By Aron Yohannes from TMJ4 Sports, June 8th, 2014
~GREEN BAY – Casey Hayward quietly took the NFL by storm during his rookie season in 2012. He performed better than some expected with six interceptions while playing behind a veteran cornerback in Tramon Williams and alongside a young explosive defensive back in Sam Shields.
In 2013, though, Hayward only played in three games and was placed on injured reserved back in November due to a vicious and troublesome hamstring injury that first emerged in July of last year while working out by himself.
It plagued him throughout the year and practically wasted his sophomore season. While recovering and building his body back, Shields got paid and received a glorious new contract this offseason, and the Packers used their first-round pick on top-rated safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama. Those attractions furthermore tossed the forgotten Hayward back under shelf from the eyes of the national spotlight.
Now Hayward is back to where he wants to be physically during his impressive rookie year. And all of the time off he had might have been beneficial in helping him become a better player on the field.
“I definitely learned,” Hayward said at his locker during the start of week two of organized team activities. “I was able to critique these guys game and was able to critique myself. I was able to watch film on myself the year before trying to get myself mentally prepared for the next year. I was like, ‘OK, I know I’m not playing this year, what can I do to help the team?’. And that’s what I was trying to do. Find ways that I can help the team and I think I was doing that.”
“I feel good right now, like I said, coming off the injury I was taking it day-by-day.” Hayward added. “But mentally I became stronger and I think I became a better player just off the field watching film and studying all of the players and everything.”
“This offseason really helped me out,” the cornerback explained. “I was able to rest my hamstring and strengthen it at the same time instead of trying to be able to run on it still trying to do all of these things at the same time. So I think the big key was a lot of rest for me.”
Hayward played in every game as rookie, making seven starts. With Shields locked up for the foreseeable future, and Williams now heading into a contract year, it’ll be important for the third year cornerback from Vanderbilt to make up for lost time, with the chance to possibly replace Williams, who may not restructure his current deal. Williams will be 32 next offseason when he’s an unrestricted free agent.
Even though Hayward mostly played in the slot, head coach in Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers know what he can bring. He’s prepared to bounce back after his injury-plagued 2013.
“I’m definitely excited to go in,” Hayward said. “I don’t know the specifics of the roles right now, but right now I’m playing inside and outside so, I’m definitely trying to get better and better each day. If the role is me playing outside or inside, I think coach Capers knows, McCarthy knows, the type of player I am so whenever my opportunity comes, my number is called I’m going to be able to make plays for the team.”
Even though his NFL career has been brief, the injury Hayward originally suffered last July can arguably be considered the most frustrating part of his journey in the league. All of the frustration he dealt with did teach him a valuable lesson:
“You can play with broken bones, but you can’t play with poor ligaments. That’s what you need, especially in your leg. So, dealing with a hamstring, it was hard on me,”
Along with adding Clinton-Dix through the draft, the Packers also brought in veteran pass-rusher and former division foe Julius Peppers.
“He looks like he needs to be in the NBA,” Hayward said of Peppers. “He’s like Lebron’s size. Hopefully he brings a lot of excitement to this team, make a lot of plays for us, help us out in the backend, get a couple of hands on the ball.”
The addition of Peppers very much excites Hayward, and his presence is going to help add pressure to opposing offenses, basically forcing them to do the things like “Get the quarterback to throw the ball earlier.”
Throwing the ball earlier equals more interceptions for a guy who’s pretty good at grabbing them out the air.
Original story HERE
Written by Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
~June 7th, 2014
GREEN BAY – Datone Jones knows he didn’t quite meet the lofty expectations associated with being a first-round draft pick during his rookie season.
Through the first week of training camp, it looked like the Packers had a 6-foot-4, 285-pound immediate difference-maker on their hands, but an ankle injury plagued Jones for most of the season.
He played in all 16 regular-season games, but was mostly relegated to being an inside pass rusher in the Packers’ dime sub-package. His 3½ sacks were second-most on the defensive line, but still no what most expected.
Jones said veterans B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett played a large role in keeping his head up during the rough spots. Like Jones, Raji was hampered during most of his own rookie season in 2009 with a lingering ankle injury.
“I didn’t come out with 30 sacks like everybody expected,” Jones said. “I felt like I finished strong. I felt like a lot of guys don’t come into the NFL hot. Most guys, even a lot of legends across the NFL, you look at their numbers and what they did the first year. It’s not amazing but it’s about what they do the following year. How did they get better?
“That’s all who I am. I had a chance to go look at the film from last year and every day I come out making sure I’m progressing every day. Making sure I’m getting after it.”
Jones stayed in Green Bay this offseason and worked out at Lambeau Field. The native Californian jokingly added he considers himself a “Wisconsinite” these days after enduring a Wisconsin winter.
There is precedent for defensive linemen who have made large strides in their second season in Green Bay. Raji had his best season in 2010 with 6½ sacks and Mike Daniels did the same this past season.
Although Pickett and veteran Johnny Jolly have yet to be re-signed, Jones has been picking the brain of newly signed defensive end Julius Peppers and is energized by the changes the Packers have made to the defensive scheme.
Now that he’s feeling healthy again, Jones is motivated to show he belongs.
“I’m going to give you everything I got and that’s who Datone Jones is,” Jones said. “I gave it my all last year. I left it all on the field. You can’t really look back to last year anymore. What happened in the past is done. Now all I can do is progress every day so I can reach my goals to make myself happy and not be nervous.”
Original story HERE
By Greg Matzek, June 6th, 2014
~GREEN BAY – As the Green Bay Packers work through the OTA portion of their off-season schedule, the folks at Pro Football Focus have used a variety of criteria to break down the starting talent-level of each roster in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers roster is the eighth most talented in the league.
Ahead of the Packers (in order) are: the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals.
The focus of the roster evaluation was players who start on offense and defense. Players were categorized as being elite, high quality, good starter, average starter, below average starter, poor starter, not enough information, and rookie.
After applying their criteria, PFF determined the Packers have three elite starters on their team. Below is the breakdown.
ELITE (3): QB Aaron Rodgers, G Josh Sitton, LB Clay Matthews
HIGH QUALITY (2): RB Eddie Lacy, WR Jordy Nelson
GOOD STARTER (6): FB John Kuhn, WR Randall Cobb, G TJ Lang, CB Sam Shields, CB Casey Hayward, DL Mike Daniels
AVERAGE STARTER (7): WR Jarrett Boykin, RT Bryan Bulaga, DE/LB Julius Peppers, OLB Nick Perry, ILB Brad Jones, CB Tramon Williams, SS Morgan Burnett
BELOW AVERAGE (4): TE Andrew Quarless, LT David Bakhtiari, ILB AJ Hawk, NT BJ Raji
NOT ENOUGH INFO (1): C JC Tretter
ROOKIE (1): S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
In their “By the Numbers” section of analysis, it reads:
“The team (Packers) has almost as many projected blue-chip starters (three, 12.5 percent) as it does below average (four, 16.7 percent), but it is the average players who may dictate the ceiling for this team. Seven projected starters (29.2 percent) grade out as average at this time, and whether those players outperform or under perform that designation will likely determine how good this team becomes.”
For what it’s worth, the Packers are determined to have the most talented starters of any team in the NFC North division.
The Detroit Loins rank 11 on the list, the Chicago Bears are 15 and the Minnesota Vikings rank 29.
Full story HERE
From DON BANKS at Sports Illustrated
~The Packers’ recent signing of baggage-laden tight end Colt Lyerla struck some as an out-of-character move for Green Bay, which doesn’t routinely take chances on players who enter the NFL with the bevy of red flags featured by the talented but troubled former Oregon Duck. But viewed from another perspective, the Packers’ risky redemption project does fit a certain pattern, given Green Bay’s well-known penchant for successfully mining the undrafted collegiate free agent ranks, as well as compiling a strong track record in the later rounds of the draft.
On an annual basis, the Packers’ personnel department is one of the league’s most adept at finding players, and the team’s roster tends to reflect an organizational willingness to gamble on talent that arrives in Green Bay with less than a perfect pedigree. Lyerla is just the latest example of that trend, albeit pushing the boundaries of where the Packers are usually comfortable to go on the character issue front.
• In each of the past four seasons, the Packers’ 53-man Week 1 roster has featured at least three undrafted free agents, with a total of 13 players winning their long-shot bids to make the cut in that four-year span of 2010-13 — cornerback Sam Shields (’10), safety M.D. Jennings (’11) and receiver Jarrett Boykin (’12) among them.
According to the Packers, that’s tied for third-most in the league in that period, trailing only two perennial losing clubs in St. Louis (17) and Cleveland (16). By contrast, Green Bay has made the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, best in the NFC and tied with New England for the league’s longest such streak.
• At the end of last year’s injury-marred season in Green Bay, 27 of the players on the Packers’ 53-man roster (more than half) came to the team either as a sixth- or seventh-round pick, or via the undrafted route. Twenty of those were undrafted. All told, 69 of the 90 players who went to training camp last year with Green Bay wound up appearing somewhere on an NFL regular-season roster at some point during 2013, according to the Packers.
• According to a chart assembled and distributed this spring to potential 2014 collegiate free agents and their agents by the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, Seattle ranked first last preseason in giving playing time to undrafted rookies (36.2 percent), with the Packers second at 33.6 percent. Green Bay’s percentage of undrafted free agents who made its active roster at some point from 2010-13 is 24 percent, tied for fourth overall in the league, four spots better than the Seahawks’ eighth-ranked 22 percent. Seattle general manager John Schneider, of course, came to Seattle in 2010 after spending eight years in the Packers’ front office, and other stints working under current Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson in both Seattle and Green Bay.
“It’s just been a part of our education in the personnel department,” Thompson said. “Most of us were hired here in Green Bay by [former Packers GM] Ron Wolf, and he took that approach as a particular challenge, trying to find those guys in [collegiate] free agency was always a part of it. We’re just disciples of it and we try to continue that mindset.
“Everybody loves their first-rounders and their second-rounders, but our coaches are very good with this approach, and that’s maybe not always the case [with other teams]. Whoever we give them, they coach them up. We tell guys when we sign them or put them on the practice squad, ‘You’re here for a reason and everyone will get their chance to play.’ Our veteran players and our team, they accept that. They know that’s how it works here.”
And it’s an easy case to make that it does work, given that Green Bay has made the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons, routinely producing a draft slot in the lower third of the first round. While the midseason broken left collarbone suffered by franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers nearly doomed the Packers’ 2013 season, exposing a lack of depth at the game’s most pivotal position for a time, Green Bay did somehow wind up winning the NFC North at 8-7-1, thanks in large part to the re-signing of reserve QB Matt Flynn, a Packers’ seventh-round pick in 2008.
But the contributions from the lower echelons of the roster were widespread beyond Flynn in Green Bay last year, with four of the team’s top six tacklers going either undrafted or in the seventh round (linebacker Brad Jones, 7th round 2009; cornerback Tramon Williams, Jennings and Shields, all UDFAs); and three-quarters of the starting secondary (Williams, Shields and Jennings) going unselected out of college.
On offense, besides Flynn, last year’s Packers were forced to rely on a second-leading rusher who was taken in the sixth round (James Starks, 2010), and undrafted talents at receiver (Boykin, who ranked third in catches and receiving yards), center (Evan Dietrich-Smith) and right tackle (Don Barclay). Overall, just 15 of the 53 players who ended the season with Green Bay were selected in the draft’s top three rounds.
“There’s a lot of players who make it here off the street,” said Shields, the fifth-year pro who led Green Bay in interceptions (four) last season. “When you’re one of those guys, like I was, you feel like you have nothing to lose and you’re hungry. All of us undrafted free agents who came in with me [in 2010], we sat in one little corner [of the meeting room]. We called it the ‘Green Mile.’ We didn’t get drafted, but we stayed together as a little group there in the back, and that really helped us all move forward.
“This team believes in finding undrafted guys who are ballplayers. It doesn’t matter what school you came from, from the smallest school to the biggest school. If you can play, they will make room for you.”
Thompson and the Packers are well known for their aversion to veteran free agency, although they made a surprising exception this year, signing 34-year-old defensive end-turned-outside linebacker Julius Peppers in an attempt to buttress the big-play ability of their struggling defense. But Peppers is the rarity. Come the end of training camp, you can bet Green Bay will have turned over a sizable chunk of its roster with the majority of its nine 2014 draft picks and some of its 17 collegiate free-agent signees making the grade.
Lyerla figures to have a decent shot to stick in the latter group, given his obvious athleticism and pass-catching skills, providing he can sufficiently address the maturity issues that dogged him at Oregon and led to him quitting the team, a subsequent cocaine arrest and his controversial tweets in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy.
Despite having the talent to warrant a second-day draft grade, the 6-foot-4 Lyerla went undrafted and unclaimed in the initial collegiate free-agent signing frenzy, only joining the Packers after he impressed Green Bay in a two-day rookie tryout camp in May. The opportunity for impact is certainly there, given the Packers’ high-octane passing game and the likely departure of unsigned veteran free agent tight end Jermichael Finley.
“You weigh it all. And every case is an individual case,” Thompson told ESPNWisconsin.com, regarding Lyerla’s signing, which raised eyebrows around the league given how much Green Bay prioritizes its locker room chemistry and all-business approach to the game. “We have always believed that, or I have always believed, that there are certain things … that people can atone for, acknowledge their mistakes and get on with their lives. And I am a proponent of those kind of people that try to do that. And that’s where we’re at with Colt.”
As Seattle attempted to point out on its own behalf to agents and prospective collegiate free agents this spring via the recruiting brochure, the Packers’ reputation for giving undrafted players a legitimate shot to make their roster is something that has become a real advantage.
“We certainly use that as a hard selling point, because as you know that time right after the draft is very chaotic,” Thompson said. “Yeah, I think people know and the players know the opportunity we give here. Our veteran players all went to school somewhere where they know a player who’s coming out of that school, and I think even our own players probably do a pretty good job of selling the Green Bay Packers.”
Boykin spent less than a week on Jacksonville’s roster in 2012, but when he signed with Green Bay, he was well aware of the team’s track record of giving younger players a long and thorough chance to impress. And he was determined to make the most of it.
“I remember coming here during rookie mini-camp and they had a meeting with us all and told us it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted, first round or not drafted at all, you’re going to get an equal opportunity and a shot to make the team,” said Boykin, who had a break-through 49-catch, 681-yard season in 2013, starting eight games. “And they mean it.
“The key phrase here is always ‘Trust the process.’ You buy into that here. I bought into it, and from there you just let everything work out on its own. When I got here I was behind Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb, all those guys. It was like, ‘Wow, am I ever going to see the field?’ But in practice every day I worked and competed my tail off, and over time it just naturally took its course and I was given an opportunity.”
In time maybe Boykin’s experience will be similar to what receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis find in Green Bay. Abbrederis, the ex-Wisconsin Badger, was the team’s second fifth-round pick this year, and Janis was the Packers’ final pick, in the seventh round, out of Saginaw Valley State. Besides Lyerla, other potential impact undrafted free agents who could stick in Green Bay include Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard and Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig.
More than any NFL team, the Packers stay consistently homegrown, with 50 of the 53 players on their Week 1 roster in 2013 having never seen regular-season action with anybody but Green Bay. That led the league, with Atlanta (44) and Dallas (41) a distant second and third in that regard. Of Thompson’s 87 draft picks as Packers GM before the 2014 draft (2005-’13), a league-best 33 remain on the roster, with 23 of his 36 picks from ’10-’13 still on the team.
“We’re eight years into this [his tenure] and we feel like we’ve got a pretty good handle on it, and it takes both components to make it work,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “Our personnel department does a great job drafting them and finding players, and I think our coaching staff does a great job of developing players.
“The reality of the coaching profession is that you want a veteran, experienced, polished player to coach because when your players are successful then you’re successful, and this is a success-based profession. But when your program and the job description is such that we’re going to draft and develop players, from Day 1, there’s never been a conversation otherwise. This isn’t fantasy football and we don’t have the benefit of playing fantasy football. You coach the ones you have, and we’ve always coached to the youngest guy in the room and that will never change.”
In Green Bay, why mess with success?
Original story from BANKS at CNNSI found HERE
FROM ROB DEMOVSKY at ESPN.com
~GREEN BAY, Wis. — It must have been an odd sight if any of his neighbors in Green Bay got a glimpse of what was happening in JC Tretter’s garage this spring.
There was the 6-foot-4, 307-pound Packers offensive lineman bent over in a three-point stance snapping a football – to his sister.
But in many ways, it made sense that Tretter would be snapping a ball to whomever, whenever and wherever he could. After all, he was being touted as the leading candidate to become the starter at a position he has never before played.
“It was tough because it’s tough to get a ball in your hand with all the rules in the CBA,” Tretter said. “Whenever you can get the opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it. You’ve got to go find a park somewhere or something, and that’s frustrating.”
A college tackle at Cornell, the fourth-round draft pick in 2013 did not even begin practicing at center until Nov. 19 of last year, when he took part in his first-ever NFL regular-season practice. And now, here he was as the leading candidate to replace Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Packers’ starting center from last season who left in free agency to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tretter broke his ankle last May on the first day of his first OTA practice as a pro. He missed the rest of the offseason program, all of training camp and began the season on the physically unable to perform list. It was not until late November that he was even allowed to practice. Although he never was active for a game, it was during those late fall practice sessions that the idea of him transitioning to center was born.
That led to an offseason in which Tretter was determined to spend as much time as possible – and as much time as the collective bargaining agreement allowed – at Lambeau Field.
“When I was leaving the facility after our loss in the playoffs, it was, ‘I’m going to come back and train like I’m going to be the starter,'” Tretter said. “No matter who they bring in or who they bring back, my goal was to come back ready to be a starting center in this league.”
The Packers feel like he has done that. Even after drafting a potential starting center, Ohio State’s Corey Linsley in the fifth round, the Packers opened OTAs last week with Tretter in front of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“JC’s doing a really good job,” Packers coach Mike McCarty said. “I think he’s been here every single day since the season ended. I don’t think there’s been a day that I’ve walked through the locker room from February all the way through that he hasn’t been here. I think that is really shown as far as the way he’s jumped in there. So far, so good. I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen.”
Because the rules of the CBA prevent players from working directly with coaches – or even having a football in their hands at the team facility – before May, Tretter had to get creative. While he spent hours with the team’s strength/conditioning and nutrition staff, he had to go elsewhere to get in his snapping work. Shortly after the season, he went back East to work out with former Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, who was training for the combine and would eventually sign with the Atlanta Falcons.
“So I got to snap with him, and that was the main goal of going to New Jersey to train with him, was to get a quarterback there to work with,” Tretter said. “Then I came out here a couple of months before everybody else came back.”
Said offensive line coach James Campen: “The thing with him is he’s very smart. He’s got good leadership ability, a hustler, works extremely hard. He’s got very good balance and he’s a big, strong guy. He’s a bigger man and his work ethic is outstanding.”
The final point, Campen’s praise of Tretter’s work ethic, takes us back to Tretter’s garage, where he was firing shotgun snaps to his sister, Katherine.
“She’s good; she has a great cadence,” Tretter said. “She was giving me protection adjustments. She was on top of her stuff.”
Original story from Rob at ESPN here