2013 April : Packers Insider

Packers’ Greene saw something in Illinois State OLB Nate Palmer

April 30, 2013 by  
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By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY – The plan was to meet up with as many assistant coaches as possible about the art of pass rushing. Spence Nowinsky looked at the map, counted the number of NFL teams within seven hours of Bloomington, Ill., and the Illinois State defensive line coach sent out a flurry of messages.

The first to respond was Kevin Greene. The Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach was heading south soon, so he stopped at Illinois State and the two spent the day together.

As Greene and Nowinsky exchanged ideas – highlights of Clay Matthews looping on the screen – Nowinsky pictured his own edge rusher, Nate Palmer, in this defense.

“As I’m watching that, I’m thinking Nate has a great opportunity with the Packers because his skill, his athleticism, his work ethic, he fits in really good,” Nowinsky said. “It’s about getting an opportunity.”

Last weekend, the Packers gave Palmer that chance in the sixth round of the NFL draft. After losing Erik Walden in free agency and releasing Frank Zombo, there’s room for another pass rusher. Palmer was a speck on the radar elsewhere. Green Bay was his only visit and he admitted he didn’t expect to be drafted. But Greene and the Packers saw something in the Football Championship Subdivision pass rusher, and now he could be the next small-school prospect to crack the roster.

Nate Palmer, who didn’t think he was going to be drafted but was picked by the Packers in the sixth round. He was a defensive end at Illinois State but would play outside linebacker with the Packers. Green Bay noticed him when their defensive coaches went to Illinois State to talk about defending the read-option. ILLINOIS STATE handout

On his visit to Green Bay, the 6-foot-2, 248-pound Palmer eventually met Greene. They watched film of Matthews, and Greene offered a challenge.

“He said, ‘I can get you there, if you want it. If you want to go there, I got what it takes to get you to that next level,’ ” Palmer said. “(He said), ‘All you have to do is be a hard worker like him. I think that’s the kind of person you are. Let’s go. Let’s go to that next level.’ ”

Palmer didn’t entertain such illusions three years ago. With Illinois, he hardly played. After two seasons and eight tackles, he transferred to Illinois State and collapsed the pocket. Palmer had 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss during his two years with the Redbirds. A defensive end, he often rushed from a two-point stance, too.

From there, the Packers got to know Palmer better than everyone else. The meeting between Greene and Nowinsky was a mini coaching clinic. Greene broke down the pass rush for Nowinsky. And Nowinsky broke down the pistol offense for Greene, something Illinois State faces regularly.

Through Nowinsky, Greene got a sense of Palmer. And after studying Green Bay’s defense, including one full hour of the bull rush, Nowinsky believes Palmer is a fit.

“On paper they’re a 3-4 team, but not really,” said Nowinsky, also the assistant head coach. “They have a four-man front rushing the quarterback. That’s the NFL. So those two guys rushing the quarterback up on their feet, I think Nate is a tremendous asset. He’ll do very well. He’s a good athlete, he has good body size. But he has long arms (33½ inches) and a very good lower body strength-wise. He plays with football leverage. He can drop his hips and play lower than an offensive tackle.”

Transfers are an annual source of talent for an FCS team like Illinois State. As Nowinsky says, “99%” of those transfers “have a humongous, hockey bag full of skeletons.” They’re players “you really don’t want.” Palmer, he says, is in the 1%.

“Incredible worker and a stupendous student,” he said. “Great work ethic.”

The intelligence likely was a factor. On the board, Palmer was able to draw up defenses. Illinois State runs many of the same fire-zone schemes Dom Capers does. Making pre-snap reads is important, too. As first-round pick Nick Perry discovered last year, lifting your head up and scanning the entire offense is an adjustment. Palmer’s time in a two-point stance, helped.

Greene’s message about Matthews’ ascent registered.

“I watch (Matthews) all the time,” Palmer said. “I watch him and say, ‘How in the world does he do half the stuff he does?’ After talking to Kevin Greene and hearing about his work ethic and stuff like that, I see the proof on the field. . . . It’s just hard work. Right now, he’s doing jujitsu and martial arts training. He said that by Clay doing stuff like that, it allowed him to blossom into a great athlete on the field.”

First, comes the canyon-size jump from the Missouri Valley Conference to the NFC North. Nowinsky expects Palmer to take some lumps, to have his good days and his “very humbling days.” Maybe the game will overwhelm him. Still, the Packers spotted something in a prospect who was watching the draft as a fan, not a participant. Greene, a fifth-round pick who had 160 sacks in 15 seasons, can convey a powerful message.

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Easy to root for: Johnathan Franklin a talent and a great guy

April 28, 2013 by  
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By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor

~When the Packers stole running back Eddie Lacy late in the second round, pundits and analysts around the country said the Packers finally solved their running game woes. They said Lacy was the missing piece needed to take some pressure off MVP Aaron Rodgers.

While that might be the case, the Packers added another highly-rated back with the addition of Johnathan Franklin from UCLA. The Packers seem to do well with Pac-10, West Coast guys as Rodgers (Cal), Clay Matthews (USC), Desmond Bishop (Cal), Nick Perry (USC), Datone Jones (UCLA), and James Jones (San Jose St.).

When the Packers stole Lacy late in round two, there were many (including me) who debated if he or Franklin was the best pick there. Lacy is a big banger, with speed and agility, who thrived in the national spotlight at Alabama, winning the national title. Lacy was the MVP of that title game against Notre Dame, which incidentally probably cost Irish linebacker Manti Te’o a lot of money.

But Lacy was running into gigantic holes much of the time behind a great Crimson Tide offensive line. He averaged about four yards per carry before contact during the season. In the NFL, especially behind this offensive line, he might not see a hole like that once in a game. He’s also battled some nagging injuries, which is already a problem Packer running backs have had constantly.

Enter Franklin.

If Franklin did what he did in the SEC, he would have been a second round pick. But playing on the left coast, for UCLA, he went a bit under-the-radar.

PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA NOVEMBER 30, 2012 -UCLA's Jonathan Franklin picks up big yards against Stanford in the 3rd quarter in Palo Alto Friday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

Franklin is an all-purpose back who reminds some of Niners back Frank Gore or even former Colts and Rams stud Marshall Faulk. Franklin is a very good receiver out of the backfield. He had 32 catches last season.

He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and had the best 60-yard shuttle time among running backs, showing his quickness and change of direction.

Franklin set UCLA’s single-season rushing record with 1,734 yards in 2012. He also set the school career rushing record with 4,403 yards.

His highlight this past season came in the emotional, rivalry win over USC. In that game, Franklin carried the ball 29 times for 171 yards, and scored two touchdowns. He was the player of the game, which is an award called the George W. Dickerson Award. The USC-UCLA rivalry is one of the best in football. Ask Clay Matthews and Nick Perry.

Franklin also torched a good team in Stanford with 194 yards and two touchdowns.

He’s the first UCLA RB to be drafted since Maurice Jones-Drew was taken in the second round by Jacksonville in the 2006 NFL Draft.

Here’s a great radio interview from ESPN LA last November, following the big win over crosstown rival USC.

Franklin has a chance to be a great one. With Eddie Lacy added already, the Packers now have great depth at RB.

Franklin, in an earlier interview with Peter Smith, revealed some good stuff about himself.

First, I definitely got to give credit to my great offensive line that worked hard and busted their tails off every play for me.  And I had some unselfish wide receivers that made some big blocks down the field, blocking safeties.

And with me, just work ethic; just working hard; not just in practice, but late at night going running or waking up early in the morning and going to work out.  Doing more than just enough and pushing myself as much as I can.

God has blessed me so much and put me in this position to lead.  It’s not just about work but it’s about faith as well.  The two just work together and I was able to have a great season but I was also able to shine for him and spread his love and spread his word.

I would say being the UCLA all-time leading rusher.  Just to look back at all the great running backs; we’ve had a lot of running backs come through UCLA.  Just to be a part of that was truly a blessing; it really is.

I hope I’m viewed as a man of God, first off without a doubt; somebody that was humble, high character, respectable, and worked hard in everything that I did.  Everything.  I just wanted to set a standard for men, for football players, and not to be viewed as just a football player, but more than that.  And to just do it the right way.  And to be wise in the things that I do.

Packers 2013 Draft Picks: Results, Analysis and Grades

April 28, 2013 by  
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From Zach Kruse, Bleacher Report ~

1st Round, 26th Overall: DE Datone Jones, UCLA

Datone Jones

The Green Bay Packers made an easy choice Thursday night in selecting UCLA defensive end Datone Jones in the first round.

A powerfully built 5-technique with experience in the 3-4 defense, Jones immediately fills a hole on the Packers’ razor-thin defensive line. He should be expected to immediately start in the base front with Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, and his pass-rushing ability gives him a chance to be disruptive in the nickel package as an inside rusher.

As a senior at UCLA, Jones provided 19.5 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks—with the majority of that production coming against double teams in the Bruins’ three-man defensive front. The Packers will hope that production will carry over to the next level.

Without much doubt, Green Bay entered this draft with defensive line as its biggest need. While Raji and Pickett return as starters, C.J. Wilson was a below average starter, Mike Neal and Mike Daniels are strictly nickel pass rushers and Jerel Worthy is rehabbing after ACL surgery. The Packers also have five upcoming free agents along the line in 2014.

With Jones on board, the Packers suddenly look much more talented in the front-seven. A potential weakness could become a strength in 2013.

Grade: A

2nd Round, 61st Overall: RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama

Eddie Lacy

A gaping hole for the Green Bay Packers throughout the Aaron Rodgers era may finally be shifting into a legitimate strength.

After trading down with the San Francisco 49ers to No. 61 overall, Green Bay picked Alabama running back Eddie Lacy—a potential workhorse back who gives the Packers the most talented runner of the football they’ve had in some time.

With Lacy on board, the Packers can now team him with 2012 discovery DuJuan Harris to create an intriguing and productive running-back duo behind Rodgers and Green Bay’s explosive passing game.

However, there are reasons why Lacy fell to No. 61 overall.

He has dealt with injury issues in the past, including a hamstring problem in the lead up to this draft. It’s also worth wondering how much of his production came via the nation’s most dominant offensive line at Alabama. There won’t be truck-sized holes to maneuver through at the next level.

But at 231 pounds, with agile feet and a strong lower half, Lacy certainly has the kind of skill set that can translate to the NFL.

The Packers will now hope the threat of Lacy in the backfield will pull some of the two-high safety looks Rodgers has had to deal with in previous years. If so, Green Bay’s offense just reached dangerous levels.

Grade: A-

4th Round, 109th Overall: OT David Bakhtiari, Colorado

David Bakhtiari

Under Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers have generally been known as a team that leans towards “best player available.”

While it’s impossible to know their board, one thing in the 2013 NFL draft is clear: The Packers have identified obvious needs and have set out to address them.

After fixing huge problems at defensive end and running back in the first two rounds, Green Bay took a stab at solidifying the tackle position with Colorado’s David Bakhtiari.

An early entry after his junior season, Bakhtiari arrives in the NFL as a somewhat raw prospect. But he does have the feet necessary of a left tackle, plus the experience of playing inside and at right tackle. He also brings a nasty disposition to finishing blocks.

The Packers may not be getting an immediate fix for their tackle woes in Bakhtiari, but it’s an attempt to rebuild what has been a trouble spot for the past two seasons. The one worry here is if he can eventually play left tackle or not.

Grade: B

4th Round, 122nd Overall: OL J.C. Tretter, Cornell

J.C. Tretter

The Packers are getting serious about addressing their offensive line woes.

Just 13 picks after taking offensive tackle David Bakhtiari from Colorado, the Packers selected Cornell’s versatile offensive lineman J.C. Tretter.

A former tight end, Tretter moved to left tackle in 2011 and went on to start two-straight years on the blindside. Despite his athleticism, Tretter probably doesn’t have the heigh (6’4″) or arm length (33 3/8″) to think he’ll translate to left tackle at the next level.

Instead, the Ivy League product will likely move inside to play guard in the NFL.

The Packers have more depth issues at guard than they do tackle, so Tretter makes sense here.

Grade: B-

4th Round, 125th Overall: RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA

Johnathan Franklin

Think the Packers came into this draft serious about finding a running game?

Two rounds after taking Alabama battering ram Eddie Lacy with a value pick at No. 61, the Packers moved back into the fourth round to select UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin. Some would argue Lacy and Franklin represented the top two running backs in this class.

Franklin’s fall into the fourth round is somewhat surprising, and could do somewhat with his fumbling problems early on in his collegiate career. But the overall running talent is certainly there.

A quick, one-cut runner with vision and explosion in-and-out cuts, Franklin is a potential Frank Gore-type runner at the next level. He also has experience catching the football out of the backfield.

By all accounts, this is another of the best value picks in the fourth round, and maybe the entire draft. Franklin, who stands 5’10” and weighs 205 pounds but plays much bigger, has immediate impact potential.

The Packers now have the talent at running back to match the passing game. This offense could get scary in 2013.

Grade: A+

5th Round, 159th Overall: CB/S Micah Hyde, Iowa

Micah Hyde

The Packers’ drafting of Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde has made it three-straight drafts in which Green Bay has addressed the cornerback position.

Hyde will now join Casey Hayward (2012 second-rounder) and Davon House (2011 fourth-rounder) and starters Tramon Williams and Sam Shields in a talented group of cornerbacks in Green Bay. Special teamer Jarrett Bush also returns.

The Packers likely targeted Hyde because of his positional versatility.

While primarily a cornerback at Iowa, Hyde also brings experience (two starts) playing free safety. As more of a read-and-react player, his best position may eventually be at the backend.

Over three years starting, Hyde intercepted eight passes and proved to be a play-maker for the Iowa secondary.

However, his 197-pound frame will likely limit his early (if ever) transition to safety. Considering the Packers depth at cornerback, the value here is questionable.

Grade: C+

5th Round, 167th Overall: DL Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

Josh Boyd

Considering the Packers current and long-term health along the defensive line, a second selection of a defensive lineman isn’t surprising.

With the second-to-last pick in the fifth round, the Packers took Josh Boyd, a 310-pound defensive lineman from Mississippi State. He’ll enter a crowded rotation in Green Bay that needed the help.

The Packers will have five free-agent defensive linemen to deal with following the 2013 season, and while not all will leave, the team did need to protect itself moving forward.

Boyd, who posted 32 reps at 225 pounds at the NFL combine, can now come in and compete for a role at either defensive end or nose tackle, depending on how defensive coordinator Dom Capers wants to use him.

Grade: C+

6th Round, 193rd Overall: OLB Nate Palmer, Illinois State

Nate Palmer

Despite having two first-round picks penciled in as starters, the Green Bay Packers entered the 2013 NFL draft with an obvious need at outside linebacker.

To fix that issue, the Packers drafted Nate Palmer out of Illinois State with their sixth-round pick.

Depth behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry was all but eradicated this offseason, as the Packers lost both Erik Walden and Frank Zombo in free agency. Adding Palmer gives the Packers another young, high-upside rusher to team with Dezman Moses behind the starters.

Palmer was certainly productive at Illinois State.

In his two years after transferring from Illinois, Palmer (6’2″, 248 pounds) tallied 17 sacks and five forced fumbles. He also led the nation in quarterback hits with 27 his final season.

The Packers will hope working with noted outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene can help Palmer translate his college production into a successful NFL career rushing the passer. That transition might need to be accelerated, too, as the Packers have relied on depth at the position in each of the last three seasons.

Considering how poor said depth was at the position entering the draft, and the upside Palmer brings to the table, this appears to be a solid selection.

Grade: B+

7th Round, 216th Overall: WR Charles Johnson, Grand Valley State

Charles Johnson

In Grand Valley State receiver Charles Johnson, the Packers are either getting a workout warrior or a legitimate seventh-round sleeper.

At his pro day in March, Johnson, who stands 6’2″ and weighs 215 pounds, blazed through the 40-yard dash with sub 4.4-second 40-yard dashes. He also posted an impressive vertical leap of 39.5 inches.

While his competition level at Grand Valley State wasn’t great, Johnson went over 1,000 yards receiving in each of his two seasons at the school and finished with 31 touchdown receptions.

The physical traits and collegiate production are all there for Johnson.

The question now becomes whether or not the small-school receiver can adjust to life in the NFL. Gone are the days where he is running free against FCS-level secondaries, no matter what he timed out in the 40-yard dash.

However, the Packers are still deep at receiver, so Johnson won’t be thrown into the fire immediately. He’ll have a chance to marinate behind the likes of James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Once he’s ready, he could be a serious down-the-field and red-zone option for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Grade: A-

7th Round, 224th Overall: WR Kevin Dorsey, Maryland

Kevin Dorsey

Obviously not content with drafting just one athletic but raw receiver, general manager Ted Thompson went to the well again eight picks later and took Maryland receiver Kevin Dorsey.

While limited by poor quarterback play while at Maryland, Dorsey opened some eyes with his physical attributes.

Standing 6’2″—the same height as Charles Johnson, who the Packers picked at No. 216—Dorsey ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds and posted a vertical leap of 38 inches.

Again, the numbers weren’t great at Maryland—Dorsey caught just 18 passes his senior year, and 81 total—but that was more a product of outside factors. Or so the Packers hope.

Green Bay has clearly targeted tall, athletic receivers to finish out this draft, and Dorsey is just the latest example. The Packers will bank on either Johnson or Dorsey putting the athletic tools together and becoming a legitimate NFL receiver.

Grade: B

7th Round, 232nd Overall: LB Sam Barrington, USF

Sam Barrington

The Packers finished their 2013 draft class by selecting South Florida linebacker Sam Barrington at No. 232 overall.

While officially listed as an outside linebacker, Barrington may project better to playing inside in the 3-4 defense. He was listed at 246 pounds and ran 4.83-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which are numbers closer associated to a thumping-inside backer than 3-4 edge rusher.

Considering the unrest at inside linebacker, Barrington is a likely fit. At the very least, he’ll be a replacement for the recently released D.J. Smith.

Barrington may also be a similar player for the Packers as Brad Jones, who can interchange between outside and inside linebcker in the 3-4. Versatility is always a big part of how Ted Thompson approaches draft picks.

Grade: C+

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Eddie Lacy: A new flavor for Packers

April 26, 2013 by  
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By Kevin Seifert, ESPN

~The smell test failed every time. It was always difficult to imagine the Green Bay Packers selecting Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, or any other player at his position, in the first round of the 2013 draft. The running game simply doesn’t carry that kind of value in the Packers’ offense.

But in the second round? After a trade that dropped the Packers another six spots to the penultimate choice of the round?

Can’t say I ever considered it.

I guess that’s why the professionals handle such things.

The Packers scooped up Lacy with the No. 61 overall selection of the draft, a high-value pick if you thought Lacy was a first-round talent and an economical one if you merely agreed the Packers needed a better plan in the backfield moving forward. At 231 pounds, Lacy is the kind of inside power runner the Packers haven’t had in the Mike McCarthy-Aaron Rodgers era. Lacy, in fact, is the Packers’ highest-drafted running back since Darrell Thompson was the No. 19 overall pick in 1990.

Alabama running back Eddie Lacy adds a new dimension to Green Bay's running game. -Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

The Packers ranked No. 26 last season in average yards after contact per rush (1.5 yards), according to ESPN Stats & Information. Newcomer DuJuan Harris created some excitement at the end of last season with his frenetic style, but it should tell you something about a team’s commitment to building a position that a player was able to walk off the street in midseason, join the practice squad, be promoted to the active roster in Week 13 and earn a starting job by Week 14.

The Packers could add a new layer to their offense if they use Lacy the way Alabama did. Almost two-thirds of his rushing attempts went between the tackles, and he averaged 7.6 yards per carry on those plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

There are those who might attribute an inordinate amount of Lacy’s success to Alabama’s dominant offensive line, one that included a pair of 2013 first-round draft picks, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker. Indeed, Lacy averaged 4.2 yards before contact last season and made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before being touched on nearly 36 percent of his rushes.

Running Inside the Tackles

Comparing Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in their final seasons at Alabama:
Richardson Lacy
Rush PG 16.5 9.4
Yds PG 84.3 71.2
Yds per rush 5.1 7.6<< 20+ yd rush 10 13 >>8.7 with 7 or fewer defenders in box
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
But as the chart shows, Lacy was more productive on those inside runs than former Alabama tailback Trent Richardson was in the same situation during the 2011 season. Richardson, of course, went No. 3 overall to the Cleveland Browns in the 2012 draft.

“You watch the film and he rarely goes down with one guy trying to tackle him,” Packers director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst told Green Bay reporters. “More guys have to tackle him. He kind of has to be gang-tackled. That’s intriguing as well.”

Alabama’s offensive line might have had something to do with Lacy falling to the bottom of the second round. The more likely reason, however, was an offseason hamstring injury that limited him during pre-draft workouts. He reportedly wasn’t in top shape for his makeshift Pro Day earlier this month, and his 40-yard times of 4.59 and 4.62 that day excited no one.

Gutekunst expressed no concern over Lacy’s physical condition, however, calling the Pro Day workout “part of the process.” Lacy said: “I wasn’t 100 percent but I decided to try it anyway.”

Lacy has plenty of time to recover before the start of training camp in July. When he does, the Packers will have what Gutekunst called “a little bit different [player] than we’ve had maybe in the past.”

I don’t anticipate the Packers offense changing much with Lacy joining Harris, James Starks, Alex Green and John Kuhn in the backfield. This offense and scheme will always revolve around Rodgers and the passing game. (As it should, by the way.)

What his arrival should do, however, is make the Packers more versatile and ultimately better. They now have their best option in years for times that call for tough yards or running out the clock or simply wearing down a defense. He won’t be as exciting as a half-dozen other skill players on the Packers’ roster, but every flash needs a grind and every slash needs a pound. Or something like that.

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Packers snatch Eddie Lacy afterall, in round two

April 26, 2013 by  
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By Tyler Dunne, Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay — His plane had just landed when the call came in. Eddie Lacy had left New York City to fly back to school, to train.

And literally right when he landed the call from the Green Bay Packers came in.

“As soon as the wheels touched the ground, I turned my phone back on and when the service came back in, they were calling me,” Lacy said. “It’s just a big relief.”

Eddie Lacy ran right through the Notre Dame defense in the BCS title game this January.

A relief because Alabama’s Lacy was considered by many as the top running back in the NFL draft. But as the second round dragged on — and the Packers traded down from No. 55 to No. 61 — Lacy remained on the board. The 5-foot-11, 231-pounder was the fourth running back taken, after Giovani Bernard (37th, Cincinnati), Le’Veon Bell (48th, Pittsburgh) and Montee Ball (58th, Denver).

The Packers could have taken either Lacy or Ball with their original second-round pick. Instead, they picked up an extra sixth-rounder (173rd overall) by trading down and took Lacy. When asked which back the team preferred, director of college scouting Brian Gutekunst said Green Bay had the two in “the same range” and that they’re two different backs.

Eddie Lacy faces some tough defenses in LSU, but he has that SEC toughness.

Either way, Lacy is the pick. Maybe he’s one solution to busting the Cover 2 defenses that gave Green Bay problems in 2012. Echoing what he told the Journal Seninel last week, Lacy described himself as a complete back. And this draft-day fall, he said, will be “a big motivation piece.”

“I’m a bigger guy, a tough runner, a physical runner,” Lacy said. “That’s just natural. But I’m also shifty and I can make defenders miss and also break long runs. I just feel like I can do anything.”

Lacy was the heartbeat of Alabama’s rushing attack last season, rolling to 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.5 avg.) with 17 touchdowns. Gutekunst said the Packers weren’t concerned about Lacy’s durability and he doesn’t believe Lacy was merely the product of a star-laden offensive line that had two players selected in the first 11 picks (Chance Warmack, D.J. Fluker).

All along, to Green Bay, Lacy’s strength was the game tape.

“You watch that and kind of take the different situations he’s been put in and watch those,” Gutekunst said. “They did have a very, very good offensive line at Alabama, very good players. But he averaged six-something yards in the SEC his whole career. He’s a good back, we’re really excited to have him.”

If he is able to beat the Packers injury jinx at RB, his addition should take some pressure of the MVP Aaron Rodgers.

His poor pre-draft workout may have been one reason Lacy fell so far. A hamstring suffered in training held Lacy out of the NFL scouting combine and Alabama’s original pro day. When he finally worked out, he struggled getting through the drills — the product, he said, of having only two weeks to prepare at 100%.

The hamstring is fine now. Lacy expects to be ready for rookie camp, OTAs, minicamp, etc.

Still, it was difficult to wait this long. Lacy nearly fell all the way into the third round. On the day the player subject to the most famous draft-day plunge cashed in, Lacy’s patience was tested.

“I couldn’t tell you why I slid so far,” Lacy said, “but at the end of the day, it is what it is and you can’t do anything about it. I’m just looking forward to being part of a new team and contributing.”

So now, Lacy joins a backfield that includes DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks. Injuries hounded the group in 2012, start to finish. Of these four, the Packers will be counting on someone to stay healthy and finally take some heat off Rodgers and the passing game. Defenses, deep into the season, didn’t give Green Bay’s running game respect.

The question on Lacy, in addition to his injury history, is how will he cope with not having huge holes behind that great Bama offensive line.

Possibly, Lacy could change that.

“I think it brings balance,” Lacy said. “I will allow the defense to not just be able to focus on the passes because there’s a back in the backfield who’s going to have to make them think about the run. And if we can run out of the shotgun, it’ll just make the offense that much more dangerous.”

Added Gutekunst: “He’s got great lateral quickness, great ability to drop his pads in the hole, very powerful guy. He has kind of an uncanny knack to get out of trouble for a guy His size. He’s a little bit different than we’ve had maybe in the past. He’s a really good player, he’s been a good player there the whole time even though he’s been behind some very good backs. I think he gives us a little bit of size we haven’t had for a while.”

Maybe the Packers wanted Ball more. Maybe not.

Lacy will be redirecting to Green Bay soon.

“I don’t like to compare myself to other players,” Lacy said. “The coaches saw something they liked in me that they didn’t like in him, I guess you could say.”

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Packers take Datone Jones to boost defensive front

April 26, 2013 by  
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By Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay – Bound and determined to reinforce their depleted defensive line, the Green Bay Packers opted for the height and athleticism of UCLA end Datone Jones over the versatility and power of North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams Thursday night in the first round of the National Football League draft.

Jones, 6 feet 4 inches and 280 pounds, is the prototypical base end that teams with 3-4 schemes crave but the Packers have played without for the last four seasons.

Williams (6-2½, 313), who went two picks later to Denver at No. 28, offered more run-stopping potential but wasn’t as dangerous in the pass rush.

“I liked him,” general manager Ted Thompson said, referring to Williams. “We liked him.

“We talked about (Jones’) length. I don’t think that can drive your decision. But we were looking for something a little bit different than what we have.”

The Packers started C.J. Wilson (6-3, 300) at base end most of last season with Mike Neal (6-3, 295) in reserve. Ryan Pickett (6-2, 335) and B.J. Raji (6-1½, 337) shuffled back and forth between nose tackle and three-technique defensive tackle in the 3-4.

Jerel Worthy, the team’s second-round pick a year ago, stands 6-2½ and late in the season weighed about 285.

“We added another good athlete and a guy with a little bit more speed,” said Thompson. “When you can add a little speed to the defense, we feel it’s a good idea.”

Jones runs 40 yards in 4.80 seconds compared to 5.01 for Williams and 5.05 for Worthy.

At UCLA, Jones, a fifth-year senior, had 13½ sacks in 51 games (43 starts) and 36½ tackles for loss.

With Worthy doubtful to play a contributing role in 2013 because of reconstructive knee surgery in mid-January, Jones will be expected to become an immediate fixture in the nickel defense alongside either Neal or Raji.

“He’s explosive off the line of scrimmage,” said Thompson. “He’s got the ability to close on the ball. He’s a good-looking kid. He’s an athletic guy.”

UCLA Athletics - 2012 UCLA Football versus Oregon State Beavers at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA. September 22nd, 2012 Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA Photography

One reason some personnel people regarded Jones as a second-round choice was his arm length. They measured 32¾ inches, the shortest among the 10 best defensive ends in the draft.

“I don’t know that he dropped,” Thompson said. “I don’t know where he was supposed to go. I was kind of surprised he was still there.

“He doesn’t play with short arms. We’ll see.”

On the other hand, Jones lifted 225 pounds on the bench press 29 times, which was third best among the top 10 ends.

Although Jones weighed 283 at the combine and 277 at Bruins pro day, Thompson said he easily could move up to the desired 295-pound range for base ends in Dom Capers’ system.

“He’s got a nice frame,” said Thompson. “I talked to him on the phone. He said he can (weigh) whatever.”

Does Jones have the hard-nosed, team-first mentality to sacrifice himself on early downs to free linebackers for tackles?

“Yeah,” Thompson replied. “He’s a football guy.”

Some of Jones’ athletic testing numbers didn’t approach some of the players destined to become ends for 4-3 teams but they still were very representative for a 280-pounder.

“He can run,” Thompson said. “He’s got quickness. He played nose tackle in some of their sets. We think he’ll be good in our ‘sub’ packages.”

Despite his shorter arms, Jones has held his own at the point of attack, according to Thompson.

When asked about Jones’ level of effort, Thompson said, “He’s a go-getter.”

Jones, 22, would have been in the draft last year if he hadn’t fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot during workouts shortly before the start of the 2010 season. He played the last two seasons without incident.

“He played the whole season this year,” Thompson said, referring to 2012. “Didn’t have any trouble.”

The Packers’ doctors examined the foot and signed off on it, the GM said.

The entire organization has been put on alert to do whatever it takes to ward off another siege of injuries.

“Tell me about it,” Thompson responded when asked about the importance of injury avoidance in 2013. “It is (big).”

Thompson had conversations with several teams early Thursday and a few more in the early stages of the draft.

“But when it got to be our pick we were pretty committed,” he said. “We had a couple names we thought were legitimate (picks).”

Asked if the Packers planned to draft a defensive lineman at No. 26, Thompson said, “Not necessarily. But we thought that would be a good idea if we could.”

Pickett, Raji and Johnny Jolly reported to off-season workouts two weeks ago well over their playing weights and in what the Packers regarded as poor condition.

Raji is entering the final year of his contract, and the Packers surely don’t want to be leveraged by Raji or anyone else in upcoming negotiations because they were bereft of talent at the position.

The versatility of Jones was evident in Journal Sentinel polls this month in which 16 personnel men were asked to rank players.

At 3-4 defensive end, Jones finished with 14 points to finish third behind Florida’s Sharrif Floyd (25) and Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson (20).

At 4-3 defensive end, Jones tied for fifth with 11 points behind Brigham Young’s Ziggy Ansah (43), Louisiana State’s Barkevious Mingo (24), Florida State’s Bjoern Werner (20) and Oregon’s Dion Jordan (14). At 4-3 defensive tackle, Jones finished 11th with two points.

“Datone’s a very versatile player,” said Thompson. “He played all up and down the line of scrimmage.

“He’s a very sharp guy. You’ll like him in the interview (process).”

Original story here

Packers sign Rodgers to a record-setting, five-year, $110 million extension

April 26, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel

~Just as they did with Brett Favre 14 years ago, the Green Bay Packers have signed their franchise quarterback to a record-setting contract. An NFL source said Aaron Rodgers’ new deal announced this afternoon is worth $110 milllion over five years.

Rodgers, entering his ninth season with the Packers and sixth as starting quarterback, will speak to the media shortly, the club announced.

Rodgers has now surpassed Brees, and all others, in terms of salary.

The $22 million average tops the $20 million per year the Baltimore Ravens gave quarterback Joe Flacco earlier this year.

The Packers recently signed linebacker Clay Matthews to a five-year, $66 million contract, the average of which will likely be just over half of what Rodgers is expected to receiver.

The two deals represent an unprecedented amount of money sunk into two players for the Packers organization, which is always claimed to be at a disadvantage due to being in a small market. But the Packers have been wildly profitable, even in the midst of a tough economy, and in 2011 netted a profit of $42.7 million.

(With $239 million in a reserve fund, the Packers have plenty of cash to handle the big contracts, which together will cost them $176 million over the next five years. They will shell out a large portion of that money in guarantees that are paid this years to both players, which will help them from a salary cap standpoint)

The Packers completed negotiations with Rodgers and his agent, David Dunn, this week after at least two months of talks aimed at securing Rodgers for the long-term. The new deal adds four years to the two years remaining on Rodgers’ current contract, which goes from expiring after the 2014 season to after the 2018 season.

Despite having two years left on his contract, the Packers felt they needed to sign Rodgers to a long-term extension that would bring his yearly income in line with the recent explosion in quarterback salaries.

In just the last five years, there have been six contracts worth $93 million or more given to NFL quarterbacks, three in the last two years that have averaged $19 million or more.

Two years ago, the Denver Broncos handed free agent Peyton Manning a five-year, $96 million contract ($19.2 million average) and New Orleans gave Drew Brees a five-year, $100 million deal ($20 million average).

Eight years ago, Cedric Benson was a top-5 pick by the Bears, and Rodgers slid down to the mid-20's for the Packers.

Then in March, Super Bowl champion Baltimore made Joe Flacco the highest-paid player in the NFL by signing him to a six-year, $120.6 million contract.

All of that created the backdrop for negotiations with Rodgers, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, an MVP award winner and the MVP of Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers, who came into this season due to make $9.75 million, ranked around 10th among quarterbacks in average salary at $12.7 million.

Signing Rodgers to a $22 million-a-year deal assures the Packers that they will have their best player on board through the prime of his career.

When Favre signed a 10-year, $101.5 million deal in 1999, he was 31, two years the senior of Rodgers. Favre had been to two Super Bowls, won one of them, and been named league MVP three times, one as a co-winner with Detroit’s Barry Sanders.

Favre fulfilled seven of the 10 years on the contract before being traded to the New York Jets.

From a salary cap standpoint, the Favre deal worked out perfectly for the Packers because when Favre left the organization there was only $1.4 million of pro-rated signing bonus that needed to be accounted for. The Packers transitioned easily – at least financially – into the Rodgers era.

The enormous salary Rodgers will receive means he’s likely to account for about a fifth of the team’s entire salary cap. Until details of the contract are known, it’s unclear how much of the $17.779 million the Packers were under the cap was used on in the first year of the deal.

Even if a lot was devoted to this year, if Rodgers flames out or suffers a career-ending injury, the Packers’ cap situation will go from manageable to a catastrophic mess. If Rodgers remains healthy and productive, the enormity of the deal will still make it hard for Thompson to retain some of his own free agents or sign other teams’.

Flacco’s deal, for instance, calls for him to count $28.55 million against the cap in 2016 and $31.14 million in ’17. Brees’ deal calls for him to count $26.4 million against the cap in ’15 and $27.4 million in ’16.

The Packers will be counting on the salary cap going up after the 2015 season due to new television contracts going into effect. Some have predicted that the current collective bargaining agreement has set things up so that the increases will be gradual and there will be no huge jump down the road.

Original story here

Packers rookie Datone Jones in a rush to be great

April 25, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~Green Bay – He saw the wreckage J.J. Watt left behind. It didn’t matter how many blockers tilted Watt’s direction. His 2012 season was a crime scene of batted balls, sacks and salutes.

In one year, Watt broke the mold of a 3-4 defensive end.

So Datone Jones, a history major at UCLA, wants to make history himself.

“That’s what I’m planning to do,” Jones said. “I look back at it, the game has come a long way. One thing I do know, the great pass rushers have one thing in common – they play nasty, they play physical, they play hard.”

Datone Jones wants to have an impact like JJ Watt.

That defensive end has eluded the Green Bay Packers since winning Super Bowl XLV. General manager Ted Thompson prepared for the loss of Cullen Jenkins. In 2010, he took a defensive end in the second round (Mike Neal). Two years later, he took two more defensive ends – one in the second round (Jerel Worthy) and one in the fourth (Mike Daniels). Thompson even kicked the training-camp tires on three veterans.

And yet the search continues.

If this year’s draft is a referendum on the team’s overall dearth of size, maybe it all begins with Jones at No. 26 overall. The 6-foot-4, 283-pounder remains a point guard in a defensive lineman’s body. Large, athletic defensive linemen are still needed in Green Bay, and Jones fits the description.

The Packers “most definitely” are a fit, Jones stumped. After speaking to coaches, he already envisions himself in the Packers’ lineup.

“They run a multiple defense but for the most part they run the 3-4 defense,” Jones said. “And I feel like when they go to third-down mode with their nickel package, I can rush from the interior. Me as the ‘three-tech,’ big (B.J.) Raji as a nose, play next to Nick Perry and go to work.

Stay healthy: If the Packers can catch a break for once on defense and Jones stays healthy, he could give the Packers a huge boost on defense.

“Oh yeah, I see it. They could use a guy like me who can rush, to be more of a big, athletic defensive end. A guy who can pass rush and then play the run.”

The search for any manic, disruptive force on the front seven should include a look back to high school. Melvin Ingram, last year’s 18th overall pick, played point guard. Three-hundred-pound Fletcher Cox? The 12th overall pick in 2012 was on his high school’s 400-meter sprint relay team.

Jones is no different.

When he returns home to Compton, Calif., these days, friends and family don’t recognize him. Growing up, Datone Jones (pronounced “DAY-tone”), was never the chunky lineman-in-waiting. Instead, he was hardened by street football games – literally games in the Compton streets – with his brother, who was six years older. After nearly every loss, every big hit, he said he ran to his mother and cried “like a little girl.”

Through middle school, into high school, Jones was a point guard. On the weekends, he played with the likes of future Houston Rockets guard James Harden. Current Toronto Raptors high-flyer DeMar DeRozan played at his high school. Jones quit basketball his junior year to focus on football. That was the foundation, though. Running the point, he pushed the ball.

September 8, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins defensive end Datone Jones (56) brings down Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez (3) in the end zone for a safety during the second half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE

“I speed it up,” Jones said. “Don’t forget, I was skinny. I was about 6-3, 185. The way I play football is how I played basketball. I’d come in real strong. I can dunk, I can shoot.”

Eating two, sometimes three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a night, he bulked up to 225 pounds and played on both lines in football. Compton’s head coach Calvin Bryant said Jones was “unblockable” and “terrorized quarterbacks.” During the spring, Jones ran the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter sprints. His best time in the 200 was 22.47 seconds.

At UCLA, Jones ramped up his diet to four meals a day, continued to weight train, continued to grow. And now, back in Compton, he’s getting those strange looks.

“When I go back home,” Jones said, “a lot of people say, ‘What? Look how big you are.’ They haven’t seen me in so long.”

The overall development has led to this point. Jones finished last season at UCLA with 62 tackles (19 for loss) and 6½ sacks and then broke out during Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala. Jim Mora Jr.’s scheme at UCLA, Jones said, put him on a fast track to the pros.

He has a sudden, explosive burst off the line and closes fast on ball-carriers. With the Bruins, he excelled at various spots along the line.

There are questions. Jones admits he pops upright too soon at times – staying lower is a point of emphasis. One scout labeled Jones a “boom or bust” prospect, someone who will disappear on film. Also, to be a 3-4 defensive end, Jones will need to eat a few more of those PBJ sandwiches.

But if it’s strong, athletic defensive linemen that Green Bay craves, Jones warrants serious consideration. The reason can be traced back to what Bryant saw.

“Datone has a motor that’s unbelievable,” Bryant said. “He loves to be around the ball. He loves to rush the quarterback. He’s a game-changer and is very relentless – and he’s hungry.”

Added Jones, “No matter what position I’m at, I want to be dominant.”

That’s what separates Watt from everyone else, Jones says. Of course, for any rookie, this is an unfair comparison. Watt is built like a human windmill. He might be a transcendent player. Still, in this draft, the Packers need anything that’s close to that. They need players who can step into the ring with the San Francisco 49ers.

And Jones doesn’t shy away from a Watt comparison. He believes he has been overlooked, that he is as good as any defensive linemen in the draft.

Maybe on Thursday the Packers will give him that chance.

“No matter where (Watt) is, he wants to be dominant,” Jones said. “He wants to be the best. I can see that and I feel the same way. When I play, I want to be the best, I want to be dominant. That’s the way I play the game.”

Full story here

Packers select DE Datone Jones, UCLA, with 1st round pick

April 25, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor

~After spending a high pick last year on defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and getting little return on their investment, the Packers used their first round pick tonight to select another defensive lineman, Datone Jones from UCLA.

The Packers selected UCLA DE/DT Datone Jones with the 26th pick Thursday.

Jones, at 6’4″, 283, is not quite the prototypical 3-4 DE in terms of height, but that “prototype” may be evolving to deal with the new offenses NFL teams are incorporating with the pistol offenses, read-options, and more mobile quarterbacks. The game is still a passing game and defenses best chance to stop them is to pressure the QB. Jones does that well.

This from Rob Rang, NFL Draft Scout, in his pre-draft scouting report on Datone Jones:
“Jones, stouter at 6-4 (1/8) and a rock-solid 280 pounds, has seen time at left and right defensive end. Jones, who posted 19 tackles for loss for the Bruins (and)  6.5 sacks is used to being moved around, as he saw time at virtually every position along the Bruins’ defensive line throughout his career.

The Packers hope Jones provides more impact at DL than last year's #2 pick Jerel Worthy did. Worthy, after doing nothing for 15 games, then tore his ACL in game 16 on a play where he made no impact.

His combination of quickness and strength results in an explosiveness that has been tough for the North defensive linemen to handle. He was able to simply bull-rush offensive linemen, including (#1 overall pick) Fisher and Wisconsin’s Ricky Wagner on multiple occasions.

With so many clubs looking for “hybrid” defensive linemen capable of playing inside or out, however, he’s earning high marks from talent evaluators for his versatility.”

Here’s some more scouting reports, this from CBS Sportsline:

STRENGTHS: Well-built athlete with long arms and good strength, throughout. Flashes an explosive initial burst off the snap to penetrate gaps. Uses his hands well at the snap to rip free from blocks, showing a variety of pass rush techniques (swim, rip, club), as well as enough power to simply bull over offensive linemen into the backfield.
Keeps his head up and locates the football quickly, showing good awareness and effort in pursuit. Has the upper-body strength to lock-out opponents and seal the edge. Stout enough to slide inside to defensive tackle, especially on obvious pass rush downs. Enjoyed a breakout senior campaign and may be just scratching the surface of his potential.

WEAKNESSES: A classic ‘tweener who until his senior season hadn’t ever lived up to expectations. Lacks the sustained speed and flexibility to turn the corner as a traditional 4-3 defensive end. Lacks the bulk to handle full-time duties as a traditional defensive tackle. Has a tendency to stand up as he comes off the ball, losing out on the leverage battle. Uses his hands well initially but tires quickly and struggles to disengage once his opponent has locked on.

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA NOVEMBER 17, 2012-UCLA's Datone Jones calls for USC's medical staff as quarterback Matt Barkley lies injured after a sack at the Rose Bowl Saturday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

COMPARES TO: Robert Ayers, DE, Denver Broncos — Like Ayers, Jones has flashed talent throughout his collegiate career but has been racked with inconsistency. His versatility and big senior season could push a team to gamble on his upside early.

Here was one more from draft scout Charlie Campbell:

  • Very powerful defender
  • Extremely strong hands
  • Excellent run-defender
  • Can overwhelm linemen with his power
  • Very physical
  • Stout at the point of attack
  • Controls his gap
  • Steady motor
  • Experience against double-teams
  • Disruptive
  • Causes havoc at the line of scrimmage
  • Uses hands well
  • Plays with good leverage
  • Pad level
  • Quickness
  • Hard worker
  • Dedicated to weight room and training
  • Scheme versatility
  • Should be able to play immediately


  • Tweener end/tackle
  • A little tight
  • For the NFL, lacks a speed rush around the edge
  • Broken foot cost him 2010 season

    Player Comparison: Justin Smith. After landing with the 49ers, Smith became one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. He is a disruptive and powerful force at the point of attack. Jones is nearly identical measurements to Smith (6-4, 285). When Jones is playing well his game resembles Smith, but it is hard to say that Jones will turn into as good a pro as Smith.

    If Datone is anything like Justin Smith, the Packers will have taken a big step forward on defense.

    NFL Matches: New York Giants, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit, Tampa Bay There are a number of teams that could consider Jones late in the first round and early in the second round. The Giants are perhaps the earliest that Jones could come off the board. They need defensive end help and like to have ends who can move inside to rush the passer.

    The 49ers need an understudy to Smith as he turns 34 next September. Jones would be a perfect complement and long-term replacement in San Francisco’s 3-4 defense.

    The Eagles need talent for their defensive line after switching to a 3-4 defense. Jones could factor into Philadelphia’s plans at the top of the second round.

    Detroit needs to bring in talent at defensive end after losing Cliff Avril. Jones’ physical style of play would be a nice complement to Ndamukong Suh, and Jones could be a good replacement for Kyle Vanden Bosch.

    The Bucs need defensive end help after losing Michael Bennett in free agency. Sources have revealed that Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik is hot for Jones. If he falls to the Buccaneers second-round pick, he looks likely to land with the Bucs. It wouldn’t be surprising if they trade up for Jones.

  • NFL Full 7-Round Mock Draft, Packers

    April 24, 2013 by  
    Filed under News

    By Josh Norris, NFL.com Draft Analyst

    ~Here are the Packers picks from Josh’s full 254-player draft:

    26. Green Bay Packers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame. The Packers obviously could trade down with a team needing a quarterback, but some consider Eifert the top skill-position player in this class. His ability to catch the ball at its highest point is outstanding.

    EIfert is a mismatch for most linebackers in the NFL

    55. Packers: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue. Like Hankins, there are tremendous flashes with Short. He might remind some of Jerel Worthy, but offers more production on counter moves thanks to agile feet.

    Kawann Short would be a phenomenal 2nd round pick for the Packers. I actually would not be shocked to see him go in the first round.

    88. Packers: Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin

    122. Packers: Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshal

    159. Packers: Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbil

    167. Packers: Rontez Miles, S, California (Pa.)

    193. Packers: Josh Johnson, CB, Purdue

    232. Packers: Garrett Gilkey, OT, Chadron State

    Josh’s Full Mock here

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