plan, to Harrell’s detriment.

“Graham and the second unit, we ran plays that we didn’t practice this week. Now that’s not (an excuse), that’s happened before, it happens in-season, but unfortunately, for that to happen with your second group is probably not the way you wanted to go,” McCarthy said. “That’s something that you won’t see but we’ll take into account in his grade. That’s a great experience for Graham Harrell to learn from.

“He’s in command of the offense, whether you’re aware of that or not. It’s part of the preseason football. We’re not putting a Band-Aid on it. He’s trying to play above it. I thought he definitely improved.”

Harrell will have one more chance to prove himself against the Chiefs, as Rodgers isn’t expected to play more than a series. In the 2010 preseason finale against the Chiefs, Rodgers didn’t even suit up. McCarthy seemed to dismiss the idea of playing Harrell behind the No. 1 offensive line or with the team’s top receivers, but Harrell is sure to see plenty of playing time, regardless.

“I just like to play. No matter who’s in, I enjoy it,” Harrell said. “We have some great players and it’s always fun to play with those guys. To get to throw to receivers like Jordy (Nelson) and Greg (Jennings), that’s fun. I get to do that in practice and whether or not I get to do that in a game or not, that’s part of it. My goal is just to get better and move the ball and score more than we’re doing. So hopefully we can do that.

“I think the goal is always to have good outings and improve and move the ball and score. Since San Diego, we haven’t gotten the ball in the end zone as a second unit so that’s something we obviously want to do. “To that, you’ve got to cut down on mistakes from my end and everyone else’s end. Hopefully that’s something we can do.”

Stats, rest of story, here

Rodgers, Benson run Packers past Bengals

August 24, 2012 by  
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Fox Sports

~CINCINNATI – Aaron Rodgers was the best running back on the field.

The MVP quarterback led Green Bay to a big first half Thursday night, running for 52 yards and two touchdowns during a 27-13 preseason victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, who simply couldn’t catch him.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scores a touchdown on a 12-yard run, in front ofCincinnati Bengals cornerback Nate Clements during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Grieshop)

Rodgers avoided the rush and took off, finishing as the game’s top rusher.

”l always joke around with him about being a running back, showing his running back skills,” running back Cedric Benson said. ”He’s got speed on those rollouts and that’s very helpful.”

No surprise to Rodgers, who ran for three touchdowns last season while setting a club record with 45 touchdown passes.

”I think I’ve showed it in the past,” Rodgers said.

The Packers wanted to look crisp coming off a drubbing by Cleveland. Rodgers led the way, going 12 of 22 for 154 yards with an interception while leading the Packers to 245 yards and a 17-6 halftime lead. He scrambled six times, scoring on runs of 12 and 5 yards.

”We couldn’t keep the quarterback from extending drives and scoring,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ”We didn’t do a good job of recognizing a mobile quarterback and getting him down and strapping him to the ground.”

Rodgers made only one mistake, throwing an interception on a mix-up with a receiver.

”We were flat in the first half,” said Bengals cornerback Terence Newman, who had the interception. ”We didn’t do anything.”

While Rodgers was the top runner on the field, Benson was the last to leave it. The former Bengal made his Packers debut and ran six times for 38 years.

Benson led the Bengals in rushing each of the last four years, but they decided to let him leave as a free agent and signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Benson stuck around after the game and enjoyed his homecoming, meeting former teammates, coaches and acquaintances at midfield before jogging off long after everyone else had left. His Bengals jersey is on a clearance rack at Paul Brown Stadium’s gift shop.

”Ced was great,” Rodgers said. ”He’s getting his feet wet. He made some runs out of nothing and did a nice job on some check-downs. It was a good start for him. We’re excited to have him.” 

Green Bay Packers running back Cedric Benson (32) is tackled by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (93) and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Grieshop)

Benson signed with the Packers (1-2) on Aug. 14 and has been learning the play book, doing extra study time with the quarterbacks to pick things up. He got into a preseason game for the first time and gained 8 yards on a carry up the middle, receiving a mixed reaction from the crowd of 52,584.

”It felt good,” Benson said. ”I was joking around earlier that I’ve only been here a week and a half and I’m playing the first half of the game. Truly, honestly, it felt like I haven’t had a lot of time off.”

The Bengals (2-1) played their starters into the third quarter but they couldn’t get a touchdown, failing even on a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Andy Dalton played the entire first half and the opening series of the third quarter, going 5 of 17 for 40 yards and two sacks. He scrambled three times for 36 yards.

Cincinnati settled for field goals of 42 and 30 yards by Mike Nugent, the second coming after the Bengals had a first-and-goal from the 1. Dalton had to throw away a pass under pressure, a run went nowhere, and Dalton was sacked by Erik Walden, forcing the Bengals to settle for the field goal.

One of the Packers’ main concerns was how the offense did when Rodgers left the game. Backup Graham Harrell has struggled in the preseason, throwing two interceptions. He opened the second half and had a hand in another turnover.

The Packers fumbled at their 15-yard line when Harrell and John Kuhn failed to have a clean handoff. No. 2 quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw for a touchdown on the next play.

Linebacker Jamari Lattimore returned an interception 27 yards for the Packers’ final score.

Green Bay Packers defensive back Tramon Williams (38) breaks up a pass intended for Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/David Kohl)

Cincinnati sat five of its reserve cornerbacks because of injuries, including top draft pick Dre Kirkpatrick, who has missed all three preseason games while recovering from an injured left knee.

The Bengals rested Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott, their top two running backs. Brian Leonard started and carried four times for 19 yards.

Packers’ WR Tom Crabtree left with a shoulder injury after S Taylor Mays lowered his shoulder for a hit in the first quarter, drawing a personal foul penalty.
DT Ryan Pickett left with a calf injury

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