2015 August : Packers Insider

Undrafted rookie Ladarius Gunter has a mentor in Sam Shields

August 4, 2015 by  
Filed under News

By Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel

~Green Bay — Tramon Williams is gone, but life goes on for Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields.

Same meeting room, same Joe Whitt, same defense.

“I still sit in the same seat, coach still talks the same,” Shields said.

The difference is that Shields, 27 and in his sixth year, is the oldest player in the room. The young guys look to him for guidance, not to the venerable Williams.

The only thing is Shields isn’t a big talker in meetings.

“When I see something on film, I’ll put my input in,” he said. “Coach likes that. I’m not a real loud guy, I’ll just pull them aside (to say something).”

Ladarius Gunter could be another UDFA gem find at CB for Theodore Thompson. Remember, both Sam Shields and Tramon Williams were undrafted, and turned into Pro Bowl quality cover corners, Super Bowl winners, and 8-figure contract winners.

Someone Shields has had a natural bond with is rookie Ladarius Gunter, who joined the Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Miami just as Shields had. Gunter signed in part because of Shields’ story.

The 6-1½, 201-pound Gunter had a pretty good spring and was rewarded with an elevated position going into training camp. With second-round pick Quentin Rollins missing the first three days with a hamstring injury, Gunter worked as the No. 4 cornerback behind Shields, Casey Hayward and first-round pick Damarious Randall.

Gunter probably didn’t get drafted because he ran a slow 4.65-second 40-yard dash, but he thrived at Miami by being physical at the line of scrimmage. His long arms and strong hands have given even Jordy Nelson trouble at the line.

“He’s long,” Shields said. “He’s long and strong. People have trouble getting off the line with him. I just say use that to your strength.”

Shields said he also told Gunter he had to perform on special teams. Rookies don’t make the team unless they can play special teams. He said Gunter takes everything he says to heart.

“He’s quiet,” Shields said. “All he does is listen. He don’t talk back. When he listens, he corrects his mistakes. That’s something that being an undrafted free agent, you have to do that. You just bite a lot of bullets and keep working.”

As for Shields’ season, he has plenty of things to work on. He has gotten away with a few bad habits because he’s so fast. He needs to be more consistent. He could work on playing run defense a little more, too.

Because he’s the best corner the Packers have, he occasionally may follow the other team’s best receiver around the field, something Williams did some in his prime.

“I’m very comfortable (doing that),” Shields said. “I did it before, just for a little bit. Not too much, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before. I’ve been out there to guard those type of guys before.”

Join the club: Inside linebacker Nate Palmer has joined Clay Matthews and Morgan Burnett in the club club.

Remember the club?

Matthews wore one as big as a zeppelin when he suffered a broken thumb in 2013, and Burnett wore a decent-sized one after suffering a broken bone in his hand in ’11. Palmer would only say he suffered a left hand injury in practice Saturday, but clubs are usually worn to protect broken bones.

“I was trying to square (running back) Rajion (Neal) up in the hole,” Palmer said. “I don’t know what happened. I just remember getting up and something wasn’t right.

“But I got through practice, so that’s a blessing. I stayed in. I thought I dislocated a finger, but when I saw it was straight I just shrugged it off. When practice was over my hand was kind of bothering me so I had them check it out.”

Palmer, who is battling Carl Bradford and rookie Jake Ryan for the No. 3 inside spot behind Matthews and Sam Barrington, took part in all phases of practice Monday. He’s not sure how long he’ll have to wear the club, which covers everything on his hand but the thumb.

“It’s just an inconvenience, but I’ll find a way because there’s always a way to work through your problems,” Palmer said.

Fancy footwork:
Shields may be the fastest guy on the team, but he was left standing in the dust when rookie receiver Ty Montgomery caught a short pass in the flat and juked the socks off him on his way to the end zone.

Every day it seems that Montgomery, a second-round pick from Stanford, does something that catches the eye of coaches, teammates and those in the stands at Nitschke Field. This one drew oohs and ahs and drove Shields to compare him with former Minnesota Viking Percy Harvin.

“I mean, he’s not that big, but you see Harvin play, he’s like 6-5,” Shields said. “Guys are scared to tackle him because he’s so big and fast, but he’s making plays out there. (Montgomery has) still got more learning to do, but he’ll be good.”

Rookie debut: Rollins made his training camp debut after spending four days on the reserve/non-football injury list with a hamstring pull he suffered working out at Miami (Ohio) University.

The second-round pick joined his teammates in full pads, but as is customary for those making their camp debuts, he participated only in individual drills and walk-throughs. He wasn’t part of 11-on-11 action.

“It’s definitely good to get cleared,” Rollins said. “It’s hard watching from the sideline, especially when you’re a competitor. But it felt good. Hopefully, I can take small steps forward.”

Easy does it: Matthews sat out with a knee injury that both he and coach Mike McCarthy characterized as minor.

“I’m fine,” Matthews said. “Just taking care of my body. Getting ready for the season.”

The grind: This is probably the hardest week of training camp for the players.

They’ll be in full pads for practice five days, including the Saturday night practice at Lambeau Field, and the “off” day includes a daylong orientation for the STAA (soft tissue activation and application) program McCarthy instituted last year.

It’s essentially a recovery day Friday during the regular season with the final practice of the week taking part on Saturday. The Packers built a new weight room and upgraded their training facility, so some things have been moved around a little bit.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be the final installation days.

“It’s padded work, the fundamental aspect of it, to get all your scheme in,” McCarthy said. “When we walk off the field Saturday night after Family Night, we will have all our scheme in for the season.”

Original story from Silverstein here

Tom is in his 30th year with the Journal-Sentinel. He is a two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year award winner, but surely should have won a third. He was robbed in 2011.

Even one-handed, Nate Palmer takes advantage of Clay Matthews’ absence

August 3, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

~ GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was hard to tell what was bigger on Monday: The cast on Nate Palmer’s left hand or the smile on his face.

Yes, the Green Bay Packers linebacker practiced with a club-like cast for the first time. No, that’s not why he was smiling.

Here’s why: Less than a year removed from the knee injury that wiped out his entire 2015 season, Palmer is off to a fast starting in his third NFL training camp. So he wasn’t about to let a hand injury — he wouldn’t say what it was specifically, but he had his middle and ring fingers splinted together when the cast came off after practice — prevent him from the opportunity he received Monday.

With Clay Matthews sidelined because of knee soreness, Palmer took most of the starter’s reps at inside linebacker. Despite the limited use of his hand, the former sixth-round draft pick turned in another good showing.

“Since I know that I can’t use my left hand, I’m trying to beat people to the spot because I know if I do get locked up it’s going to be get hard off the block because I only have one hand,” Palmer said. “That’s something I tried to focus on today is just beat people to the spot.”

Nate Palmer is taking advantage of his opportunity for starter’s reps, even with a cast on his left hand. So far. -Tom Gannam/AP

Palmer said the injury occurred during Saturday’s practice after a collision with running back Rajion Neal. He initially thought he dislocated a finger but continued to practice. It was only after practice that he discovered something more serious had happened.

He doesn’t know how much longer he will have to wear the cast but unlike the one Matthews wore in 2013, when he broke his thumb, Palmer’s cast allows him the use of his thumb.

“I thought he did a good job working through it,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Monday’s practice.

The snaps in practice, especially with the defensive starters, were invaluable for a player who switched from outside linebacker in the final week of the preseason last year.

Palmer has moved ahead of Carl Bradford, a fourth-round pick last year who also transitioned from outside linebacker to the inside. Joe Thomas, a practice-squad player last year, and rookie fourth-round pick Jake Ryan also worked some at Matthews’ inside linebacker spot, while Andy Mulumba got a good portion of Matthews’ snaps on the outside.

With one good hand or two, Palmer still plans to battle for a spot.

“It’s just an inconvenience, but I’ll find a way,” said Palmer, who played in eight games as a rookie in 2013. “There’s always a way to work through your problems. In a couple days, I’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I’m in a trial-and-error mode right now. I’ll continue to talk with Clay and anybody else — I think Morgan [Burnett] had a club a couple years ago — so I talked with him, too.”

Original story here

Inside Slant: Green Bay’s distinct, winning formula at wide receiver

August 3, 2015 by  
Filed under News

From Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation for ESPN.com

~GREEN BAY, Wis. — The fourth quarter loomed as the Green Bay Packers faced an eight-point deficit in last season’s divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It was third-and-15.

The Packers had four wide receivers and a tight end spread across the line of scrimmage. Their leading receivers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, bookended the formation. As the play unfolded, however, Nelson cut off his route after five yards. Cobb broke to the sideline after six. If the Packers were to gain a first down, it was soon clear the play would target a gangly rookie who had caught but four passes over the final month of the regular season.

Lined up in the right slot, Davante Adams got a step on Cowboys nickelback Sterling Moore. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers delivered a strike that Adams caught exactly 15 yards downfield. Adams then swiveled and ran through the Cowboys’ defense for a crucial 46-yard touchdown.

Davante Adams’ playoff TD against Dallas illustrates the Packers’ team-building approach at receiver. Andrew Weber/USA TODAY Sports

The sequence was notable for Rodgers’ patience and Adams’ open-field moves, but close observers noted a cause-and-effect that illustrates how the Packers have long operated their offense. Even on third down in the playoffs, they relied on matchups and trusted their depth rather than force a play toward a more obvious target and a waiting defense.

“The way we’re set up, it gives us something a little extra,” Adams said last week after a training camp practice. “Teams can’t focus on just one guy. You have to worry about the weapons we’ve got. When they have to put their third-best guy on me or someone else, it’s going to be a tough matchup.”

The Packers’ team-building approach at the position stands in particular contrast to the franchise they defeated that cold day in January. The Packers have drafted nine receivers since Rodgers’ ascension to starter in 2008, the seventh-highest total in the NFL, but never have they sought a dominant No. 1 receiver such as Dez Bryant. Instead, they have collected upper-end volume — Nelson, Cobb and Adams were all second-round picks — to build their scheme and financial structure around the idea that a high-level whole will prove better than any one part.

“We bring in guys that can do all of it,” Rodgers said. “Last year, we had two guys with over 90 catches [Nelson and Cobb], but we haven’t had that one guy that maybe people give their respect to as a dominant receiver. When they talk about the top receivers, they talk about Calvin [Johnson] and Antonio Brown, Julio [Jones] and Dez and those guys. Well, I like our guys a lot. All of them. I love Jordy and Randall and Davante, and we’ve got a lot of depth beyond those guys. When you play teams and you watch the film, its hard not to see the production from those guys.”

Perhaps the most talented two WR’s in the NFL today. The Packers had a shot to draft Bryant, and they were tempted a bit. But they needed an OT at that time, and Bulaga was too good too pass up. Also, Bulaga’s personality fits better on the Packers than Bryant’s does.

Interviews with Rodgers, his receivers and coach Mike McCarthy revealed an approach that values football intelligence and requires wideouts to learn all four positions (outside and slot on both sides). It throws added complexity to the defense while maintaining an intuitive sensibility for the receivers.

McCarthy teaches the Packers’ passing offense based on concepts — how a play is designed and why it is supposed to work — rather than individual routes. Receivers are naturally exposed to every route assigned in a given play, and McCarthy wants them not just to understand each concept but to be prepared to execute any part of it in a game.

“We emphasize having a high football IQ and understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Cobb said. “It’s not about what routes you’re running, but about the whole package, the progressions, understanding where you are in the progression and why.”

That set of values has informed the Packers’ player acquisition in the Rodgers era. Only two teams have drafted more receivers in the top two rounds than the Packers during this stretch, and this year they added a third-round pick (Stanford’s Ty Montgomery) to the mix. Montgomery is expected to be the Packers’ kickoff returner, but has drawn instant raves for his work in the classroom (Stanford, of course) and figures to see playing time on offense soon enough.

“If a receiver can’t play all four positions, I struggle with that,” McCarthy said. “It’s such a prominent position today compared to 10-15 years ago, because you’re playing every play with three and sometimes four on the field. You might have one great receiver, but if he can’t line up in all four spots, he’s easier to take away.”

Nelson, for example, is built like a classic outside receiver at 6-foot-3 and 217 pounds. You might be surprised to know he has appeared in the slot on 622 plays over the past two seasons, about a third of his total snaps. Cobb, presumed to be an ideal slot receiver at 5-10 and with elite quickness, played about 20 percent of his snaps on the outside in 2014. Adams saw 43 snaps in the slot during the regular season, enough to be trusted there for that third-down catch against the Cowboys.

“You learn the concept as one, so we can interchange the formation,” Cobb said. “We can move guys around the formation and run the same play but it looks different because maybe I’m lined up outside, and Jordy is maybe at [slot] and we have a tight end in between us, but it’s still the same play.”

When they combine that flexibility with a high-talent floor, the Packers routinely nail the kind of plays Adams made against the Cowboys. In that scenario, Nelson drew the Cowboys’ top cornerback in Brandon Carr. Putting Adams in the slot left him facing Moore, whom the Cowboys non-tendered this spring prior to free agency.

“Our best is always been when we’re changing things up a lot,” Nelson said. “Defenses can’t roll coverage to one guy, try to take him out and then leave us nowhere else to go. It makes it easier for Aaron. He doesn’t have to focus on one side. He can just throw the ball to the open guy.”

There is also, of course, a financial efficiency inherent in this approach. The going rate for a classic No. 1 receiver is five years and $70 million, with $45 million in guarantees. Bryant and the Denver Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas signed similar deals last month. Jones and the Cincinnati Bengals’ A.J. Green will use those deals — with an average annual salary (APY) of $14 million — as precedent for their negotiations.

The Packers, meanwhile, have signed Nelson and Cobb to four-year contracts within the past year that average about $10 million per year. The guarantees in their deals totaled $24.5 million combined.

None of this is to say that the Packers would, as a rule, turn down an opportunity to draft a more heralded receiver. (They did select offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga one spot before Bryant in the 2010 first round, however.) But there is more than one way to staff a passing offense, and the Packers’ approach in the Rodgers era has yielded arguably the most efficient attack in the NFL. In his seven seasons as a starter, the Packers have the league’s highest percentage of touchdown passes per attempt (6.3).

Plus, when the system trusts a rookie receiver in an unnatural position to convert a third down late in a playoff game, and he responds with a game-changing touchdown, who can argue?

Comparing wide receiver contracts

Dez Bryant 5 Yrs, $70M, $14M Avg/Year, Guaranteed $45M
Randall Cobb 4 Yrs, $40M, $10M Avg/Year, Guaranteed $13M
Jordy Nelson 4 Yrs, $39M, $9.8M Avg/Year, Guaranteed $11.5M
Davante Adams 4 Yrs, $3.9M, $975,000 Avg/Year, Guaranteed $1.8M

Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Original story here

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

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