2013 August : Packers Insider

Eddie Lacy will help Packers contend

August 27, 2013 by  
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Motivated second-round pick looks to reward Green Bay for drafting him

~By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

~The teams that passed on Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy in this year’s draft will regret that mistake at some point this season.

He’s already given his current team solid proof that he can resolve its well-publicized backfield issues and he’s coming into this season with a substantial chip on his shoulder after dropping to the bottom of the second round. Lacy already had the talent to be a difference-maker. Now he has more motivation than any first-year player could ever need.

Lacy must look like a godsend to Green Bay fans right now. The Packers haven’t had a Pro Bowl running back since Ahman Green, and Ryan Grant was their last ball carrier to crack the 1,000-yard mark (in 2009). That didn’t seem like such a huge problem when Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers was coming of age and the Packers were winning a Super Bowl. Now it’s obvious that Green Bay can’t claim another title until its running game becomes formidable again.

The Packers got their first glimpse of Lacy’s skills against St. Louis in their second preseason game. After sitting out Green Bays’ preseason opener with a hamstring injury, he gained 40 yards on eight carries. He displayed quickness, agility, power and elusiveness during his time on the field. In short, he was everything the Packers have been hoping to find in a runner who could ease the pressure on Rodgers.

Lacy was so good it’s worth discounting his struggles against Seattle this past weekend. His poor production (eight carries for minus-5 yards) had more to do with his circumstances than with any perceived setback. Lacy was playing with a second-string offensive line that was battling the Seahawks’ starting defense. To understand how little running room there was in that contest, Packers backup quarterback Vince Young accounted for 39 of Green Bay’s 75 yards rushing.

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Lacy’s impressive preseason work has made him the clear front-runner in the Packers’ backfield competition. But it’s more than mere numbers that will make Green Bay appreciate his presence. Lacy has been overcoming obstacles for most of the past eight years of his life. Fighting for a starting job with the Packers doesn’t come close to what he’s been dealing with before he entered the NFL.

Lacy saw his childhood home ravaged by Hurricane Katrina when he was only a 14-year-old growing up in Gretna, La. His family bounced around Texas and Louisiana – sometimes staying with family, other times with strangers – in hopes of stabilizing their lives in the aftermath. The Lacy clan wound up living in a trailer in Geismar, La., where Eddie finished high school. He spent a good portion of those years depressed and sullen, unable to shake the pain of watching his world implode.

The kid who came out of that chaos grew into an All-American at Alabama the old-fashioned way – by grinding it out. Lacy sat behind Mark Ingram, then Trent Richardson and eventually split time with freshman standout T.J. Yeldon last fall. Lacy could’ve lost his confidence when injuries and a slow start threatened to derail his junior year. Instead, he got stronger every week until he eventually earned offensive most valuable player honors in the Crimson Tide’s victories in the SEC championship and national championship games.

The irony here is that somehow Lacy’s mental toughness became a concern during the pre-draft process. He said some scouts questioned his passion for football when the topic came up in pre-draft interviews. Others (most notably Denver Broncos general manager John Elway) took issue with Lacy’s surgically repaired toe, and many justifiably weren’t impressed with Lacy’s workouts. He missed the combine and Alabama’s Pro Day with a hamstring injury and struggled with conditioning in his private audition for teams.

Although Lacy didn’t help himself in the months leading up to the draft, his life story also tells a story of a resilient talent. You give a kid like Lacy a reason to prove himself and he finds a way to do exactly that. He actually turned in the two biggest games of his career – in that SEC title game win over Georgia and the national championship victory over Notre Dame – after learning that his father had been hospitalized with a mild stroke. That’s the epitome of responding to the pressure of the moment.

Lacy might not have liked how he wound up with the Packers, especially after three other runners were selected ahead of him on draft day. He had been hailed as the most talented back in this class, and the first round seemed a likely destination for him. True to form, Lacy has used that disappointment as a reason to work even harder. He also has been so grateful for the opportunity to pursue his NFL dream that he is eager to reward the Packers for their faith in him.

This is what happens when you’ve been through the kinds of trials he has faced in his young life. Lacy has learned enough to know bad times don’t last forever and it’s best for him to focus on what he can control. The Packers obviously were concerned enough about their running game that they used a fourth-round pick on another back, Johnathan Franklin.

From day one, Lacy knew he wouldn’t be given anything in his first year as a professional. That’s certainly fine with him.

He made a name for himself at Alabama when many people wondered whether he could fill the large shoes left behind by Richardson’s departure. He also endured everything Katrina did to his family, even when it as if like that pain would never end. Now all Lacy has to do is give the Packers that backfield boost they’ve lacked for three years. Given everything he’s been through, he should end up being the biggest steal of this draft.

Original story HERE

MMQB: Packers Preview: Bouncing Back? Scary Thought

August 18, 2013 by  
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By Andy Benoit, MMQB.SI.com

Led by arguably the best player in football, Green Bay is loaded again for a run at the top

~The Green Bay Packers seem to have everything a professional football team could ever want:

• An innovative offense directed by a likeable but no-nonsense head coach and quarterbacked by a 29-year-old superstar.

• A multifaceted, young, athletic defense.

• A front office led by a respected former NFL player (team president Mark Murphy), along with a venerated general manager: Ted Thompson, a keen talent evaluator who has at his disposal one of the best scouting departments in football. In the last four years, three of his top executives—John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie and John Dorsey—have been named general managers.

• A quaint hometown where fans’ loyalty is deep and unwavering, and where the pressure to win is palpable but not suffocating.

• A rich history that includes not just 13 world championships (dating to 1929), but also a Super Bowl victory and a 15-win regular season within the last three years.

In a testament to the NFL’s fine line between good and great, these near-perfect Packers—who were perhaps better-stocked a year ago—are coming off a fairly underwhelming 11-5 season, in which their offense was not razor sharp (falling from first to fifth in scoring and third to 13th in yardage) and their defense uncharacteristically got out-schemed and embarrassed in a 45–31 divisional round loss at San Francisco.

Thus, Green Bay’s motif this year is “bouncing back.” Make no mistake, though: This club is primed to do some extraordinary things in 2013.

OFFENSE

When your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, you can play any brand of football you want. Rodgers is tremendous in the pre-snap phase, whether it’s with cadence variation, protection adjustments, hot routes or full-fledged audibles. He’s as good, if not better, after the snap, with his deft decision-making, quick release, strong-armed accuracy and sensational improvisational skills. Simply put: The sixth-year starter is the best football player in the world right now.

Head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Tom Clements know that the more versatile the weapons around Rodgers, the more dangerous this offense will be. That’s why Randall Cobb, whose skill set is that of a souped-up Antwaan Randle El (let’s call the third-year pro Antwaan Randall Cobb), is poised to be the breakout superstar of 2013.

With injuries costing wideouts Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings a combined 17 starts last year, Cobb led the Packers with 80 catches for 954 yards, lining up in the slot (where 63 of his catches came from), out wide and even in the backfield (where he had 10 rushing attempts for 132 yards). He became Rodgers’ go-to man on third down and late in sandlot plays. This season he will be the go-to man, period. Don’t be surprised if Cobb’s total offensive productivity jumps 60%, especially with Greg Jennings gone via free agency, as McCarthy will undoubtedly make him the fulcrum of several new flex designs.

Randall Cobb has some mysterious bicep injury that might hobble him for quite sometime. We're not sure what the real injury is.

When Cobb was still doing everything for the Kentucky Wildcats, the Packers player whom analysts were rhapsodizing about was Jermichael Finley. No one had ever seen a tight end with his pliability and length. Unfortunately, dropped passes and immaturity have kept Finley from fully shining. But seeing that the 26-year-old steadied his ship a bit last season and is once again playing for a new contract, there’s still plenty of optimism for 2013. The valuable formation versatility Finley lends this offense should pack more punch with him playing second fiddle to Cobb.

Surrounding Green Bay’s two movable chess pieces is a potent collection of more conventional skill-position players. Jordy Nelson is one of the best boundary targets in football. Seventh-year man James Jones, whom Rodgers implored the front office to re-sign in 2011, can play outside or inside. Though still not fully immune to intermittent gaffes, Jones, who led the league with 14 touchdown receptions last year, has commendably ironed out many of the wrinkles that once plagued his intermittently electrifying game. He is very good on quick slants, which are a staple of this “West Coast spread”-styled passing attack.

Behind Jones, Jarrett Boykin is ready to contribute regularly as the No. 4 receiver. He got 96 snaps in 10 games as an undrafted rookie in 2012 and flashed impressive ball skills to offset his less-than-impressive rawness. His workload will largely be determined by how involved the tight ends are in whatever new designs the Packers have for Cobb.

Though last year the Packers used multi-tight end personnel on just over 25% of their snaps (23rd most in the league), if healty they’re four-deep behind Finley, with Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Ryan Taylor and Matthew Mulligan. But only Quarless, who is battling a thigh injury, is capable of flexing to the slot (where he’s still not much of a mismatch creator). The rest are all more move-oriented H-back types.

McCarthy makes good use of motion blockers. His system is often regarded as wide open, but in reality he strives to be a steady, balanced play-caller—in part because Green Bay’s feeble front line needs the benefit of unpredictability. The ground game has a great array of formations and blocking angle constructions. It’s one of the few in the league that still leans on a fullback (fan favorite John Kuhn, who played about 38% of the snaps last year).

Johnathan Franlin was a part of the Packers' draft-day overhaul at running back.Johnathan Franlin was a part of the Packers’ draft-day overhaul at running back. – (Mike Roemer/AP)

The Packers’ 106 yards rushing per game last season ranked 20th in the NFL. But in actuality their run attack was less stable than that, as just 82 yards per game (seventh fewest in the league) came from tailbacks. With James Starks being too methodical to feature, 2011 third-round pick Alex Green having decent burst but ho-hum instincts in traffic and “starter” DuJuan Harris having the juice to turn the corner but offering nothing special in all other phases, Thompson gave the backfield a makeover on draft night.

He selected Alabama grinder Eddie Lacy in Round 2 and UCLA’s shifty, compact Johnathan Franklin in Round 4. Lacy will get a crack at first- and second-down carries, while Franklin, a lauded pass-catcher, will likely compete with Green, an adept shotgun runner, for third-down duties.

Of course, it wouldn’t matter if the Packers had Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens or even Paul Hornung in the backfield if their offensive line doesn’t block better. Too often this front five, which is already bad in pass protection, fails to generate a push. Thompson also used the draft to address this, selecting tackle David Bakhtiari and guard J.C. Tretter, but not until the fourth round.

Green Bay’s biggest problem has been at tackle, where neither Marshall Newhouse nor Bryan Bulaga are trustworthy in pass pro. The two fourth-year players flipped sides this season so that Bulaga could try his hand at left tackle (the position that, you may recall, was once meant for 2011 first-rounder Derek Sherrod before his horrific leg injury in December of his rookie year). However, Bulaga, a 2010 first-round pick, tore his ACL early in camp (and his season is over before he even made it to preseason week one.)

Newhouse may slide back to the left side at some point, though his slow twitch is a major concern. Another option could be (is for now) the nimble-footed but undersized Bakhtiari. He was reportedly pushing Newhouse at right tackle before Bulaga’s injury). Whoever winds up starting on the edges will have to be given regular aid through play design and protection slides.

Inside, T.J. Lang struggles in one-on-one scenarios, though less at guard than at right tackle. If he starts, it will be at right guard, as sixth-year stalwart Josh Sitton (the lone bright spot up front) is moving to the more dynamic left guard spot. The outlook is bleak between the guards, with callow center Evan Dietrich-Smith being a significant liability in pass protection. The saving grace for Green Bay is a superstar quarterback who is smart and mobile enough to overcome bad blocking. But part of that “overcoming” is Rodgers simply toughing out all 51 of Green Bay’s sacks allowed last year (second-most behind Arizona). That’s probably not a status quo the Packer brass is comfortable with.

DEFENSE

Dom Capers made his name in the early ’90s working with Dick LeBeau in architecting Pittsburgh’s 3-4 zone blitz. But in his four years conducting Green Bay’s defense, Capers has gone with more man coverage concepts behind a multitude of amorphous fronts. Most defensive coordinators would love to play this way, but they don’t have the bevy of man-to-man corners for it.

Capers obviously does.

Tramon Williams is an agile bump-and-run presser. Assuming his bothersome shoulder maintains its recently regained strength, the seventh-year pro can match up to any wide receiver (including superstars Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, with whom Williams always battles hard with safety help over the top). On the other side, another undrafted man, Sam Shields, has become one of the finest downfield boundary defenders in the league. Shields wants a long-term contract after signing his one-year RFA tender. There have reportedly been some negotiations, though Thompson may be reluctant to break the bank for Shields given how impressive 2011 fourth-round pick Davon House was filling in at outside nickel back in eight games last year.

House is capable of being an every-down player in the near future. But for now he’ll remain the No. 4, ahead of fifth-round rookie Micah Hyde and eighth-year utility man Jarrett Bush. He has no chance at being promoted to the No. 3 slot in 2013, as that spot is manned by Casey Hayward, who showed uncanny route anticipation skills and closing speed in intercepting six passes and deflecting 15 more as a second-round rookie last year.

Hayward plays a little more off-coverage than the rest of Green Bay’s corners because Capers loves to mix man concepts outside with zone concepts inside. Many of these concepts can lend freedom but also steep responsibility to safeties Morgan Burnett and M.D. Jennings, who are gradually improving as multidimensional box and space players. Burnett, who is a year younger than Jennings but has been in the league a year longer, is further along in his development; he’ll call a lot of the defensive signals this season.

In recent years, 2-4-5 nickel has been Green Bay’s preeminent package, even against some base offenses. That could change with uniquely skilled box corner Charles Woodson gone. Stylistically, Woodson’s likeliest replacement is run-attacking 2012 fourth-rounder Jerron McMillian. But while he has shown surprising efficacy in a variety of coverage responsibilities, McMillian still has miles to go before the idea of filling Woodson’s perhaps unfillable shoes can even be entertained.

The Packers probably would not have spent a first-round pick on defensive end Datone Jones if they didn’t plan on using more 3-4 fronts. With last year’s thundering second-rounder Jerel Worthy doubtful after January reconstructive knee surgery, Jones will get an opportunity to start ahead of sound-but-unremarkable C.J. Wilson. Jones has the ability to play multiple spots, which fits well with wide-bodied incumbents Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, who play a variety of gap assignments each game.

The Packers have uncharacteristically chosen not to re-up Raji before his contract expires. Instead, they’ll spend 2013 evaluating whether his combination of athletic suddenness and raw power can be deployed with more week-to-week consistency. Talents like Raji are rare, which is why even with Wilson, fifth-round rookie Josh Boyd, 2012 fourth-rounder Mike Daniels and a hopefully rehabilitated Johnny Jolly providing depth up front, the Packers are likely to re-sign their 337-pound dancing bear after the season.

It’s almost sinful to be this far into the defensive section without having mentioned Clay Matthews, whom the Packers gladly re-upped (six years, $69.7 million). The four-year, four-time Pro Bowl defender very well could be the best pure edge-rusher in football, but he’s good for more than just swiftly skimming the corner. Matthews has blossomed into a fine playside run-defender—he has, of course, always had great backside chase ability—and a very effective spy or A-gap blitzer from a hybrid inside position.

Green Bay’s search for a viable threat opposite Matthews finally ceased this past offseason, as the hope is that 2012 first-rounder Nick Perry can acclimate to the pro game after his insipid rookie season ended with a wrist injury in early November. Perry won’t have the luxury of being a situational player this year. He’s slated to start ahead of undrafted second-year man Dezman Moses, a defensive end at Tulane who has shown decent aptitude in space but still doesn’t project as an every-down player. Also on the second string is a slimmed down Mike Neal, who is trying to convert from defensive end.

Rounding out the linebacking corps are inside men A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Hawk, though recently more adroit in coverage, is the epitome of average. Jones moved here from the outside last season, starting the final 10 games after knee injuries felled Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith. The fifth-year pro flashes an innate feel for identifying and attacking run gaps. His awareness in underneath zone coverage is far less refined, but his lateral agility and sideline-to-sideline speed give him a chance to be a viable pass defender once he gets comfortable. The depth behind this potential star consists of fringe filler Rob Francois and untested second-year pro Terrell Manning.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Not many kickers live to talk about the kind of slump Mason Crosby endured last year. Seven of his 11 misses were from 50-plus yards, but they were also the type of misses you generally see in “Win a New Car!” halftime exhibitions. What makes the Packers’ decision to stick with Crosby all the more perplexing is that, counting last season, he has completed more than 80% of his field goals just once in six years. This season he’s being pushed hard by undrafted Giorgio Tavecchio.

Tim Masthay was the only punter in the league last season to have more fair catches (26) than returns (24). Meanwhile, Cobb has given Green Bay a very dangerous return game, but his increased workload on offense will mean fewer reps on special teams.

BOTTOM LINE

Assuming Rodgers can keep overcoming a bad offensive line (which he can), this offense should be top-five again. Defensively, Green Bay’s young depth always seems to get replenished. Even if it doesn’t this season, there is a firm enough reserve of playmakers to fall back on. If the Packers stay healthy, they’re as strong a threat as ever to win the NFC.

Original story HERE

Green Bay @ Rams: A look at who helped themselves

August 18, 2013 by  
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By Rob Demovsky, ESPN.com

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — After Saturday’s 19-7 preseason season win over the St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy reiterated his philosophy when it comes to exhibition games.

“Trust me I want to win every play, every game,” McCarthy said. “We’re a young football team, we’ve got a lot of guys battling to be on our 53, and we’ve got to make sure we create opportunities for those individuals.”

With that in mind, here’s a look at some players who helped themselves against the Rams. (Later today, I’ll take a look at those who hurt themselves).

  • Johnny Jolly: What once looked like it may be a charity case now looks like legitimate help for the defensive line. The Packers took back Jolly after he battled drug addiction, served jail time and a three-year suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. After a slow start to training camp, Jolly showed some of his old form. Although he played only 15 snaps, he made a major impact. He looked like the Jolly of 2009 (his last NFL season) on Saturday night, when he tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage that cornerback Jarrett Bush picked off.

    It was good to see the same old disruptive Johnny Jolly back. He has a decent chance to make this final roster.

    Jolly came up with an interception of his own when he dropped into coverage and came down with a pass deflected by cornerback Loyce Means. Jolly also made a pair of solo tackles, including one for just a 1-yard gain. He might not be in shape yet to play for long stretches, but he might have worked his way onto the roster. “Man, it’s just a matter of continuing to work hard and get better in everything I do and try my best to stick with the plan the coaches give me,” Jolly said after the game. “If I continue to do that, I’ll be fine.”

  • Micah Hyde: The rookie cornerback played more snaps (52) on defense than anyone else and continued to show that technique and instincts can make up for a lack of speed. Although his speed was an issue on the 57-yard completion he allowed to receiver Chris Givens in the first quarter, Hyde also should not have been left in single coverage on that play. It appeared he was expecting help from safety Jerron McMillian. Otherwise, Hyde made a major impact. Playing both outside and in the slot, he broke up a pair of passes, nearly intercepting one of them, had five tackles and a sack. He looked solid in coverage and effective blitzing from the slot. What’s more, he even got a shot at punt return duties, something he has hardly done at all in practice, and looked good on a 13-yard return. “I feel comfortable doing it,” said Hyde, who returned punts in college at Iowa. “The coaches have enough trust to put be back there, I’ll go back there and I’ll try my best doing it.”
  • Eddie Lacy: In his preseason debut, the rookie showed the kind of power running the Packers have lacked in their ground game in recent years. Lacy broke several tackles, showed off the spin move he used so effectively at Alabama and made a strong case for the starting job by rushing for 40 yards on eight carries. He caught one short pass and turned it into an 11-yard gain when he used his spin move to avoid a tackler. What should not go unnoticed from his 17-play stint was his solid pass protection that freed up Aaron Rodgers to hit James Jones on a slant and how the defense reacted to him when Rodgers used a play-action fake and then connected with tight end Jermichael Finley for a 33-yard catch and run. “It’s a starting point,” Lacy said. “I was able to see what I could do out there, and I just want to continue to progress and do better and get more opportunities to be able to contribute.”
  • B.J. Coleman: Just when it looked like Coleman had played his way out of the backup quarterback competition, he outperformed Graham Harrell and Vince Young. Coleman played the entire fourth quarter (23 snaps) and led a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. He capped the drive with a throw on the run for a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 86 yards and a passer rating of 106.6. Although he failed to pick up any first downs in his other two full series, he showed improved poise and accuracy. “He had a couple of plays that he’s going to wish he had back, but I thought he saw pressure from their defense and did a couple of things at the line of scrimmage,” McCarthy said after the game. “(He) needs to settle down a little bit more, but B.J. improved.”
  • Mason Crosby: Two weeks after his abysmal 3-for-8 field goal performance in the team’s scrimmage, Crosby went 3-for-3, including a solidly hit 48-yarder. It was the kind of performance Crosby needed, especially after he didn’t get any chances to kick in the preseason opener against Arizona. This may have helped him gain an edge over challenger Giorgio Tavecchio, who missed a 49-yarder and went 1-for-2. “I’ve just got to build off of that,” Crosby said. “I hit my 48-yarder as well as I wanted to.”

Original story HERE

Fast Eddie: Lacy looks good in Packers’ victory over Rams

August 18, 2013 by  
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By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel

~St. Louis — It was only three series in an exhibition game. Just eight carries and one pass reception in 19 minutes of work.

Brief snapshot or not, running back Eddie Lacy’s presence loomed large on the offense of the Green Bay Packers and the defense of the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night before a crowd of about 40,000 at 66,000-seat Edward Jones Dome.

“I’ve not seen a running back like that in Green Bay since Ahman Green,” an executive in personnel for a National Football League team said. “It’s a scrimmage, but he looked good. He did what I thought he could do.”

Putting together a much stronger overall effort than in their opening shutout loss to Arizona, the Packers evened their record at 1-1 with a 19-7 victory.

After sitting out against the Cardinals with a hamstring injury, Lacy was in and out all week during practice before getting the green light from coach Mike McCarthy.

On the ground, Lacy carried eight times for 40 yards and had another 7-yard run called back by penalty.

He also caught a swing pass in the right flat, made nickel back Trumaine Johnson miss with a beautiful spin move and picked up 11.

Then, when Aaron Rodgers and the No. 1 offense departed, so did Lacy.

Another scout agreed that Lacy gave the Packers their best back since Green, and that included Ryan Grant, who surpassed 950 yards in three straight seasons (2007-’09). In 2010, the Packers reached the playoffs with Brandon Jackson and won the Super Bowl with James Starks.

“I’d say so,” the personnel man said. “He’s a talented back. Mike will give him a lot of opportunities to be successful.”

Lacy made a tackler miss on the right side to gain 7 on his first attempt. Then he ran over rookie safety T.J. McDonald and barged past another tackler on a 15-yard carry.

“He showed the ability to make you miss in the open field and the strength and power to power through you,” one scout said. “Elusive in the open field. Made people miss. Good burst.”

Lacy, a late second-round draft choice, pounded off right guard for a pair of 2-yard gains, then showed speed to the corner for 7 on third and 1. That play was brought back when tight end Jermichael Finley was penalized for holding.

On the Packers’ second possession, Lacy was victimized by poor blocking and suffered a 2-yard loss on third and 1.

This is a hopeful combo for 19 games this season, once the fake games end.

Early in the second quarter, Lacy pounded for 3 off left tackle, made the great move in the flat on Johnson and finished by showing some shake and bake in the clear on the left side for 11.

“They got a steal getting him where they got him,” one scout said. “I thought he was going to go earlier. He’s as advertised.”

McCarthy didn’t emphasize the running game as much as he did against the Cardinals. With Rodgers zipping the ball around for 10 completions in 12 attempts, McCarthy found the exact balance he has been seeking.

“He’ll make Aaron better,” one of the executives said. “The slants will be open.”

The Rams, with a brawny, top-shelf defensive line, had all 11 starters on the field when Lacy was doing his damage.

On the other hand, the Packers played without two of their top three wide receivers, Jordy Nelson (knee) and Randall Cobb (biceps).

“Jordy Nelson is just a solid performer,” one scout said. “Cobb will be back. Finley.

“It’s one of the most talented offenses in the league. All they have to do is protect him (Rodgers). They’ll have to have him get the ball out of his hand because of that (the offensive line).”

Meanwhile, Finley had a tremendous first half, catching four passes for 78 yards.

“They didn’t have the receivers tonight so they took advantage of the tight end,” one scout said. “Looked like he (Finley) bulked up. You could tell in the running game. He’s running as well as I’ve seen him.”

Finley gained 11 yards on a game-opening bootleg, making safety Darian Stewart miss in the left flat.

A play later, Finley broke loose against zone coverage for a 25-yard completion, which led to Mason Crosby’s 34-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

On the next series, Rodgers found Finley for 9 on a quick out before he missed Finley, who was open at the 10 for a possible touchdown on a seam route.

After Finley missed a block against defensive end Robert Quinn and Lacy gained only 2, the value of Lacy was obvious on a second-and-8 play.

From shotgun formation, Rodgers made a fine run fake to Lacy, straightened up and popped the ball to Finley about 8 yards downfield. Again, Finley sprinted diagonally through the secondary and the gain this time was 33.

Finley found some open spaces in St Louis.

It set up another field goal by Crosby, this one of 48 yards.

Rodgers completed 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards. His passer rating of 113.2 was in keeping with his rating of 127.9 in three regular-season games (all victories) against St. Louis.

Watching Rodgers, according to one scout, provides a different dimension than many other games that he has watched this summer.

“He picks guys apart and can be so accurate,” the scout said. “I’m sure they’d have liked him to complete the one in the red zone.”

As impressive as Lacy was, the Packers’ improvement on defense was as notable.

Behind quarterback Sam Bradford, the Rams drove 46 yards on their first possession. On fourth and 5 from the 38, Morgan Burnett tackled rookie Tavon Austin after a gain of 3.

Bradford began his second series with a 57-yard bomb to speedy Chris Givens, who got behind Micah Hyde. But the Packers turned the Rams away on four downs from the 3.

Hyde has been impressive this camp, but his speed was his weakness and it was on display as Givens got past him for 7 yards. Still, the coverage wasn't terrible and it took a perfect pass. But it did happen.

Austin was wide open on first down against Hyde from the 3, but Bradford threw a bad ball. Hyde made a solid tackle to stop Austin after a 1-yard catch.

Isaiah Pead was held to a 1-yard gain when B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews made the tackle. Then Bradford bobbled the center exchange and the Packers converged on him.

Original story HERE

Aaron Rodgers’ ex-receivers continue to take odd potshots at their former quarterback

August 16, 2013 by  
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By Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated

~By any standard, Aaron Rodgers is either the NFL’s best quarterback, or near the top of a very, very short list. His career numbers — a 65.7 percent completion rate, 171 touchdowns, and just 46 interceptions in 78 regular-season starts — tend to boggle the mind. He’s one of the best of all time both in and out of the pocket, and few passers in history can match his deep accuracy. Rodgers is on an absolute Hall of Fame track, and according to most of the people who know him, he’s managed to stay relatively grounded and humble along the way.

So, why is it that Rodgers’ former receivers are taking shots at him? Greg Jennings, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in March after seven years with the Pack, has had all sorts of interesting things to say about the guy who delivered most of his 53 touchdown catches and helped him win a Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.

Aaron Rodgers (center) has gotten flack from former receivers Greg Jennings (85) and Donald Driver (80). (Robert Beck/SI)

“I need to go back to my college days where the quarterback wasn’t just viewed as oh-so-great and still prove that I can be successful.” Jennings said in July. “A lot of times when you have a guy who creates that spotlight for himself and establishes that and takes a lot of that, it becomes so-and-so and the team,” he said. “It should always be the team … Don’t get me wrong, ‘12’ is a great person. But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says ‘Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”

Well, if Jennings wants to prove that he doesn’t need a top-five quarterback to succeed, catching passes from Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel in Minnesota will certainly take care of that. But implying that Rodgers doesn’t account for his own mistakes, or somehow throws his receivers under the bus? You don’t see Rodgers do that publicly, though I’m sure he — like most NFL quarterbacks — will let a guy know after a while if ball security is an issue.

“People taking shots at me who aren’t relevant to this team and to this locker room doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Rodgers recently told The MMQB’s Peter King. “Those comments do wash over with me without a reaction, because they don’t matter.”

Donald Driver, who played for the Packers from 1999 through ’12 and retired in February, had this to say about Rodgers when asked on ESPN Radio Thursday morning:

“We’ve always said that the quarterback is the one that needs to take the pressure off everyone else. If a guy runs the wrong route, it’s easy for the quarterback to say, ‘Hey, I told him to run that route’ than for the guy to be like, ‘Well, I ran the wrong route.’ Sometimes you ask Aaron to take the pressure off the guys so we won’t look bad, but he didn’t want to do that. He felt like if you did something bad, you do it. But I think that’s the difference. You want that leadership, and I think sometimes you may not feel like you got it. You have to earn that respect at the end of the day, and I think that’s what Greg was probably referring to.

Jennings sent a fast ball, or a few of them, towards Rodgers' chin. Now it would seem Driver added a soft, curve ball towards Rodgers as well.

“He’s a nice guy. I think that’s what you have to respect. I played with him five years so I was able to experience everything he went through. I saw when he first got drafted, he came in with a chip on his shoulder in that draft, and it shouldn’t have been Alex Smith [taken No. 1 overall]. That’s the way the guy is. I’ve always told Aaron, ‘Don’t forget where you come from because the people are the ones who put you on that pedestal. You didn’t put yourself there.’ I think that’s what we learning now. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, I think he’s a great guy. I’m friends with Aaron.”

Friendly, but with an edge. Do Rodgers’ receivers have an issue with him? It seems like a legitimate question at this point, though there have been no public issues thus far — certainly none to this degree.

Driver went to his Facebook page to try to clarify his comments.

“Out [of] my 15 interviews talking about Target donating $5,000,000 to education, it is interesting that only 1 or 2 random quotes become a big deal,” Driver (or someone representing Driver) wrote. “I predicted a Super Bowl for the Packers in 10 or so interviews, and that starts with Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history!”

When Rodgers was talking to King, he summed up his process as a team leader, which is a pretty good way to wrap up this entire subject.

“I take it really seriously. It’s important to me. I look for my opportunities, not trying to go outside of my genuine realm, because leadership has to be genuine and authentic. I might pull a receiver aside and give him a little tidbit in the locker room, in the lunchroom. I think you need to be intentional at times about your leadership — where you’re eating lunch, who you’re interacting with, making guys feel like you’re interested in what they’re doing. If it’s authentic, then it’s going to be an easy conversation and easy hangout time. Nicknames and inside jokes go a long way with players, especially guys that maybe aren’t on your side of the ball. Like, I just found out that Andy Mulumba, our new outside backer [full name Andy Leon Mulumba Kabaluapa; he was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] — one of his names means ‘King of the Village’ and the other one means, ‘You’re Not Welcome Here.’ Instead of calling him You’re Not Welcome Here, I’ve been calling him King of the Village.

I want to be the best. I want to be counted on by my teammates. I want to be counted on by this organization and the fans. I want to be someone they know is going to bring it every single week. I prepare to be the best. I train in the offseason to be the best. I take it very seriously, and I’ve still got a long way to go.”

Sounds like a leader to us. Do leaders occasionally rub people the wrong way? Only if they’re doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.

Full story HERE

Packers would be wise to keep Lacy on the sideline for now

August 15, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — If Eddie Lacy doesn’t carry once during the exhibition season, the Green Bay Packers still will have learned about all they need to know about how good their rookie running back can be.

In fact, maybe it would be better for them if he didn’t play so they could spring him on the San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 8, the way the 49ers sprung quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option scheme on the Packers in January.

“I don’t think we need to hide him,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said with a smile. “If he gets a chance to go out this week or next week, whenever it comes, we want to see him do it live.”

After sitting out pretty much an entire week with a hamstring injury, Lacy was given a limited amount of snaps in pads Wednesday morning, including a handful during the competitive team drills. Other than a bit of individual work the day before, Lacy had been a spectator since Aug. 7.

Eight practices and the scrimmage accounted for his body of work this summer, yet when he returned to the fold Wednesday and broke off a long run on his first carry, it came as no surprise to his coaches. He showed the same natural running instinct he had in the intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 3, when he carried eight times for 65 yards.

“The offensive line did a great job you know, and I took the right track, the track the coaches teach us to take and I brought the linebackers right to the offensive linemen blocking,” Lacy said in describing his practice run. “I was able to make a cut and get vertical at the same time.”

His account of that run explains why Lacy has the potential to be everything the Packers hoped. And it’s the reason he has flashed far more than fourth-round running back Johnathan Franklin despite fewer training camp snaps.

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound-plus Lacy runs like he was born to be in coach Mike McCarthy’s offense.

There’s a chance Lacy will be held out of the second exhibition game Saturday night at St. Louis, delaying his NFL debut another week. But to say that would be a setback would be a gross overstatement because Lacy already has shown what kind of potential he has in this offense.

Plays like the one Wednesday happen because Lacy knows where to go, how fast he needs to get there and when to hit the gas. Those are things that aren’t coming as quickly for Franklin, UCLA’s all-time leading rusher and a solid long-term prospect.

“He’s a patient runner,” Van Pelt said of Lacy. “But once that decision has been made, it’s north and south. That’s the strong point of him. You rarely see him make a bad read in the running game. It’s just a natural thing as a runner.

“He’s always on track, he’s always making the right reads and anticipates where the hole is going to be.”

Lacy said he got through practice Wednesday without his hamstring tightening up, but he also was cautious about how hard he pushed it and attentive to any messages the injury was sending. The decision on whether he will play against the Rams inside the Edward Jones Dome will be left to the medical staff.

The Packers’ third game is Aug. 23 against Seattle at Lambeau Field.

Van Pelt said that before Lacy got hurt he had the second-most practice reps of any back except Franklin, and much is already known about the Alabama product. What the Packers saw in the scrimmage was an extension of the things he had started to do a few days earlier.

On his three big runs inside Lambeau Field, Lacy set up his blocks with either hesitation at the line of scrimmage or acceleration into the hole. He seems to have a good gauge as to how fast the defense is flowing in his direction and when his block will arrive.

He waited patiently for fullback Jonathan Amosa to block a linebacker on one of the runs and cut back right on the tails of guard Don Barclay and center Evan Dietrich-Smith on another. At 230-some pounds, if he gets past the first block, chances are he’s going to gain more than 4 yards.

Some people think Lacy benefited from a great offensive line at Alabama, and he probably did, but there are those like Van Pelt who saw him also set up some of those blocks and time his runs so that they were 10- to 12-yard gains instead of 3 to 4.

“He’s a very natural runner, very instinctive,” Van Pelt said. “He has a great feel when to cut and what cut to make. It seems like he feels the flow of the defense and knows where the hole is going to be and anticipates it well and sets up his blockers.

“There aren’t a lot of wasted steps. He sees it, he puts his foot in the ground and gets north and south.”

It helps that Lacy ran a lot of the inside and outside zone at Alabama. Franklin ran some of that at UCLA, but he was given more latitude to use his quick feet and bounce around looking for holes.

The Packers don’t want that. They want Franklin to follow the path that is drawn for him, stay behind his blocks and then take off when the time is right.

Franklin carried six times for 14 yards against Arizona last week and seven times for 17 yards in the scrimmage. With DuJuan Harris returning this week and James Starks having a solid camp, Franklin’s best hope for being active during the regular season is probably as a third-down back or returner.

The Packers will be able to keep only so many backs on the 45-man game-day roster and Franklin will be fighting for one of those spots.

In the meantime, the Packers will try to get their running game going against an improved Rams defense. They would love to see Lacy take part, but if he doesn’t, they’re pretty confident they know what they have.

Original story HERE

Packers’ Ryan Pickett is ultimate team player

August 8, 2013 by  
Filed under News

From Lori Nickel, JSOnline

~Green Bay – How many 32-year-old, 340-pound defensive linemen have their best season in their 11th year?

And then how many of them spend their off-days teaching third-grade math at the kitchen table?

Ryan Pickett feels a little more comfortable locking horns with centers and guards, but he enjoys both roles proudly. He leads the Green Bay Packers defensive linemen in tackles, but perhaps what’s so remarkable is not that coach Mike McCarthy proclaimed that Pickett is having his finest year as a Packer.

It’s that Pickett finds a way to balance practice, film study, games and travel with his huge – and growing – family.

Meet the Picketts.

Beautiful Family: I have not seen a more beautiful family than this!

Abigail, 6, is a little actress. She does not take after her quiet and reserved father. She’s more like her mom. “She will talk all day,” Pickett said.

Ryan Jr., 4, isn’t hooked on “Blues Clues” or “Sesame Street” – but he watches his superhero, No. 79, every day.

“We have to take the remote from him. He watches the Super Bowl over and over,” Pickett said. “He will watch it 100 times. I can’t take it anymore. I’m like, ‘Listen, we got to watch something else.’ ”

Lydia, 3, is an animal lover. She holds onto the dog and does not let it go. Turn your head for a second while she’s in the backyard and she’ll come back with night crawlers wiggling in her little hands.

Caleb is 6 months old and the spitting image of Pickett, whose apple cheeks and easy smile can’t be contained under a football helmet.

Esther, 7, is like a little mom to all of them.

“She tries to take care of all of them,” Pickett said. “She tries to feed them, get them dressed – she really looks after her other siblings.”

That’s five kids under the age of 7, and Pickett’s wife, Jennifer, just found out they’re expecting again, he thinks sometime in September.

Pickett loves to come home to a doorway packed with kids begging him to play. He takes the three oldest with him when he goes golfing in the San Diego area, where he makes his off-season home (not far from quarterback Aaron Rodgers). They all clamor for the steering wheel. “It’s an. . . adventure,” Pickett said.

And although he hates it, he’s also the disciplinarian.

“It’s hard, but I have to,” Pickett said. “We make sure they listen the first time you say something. You have to because we have so many! To have the house out of control, it wouldn’t be good.”

But when Jennifer decided to home-school all of the kids in Green Bay, it also meant a commitment from her husband; she couldn’t do this alone.

“On my off-days, I have to teach,” Pickett said.

So Pickett shows the little ones how to hold a pencil and the middle ones how to spell and his oldest where to put the decimal point.

“Right now my oldest is in second grade, but she’s doing third-grade math – and I’m like, this is what third-graders do in math?” Pickett said. “Oh my goodness, I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to help her.”

It would be understandable if Pickett lost his focus sometimes, but his family appears to give him a balance.

Pickett crushes Ray Rice a few years ago. They will meet again in Baltimore on October 13th.

The lockout after Super Bowl XLV gave him a break he really needed, he said, to get away. So he spent time with his family. He also got healthy and rested and worked with a personal trainer – something he doesn’t do normally.

When he came back to Green Bay and fully participated in training camp – rare for a veteran, rarer for a veteran lineman – that greatly impressed his position coach, Mike Trgovac.

“I’ve seen so many guys eat themselves out of this league,” Trgovac said.

“I’ve seen so many big guys, when they get around that ninth, 10th, 11th year, they keep adding weight, and it takes a toll so much on their body. They get hurt. You see a lot of older guys at the end of their career that they can’t make a 16-game season.

“That didn’t happen to him because he took the advice that the weight staff gave to him that the older you get, the harder it is going to get to lose it. And the harder it is going to be to play like that.

“I think Pick has done a fantastic job of managing his weight.”

Pickett leads the defensive line with 51 tackles (23 solo) this season, but tackles never tell the complete story of how well a guy is playing. With Pickett it starts with remarkable durability.

He has played in 161 of a possible 175 regular-season games during his career, missing just nine contests due to injury.

“Man, I don’t know what it is. Well, I know, it’s God,” Pickett said. “I just feel blessed to be able to play this long, really. The thing is, I feel great. It’s weird.

“I’m waiting to hit this wall: ‘OK, I’m over 30, my body is going to start feeling awful.’ But I’m in shape this year and my body feels excellent.”

Pickett has played hurt, through ankle and shoulder issues, but this year he’s enjoyed a full season without those problems.

“Pick is a pretty limber guy. That helps. He’s not stiff,” Trgovac said. “In the front, you get yourself in some bad positions. Knees get bent and stuff. He’s naturally a limber guy; if you have a stiffer guy, as you get older, obviously you get stiffer. That hasn’t happened yet.”

Coaches also say Pickett had a great command of the 3-4 defense now that he’s had three years in it. But they helped him out a little, too.

“We moved him a little closer to the ball,” Trgovac said. “The year before, there were times where he was out there on the end. Pick did that not being a selfish guy. Now in most of our defenses he’s at least a three-technique. That means on the outside he’s at least a shade on the guard. And he’s more comfortable on the inside. That’s really what he is.”

Pickett’s experience overall is paying off this season, both for him and for his teammates.

Pickett celebrated the NFC Championship win over Chicago with Donald Driver. These are two pure classy players and men. Pure, not frauds, like one recent castaway.

“He’s mastered the nose tackle, the shade front,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “I’m man enough to admit it – the Chicago game, I had a little trouble with some of the things. I haven’t had the experience. Pick has had over 1,000 snaps at that position. There’s little nuances that he can pick up, like pre-snap, that I’m still trying to get him to help me with. Ultimately you can count on him. He’s a great asset to the team.”

Added Trgovac: “Pick’s about the finest human being I’ve ever been around. He really cares about being a Packer, he really cares about this defense.”

Pickett was on the phone last week checking in on former teammate Johnny Jolly, who was suspended from the National Football League after multiple drug arrests and then sentenced to six years in prison. It wasn’t long ago – just 2009 – when Jolly, Pickett and Cullen Jenkins led the Packers to a No. 1 ranking in rushing defense with a franchise-low 83.3 yards allowed per game. It was the first time Green Bay led the league in that category.

“I was telling him like, ‘Man, I’m the last one. . . here,’ ” Pickett said.

Who would have ever imagined that? Pickett and Charles Woodson are still general manager Ted Thompson’s two greatest free-agent signings – from all the way back in 2006. Pickett has had a great run the past six years, and he’s here partly because his wife was taken with Green Bay almost instantly.

The couple is a team of its own. Through Acts 1:8 Ministry, they’ve built 50 water towers for Uganda. Though he’s never been there, Pickett knows about the struggles of that country and decided he wanted to help, somehow. At Jennifer’s suggestion, he donated money to build the towers so that villages can collect their own rainwater, treat it and store it in towers, saving people from walking for miles to collect water that ends up being dirty and unhealthy.

Ryan celebrates the Super Bowl title with his son. Pickett has been a great and rare free agent addition from Ted Thompson. He and Charles Woodson were brought in from St Louis and Oakland respectively. Both were former first-round picks who had fallen out of favor.

Pickett also joined quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jon Kitna in an anti-pornography video message that was broadcast to 300 churches last Super Bowl Sunday. That’s not exactly a cause you see a lot of professional athletes take up, but Pickett, who is considered a great locker room guy and never uses his interviews or his own beliefs to push any agenda, decided it was a good message.

“It’s not me being judgmental – I’m just giving another point of view, another perspective,” Pickett said. “It was just pro-family. ‘OK, here’s another alternative: How about spending time with your family? Or only having eyes for your wife.’ That was the message.”

And now he and the Packers are pursuing a second Super Bowl championship while he’s playing his best football in six years in Green Bay. But this season also reminded Pickett that nothing is promised in life. He and Jennifer are devastated over the news of the death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son Michael.

“We are literally praying for them,” Jennifer said.

Ryan also had two recent concussions that scared Jennifer more than himself, sending her to the Internet to look up head injuries.

“She wants me up and running around, playing with kids,” Pickett said. “You know what, when my body starts feeling bad, I’m hanging it up. My wife talks about it all the time. I feel great. But whenever I stop feeling great, I’m just gonna walk away.

“I just know I am truly blessed. I don’t want to be a guy just happy to be here. I want to be a guy that’s dependable. Available. Consistent. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m still here.”

Original story HERE

Bryan Bulaga injury could cripple the Packers

August 5, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Chris Burke, CNNSI

~The Green Bay Packers, understandably, were not satisfied with Marshall Newhouse’s performance as their starting left tackle in 2012. So, they flip-flopped Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga in preparation for 2013, with Bulaga taking up residence on Aaron Rodgers’ blindside.

Those plans may have gone out the window on Saturday night.

According to The Journal Sentinel‘s Bob McGinn, Bulaga suffered a knee injury during the Packers’ intra-squad scrimmage, one which had the team “hoping for the best while fearing the worst.” The Packers’ concerns apparently were well-founded: Pro Football Talk reported that Bulaga tore his ACL during the scrimmage, an injury which would sideline him for the season.

Here's the play in which Bulaga tore his ACL and had his season end. Give him points for continuing to play. He's tough. Unfortunately, his knee, hip, especially the ACL, aren't as tough as he is. Photo from JSOnline.

With just a month until the regular season and the free-agent tackle market picked mostly dry, the Packers could have a serious problem. The obvious move would be to slide Newhouse back to the left side, where he allowed nine sacks and a team-high 33 hurries during the 2012 regular season.

A desirable option, that is not. But Green Bay also does not have much of a Plan B. The other tackles in play for roster spots include rookie David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay. Neither is particularly fit for a starting left tackle job, though Barclay started on the right in Bulaga’s absence last season.

2011 first round pick Sherrod hasn't seen the field since Marshall Newhouse got his leg broken in two places in December of that year. As I said then, that's a career-killing injury and he will never ever be the same. Back to back first round OT picks by Thompson should have given Rodgers and the RB's a good OL, instead of this patchwork subpar one.

Derek Sherrod, another possibility, has not played since breaking his tibia and fibula during the 2011 season.

This is a headache the Packers did not need. Rodgers was sacked more times (51) than any other QB in the league last season, problematic both because of how much that stat hamstrung the offense and because losing Rodgers to injury likely would be a crippling blow to the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes. Green Bay also wanted to churn out more yardage on the ground this season, with rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin arriving. An in-flux or overmatched offensive line, obviously, would limit those opportunities.

Again, give Bulaga points for being tough, but his body and parts aren't as strong.

GM Ted Thompson opted to mostly bypass any upgrades on his O-line this offseason, adding only Bakhtiari and a host of undrafted free agents. (The Packers also hope to get Sherrod and J.C. Tretter back from the PUP list, at some point.)

That decision may be backfiring already.

The Packers did win the division last year, despite Bulaga missing seven games with a fractured hip. Rodgers still completed 67 percent of his passes and threw for nearly 4,300 yards in 2012, too, despite the loss of his starting right tackle.

There’s still no sugar coating how massive a loss this could be for the Packers, especially in a division featuring pass-rushing ends like Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and rookie Ziggy Ansah. Even with Bulaga and Newhouse both entrenched on the left and right sides, respectively, Rodgers was certain to feel some heat.

Now the Packers have to figure out exactly how to move forward, if Bulaga is indeed done for the year.

How ticked off must Bulaga, McCarthy, Campen, Thompson, Rodgers be?

They deemed Newhouse unreliable at left tackle. Putting him back there would be a gamble, to say the least.

Original story HERE

Packers hope Bakhtiari is the answer at LT

August 5, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Doug Farrar, CNNSI

~Of all the season-ending injuries that have happened in NFL training camps so far this year, it’s relatively easy to argue that the loss of Green Bay Packers left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a torn ACL is among the most devastating. No NFL quarterback was sacked more than Aaron Rodgers last season (51 times), and while Rodgers does hold onto the ball too long at times, 2012 left tackle Marshall Newhouse didn’t help matters by allowing 9.5 sacks, 11.5 hits and hurries, and racking up 22 total blown blocks. Newhouse was smartly moved to the right tackle spot for the 2013 campaign – but what were the Packers to do about their obvious pass-protection issues?

Enter fourth-round rookie David Bakhtiari from Colorado, who was lining up behind Bulaga on the left side in training camp. The Packers also decided to move right guard Josh Sitton, their best overall offensive lineman, to the left side to help protect Rodgers’ blind side, and Bakhtiari could very well be the beneficiary of that move.

So far in practices, Bakhtiari has impressed Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy with his quick feet and aggressive temperament. “He’s got a ways to go, but he’s got a chance,” is how Rodgers recently put it, and that’s very astute. While there are things to be ironed out in his overall game – especially when it comes to pass protection – there’s no question that Bakhtiari comes to ring people up.

“The first day I did go against him and he rolled me back about 6 yards,” defensive end Mike Daniels told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about Bakhtiari’s drive-blocking. “He’s a long guy. Strong kid. You can tell he’s been well-coached. He reminds me of Sitton. He’s got that real nice, cool personality, but when he gets on the field he turns into a psychopath.”

David Bahktiari vs USC

As Greg Cosell of NFL Films and ESPN’s NFL Matchup recently told me, Bakhtiari plays shorter than he is – he’s 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, but he comes off the ball like a 6-foot-2 guy, because he tends to bend at the waist at times. However, I would also say that he plays heavier than he is – because he has an excellent understanding of leverage, he’s able to move people in ways you’d expect of a man 25 pounds heavier.

So, what are the Packers getting as their starting left tackle out of necessity? Let’s go to the tape.

Pros: Bakhtiari possesses a wide frame with a strong upper body and big legs. He understands how to use power in in-line situations. He will get his hands under his opponent’s pads and lock on very well, driving the defender back. Has a nasty demeanor (in a good way) and will follow his man to the conclusion of the play. Enjoys the power side of the game – that much is clearly evident. Intelligent enough to read twists and stunts and will hand off in zone schemes at the line. Excels in slide protection when he’s able to get some momentum rolling to either side. Pinches inside with authority in run-blocking situations. Has the strength to maul defenders – can push them where he wants them to go in order to open rushing lanes. As long as he can keep his feet to the target, Bakhtiari can overcome technical lapses due to his outstanding functional strength.

Cons: At this point in his career, Bakhtiari isn’t what I would call a functional blocker in space – he tends to over-run plays at the second level and will lose defenders when he’s supposed to clamp them off away from the line. In pass protection, Bakhtiari’s kick-slide is a work in progress; he’s a bit herky-jerky and needs to be smoother as he’s dropping back to handle speed rushers all the way through his arc. As a result, he will lose quicker pass-rushers on the back end of the pocket. Has the speed and agility to pull, but he occasionally gets lost in the wash. In general, he needs to be more directed with his efforts and more compact in his technique. Shows some vulnerability to foot-fakes and inside counters. Will let defenders off the hook after initial contact when he gets sloppy with his hands. Has a tendency to hold when he should maintain a hand-strike to keep opponents at bay as they re-direct.

David Bahktiari Interview

Conclusion: Right now, Bakhtiari has an armload of athletic potential, and a need to put the finer points of the game together. It’s easy to see why McCarthy and Rodgers are impressed with him, though. While he does appear to have some limitations regarding second-level acceleration and re-direction ability, he’s a tough, ballsy, high-effort player with enough on the ball to make an impact on teammates at any level. As it was with Solder, Bakhtiari will benefit enormously from an NFL conditioning program, and the kind of coaching one only gets at this level. I believe he has the athletic temperament to surprise early on, and he may turn into a fourth-round steal sooner than anyone expected.

NFL Comparison: David Stewart, Tennessee Titans

Original story HERE

Mason Crosby running out of excuses

August 4, 2013 by  
Filed under News

By Mike Vandermause, Green Bay Press Gazette

~GREEN BAY – After a shaky performance at Family Night on Saturday at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers place-kicker Mason Crosby could be in danger of losing his job.

Crosby made just 3-of-8 field goals during the scrimmage in front of 63,047 fans, while the man gunning for his job, first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, made 6-of-7.

It’s still early in training camp, but Crosby’s performance is giving the Packers serious concern.

“He’s definitely got to do better than that, because that’s not going to cut it,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Crosby would have been cut long ago by most teams in the NFL.

Crosby, who is entering his seventh season, missed a 48-yard field goal attempt that bounced off the right upright early in the scrimmage, then came back to make a 40-yarder.

But the scrimmage ended with each kicker getting six tries from various distances, and Crosby made just 2-of-6 attempts, which drew some boos from the crowd.

“Just obviously disappointed with how I hit it,” said Crosby in the locker room after the scrimmage. “Obviously going to have some film to look at and evaluate.”

Crosby missed from 37, wide right from 53, wide right from 33 and wide left from 43 yards. He made kicks from 47 and 51 yards.

Crosby said he struck the ball well but took some bad lines in his aim.

“A couple of them I obviously misjudged,” he said.

When asked if he was concerned about his job status, Crosby said: “No, I’ve been hitting the ball well. Obviously extremely disappointed with how I hit it tonight. Have to evaluate that and break it down. I can’t think about things like that. I just have to go and actually work on things, make sure I hit the ball through the uprights. That’s all I can really worry about and focus on right now.”

Tavecchio made a 33-yard field goal early in the scrimmage, then hit 5-of-6 at the end. He made kicks from 37, 53, 33, 43 and 51 yards. His only miss came from 47 yards.

Going into Saturday, Crosby had made 9 of 11 field goal attempts in training camp and Tavecchio 10 of 12. Overall, Tavecchio has converted 16 of 19 field goals, while Crosby is 12 of 19.

Tavecchio wasn’t ready to claim he had taken the lead in the Packers’ kicking competition.

“I really couldn’t say,” Tavecchio said. “As I’ve always said, I take it one day at a time. I felt like I had a decent day out there.

“The fans were great. The atmosphere was really one and only out there. I appreciate the experience, (will) learn from it and keep moving on.”

Although they’re battling for a job, Tavecchio said he felt bad for Crosby.

“I feel for him,” said Tavecchio. “He’s a fellow kicker and I thought he struck the ball well tonight. I think he struck the ball better than I did, but the results don’t show that, and that’s the frustrating part as a kicker.”

Tavecchio’s 53-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over. His performance impressed McCarthy.

“Giorgio’s distance definitely has improved since the spring,” said McCarthy. “I think he’s done a very good job of that. I thought he hit a couple nice kickoffs too, particularly with the height.”

Tavecchio attempted two kickoffs during the scrimmage, putting one at the goal-line with 4.2 seconds of hang time and another at the back of the end zone with 3.7 hang time.

Crosby kicked off three times, with two of them going 8 yards deep in the end zone with 4.0 seconds and 3.8 seconds of hang time. His put his other kickoff at the 2-yard line (4.0 hang time).

Crosby had his worst season as a kicker in 2012 when he made just 64% of his field goal attempts, but he said there has been no carry-over into training camp this season.

For awhile now, Packer fans have been holding their breath anytime Crosby attempts a field goal over 30 yards.

“I’m way past that,” Crosby said of last season. “I’m just going and working on things. Tonight I didn’t hit the ball the way I wanted to. I didn’t hit it on the lines I wanted to. I had great lift, hit some good balls, just picked some bad lines. That’s something I really need to work on.”

Full story HERE

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