By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
~As current Packer fans still sulk (rightly so) about Nick Collins‘ neck injury taking him away from a potential Hall of Fame career, right at the prime of his game, it’s time to look back at a player who clearly was playing at a Hall of Fame level for his whole career as a Packer.
Sterling Sharpe played seven seasons in the NFL, starting every game for the Green Bay Packers.
A rookie in 1988, he was part of the great 1988 draft class that had him, Michael Irvin, and Tim Brown all taken in the top 10 of the draft.
In Sharpe’s seven seasons, he had 595 catches, 8,134 yards, 65 TD’s.
Sharpe suffered a career-ending neck injury at the end of the 1994 season. He was right there neck & neck with Jerry Rice at that time, and I still remember being on the radio airwaves coast to coast debating that topic with Bobby Kemp. It was a close call. Just look at the production, and who each had as their QB in their career, which obviously is a fair factor.
Remember the Packers just got Reggie White, and were climbing to the top under Mike Holmgren, when Sterling was shut down after that 1994 season.
In those same 7 years that Sterling put up the above numbers, Irvin put up:
416 catches, 6,935 yards, 40 TD’s.
Tim Brown: (I gave Brown an extra year, 1995, because he missed almost all of his 2nd season)
405 catches, 5,076 yards, 46 TD’s.
Those WR’s were all good, clearly, by the end of their seventh seasons (Brown an 8th season).
Sterling Sharpe was great.
He was on pace for Canton for sure, as his numbers indicate. Plus, he had Favre there just emerging as a superstar.
His second season, he led the league with 90 receptions, the first Packer to do so since Don Hutson in 1945, and he broke Hutson’s records for receptions and receiving yards in a season.
A few years later, in 1992, Sharpe and the new quarterback, Brett Favre, teamed up to become the top passing tandem in the league. In the final game of that season he and Favre hooked up for Sharpe’s 107th reception of the season which broke the NFL’s single-season receptions record.
That season, Sharpe became one of only seven players in NFL history to win the “Triple Crown” at the receiver position: leading the league in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and receptions. Jerry Rice also did this once, in 1990.
In the 1993 season Sharpe subsequently broke his own record, with 112 receptions; this also made him the first player to have consecutive seasons catching more than 100 passes. In 1994, his 18 touchdown receptions were the second most in league history at the time, behind Jerry Rice’s 22 in 1987. Sterling was only getting better, as was his young quarterback, and the overall team. Glory was on the way. Sharpe had already come up with some playoff heroics with a last-second game-winning long touchdown pass to win at Barry Sanders’ Lions team, in the loud Silverdome.
However, Sharpe’s reign as an All-Pro wide receiver was cut short by a neck injury suffered during the 1994 season, ending a career in which he was named an All-Pro five times (1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, and 1994).
Then he had the neck injury, similar to the one Irvin had almost six years later.
Flip-flop those injury dates, and the Cowboys don’t win three Super Bowls from 1993-95 and the Packers win more than the 96 Super Bowl. Remember, it was those Cowboys who ended the Packers playoff march all three seasons there. Irvin’s glory came in the Super Bowls. Had he gotten the neck problem when Sharpe did, and not Sterling, it could very well have been Sharpe who was in the spotlight of a bunch of Super Bowls.
In his final three seasons, the three with the young, emerging Favre, Sharpe averaged 105 catches, 1285 yards, and 14 touchdowns.
Since he was unable to continue playing, and was not on the Packers team that won the Super Bowl in 1996, his brother Shannon Sharpe gave him the first of the three Super Bowl rings he has won.
Later, when Shannon, not Sterling, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton in 2011, Shannon made sure the world knew how great Sterling was. He said:
My big brother, Sterling, I’m the only player of 267 men that’s walked through this building to my left that can honestly say this: I’m the only pro football player that’s in the Hall of Fame, and the second best player in my own family.
If fate had dealt you a different hand, there is no question, no question in my mind we would have been the first brothers to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The 44 men and women that I thanked and congratulated earlier for giving me and bestowing this prestigious honor upon me, all I do is ask all I can do is ask, and the most humblest way I know how, is that the next time you go into that room or you start making a list, look at Sterling Sharpe’s accomplishments.
For a seven year period of the guy’s that are in the Hall of Fame at the receiver position, and the guys that have the potential to be in this building. That’s all I ask. I don’t say, hey, just do that. The next time you go in that room, you think about Sterling Sharpe’s numbers for seven years. That’s all I ask.
Sterling, you are my hero, my father figure, my role model. You taught me everything I know about sports and a lot about life. I never once lived in your shadow. I embraced it.
Shannon Sharpe was most definitely not the best Sharpe in the NFL those seven years. In fact, I remember going to the game in about 1993 in Green Bay on a TNT Primetime game between Elway and Shannon’s Broncos against Sterling and Favre’s Packers. Sterling was the man, Shannon was the kid brother. But it was fun.
In the end, as Shannon said, it was bad fat that stopped Sterling’s assault on the record books, but in my opinion, what he did for seven years was pure greatness, and that’s what the Hall of Fame should be about, greatness, not longevity.
Shannon was right, Sterling Sharpe should be in the Hall of Fame.
By Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Nick Perry majored in economics at the University of Southern California.
But when the Green Bay Packer outside linebacker tries explaining where he was mentally 12 months ago, he dials up a math analogy.
“I was in calculus 1 last year and I was drowning,” Perry said. “I’m above water now. I’m ready to move to calculus 2.”
There’s no doubt, calculus 1 — a.k.a., Perry’s rookie year — was a rough class. And the former first-round draft choice didn’t provide much help opposite Clay Matthews.
Mentally, Perry felt like he was always playing catch-up. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Perry was making the switch from college defensive end, and the transition was rough.
Instead of just playing, he was always thinking. And on the field, he consistently felt a step slow.
Then came the physical woes.
Perry suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist in Week 2 against Chicago. He wore a cast and played through that, but suffered a knee injury at Houston in Week 6 that kept him out the next three games.
While the knee healed, the wrist didn’t. And in early November, Perry underwent wrist surgery and went on injured reserve.
That quickly, his rookie season was over. He had 29 tackles, two sacks, and weeks of frustration to show for it.
“What happened in the past was very bad, and I don’t want to do a rerun of that,” Perry said. “It wasn’t the best year. I would have liked to put in that time and just proved I can be a force.
“I had no control over anything. I couldn’t play, so I was pretty frustrated. Not being out there on the field and helping, that just kills you.”
Now it’s a new season, and Perry is downright giddy to get his shot.
Erik Walden, last season’s starter, left in free agency. Perry will get first crack at the job. And the Packers desperately need him to live up to his first-round billing.
In many ways, Perry is the type of wild-card player that could take Green Bay’s defense from mediocre to special.
“I expect him to get through this injury bug and come back and play and be a good player for the Packers,” Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson said earlier this off-season.
The highly-decorated Perry arrived in Green Bay with eye-popping workout numbers.
He bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times at the 2012 NFL combine. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, a terrific time for a man his size.
Perry recorded 10-yard splits of 1.51 seconds, which was faster than several cornerbacks. And his score on the 50-question Wonderlic was a stellar 29.
Perry’s test numbers didn’t always lead to production on the field. And scouts had concerns about his effort level, as well as his ability to transition from a down lineman to playing in a two-point stance.
Perry started five of the Packers’ first six games and relied primarily on power — in both the run and pass game. This time around, he says he’ll have a lot more to offer.
“I’ve got a foundation under me right now,” Perry said. “There’s a lot of things I know now that I didn’t know last year.
“I try not to look back, just keep a positive mind. I don’t want to fill my head up with something that happened in the past. I’m just trying to stay positive and staying on that road. But I know I have the skills.”
Perry said he’s thought many times this off-season about Green Bay’s season-ending loss to San Francisco — and how he could have made a difference.
As Perry trained and rehabbed at Athletes’ Performance in Arizona this off-season, he often reflected on that playoff loss. He’s also thought about facing the 49ers in the season opener Sept. 8.
And he fully expects to be a game-changer.
“Those guys have it going on, and we need to catch them right now,” Perry said of the 49ers. “I figure we’ll face them twice this year. I’ll be ready.”
The Packers need Perry to be ready and highly productive.
Thompson didn’t use free agency to fix the defense. Instead, he’ll rely on young players like the 23-year-old Perry to make substantial improvement.
Perry knows he’s under the microscope now. NFL careers are done in a hiccup. There’s not much time to leave your mark, and he wants his time to start now.
“Everyone wants to be great,” Perry said. “It can go quick, so you have to make your mark while you can.
“We’ll see how things go. I’m humbled and thankful for the opportunities that are coming to me. I’m just ready to take that next step forward and show everybody what I can do.”
Full story here
By Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – When you dedicate yourself to a draft-and-development system, your coaches need to be proficient in knowing how to mold young players into quality contributors at a quick pace.
If not, the system cannot sustain itself.
Outside of 33-year-old defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, every member of the Green Bay Packers’ starting defense has blossomed and grown within the confines of Lambeau Field.
At no position has that been the case more than at outside linebacker.
The poster child for the Packers’ 3-4 defense has been, Clay Matthews, the franchise’s first player to be elected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four NFL seasons.
For every Matthews, however, there’s needed to be an Erik Walden, a Frank Zombo and a Dezman Moses.
That is where Kevin Greene comes in.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Kevin Greene,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy of the fifth-year position coach at the draft.
“I’m not trying to disrespect the other coaches. I mean, you’re talking about a man that played the position at a very high level in this defense. There’s a ton of expertise that goes into that position being taught on a daily basis, and I think it’s been reflected in his time here.”
There’s no blueprint for finding prototypes for Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Many times it’s based on projections and how the coaching staff and personnel department feels a guy will adjust or transition to a new role.
Sometimes it’s a hit like on a one-year college starter like Matthews and sometimes it’s a whiff like Arizona State defensive lineman Ricky Elmore, who couldn’t adjust to the switch as a sixth-round pick in 2011.
Whatever the case may be, the 50-year-old Greene has made a career out of shaping many small-school or overlooked prospects into valued facets of the Packers’ defense much like Greene did himself during a 15-year NFL career that began as a fifth-round pick out of Auburn in 1987.
This year, Greene will have his hands full. The team is still working to convert 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry from a 4-3 defensive end to outside linebacker after a wrist injury ended his season after six games as a rookie.
However, he also faces a brand-new room of rookies looking to make an impact, including Illinois State’s Nate Palmer, Eastern Michigan’s Andy Mulumba and New Mexico State’s Donte Savage.
The Packers will be counting on their development, too, with Walden leaving for a four-year, $16-million deal in Indianapolis and the team opting to not retain Zombo, who succumbed to injury after a promising rookie season in 2009.
However, Greene has done his research. During the offseason, he got together with Illinois State defensive line coach and D.C. Everest alumnus, Spence Nowinsky, and watched film together of Matthews, Walden and Zombo, while sharing thoughts on how Palmer might fit into the scheme.
After being the only team to bring in Nowinsky’s defensive end in for a visit, the Packers drafted Palmer in the sixth round to his astonished, but the team believes he fits the bill.
Greene has also had conversations with Mike Neal about the 6-foot-3, 294-pound defensive linemen working at the position while counting on Moses to take another step this season.
“He’s just an unbelievable teacher, man,” said Moses, who was one of four undrafted rookies to make the team last season after converting from defensive end at Tulane to outside linebacker in Green Bay.
“He’s very passionate about the game. He stresses things and understands exactly what guys need to push them … His passion for the game allows guys to learn from him quickly. It’s just a pleasure to be able to learn from him. I don’t know too many other coaches who played 15 years at the position, so if he says it, it’s pretty much valid.”
Full story here
By Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
~ GREEN BAY – Here are highlights from my interview with Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements this week:
On what areas he most wants to see improved this season: There are probably two things, probably a little bit related. We gave up too many sacks, we talked about it (Monday). That’s not just the line, that’s everyone that has responsibility for that. The backs, the quarterback and the receivers, so we’re going to try to eliminate the ones that are truly the bad sacks. We have Aaron, he’s a very good scrambler, but we’ve always said it’s a fine line between ‘should I throw it away’ or ‘should I try to scramble?’ Sometimes a scramble makes a big play, sometimes a scramble can get sacked. So we’re never going to give that up. We want to avoid the big hits and avoid the sacks that are very avoidable. If we can do that it will help us.
“The second thing we need to do is we played well in the red zone (but) we did not get there as much as we wanted. We were third as far as touchdown rating, we were about 19th as far as number of times down there per game. If we get down there a couple more times per game … that’s a big plus for us. We want to continue to play as well as we did, but we need to get down there more often.”
On the offensive linemen adjusting to their new positions: “I think initially it took some getting used to. In the IPWs (individual player workouts) they worked on it. Bryan (Bulaga) played the left side before. I think Josh (Sitton) played the left side in college. They just had to get re-acclimated. It wasn’t as if it was entirely new. … We just thought it would make us an overall stronger line to re-position the guys the way we did.”
On how the decision to make the line changes occurred: “During the course of watching cut ups from last year, just discussing how we wanted to move forward, I don’t know who initially threw it out, it might have been Mike (McCarthy). We talked about it, then thought it made sense and would solidify the line.”
On if the right tackle position is up for grabs: “You like to say at this point there’s open competition everywhere. There’s obviously some guys established like Aaron (Rodgers) and some other guys, but Marshall (Newhouse) has been a starter for a year and a half. He’s played well at times, and he’s struggled at times a little bit, but overall he’s played pretty well. He’s gotten better every year. I’m sure he’s taken the approach that that’s his job and he’s going to work to keep it.”
On the potential of rookie lineman David Bakhtiari: “This was really the first day we went against a defense … From watching him on film, he’s athletic and he does a good job of playing the position, so right now we’re happy with him. But it’s early. We’ve got to see how he does against competition.”
On the potential for receiver Randall Cob’s role to be elevated this season: “He’s one of the top three receivers. It depends on how teams try to play us. We’re going to try and get it to the guy who is the most open. We’ll design some plays for specific guys but we’ll look for each of those three starters to be very productive.”
On the potential for more emphasis on the running game this season: “We’re going to do whatever we need to do to move the ball. We have weapons both in the running attack and the passing attack. If teams want to try to play us the two-shell defense, we’re going to have to be able to run ’em out of it and if we’re able to do that, and get some one-high looks, that’s to our advantage.”
On the battle for jobs at running back with the addition of rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin: “There’s competition at that spot, no doubt. James (Starks) and Alex (Green) and DuJuan (Harris) from last year, it’s a talented group. It will make our team better and that position better.”
Full story here
By Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – James Jones knew this day eventually would come. In today’s NFL, it’s practically unavoidable.
Whether it was going to be him, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings, there was going to be a time when the nucleus of the Green Bay Packers’ receiving corps would disband.
It was thought that might be when Jones hit free agency after the team’s Super Bowl run following the 2010 season, but facing a bear market, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound receiver wound up signing on for three more seasons in Green Bay.
It wasn’t until this offseason, following the quartet’s fifth season together, that the breakup occurred with Driver drifting into retirement and Jennings bolting for a five-year, $47.5 million deal in Minnesota.
“We all understand the business aspect of it. We knew we were all talented,” Jones said. “You couldn’t keep us here forever, so we knew eventually one day this would happen.”
Now, the 29-year-old Jones has become the most veteran receiver in a room suddenly packed with rookies and first-year hopefuls, a stark contrast from the 2011 season when two practice-squad receivers, Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, turned down offers to join active rosters elsewhere to remain in Green Bay.
Jones insists there’s plenty of ammunition left in the aerial-driven offense with himself, Nelson and 22-year-old Randall Cobb, who developed into a legitimate offensive threat in his second professional season.
Behind them, the names aren’t as flashy. Second-year receiver Jarrett Boykin, who made the 53-man roster last season after attending the team’s rookie camp on a tryout last May, and seventh-round selections Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson lead the list.
All told, the Packers have 11 receivers on their roster looking to replicate the same productivity in the passing offense that became commonplace with Driver, Jones, Nelson and Jennings over the past five years.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is confident he has the tools he requires, especially with Jones coming off a season in which he led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches.
“I still like the guys we got,” said Rodgers, whose team’s passing game has ranked in the top 10 in the league each year he’s started in Green Bay. “We have a lot of talent at that position. I think Randall Cobb is a guy who could be a 100-plus-catch guy every year. James Jones led the league in touchdown receptions last year. (And) Jordy has had some real big years for us.”
One of the reasons for Jones and Cobb’s emergence was a result of Nelson and Jennings battling injury throughout last season.
Jennings missed half of the team’s regular-season games with a sports hernia while hamstring, ankle and knee issues kept Nelson out of four games after his breakthrough campaign in 2011 when he registered 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Jones became the focal point at times after spending five years as just one spoke in the wheel.
He started all 16 games and set career-highs with 64 receptions for 784 yards with 14 touchdowns after registering only 20 in 74 career games prior to last season.
“I thought he had a phenomenal year last year, and this year he’s going to be even better than what he was last year,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “I think he understands that and I think knows what he’s capable of doing. I thought last year was just a starting point for James.”
As nice as the on-field production is, the key for the Packers’ veterans will be assuming the leadership void left in the wake of the departures of Jennings and Driver.
Although Driver’s 14-year career ended with a whisper on the field (eight catches for 77 yards), this will mark the first year the locker room will be without the franchise’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yardage since the Clinton administration.
However, there is something to be said for Driver’s legacy as the seventh-round speedster who made good in Green Bay and the impact on the youngsters looking to replace him on the roster.
“There’s a huge opportunity,” said first-year receiver/returner Jeremy Ross, who played eight offensive snaps after being promoted during the final month of last season. “With guys being gone, spots opened up. We all have an opportunity to compete for those opening spots that are available.”
The addition of running backs Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin through the draft should help ease some of the stress placed on an offense that ranked 20th in rushing last season, resulting in opposing defenses sitting back in pass-preventative Cover-2 looks.
The return of tight end Jermichael Finley also should help stretch the field for Rodgers and his receivers, but the Packers will need new threats to emerge with Finley and Jones scheduled for free agency after the season.
The two have faced quiet markets before, but another year of solid production would go a long way in solidifying their stature in the NFL following career-high seasons in 2012.
Jones talks to Driver and Jennings regularly. They’re only a phone call away, but back at Lambeau Field time has moved on. Lockers have been replaced with new faces like undrafted rookie Myles White, whom Jones has taken a liking to.
Now that it’s their turn to lead the next generation, Jones and the other veterans don’t plan to do anything differently than what they’ve done before.
Full story here
By Pistol Pete Dougherty Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – Nick Perry’s rookie season wasn’t a total injury washout, but the Green Bay Packers still can’t say he’s successfully made the transition from a college defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.
The first-round draft pick opened last season as the Packers’ starter at left outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews but split time with Erik Walden and Dezman Moses through the first six games. A knee injury sidelined Perry for three weeks, and then his season ended when he had surgery on an early-season wrist injury that wasn’t healing.
Playing through the wrist injury and then missing the final 10 games meant Perry had minimal impact on the Packers’ 2012 season: His 198 snaps on defense was less than one-third as many as Walden (766) and less than half as many as the undrafted rookie Moses (436). In his six games, Perry had two sacks and 29 tackles.
Team doctors cleared Perry in April for all workout and football activities, and he is the presumptive starter opposite Matthews with the beginning this week of organized team activities. His mandate this offseason is to lose a little weight so he can better fit the hybrid outside pass rush and coverage skills the Packers look for in outside linebackers.
Though Perry was a good pass rusher in college at USC (21½ sacks in three seasons), he also was big for an outside linebacker. At the NFL scouting combine he weighed 271 pounds, which suggested his best NFL position would be as a strong-side defensive end in a 4-3 scheme.
Perry’s sacks production and physical testing persuaded the Packers he was athletic enough to play outside linebacker in their 3-4. But his thick build through his legs and power-rushing style suggest he just as easily could have gone the other way in a 3-4 scheme by adding more weight and playing as a defensive end who moves to an inside rusher on passing downs.
“I’m an outside linebacker,” Perry said this week after an OTA practice. “I’m playing the position I was made to play.”
Just like last season, the Packers are listing Perry’s weight at 265 pounds, which makes him their heaviest outside linebacker. For comparison, the next heaviest is undrafted rookie Andy Mulumba (260 pounds), followed by Matthews (255), undrafted rookie Donte Savage (252), Moses (249) and sixth-round draft pick Nate Palmer (248).
Perry wouldn’t confirm his weight but suggested it was slightly less than last season and that he’d like to get a little lighter to help his endurance. He also indicated losing more weight could be difficult for a player who’s naturally thick through the haunches.
“I want to feel more comfortable where I’m at, and right now I’ve lost a little weight just to feel more comfortable playing linebacker and playing the schemes,” he said. “Certain things I can’t lose, some things stick with me more than others. I have to work harder to get some of that off, but just losing weight period would make my body feel a whole lot better.”
Perry is more a power than quickness player, which is why some scouts questioned how well he could make the transition to 3-4 outside linebacker. Last year, he was mostly one-dimensional as a bull rusher, which in part was playing to his strength and in part a function of defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ calls.
Capers often likes his outside rusher opposite Matthews to bull rush to help squeeze the pocket and reduce the quarterback’s escape lanes, which can help Matthews. Even Matthews does his share of bull rushing, and it’s something the Packers are likely to use extensively against the league’s most mobile quarterbacks to prevent them from breaking the pocket for big runs.
Perry expects to base his rushing off power again this year.
“Keeps (tackles) on edge, and then I can work moves,” he said. “I want to collapse the pocket and help my brothers make plays as well, it’s not just a me thing out there, it’s for the team. Collapse the pocket, put a little (pressure) on the quarterback from the front side. He sees what I’m doing at all times, so he has to honor what I’m doing.”
With Walden departed to Indianapolis in free agency this offseason, and with Capers’ mixing and matching personnel for different defensive packages, Moses probably will get his share of snaps even if Perry gets the majority. Palmer and Mulumba also will get their chances in offseason practices and training camp to show if they can upgrade the pass rush.
“I’m working to be an every-down guy,” Perry said, “but given that we’re all young and we’re all coming up — obviously Clay has a spot all locked, so all the young guys are trying to compete for that (other) spot, it’s just competition for the other side. “
Said Moses: “I’m very excited about it. I had a chance and a great opportunity to play some last year and get some experience. Coming into this year, I’m definitely more confident.”
In the one OTA practice open to reporters this week, Perry was wearing a protective cast on his left hand and wrist. He injured the wrist in the second game last season and tried to play through it, but it slowly got worse until he the knee injury sidelined him for three games.
Team doctors found he had a small broken bone and a torn ligament at the base of the back of his hand, so he had surgery to replace a pin in his wrist. That ended his season and limited his offseason workouts until he was cleared in April.
Full story here
By Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Receiver Jeremy Ross went from the Green Bay Packers practice squad last October to the active roster in December to the most important game of the season.
With just five games, four returned punts and three kickoffs returns to sum up his total NFL experience, Ross lined up in the second quarter of the NFC divisional game at San Francisco.
And he muffed the punt from Andy Lee.
San Francisco went on to recover the ball at Green Bay’s 9-yard line and scored the tying touchdown just three plays later. Ross was replaced by Randall Cobb, just coming back from injury, for the rest of the game and the Packers season ended in the loss to the 49ers.
That was Jan. 12.
Ross dealt with all of the disappointment and frustration of his one mistake on Jan. 13. It is now, he hopes, as far in the rear view mirror for everyone else as it is for him.
“I took one day after the game to kind of just feel bad about it, be discouraged about it, be upset, be sad, whatever,” said Ross. “Then the next day I flushed it. I just tried my best to move forward. And think about OK, who am I trying to become now. What am I working toward?”
A second year, he hopes, with a second chance.
There are open spots on this roster for people to catch the ball from Aaron Rodgers. Donald Driver has retired and Greg Jennings is a Minnesota Viking.
“Not having those guys here was a little different, I was kind of bummed,” said Ross. “But we’ve got a good group of guys here now. More opportunities.”
Also, more challengers. The Packers took two receivers in the draft, albeit late, in Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson.
Ross said he went back to California in the off-season and worked on squats, bench presses and other weightlifting techniques to help him with explosion.
“It helps receivers to be able to stand up and explode up with a lot of weight,” said Ross. “It helps with jumping, running through tackles.”
He said that during the organized team activities that kicked off last week, he wasn’t with the punt unit because the focus that day was on the punting and not the returning. He still wants to audition for the return job again.
“I want to do it; I’m going to try to do it,” said Ross.
He should feel confident here. While at Cal, Ross finished his career ranked No. 2 on the school’s all-time punt return list with a 15.2-yard average. After spending 2011 on the practice squad with Indianapolis, he got another shot in Green Bay.
And Ross showed promise returning last year: He averaged 28.7 in the kickoff returns and 25.8 in the punt returns. He filled a need when…… Full story here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com Senior Analyst
GREEN BAY ~With all due respect to the franchises that are Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, if the Packers are to return the Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay this season, where it belongs, it’s going to require that another group of players rise up and play great.
In 2010, it was a magical playoff run of four games, but it would not have been possible without some other guys stepping up. Nick Collins at safety was fantastic. So were Sam Shields and Tramon Williams with timely interceptions.
Cullen Jenkins was important on the defensive line.
And at receiver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, and Greg Jennings all came up big in different moments.
Remember, there was no Jermichael Finley.
Making the playoffs doesn’t seem like the hard part. It was in 2010. Remember, the Packers barely made it into the playoffs, at the last minute. They needed to win their final two games, against the Giants and Bears, to get in. They also needed some miraculous help from the Lions, which they got.
However it happens again in the 2013 playoffs (if they make it), it will take some guys blossoming up a level or two in the playoffs if the Packers are to return to the pinnacle. Here are the five guys I can see being the difference in another early playoff exit, and another run to a Super Bowl.
#5- Tie: Desmond Bishop, ILB and B.J. Raji, NT/DT/DE
In 2010, the Packers overcame a ton of injuries. Their injury list was the talk of the league for much have that year, with 18 guys going on I.R. during the year. Fortunately, none of them were guys they couldn’t play without. In 2012, the Packers lost one of those indispensable guys in preseason game one.
That was inside linebacker Desmond Bishop. He tore his hamstring, completely, in the first preseason game last August in San Diego. Not only was he good, and getting better, he was the most physical of the Packers inside linebackers. For the Packers to get back to that level, and become more physical, Bishop is going to have to be his same self. Recovering from an injury like that, it might be asking a lot.
Raji played great in that 2010 playoff run, and with better depth on the DL this year than perhaps any time since 2010, Raji should be fresh enough to wreak more havoc on opposing backfields. Plus it’s a contract year for the big fella from Boston College, and that seems to inspire a lot of players to produce their best stuff. Packer fans hope this is another case of that.
#4- Morgan Burnett, S
I was going to put the other safety on here, whether that’s going to be M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, or Sean Richardson. And for the record, I think McMillian is the best bet of those three to become good.
But for the Packers to get to the top, I see Burnett blossoming into a Pro-Bowl quality centerfielder back there, and I believe it’s possible. He’s shown great strides, similar to the development of former Pro-Bowl safety Nick Collins over his first three seasons.
If Burnett stays healthy, I expect one of the other safeties to earn the full time gig next to him, and help stabilize things back there. If that is the case, and if the front-seven make any significant improvements from last year, I believe Burnett can become a ball hawk back there and come up with a handful of interceptions back there, as well as multiple pass breakups. In short, look for him to come up with a bunch of big plays that both help the Packers win games, and help put his name on the map towards stardom. Like Raji, he’s in a contract year and he stands to gain a lot financially with a breakout season. The Packers probably cannot afford to pay both if both reach this level. But it’s a problem the Packers would welcome.
#3- Eddie Lacy, RB
Some armchair quarterbacks and pundits say the offense doesn’t need any help because they have Aaron Rodgers. While Rodgers is probably the best QB in the league today, the offense certainly needs help in places. Think about this: Throw out the magical 2010 playoff run, and the Rodgers Era has one lone playoff win, over Joe Webb and the Vikings last year. Other than that, they’ve lost to San Francisco, the NY Giants, and Arizona Cardinals. That’s it. And as great as we think Rodgers still is, he’ll probably never be better than he has been the past four-year stretch. He could use a solid or great running game.
Rookie Eddie Lacy has the ability to take the running game to that next level, but two things have to happen. First, he has to stay healthy. Second, and this is perhaps asking for more than the good health, the offensive line must emerge into a good one instead of a bad one. They’ve run-blocked soft, rarely opening up holes you see from other teams a lot, and they’ve also allowed Rodgers to be sacked more than any other QB the past three seasons, which has to stop. That’s why coach McCarthy has shifted the OL right to left, and why they added two offensive linemen in this past draft. One already has been lost for the season though.
Lacy was considered by most to be the best RB in this draft. But questions about his past toe injury and surgery scared away teams, allowing the Packers to (potentially) steal him in the second round. I can remember another former top RB in a draft slip from a sure first-round pick into the second round because of past injuries. That was in 1988 with Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas. The Bills happily “gambled” on his health and it paid off for four Super Bowl appearances and an eventual Hall of Fame for Thomas.
If Lacy can get the good fortune of some nice health for a few years, like a Ray Rice, Emmitt Smith, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, I am quite certain he will be able to help balance the Packers offense, and take some pressure off Rodgers, the passing game, and the offensive tackles.
#2- Nick Perry, OLB
A season-opening wrist injury derailed last year’s first round pick, as he ultimately ended his season on IR after 5 1/2 games.
It wasn’t an easy, seamless transition from putting his hand on the ground to standing up as a rush-backer, but the former Trojan showed plenty of glimpses of why Ted Thompson was delighted to use his first round pick on the strong man from USC.
Even though he was playing with a cast on his hand after the opening week game against the Niners, he often displayed the combination of power, speed, and size that made him an attractive bookend to Clay Matthews at OLB.
Again, asking for good health for a Packer seems like wishing for lottery numbers, but if Perry were to play in all 16 games, I would not be surprised to see double-digit sacks from him. He’s not going to command double teams like Matthews is, and he can be too fast or too strong for certain guys who will be assigned to block him.
Plus he has the brute strength to hold the edge on run plays. He will have two perfect early tests as week one sees Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore, and week two sees Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris.
I expect a healthy Perry to make a huge early statement, on national TV, and make a name for himself.
#1- Datone Jones, DE
I don’t mean to but too much pressure on the rookie. Remember, last year’s top two rookies were expected to propel this defense up another level, and they really provided nothing in the end as both of them (Perry and Jerel Worthy) ended up on IR.
But Jones, unlike Perry last year, could have a seamless transition from college to the NFL as he is used to this scheme on defense. And like Perry, Jones has fantastic skills to be a special player.
He’s well aware of what Kaepernick did to the Packers soft defense last January, and he’s not afraid to take on the challenge of stopping him.
Jones says Kaepernick can’t keep running like he did against the Packers, when he gained 181 yards on the ground, the most ever for any quarterback in any NFL game, regular season or playoffs. Jones watched that 49ers-Packers playoff game, and he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette that if Kaepernick tries to do that for a whole season, he won’t last for a whole season.
“I thought he was pretty good,” Jones said, “but I don’t think they’re going to be able to run him like that. He takes one good hit, there goes their season.”
If matched one-on-one with a tackle, he possesses the ability to consistently make plays with his blend of quickness, anticipation, and power. He claims to pattern his game after Reggie White and J.J. Watt.
He’s nothing like Reggie, as Packer fans know. White was huge, for his era.
But Jones’ size and athletic ability are close to Watt, and are very close to 49er Pro-Bowler Justin Smith. Smith is 6-4, 285, while Jones is listed at 6-4, 283, so almost identical.
Now there’s a lot more to becoming a great defensive lineman than mere specs. But Jones also has what it takes in terms of desire and dedication. He wants to be great. He doesn’t just want to be a guy, collect a paycheck. He has desire and tenacity.
Along with luck with health, this attitude is usually what separates a player from a Jamal Reynolds and a Justin Smith. The Packers hope, and I expect, Jones’ career will resemble Smith a lot more than Reynolds.
Posted by Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
~GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers are using their spring practices as a chance to get their reconfigured offensive line accustomed to their new roles. Although offseason team activities began Monday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday’s practice was the first to feature 11-on-11 work after the first day of practice focused on fundamentals and position drills. McCarthy made the change last month.
The five players — Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay were moved around. Bulaga was moving from right tackle to left tackle; Sitton and Lang were flip-flopping their spots, with Sitton shifting to left guard and Lang moving to right guard; and Newhouse moving to right tackle, where he’ll compete with Barclay and others.
On the first snap of the 11-on-11 sessions, it was Bulaga, Sitton, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, Lang and Newhouse left-to-right in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But while working together at their new positions was important, individually adjusting both mentally and physically is the biggest challenge, several of the players said.
None of them had been told of the idea beforehand, even though changes were to be expected after Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times in 2012 and the Packers’ running game ranked 20th in the league in rushing per game (106.4) and 22nd in yards per attempt (3.9).
“It was kind of a quick meeting. Basically, it was, ‘This is what’s happening: You guys are playing here, you guys are playing here,’” Lang said Tuesday after first learning of the change. “You’re thinking, ‘Am I not playing good enough? Am I losing my job?’ I don’t want to say any of us are secure, because there’s always competition.”
Discussing the move after practice Tuesday, McCarthy said that the move was made to put the team’s best linemen, Bulaga and Sitton, on the left side to protect Rodgers’ blind side. As for how long before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at San Francisco he’ll have his starting five set, McCarthy said he didn’t know.
“I’d like to go maybe two years in a row without answering this question about your offensive line,” McCarthy said. “Would I like to have five guys ready to say they’re our starting five? And play 19 games? That’s great.
But we have to get them all ready.” Sitton said early on it was a big adjustment. “I think we’re all a little surprised. That’s a big move,” Sitton said Tuesday. “You don’t see a four-position switch on the offensive line very often, so it’s definitely surprising, but at the end of the day, it’s football. We’ll get used to it. We’ll continue to grow and hopefully it’ll be a good change for us.”
According to Lang, McCarthy came down to the offensive line meeting room to explain his reasoning last month. Then, it was time to get to work. “We all talked about it for 20 minutes, whatever it was, and got a better explanation why it was happening, and it started to make more sense to us,” Lang said. “(But) when coach tells you to do something, or asks you to do something, you just have to do it. That’s how it works.
“It was definitely awkward for us the first couple days out on the field. Your stance is uncomfortable, your footwork is awful, but we still have a lot of time before we open up the season to make sure we’re getting better at our new spots. You just have to keep a positive attitude, go out there and compete every day and just do what you can do to get better.”
Bulaga has the added responsibility of protecting the blindside of his team’s franchise quarterback. “It’s like a lefty batting right-handed and not being ambidextrous,” said Bulaga, who was a left tackle in college at Iowa but has played almost exclusively right tackle since entering the league as the team’s first-round pick in 2010.
“You’re flipping sides, you’re flipping footwork. I think it’s a little more physical than mental, just because what we’re doing mentally is just flipping calls and flipping plays in our head. That’s really all it is. The physical standpoint of footwork, hand placement — everything is turned around a little bit.
It takes a little bit of time to get used to that.” Added Lang: “You can’t think too much about it; you can’t make it bigger than what it is. You just have to keep plugging away every day and stay positive.” That’s what Newhouse is trying to do, even though the move is hard to see as anything other than a demotion for him. Newhouse started 13 regular-season games in 2011 after injuries to Bulaga and veteran left tackle Chad Clifton.
When Clifton was released in April 2012, the Packers opted not to move Bulaga to left tackle and stuck with Newhouse on the left side. Newhouse was up and down in 18 starts last season at left tackle. “You’re kind of taken aback,” Newhouse said Tuesday.
“But I looked inward and acknowledged my role in them having to make the decision (while) also knowing that I can play football and knowing that I had a lot of success at the same time. “I don’t want to be perceived as the weak part of the line. I want to make myself into a strength of the offensive line. It’s motivation.
I do realize they had to make a decision, and my play was part of them thinking they had to make a decision. So I understand that, I accept that. But I also know I’ve had a lot of success, so I have to accept the role I’ve been given and go at it 100 percent. That’s all I can really do.”
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By Tyler Dunne, Bob McGinn, Tom Silverstein , Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~Green Bay — Organized team activities for the Green Bay Packers have begun without Sam Shields. The starting cornerback who finished last season with a bang was not on the practice field Tuesday.
Shields’ absence isn’t a major surprise and, for now, it’s not a major cause for concern. A restricted free agent, Shields has not signed his one-year tender offer of $2.023 million. The Journal Sentinel has learned that in negotiations earlier this off-season, the two sides remained far apart on a long-term contract extension. There are indications, however, that this won’t be a prolonged holdout.
The Packers are hoping that’s the case and Shields is back soon.
“I wish Sam was here,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s not here for his specific reasons that I’m sure if he wants to answer them, he can answer them. It’s about the opportunity to compete and our secondary is very competitive. I wish he was here.”
No player on the Packers’ defense played better in December and January than Shields. Yet also, no position on the Packers’ roster is arguably deeper than cornerback. Green Bay has leverage in contract talks — there’s no rush to give Shields a lucrative contract with Casey Hayward and Davon House around.
On Tuesday, the second-year Hayward worked opposite veteranTramon Williams. House, a spectator at practice, is expected to compete for a starting job, too. Not to mention Green Bay also picked Micah Hyde in the fifth round of this year’s NFL draft. So even though Shields did have four interceptions and 11 pass breakups in his final six games, the Packers may not be quick to budge.
Shields could play this season on the tender and become an unrestricted free agent next spring.
One of Shields’ closest friends on the team, safety Morgan Burnett, says he has kept in touch with the corner.
“It’s different not seeing Sam because you all pretty much know that’s who I’m with all the time,” Burnett said. “So it’s different not having Sam here, but hopefully he’ll be here soon and I’ll have my buddy back.”
Whenever Shields does return, he’ll have to earn his starting job.
Working from the slot as a rookie, Hayward led the team in interceptions (six) and pass breakups (21). Green Bay seems intent on giving him a fair shot at winning a starting spot out wide. Battling a shoulder injury, House showed promise when healthy, too.
“Those guys are very athletic,” Burnett said. “Casey, from his play this past season, he’s a ball hawk capable of making plays. House is a big corner. He makes plays. It’s an honor just to be around these guys because they’re very athletic and they challenge you to get better.”
Tretter goes down
The Packers drafted J.C. Tretter because of his versatility. A tackle at Cornell, Tretter likely would have been trained at various spots in Green Bay. Yet now his NFL career begins on the sideline.
Tretter broke his ankle at Monday’s practice and will be out several months. His first season may be a wash.
According to Tretter’s agent, Alan Herman, the rookie lineman was taking part in a fumble recovery drill on the first day of OTAs when he got his cleat caught in the ground. He suffered a fracture at the lower end of his fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle. The injury is similar to one former Packers running back Ryan Grant suffered in 2010, only Grant’s fracture was up near his calf.
Tretter will have screws and a plate inserted in his ankle to repair the ligament tear.
“It’s like they’re trying to slide into second base and he got his cleat caught and his ankle rolled over and broke,” Herman said. “Why they’re practicing a fumble drill, I don’t know. There’s not supposed to be contact. That’s a silly drill. Why have big 300-pound guys slide like that in OTAs?”
The surgery, which will be performed by team physician Patrick McKenzie, would take place in the next 24 hours, Herman said. He called it a “six-month deal.”
Herman said based on another client who had a similar injury last year — Cincinnati Bengals center Kyle Cook — it’s not a sure thing Tretter won’t play this season. Cook suffered the injury in a preseason game against the Packers on Aug. 23 and was then put on injured reserve with the “designated for return” label. It turned out to be a good move because he returned to practice Nov. 28 and played two weeks later.
The total recovery time was only three months. Unlike Cook, however, Tretter would be returning with no experience in the offense.
Grant suffered his injury in Week 1 and was put on season-ending injured reserve, despite being convinced he could be ready at the end of the season. Herman wasn’t sure how the Packers would treat Tretter’s case.
“Everyone has a different approach to it,” he said. “I hope it’s not a total lost year.”
McCarthy would not comment on the injury to Tretter or any others sitting out practice Tuesday. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, tackle Derek Sherrod, outside linebacker Dezman Moses, defensive end Ryan Pickett, defensive end Jerel Worthy, running back DuJuan Harris, safety Sean Richardson and House didn’t participate. McCarthy added that defensive end Johnny Jolly, who was not in attendance, is “still going through the process.”
Neal surprised by move
In year four, Mike Neal may be in the midst of a major position change.
Or not. It’s May.
Nonetheless, the Packers are experimenting. At Tuesday’s practice, Neal worked at outside linebacker. The move back seemed to surprise Neal. He said he has not talked to McCarthy about it and only spoke briefly to defensive coordinator Dom Capers and the assistants. Long term, he’s not sure what to make of it.
Dogged by injuries through 2010 and 2011, and a frustrating suspension last year, Neal finally stayed healthy toward the end of last season and finished with 11 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks in 11 games. With the addition of first-round pick Datone Jones and departure of Erik Walden and Frank Zombo, the Packers appear to be open to trying Neal at a new spot.
“From my standpoint, I’m a football player,” Neal said. “Coaches ask me to do one thing and that’s what I do. I don’t ask any questions. I just go along with the role they present. So as of right now, if that’s what it is, that’s what it is. I don’t know plans going down the future. I don’t know what’s going on tomorrow. I just know this is where I lined up today. I’m just lining up where they tell me to.”
Without disclosing his weight, Neal believes he is light enough to play outside linebacker and big enough to play inside. He has not had to cover as an outside linebacker before.
“No, but I’m comfortable with my athletic ability,” Neal said. “I do believe our defensive linemen, not only do I have defensive linemen skills, but as far as being athletic, I can do that.”
Whether he sticks at outside linebacker likely depends on how comfortable he looks through OTAs, minicamp and, potentially, training camp. For now, Neal is as surprised as anyone.
“I don’t know. I’m just as clueless as you are honestly,” he said. “When I got here, it was, ‘Hey, go upstairs. We’ve got to talk to you about something….’We’re going to try and move you around a little bit. We’re going to try and expand your role. We want to get familiar with all facets of the game and we’ll take it from there.’ And that’s pretty much it.”
Once the news hit, Tramon Williams’ phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. Friends and teammates were surprised to hear that his shoulder was, apparently, still a problem.
In an interview with 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore, Williams talked about the nerve damage in his shoulder. Yet while Williams spoke about the shoulder bothering him during the 2011 season, many thought he was talking about the shoulder still being an issue through the 2012 season.
Not the case, he says.
“It was a couple different questions they asked from past years,” Williams said. “It really wasn’t much. It kind of hit the media like it was something today. But it was from the past. So it really wasn’t anything. It was from when the injury happened. It kind of hit like it was something new, like something else happened. I did the interview telling them exactly what happened and they made it seem like it was new.”
Williams insists the injury was not an issue for him last season .
Still, the nerve damage does require time to heal, to regenerate. So in that sense, Williams also said he does feel much better now than he did last May and June.
“It’s better,” Williams said. “Trust me. It’s better than last year. But last year I was good. The structure was good. But when it comes to nerves, it’s time. And there’s nothing at all you can do about it.”
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