2013 July : Packers Insider

Is rookie Datone Jones the answer at defensive end for the Packers?

July 17, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Scouting defensive linemen has been a challenge for Ted Thompson and the Packers. Ninth overall pick B.J. Raji worked out. The other 13 he has taken? Not so much.

Penetrating, pass-rushing, long-armed defensive ends to anchor the 3-4 defense have eluded the Packers. This spring, Green Bay hopes it finally has an answer. First-round pick Datone Jones, a former high school point guard, is the type of athlete who could reverse the trend. His scheme in the pros is very similar to what he had at UCLA under Jim Mora Jr.

If healthy, Datone Jones will provide a spark from the DL that has been missing since Cullen Jenkins was let go.

The Packers have other pieces at the position. C.J. Wilson has done yeomen’s work as a run defender. Ryan Pickett is versatile and still going strong, but turns 34 years old in October. Green Bay is experimenting with Mike Neal at linebacker. Mike Daniels is probably best suited as a high-effort, rotational player.

Jerel Worthy won’t be seeing the field for a while. Johnny Jolly? Don’t hold your breath.

It’s on Jones to be the difference-maker — right away — in Green Bay’s pursuit of San Francisco.

UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure believes Jones will handle this jump with ease.

“They’re getting a player with great versatility,” McClure said. “Datone is the type of player where he can play anywhere on the defensive line, so he has the experience to do it. That’s what they’re getting. They’re getting a guy who can line up on the offensive tackle. They have a guy who can move inside and play on the guards, too.”

Size (6-4, 283), arm length (32 ¾ inches) and overall technique refined by Mora’s staff is what allows Jones to slide along the line, McClure added. True, even before he was drafted by the Packers, Jones was mentally drawing up X’s and O’s in Green Bay’s defense.

Maybe he does fill the void.

Cullen Jenkins only lasted two seasons in Philadelphia and it would have cost a lot to keep the veteran in Green Bay. But considering how each of the last two seasons ended, the price probably would have been worth it. A championship window wide open — with one 15-1 team and another 11-5 group — his absence was felt. And that absence affected all those around the position, too.

So for the third time in four years, Green Bay took a defensive end in the first two rounds. This time, Jones.

He was disruptive in college. Within a NFL-ready scheme, one with very similar terminology to Dom Capers’ system in Green Bay, Jones finished with 19 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Inside and outside, Jones discarded blockers with ease. The highlight reel reveals a man amongst boys.

Still, that’s the case for a lot of prospects.

Considering the Packers need Jones to play immediately, will this athleticism transfer?

“I definitely think it will transfer over,” McClure said. “Certainly any time you move up a level in football, it’s going to take some time to adjust but he understands the schematics. Datone is one of those guys who’s going to get better and better.”

Not many defensive linemen grew up on the Compton basketball courts with the likes of DeMar DeRozan and James Harden. Jones is a rare athlete. Ideally, the Packers may target soft spots along an offensive line and have the versatile Jones attack. He can play different techniques. And he also has an outgoing, hungry persona that should be healthy for any locker room, any front seven. College coaches and teammates and coaches describe a palpable energy to his game.

For now, anyways, the arrow is pointing up. Yet like all those defensive linemen before him, nobody will know for sure if Jones is for real until September.

Jones knows JJ Watt is the benchmark at his position, and he thinks he can do a lot of what Watt can do. If he's anywhere close to JJ, the Packers defense could become a weapon again.

“I think Datone’s going to get even better in the NFL,” McClure said. “Datone’s like a sponge. He’s extremely coachable. I know the Packers will take him to the next level, no question.”

Original story here

RB Eddie Lacy has a chance to finally end Packers’ rushing woes in 2013

July 17, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Reischel, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Ahman Green. Vernand Morency. Brandon Jackson. DeShawn Wynn. Ryan Grant. James Starks. Cedric Benson. Alex Green. DuJuan Harris.

These nine running backs have been the featured running back during some point of Mike McCarthy’s seven-year tenure. And for the most part, the results have left plenty to be desired.

Perhaps Eddie Lacy can change that.

Powerful. Shifty. Tough. Physical.

Lacy (5-11, 230) has a combination of skills that no Packer back has had since McCarthy arrived in 2006. Now, it’s up to Lacy — a second-round draft pick in April — to take advantage of a golden opportunity when training camp begins July 26.

“I can only bring what I was drafted to bring in, and that’s what I’ve been doing pretty much my whole life,” Lacy said during Green Bay’s June mini-camps. “I don’t plan on changing the way I run and I don’t think that they expect me to be able to change it. They just want me to be able to come in and do what I was drafted to do.”

If he can avoid the injury bug that has plagued this team for three years, Lacy might be the best back the Packers have had since Ahman Green.

Green Bay’s hope is that Lacy can give a boost to the running game.
It’s been 43 straight regular-season games since the Packers had a 100-yard rusher. That’s the eighth-longest streak in NFL histor
y, 29 games off the record set by Washington between 1961-’67.

In McCarthy’s tenure, the Packers have ranked 23rd in 2006, then 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in rushing yards per game. That’s an average finish of 21st.

In that same time, the Packers ranked 18th in 2006, then 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in average yards per carry for an average finish of 20th.

With Aaron Rodgers around, the Packers will always be a pass-first offense. But McCarthy wants to be better on the ground than the Packers have been — and insists they will in 2013.

“We’ll be better, I promise you that,” McCarthy said in June. “Big letters.”

That’s quite a proclamation from a coach who’s never given more than lip service to the run game. But perhaps Lacy’s big, punishing frame and terrific feet will give McCarthy more incentive than ever before to balance the offense.

Lacy, the 61st overall pick in April’s draft, is the highest running back general manager Ted Thompson has ever selected during his nine drafts in Green Bay. And it’s easy to see why.

Lacy’s size makes him different than the other backs McCarthy has had to work with. But his nifty feet, cutback ability, balance and instincts are unique for a 230-pound man.

Lacy was projected by many as a first-round draft pick, but fell to Green Bay largely due to injury concerns while he was at Alabama. If Lacy can overcome those, he stands a chance to emerge from a crowded group of runners.

“I’m learning fairly well,” he said. “If I can get everything down pat to where I’m making the least amount of mistakes as possible, then I feel as though I will be able to get in if they needed me to get in and play.”

It would certainly behoove the Packers if Lacy played — and played well — from the outset of camp. That’s because the group of returnees certainly hasn’t wowed anybody.

Harris emerged as Green Bay’s best runner last season and averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the final month of the season.

Don't forget about Dujuan Harris. I get a kick out of the analysts and journalists who say because Harris is short, he might not be able to last a season. Is Starks small? How about Cedric Benson? They couldn't last two months either. Meanwhile, little guy Ray Rice has been very durable in Baltimore.

But at 5-foot-8, 203 pounds, Harris might be too small to be the lead back.

Starks had one of the great feel-good stories in franchise history during the 2010 postseason. In the two years since, Starks has been given every chance to become the Packers’ featured back, but has run for 833 total yards and two touchdowns.

Starks has also missed 23 of 55 possible games in Green Bay due to injury. Now, Starks might be down to his final chance.

Alex Green finds himself in a similar spot to Starks. Green, a third-round pick in 2011, tore his ACL and played just four games as a rookie. Last year, Green lacked the burst and explosiveness he had at Hawaii and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He likely faces a make-or-break training camp as well.

“Training camp is going to be intense,” Green said in June. “There’s a lot more guys here, a ton of competition.”

One player that could get in the mix is fourth-round draft pick Johnathan Franklin (5-10, 205), who broke UCLA’s career rushing record (4,403) last year. Like Harris, Franklin might not have the size to handle 250-plus carries per season. But Franklin is a natural pass-catcher and could find a complementary role immediately.

“I like the young running backs,” Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers said during June mini-camps. “Eddie is a bigger back. He can bring some power in the run game. And seeing Johnathan, he’s a shifty guy, he’s got some moves in the open field (and) he’s a potentially three-down back. It gives us an interesting backfield look.”

The Packers entered training camp last summer with a running back group of Starks, Green, Brandon Saine, Marc Tyler and Du’ane Bennett.

Immediately, McCarthy & Co. realized that cluster wouldn’t cut it and added veteran journeyman Cedric Benson.

On paper, this group appears far more formidable. But if the Packers hope to elevate their running game, Lacy will certainly be the key.

“It’s a learning process and as a rookie you don’t know everything,” Lacy said. “When we get our shot, we’ll just slowly work our way into it.”

Slow certainly isn’t the desired speed for a running game that’s been stuck in neutral for McCarthy’s seven seasons. Lacy’s chance to change that is almost here.

Original story here

Evan Dietrich-Smith still holding down the middle but others adjusting to new positions

July 17, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Reischel, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Evan Dietrich-Smith takes nothing for granted. Not after where he’s been and what he’s experienced.

Dietrich-Smith was a lightly regarded high school player that wound up at tiny Idaho State. He went undrafted and was later released by both Green Bay and Seattle.

With his career going nowhere fast, Dietrich-Smith was exploring a career in teaching.

So as Dietrich-Smith faces the possibility of being the only starter on the Packer offensive line back at the position where he finished 2012, he’s certainly not going to get too comfortable.

“It’s just one of those things. I don’t take a whole lot for granted and I never will,” said Dietrich-Smith, who started the final four games of 2012 at center. “From where I’ve been, I know pretty much nothing is guaranteed for me.

“I’ve had to fight my way up through everything, so it’s a very satisfying thing to be in the position that I’m in. But I still don’t take anything for granted. I still treat it like it’s 2009 and I’m trying to make this team.”

Green Bay’s offensive line received one of the greatest makeovers in recent memory this off-season.

Bryan Bulaga has moved from right tackle to left tackle. Guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang flip-flopped sides. And Marshall Newhouse, last year’s starter at left tackle, was switched to right tackle to compete with Don Barclay, who started the final four games there in 2012.

If Newhouse beats out Barclay, Dietrich-Smith will be the only starter in the same spot where he finished 2012.

“That is a little crazy, I guess,” said Dietrich-Smith, who has 11 career starts in Green Bay, including playoffs. “I’ve played multiple positions my whole career, so it’s kind of nice to be in the same spot. You get to concentrate on one thing and focus on your technique. I can work on the stuff I need to work and go from there.”

"I've had to fight my way up through everything, so it's a very satisfying thing to be in the position that I'm in. But I still don't take anything for granted. I still treat it like it's 2009 and I'm trying to make this team." - Evan Dietrich-Smith

Dietrich-Smith was Green Bay’s sixth lineman most of last season and the top backup at all three interior positions. He started four games at left guard, then was given the starting center job in Week 16 when the Packers pulled the plug on veteran Jeff Saturday.

The move was a huge hit as the undersized Dietrich-Smith (6-2, 308) held up well. In the four games Dietrich-Smith started, he didn’t allow a sack and had zero penalties.

“When they approached me about the switch, I know it was kind of controversial for a lot of people,” Dietrich-Smith said. “But for me, I had already got a lot of playing time, so switching wasn’t that hard for me. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to play now,’ because I was already playing. It was just a different spot.”

The Packers clearly want to see more, though. Dietrich-Smith was a restricted free agent this past off-season and was tendered the lowest qualifying offer of $1.323 million.

Dietrich-Smith will now enter the final year of his contract with a world of incentive. He’ll try proving he’s a viable starter, while playing for his financial future at the same time.

“I’m not really worried about that stuff,” Dietrich-Smith said. “I’m worried about the offense being the top offense in the league, the numbers being great, and then everything else will take care of itself.”

The Packers hope their other moves this off-season will help take care of a unit that’s been suspect in recent seasons.

Green Bay allowed 51 sacks during the regular season last year, the second most in football. And counting the postseason, the Packers have allowed 202 sacks in the past four years.

While the offensive line deserves some of the blame, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was responsible for 14 sacks, or 27.5% of the total.

“It doesn’t do anybody any good to point fingers,” Sitton said. “We just all have to get better and try getting that sack number down.”

That’s the biggest reason Green Bay made the dramatic moves that could yield new starters at 80% of the offensive line positions.

Bulaga, who was drafted as a left tackle, will get his first shot at that position since entering the NFL in 2005.

Bulaga (6-5, 314) has prototypical size to play left tackle. But Bulaga’s arms (33¼ inches) and hands (9¼) are smaller than the average left tackle, and he’ll be returning from a dislocated hip injury.

Sitton will be playing left guard for the first time since entering the NFL, while Lang moves to right guard for the first time in his professional career.

Barclay started six games at right tackle to conclude 2012, while Newhouse started three games there in 2011. No matter who emerges there, experience will be lacking.

The Packers felt good about the changes at the conclusion of their June mini-camps.

“I think they’re getting more comfortable,” Rodgers said of the line. “They’re not complaining about it. They’ve all bought into it, we’re all on the same page.

“The offensive line is deeper than we’ve had in the past and they’re very well-coached. So I think you’re going to see some good changes this fall.”

Original story here

Walter Football: 2013 Green Bay Packers Preview

July 4, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Walter Cherepinsky, Walter Football

~ Green Bay Packers (Last Year: 11-5)

2013 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Matthew Mulligan.
Early Draft Picks:
DE/DT Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, OT/G David Bakhtiari, G/OT J.C. Tretter, RB Johnathan Franklin, CB/S Micah Hyde. Packers Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Cedric Benson, RB Ryan Grant, WR Greg Jennings, WR Donald Driver, TE Tom Crabtree, C Jeff Saturday, DE/OLB Erik Walden, DE/OLB Frank Zombo, ILB Desmond Bishop, S Charles Woodson.

2013 Green Bay Packers Offense:
The Packers lost a player who has been viewed as their top receiver for several years this offseason. Will this derail one of the top offenses in the NFL? Not by a long shot.

Greg Jennings took the money and ran to Minnesota, but Green Bay’s offense won’t skip a beat. Aaron Rodgers is still the best quarterback in the NFL. He didn’t have his greatest season in 2012, yet still compiled 4,295 passing yards, 41 touchdowns (39 passing, two on the ground), 259 rushing yards and just eight interceptions. He was aptly rewarded with a 7-year, $130.75 million contract in April.

Despite losing Jennings, Rodgers still has a very dynamic supporting cast. The most intriguing weapon is slot receiver Randall Cobb, who caught 80 balls for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in his second NFL campaign. He also rushed for 132 more yards. He’s a dynamic player who will see an even greater role in 2013; there’s some talk that he could catch 100 passes this year.

Randall Cobb was great last year. He's working to be even better.

Jordy Nelson and James Jones will be the starting outside receivers. The second half of Nelson’s 2012 season was derailed by injuries, but he figures to be back to full strength. Jones, meanwhile, had always been a disappointment because he was prone to so many dropped passes. He got his act together last year, however, as he hauled in a ridiculous 14 touchdowns. Perhaps Jones’ improvement can rub off on the sluggish tight end Jermichael Finley, who was brought back for 2013 despite never coming close to meeting expectations.

Rodgers could be even more dangerous this season because the Packers have a new offensive element that they haven’t possessed since the Ahman Green days. Green Bay now has a potent running back who can move the chains efficiently on the ground and another who poses as a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Green Bay spent a second-round pick on Eddie Lacy, a tough runner who would have been selected much earlier if it weren’t for injuries. Two rounds later, the Packers chose Johnathan Franklin, who fell inexplicably. Franklin, perceived by some to be the top back in the 2013 class, caught 33 balls for UCLA last season. He’s been compared by some to Warrick Dunn.

The only concern regarding the Green Bay offense is the front line. Rodgers took 51 sacks this past season, which would explain why he had slightly downgraded numbers in 2012. That figure is way too high, especially for a mobile quarterback. To help remedy this situation, the Packers spent two relatively early selections on linemen David Bakhtiari and J.C. Tretter. The former will compete for the right tackle job with Marshall Newhouse, who surrendered nine sacks as Rodgers’ inept blind-side protector last year. Bryan Bulaga, who was knocked out for the season in November with a fractured hip, will take over at left tackle.

Unfortunately, Tretter is out for six months after fracturing his fibula 11 days after signing his rookie contract. He was supposed to compete with the pedestrian Evan Dietrich-Smith at center. That will once again be a position of weakness for Green Bay – Jeff Saturday was miserable there in 2012 – but the Packers at least have two talented guards flanking him. T.J. Lang is solid, while Josh Sitton is easily the best blocker in the entire group.

2013 Green Bay Packers Defense:
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers better have spent the entire offseason figuring out how to contain the read option. His stop unit looked completely inept against it when the 49ers demolished them in the playoffs. Green Bay will battle San Francisco in the opener, so we’ll see how much Capers has learned from his abysmal game plan in the divisional playoff battle.

The Packers spent a first-round pick on a player who can apply lots of pressure on the quarterback, which will help their efforts against Kaepernick and other read-option signal-callers. Datone Jones will give Green Bay a consistent pass-rushing presence on the defensive line, which is something it did not have this past season outside of Mike Neal, who was just a situational player. Jones will start along with stud B.J. Raji and run-stuffer Ryan Pickett.

Of course, Green Bay’s top pass-rusher will once again be Clay Matthews, who registered 13 sacks in 2012 and was subsequently rewarded with a 5-year, $66 million contract. He’ll continue to dominate at one of the rush linebacker spots, so the main concern here is Nick Perry’s progression. Perry, a first-round pick in 2012, started a few games across from Matthews, but did nothing. He was ultimately knocked out for the year in Week 6 because of a wrist injury. He’ll need to improve for Green Bay’s stop unit to look at least functional against the better quarterbacks.

Getting Desmond Bishop back looked to be a big boost for the Packers as well, but he was released in June after missing all of 2012 with a torn hamstring. Brad Jones performed well in his absence next to A.J. Hawk, so there won’t be too much of a drop-off. Hawk, meanwhile, was pretty mediocre. He’s just an average starter who neither really helps nor hurts the team.

Bishop wasn’t the only defensive veteran to leave this offseason. Charles Woodson walked away from the team after six-and-a-half highly productive seasons in Green Bay. The half year was in 2012, as Woodson played in just seven games. He was clearly declining, but still happened to be the heart and soul of the secondary. His absence created a big hole at safety next to the talented Morgan Burnett. M.D. Jennings, currently projected to start next to Burnett, is just mediocre. Green Bay was expected to find help in this area during the offseason, but failed to do so.

The Jennings spot is the one hole in Green Bay’s secondary, as the team has three outstanding cornerbacks. Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Hayward are all exceptional.

Rookie Casey Hayward got his hands on a lot of footballs last year, and also got to QB Andrew Luck here.

The Packers are in a great spot here, as both Shields and Hayward are both very young; Hayward snagged six interceptions as a mere rookie in 2012 – and he played about two-thirds of the snaps.

2013 Green Bay Packers Schedule and Intangibles:
Green Bay is 115-38 at home since 1992 – the year Brett Favre first became a Green Bay Packer. Aaron Rodgers is continuing the tradition; he’s 28-5 as a host the past four years.

Mason Crosby is as unreliable as they get.
He was just 21-of-33 last year, including a dreadful 2-of-9 from 50-plus. He’ll once again be Green Bay’s kicker.

Punter Tim Masthay was just 21st in net average, but he did tie for seventh in terms of attempts placed inside the 20.

Green Bay’s special teams were awful prior to 2011, but Randall Cobb has changed that. Cobb scored on a punt and a kickoff return in 2011, and then added another touchdown last year. The Packers didn’t surrender any special-teams scores.

The Packers have a brutal schedule. Their first three opponents (and five of their initial seven foes) all made the playoffs last year. They barely have any easy games.

2013 Green Bay Packers Rookies:
Go here for the Packers Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2013 Green Bay Packers Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):

Quarterbacks *****

Offensive Line **

Secondary ****

Running Backs ***

Defensive Line ****

Special Teams ***

Receivers *****

Linebackers ***

Coaching ***

Coach McCarthy and Kevin Greene might not be in agreement with the coaching grade here, but the defenses pathetic performance to end the season in San Francisco, allowing 579 yards, justifies that ranking. Adding Datone Jones and Nick Perry could add at least one more star there.

2013 Green Bay Packers Analysis: Despite having a ridiculously taxing schedule, the Packers are expected to win the NFC North and compete for homefield advantage. As long as they have Aaron Rodgers, they’ll always be in contention for the Lombardi Trophy.

Projection: 12-4 (1st in NFC North)

Original article here, including Walter’s Packer Draft Profiles

For Packers rookie RB Johnathan Franklin, football is just the start of many great things

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Martin Hendricks, Special to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Johnathan Franklin is finding life in Green Bay a tad bit different than his hometown of Los Angeles.

Cheese curds are foreign fare in California, Moose heads mounted on walls are rare and not a lot of heads turn when you cruise down the Sunset Strip in a Chevy Impala.

Franklin, the Packers fourth-round selection from UCLA, doesn’t mind. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back is in the NFL’s smallest market on a mission: to earn a roster spot and play for one of the league’s most storied franchises.

Franklin hopes to give the Packers a spark both on the ground and out of the backfield.

“Oh my gosh, from Los Angles to Green Bay, Wisconsin,” Franklin exclaimed in front of his locker after the Packers’ final minicamp practice. “Boy, I tell ya. It’s like night and day.”

Franklin has never gone fishing or hunting in his life, and he encountered his first trophy mount in the team’s equipment room.

“I saw a moose head in a room the other day and I went crazy. I ain’t seen none of this,” Franklin explained while shaking his head. “I said, ‘Is that real? Did you really kill a moose?’ It’s so different here. I saw a porcupine the other day, I mean it’s crazy.”

The city kid has ventured out on a day trip to Door County.

“I wanted to see Lake Michigan,” Franklin said. “I was driving through the woods and I was so scared. There I was on the cliff (at Cave Point County Park) and it was nice. We just drove up and came right back.”

Franklin has yet to travel to Madison or Milwaukee.

“I still have to eat a cheese curd, that’s what everybody is telling me. So I’m excited for that.”

Despite some culture shock, Franklin also considers it a blessing to be playing football in a city just over 100,000 people.

“There’s not that much to do in Green Bay, which allows us on this team to be close,” he said. “We’re not going out and trying to impress nobody.”

Franklin has big plans in life, but wants to make some Gridiron Glory first in Titletown.

The only people Franklin is trying to impress are his coaches as he competes in a crowded stable of running backs.

Franklin did not grow up a 49ers, Raiders or Chargers fan. He was a staunch supporter of the Tennessee Titans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I was a big fan of Javon Kearse, Steve McNair, Eddie George — all those guys. I was a huge Bucs fan because of John Lynch, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Keshawn Johnson.”

The Green Bay Packers weren’t really on his radar, but they are now.

“The tradition here is something else,” he said. “The prestige of this franchise and how historic it is, and the players that have come through and how the community owns and supports it. I mean it’s amazing.”

It has been well-documented that Franklin aspires to become the mayor of Los Angeles one day after his football career, to spearhead change in a great city riddled with complex problems of drugs, gangs and violence.

He looks forward to the opportunities and experiences that are ahead, both on and off the football field. Whatever Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher, commits to, he does so with a mature passion beyond his 23 years of age.

“Green Bay is totally different to me, but it’s just another journey in my life,” Franklin said. “We all got our different paths, and we all have our different journeys. I’m excited to learn about myself more and see where my future goes and see the kind of man that I become in life.”

Here’s some other things you might not know about Franklin.

Born: Oct. 23, 1989.

Status: Single.

Degree: Political science major. Interned in the office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for a month and a half in college.

Favorite meal: Macaroni and cheese and collared greens.

Favorite flick: “American Gangster.” I’m a big Denzel Washington fan.

Favorite books: “Letters to a Young Brother.” It’s just an amazing book and talks about growing up as a man, maturing as a man. Just being wise and making the right choices. Also, “The Energy Bus.” It’s about being positive and having the right people around you. That pretty much everything that happens in your life is to make you a better person.

My ride: I have a rental car (Impala), just taking it one day at a time. I’m not a fancy, high-roller guy. If I get anything, I’ll probably get a Nissan Altima. I’m not in L.A., so I don’t need a Range Rover or Mercedes. I’m good.

Other hobbies and interests: Tennis. I’m a big (Roger) Federer/(Novak) Djokovic fan. I love watching tennis. It’s very spiritual. I also love playing video games and just relaxing. I’m a family man; I don’t have no kids, but I have a nephew and niece back home in L.A.

Immediate goal as a football player: Just getting better every day. Just getting better and not being satisfied and working as hard as you can. If we do that, I believe things will fall into place.

On taking hand-offs from Aaron Rodgers: It’s great. Aaron’s a great person and we all know he’s a great athlete. What I like about him is he’s a man with expectations. When you come into the huddle, you need to know what you’re doing. You need to understand everything and that’s great because that makes me want to be better. So I like to go in there and tell him, ‘I got this,’ and he’s not on my case.

Role models: I love Tim Tebow because of his spiritual walk. Through all that he’s been through he still stays strong in his walk and that’s very encouraging.

Unlike some silent Christians, Franklin is not afraid to speak the Gospel. Like Reggie White before him, Tebow now, Franklin is proud of his Christianity. Randall Cobb, Tramon Williams, Mike Neal, Nick Collins, James Jones are others.

My pastor and my mom (Pamela) have also been great role models for me.

Introduction to football: My step-dad at the time said, “Why don’t you try football?” I was doing nothing but really sitting around the house. Honestly, I just went out and tried football. It started in 1999 when I was 10 years old. I went out by myself, tried it out and fell in love with it.

Aspirations to become L.A.’s mayor: I was tired of seeing the same people just fall short in life or not even make it to the age of 18. When I shadowed the major for a couple of days, I looked at all the people (at a chamber of commerce meeting) and I didn’t even feel they were listening or cared. There were so many, I felt, unheard voices out there in the city. I believe things can be fixed and things can be answered. You know what, I gotta change this city. I got to be somebody that they can count on and trust and be a leader for them.

Original story here

Plenty of room for growth among Packers’ youthful defenders in 2013

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Rob Reischel, for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — Ted Thompson went all-in.

Green Bay’s general manager had just watched the New York Giants destroy his porous defense in the 2011 NFC divisional playoffs. That followed a season in which Green Bay’s passing defense was the worst in NFL history.

So in April 2012, Thompson took one of the more different approaches to a draft in team history and used his first six picks on defensive players. The last time the Packers were so lopsided in a draft came in 1959, when Vince Lombardi and personnel director Jack Vainisi took offensive players with their first seven selections.

Fast forward to the 2012 postseason, when Green Bay’s defense was equally awful while allowing 579 yards and 45 points to San Francisco.
Now, if the Packers hope to gain any ground on the mighty 49ers, as well as NFC powers Atlanta and Seattle, it might be up to the 2012 draft class.

“I say it every year, I think the second year is where you make the biggest improvement,” Packer coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think this group is no different, and I think they have an excellent foundation to build off of.”

They sure do.

Casey Hayward showed a lot as a rookie last year. Here he picks of an Andrew Luck pass.

Casey Hayward was one of the league’s top rookie cornerbacks last season. Outside linebacker Nick Perry is a leading candidate to be the Packers’ breakthrough player of 2013.

Jerron McMillian will battle this summer for a starting safety job. Defensive tackle Mike Daniels proved he can be extremely effective. Inside linebacker Terrell Manning looks like a different player and will battle for snaps.

Green Bay’s defense improved from 32nd in total defense and passing defense in 2011 to 11th in both categories last season. But if the Packers are to take the next step and contain high-powered offenses, their sophomore class will be key.

“I think the class on a whole could really take off this year,” Hayward said. “We had a lot of guys do some good things last year and this year could be even better. That’s the plan, anyhow.”

That’s been the case with many of McCarthy’s players since his arrival in 2006. Among the most notable, tight end Jermichael Finley went from six catches as a rookie to 55 his second year. Receiver Greg Jennings quadrupled his touchdown output from three to 12. Offensive guard Josh Sitton was a bit player his rookie year but was a rock up front by Year 2. And wideout Randall Cobb went from 25 catches as a rookie to 80 during his second season.

Defensively, players such as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, safety Morgan Burnett and even defensive end Johnny Jolly made huge strides between their first and second seasons.

“Honestly, your head is just swimming with so much stuff that first year,” Perry said. “You’re always thinking and never just playing and reacting. You still have to process everything instead of just going and trusting your instincts. It’s going to a big difference this year.”

The two players with the most upside and the greatest chance to change Green Bay’s defensive fortunes are Perry and Hayward.

Pro Football Focus recently did a list of the NFL’s Top 101 players and placed Hayward at No. 36.

Hayward took over as Green Bay’s slot cornerback when injuries struck last season, and he seems likely to keep that position for years to come. According to PFF, Hayward allowed just 0.74 yards per coverage snap last season, the second-lowest total in the league among slot corners.

Hayward also had a combined 18 interceptions and passes defensed, which was the third most in the NFL behind only Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Chicago’s Tim Jennings.

The Packers are in their nickel defense roughly 70% of the time, guaranteeing Hayward plenty of snaps. But he wants a lot more than that in 2013.

“If I’m the starter or I’m the nickel I’ll be out there a lot,” said Hayward, a second-round pick in 2012. “But I do want to be the starter outside because I think just me being out there helps our team.

“I’m a playmaker, and we have a lot of playmakers on this defense. So any time we just get as many playmakers on the defense at the same time, I think that helps our defense.”

The Packers need help from Perry, their first-round draft choice a season ago. Perry started five of Green Bay’s first six games last year before suffering a season-ending wrist injury.

Nick Perry possesses the physical ability to be great right away. He could help propel this defense from soft into dangerous.

The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Perry has all the physical gifts to be a star opposite Clay Matthews. Perry also seemed to have a greater urgency this spring and fully understands his personal improvement is vital to the defense.

“I think he looks really good,” McCarthy said of Perry. “I’m excited about the way he’s come back.”

McMillian played nearly 600 snaps as a rookie, is a tough guy and must improve in coverage. McMillian has a lot of upside, though, and will battle M.D. Jennings for a starting job in one of training camp’s most anticipated battles.

Manning, who was diagnosed with colitis during last year’s training camp, is recovered now and will be a player to watch this summer. With Desmond Bishop recently released, there’s playing time available behind starters A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones, and Manning expects to be in the mix.

Daniels played roughly 17 snaps per game last season, and he figures to be part of the defensive line rotation again. He’s short (6-0) but never backs down and finished second among defensive linemen in pressures per snap and third in tackles per snap.

Jerel Worthy, the first of Green Bay’s two second round draft picks in 2012, suffered a torn ACL in Week 17 a year ago. Worthy insists he’ll be available at some point this season, but it seems unlikely he’ll be a factor (honestly, he wasn’t much of a factor last year before he tore the ACL anyway).

As for the rest of the sophomore class, their time appears to be now.

“Those guys played a lot of football last year,” McCarthy said. “We improved as a defense particularly when the young guys were in there. That’s a credit to the younger players.”

Original story here

Contract status inspires hunger games for some Packers in 2013

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

~GREEN BAY — The harness is off and the swagger is on. For Davon House, it’s back to playing like a “(bleep)hole,” as he put it last season.

In bold letters, House assured he’s healthy and he plans to start in 2013.

“To me,” House said, “if you think I did good last year then you have a whole other thing coming.”

Looking back, if House didn’t suffer a left shoulder subluxation in the preseason opener, he probably starts Week 1 at cornerback. Not Sam Shields. Instead, Shields started, finished strong and is now flirting with a long-term deal. Yet still, this 10-minute scene from Donald Driver’s charity softball game — House’s words marinated with vinegar — is exactly the climate the Packers hoped to build this off-season.

Shields wasn’t paid. Neither was B.J. Raji. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith? He’s in the waiting room, too. After shelling out millions to two players, the Packers hit the brakes. Don’t assume it’s by accident, either. Money, always, is a motivator. In 2013, general manager Ted Thompson has several key starters entering contract years.

The two heroes of the 2010 NFC Championship game versus Chicago: Raji & Shields are both in the final year of their contract, and both want long term deals with the Packers. Raji has the better chance of getting that as Shields has company back at CB in Tramon, Hayward, and House, whereas Raji is a much rarer player. Hence Raji was the #9 pick in the 2009 draft, about 15 spots before Clay Matthews went, a few hours later.

Financial uncertainty hangs over Shields, Raji, Dietrich-Smith and others.

So, no, the Packers won’t be too upset if House or anyone else at those respective positions talks a mean game. Every coach alive trumpets the merits of camp competition — the need to create it, nurture it and make it contagious.

In Green Bay, Thompson can simply wave a checkbook.

The last time the Packers skated through a season with so many core starters seeking long-term deals was 2010. That team was stocked with underpaid players. A.J. Hawk, Cullen Jenkins, Tramon Williams, Daryn Colledge, John Kuhn, Desmond Bishop all delivered in contract years and the Packers won a Super Bowl.

Coincidence or not, Green Bay wouldn’t mind a repeat in 2013.

So far, the players entering contract years have been echoing themselves.

After one off-season practice, Jermichael Finley bit his tongue at every turn. Moments after Mike McCarthy praised the tight end for adding weight, the typically talkative, always-colorful Finley wouldn’t so much as say how much he weighs. As a Green Bay public relations official leaned into the group interview, Finley kept it G-rated.

“I feel strong right now, healthy,” Finley said. “I feel confident. I’m just excited.”

Behind the scenes, Green Bay has not always been thrilled with Finley’s candidness. With hesitation, Thompson and Russ Ball agreed to keep Finley at $8.25 million this season. And while we can debate how harmful Finley’s comments actually are — note: Brian Urlacher is not on an NFL team — that first media session hinted at a tamer, quieter tight end.

On another day, Dietrich-Smith refused to acknowledge the obvious.

Yeah, he’s the starter. If he picks up where he left off in 2012, he will be for a while, too. But the restricted free agent also received the one-year, $1.323 million tender, a low-ball risk by the Packers. At this level, he said, you can’t assume anything.

“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Dietrich-Smith said. “If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you could be the next guy out the door. I don’t take anything for granted. Every opportunity I get, I have to prove myself.”

Raji spoke at length about the importance of getting off of blocks and said he’s “confident everything will take care of itself.”

James Jones won’t be coasting any time soon. Two years ago, he swung and missed (badly) in free agency. Teams were brutally honest with Jones’ agent, saying they didn’t want to pay the receiver because of his rash of drops in 2010.

Driver and Jennings are gone. Only Jones remains from this Tremendous Trio. Now Jones wants to get paid. And he deserves to.

Since then, Jones has had the best hands on the team.

And across the oval-shaped locker room, Shields’ space was vacant through the first round of OTAs. The restricted free agent hoped to flip his five interceptions over the final seven games into a lucrative deal. Thompson wouldn’t flinch, so Shields signed. Once he did return to Green Bay from Florida, the Packer message was obvious.

Sam Shields wants to get paid too.

“I just have to ball out this year,” Shields said, “and then we’ll go from there.”

True, with Rodgers and Matthews the richest players at their positions, Green Bay will not be able to re-sign all of the above long term. Decisions await. But for now, by showing restraint at the negotiating table, Thompson should have several players hungry for a pay raise.

Rings, trophies and legacies are absolutely motivators. But seven, eight figures isn’t bad, either.

Original story here

Packers ready for improved attitude in 2013

July 3, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Associated Press, posted by Brian Murphy

~GREEN BAY — Following second-round playoff losses in consecutive seasons, Green Bay Packer coach Mike McCarthy has seen a different look to his team this off-season.

“Frankly, I feel this — and I’ve thought it since I came back in April; it started in the weight room — this team has a different edge to it, a higher sense of urgency than I can recall,” McCarthy said.

“I don’t know how to sit down and measure it and put it on a scale each year. Maybe it’s my higher sense of urgency.”

Indeed, according to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that attitude adjustment starts at the top, with McCarthy.

“I think Coach is doing it and he’s leading by example. I think he set the tone when we came back in April, and he set the tone when we came back in May off our break,” Rodgers said.

“We sat down, we talked about the direction of the OTAs (organized team activities), and what we did last year didn’t work and what we’d like to see. I think you have to give him credit for the schedule and the tempo and setting the direction. He’s done a good job with that, and the guys just follow his lead.”

After winning the Super Bowl after the 2010 season, the Packers have lost in the divisional round in the past two seasons.

In 2011 after a 15-1 regular season, they lost at home as the NFC’s No. 1 seed to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, 37-20.

Then in January, the Packers couldn’t stop 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in San Francisco’s 45-31 win.

After the loss to the 49ers, Rodgers expressed concerns on his weekly radio show in Milwaukee about the tone he got from the team in the two seasons after the Super Bowl victory.

The Packer practices that have been open to reporters have appeared more spirited than past off-season workouts, in part because there is greater competition on the roster.

Several familiar names left during the off-season — receiver Greg Jennings and linebacker Desmond Bishop signed free-agent deals with the Minnesota Vikings,

Only two remain: Rodgers & Matthews. Gone this off-season are Driver, Woodson, and Jennings. Throw in Bishop to Minnesota, and the Packers have lost 4 key guys from their Super Bowl team.

receiver Donald Driver retired and veteran defensive leader Charles Woodson was released — leaving voids that must be filled in the locker room and on the field.

“There’s a lot of guys here that have things to prove,” said receiver Jordy Nelson, who along with James Jones and Randall Cobb will lead the receiving group.

“You can look at James and (me) and Randall. Everyone’s going to talk about missing Donald and Greg — which we will, it will be an adjustment — but we know we have an opportunity to step up and we have beliefs in what we can do.”

There’s also the belief that the Packers had Super Bowl-caliber teams each of the past two years and failed to deliver.

“Guys know there’s a short window for a team to be as good as we are,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to make the most of those (years) and that’s by winning championships. We know we’ve been close. We know we’ve had the team, but came up short.”

In an effort to avoid that same fate, the Packers have made some changes. McCarthy reconfigured his offensive line, taking four starters and moving them to four new positions.

Now, they’ll line up with Bryan Bulaga at left tackle, Josh Sitton at left guard, T.J. Lang at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.

The offensive line might be the key to the offense stepping it up a notch. Could Andrew Datko (left) or Lane Taylor (right) get any playing time? Stay tuned.

The defensive coaches not only spent much of the off-season working on solving the read-option that the 49ers used to beat them, but also emphasized increasing takeaways, especially forcing more fumbles.

And with the addition of two big-name running backs in the draft — second-round pick Eddie Lacy of Alabama and fourth-rounder Johnathan Franklin of UCLA — McCarthy said that the running game will improve, which would help Rodgers and the aerial game.

“We’ll be better, I promise you that,” McCarthy said of the run game. “You can write that down. In big letters.”

Whether their renewed sense of urgency leads to an improvement and another Super Bowl berth remains to be seen, but McCarthy insists the team is in a good place with training camp right around the corner.

“You learn from your past experiences,” McCarthy said. “Every team is different, every year is different, every challenge that we’ll face will be different. There are opportunities to look back to the past that will help us encounter and conquer those challenges that are in front of us.”

Full story here

« Previous Page