By Chris Burke, Sports Illustrated
~GREEN BAY – It really was not all that long ago that the Green Bay Packers had an imposing threat at running back. In both 2008 and 2009, Ryan Grant topped 1,200 yards on the ground, while averaging 6.4 and 7.9 yards per catch out of the backfield, respectively.
But an injury sidelined Grant for almost all of 2010, and the Packers have spent the past three seasons trying to replicate his success. They were closer last year than people may realize — Green Bay finished as a middle-of-the-road rushing team (20th overall) and topped 100 yards on the ground in six of its final eight games, including a playoff loss to San Francisco.
Those numbers, and the Packers’ recent run game in general, might have been even better were it not for repeated injury woes. Not only did the Packers lose Grant three seasons back, but also Alex Green tore his ACL in 2011, James Starks dealt with myriad problems and Cedric Benson was sidelined by a Lisfranc injury in 2012. Even incoming rookie Eddie Lacy is trying to prove that toe surgery in 2012 will not hinder him going forward.
The arrivals of rookies Lacy and Johnathan Franklin have Packers fans hoping their team’s run game can crank up another notch this coming season. But can Lacy handle an every-down load? Is Franklin better than NFL teams gave him credit for in the draft? And are the incumbent backs (Green, Starks and DuJuan Harris) ready to cede playing time?
This will be one of the most intriguing position battles to watch come training camp. Let’s take a look at what each guy brings to the table:
The 24-year-old Green showed some legitimate promise last season, a year removed from that aforementioned ACL tear. This run of his against the Colts last season provides a little taste of what he can do — Green runs downhill, is pretty sharp in and out of his cuts and will bounce it outside when there’s an opening. That run also highlights another aspect the Packers must consider here: Green does not have breakaway speed. There, he was caught by a pair of Colts defenders, one being linebacker Kavell Conner.
Green did, however, catch 18 passes out of the backfield last season and graded out as the best pass-blocking back on the Packers’ roster in 2012, per Pro Football Focus.
He also might be even better in 2013. Green recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was “never really quite” 100 percent last season following his knee injury.
Green led the Packers in rushing during the 2012 regular season with 464 yards on 135 carries.
One of the Packers’ playoff stars, Harris did not even crack the lineup until Week 13 (as Green struggled with a sore knee), but he led the way on the ground in postseason with 100 yards and two touchdowns. One of those scores came in the divisional round against San Francisco — Harris took a handoff up the gut, accelerated between the 49ers’ linebackers, then dropped safety Donte Whitner with an outstanding juke to find the end zone.
Had the Packers not picked up Lacy and Franklin, Harris would have been the odds-on favorite to take the No. 1 job out of camp. He’s just 5-foot-9, though, and did minimal work as a pass catcher out of the backfield last year.
Harris seemed to get better the more snaps he received, which makes sense given his lack of experience.
If Starks could stay healthy, he might be a dynamite option in Green Bay’s backfield. He was the Packers’ playoff hero during their Super Bowl run at the end of the 2010 season, really coming out of nowhere to rush for 315 yards in four postseason games.
Starks probably has more downfield speed than Green, and he’s shown the type of vision the Packers are hoping Harris can attain. But he simply has not been able to stay on the field.
What makes Lacy a fit for this Packers’ offense? Well, he’s powerful and aggressive between the tackles — think what Green Bay likes in fullback John Kuhn but with exponentially more athleticism.
Rotoworld’s Evan Silva charted 59 of Lacy’s Alabama carries before the draft and discovered that Lacy “fell forward” while being tackled on 52 of them. That’s the type of extra effort that the Packers have been unable to find, part of why they often spread the field with empty backfields in short-yardage situations, relying on Aaron Rodgers to either deliver a quick strike or sneak it.
Lacy’s go-to is a spin move (you can see it in action on the first snap of this tape), but he’s shifty enough that defenders have to stay on their toes.
Aside from durability concerns, the questions following Lacy to the NFL are about his potential as a three-down back: Can he block? Will he catch enough passes? He shows promise both places, but those uncertainties may have led the Packers to draft …
The UCLA star really is unique in Green Bay’s backfield competition. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine, while his 5-foot-10, 205-pound stature puts him close to Harris’ 5-9, 208 listing — but Franklin might be more solidly built.
Whereas the Packers may need to wait on Lacy as a third-down back possibility, Franklin is versatile enough to play whenever asked (talents that are on display here). If this winds up being a two-man situation with Lacy and Franklin seeing the bulk of the action, you can bet that Lacy will be used in traditional run situations, while Franklin earns more time when the Packers want to air it out.
Obviously, just loading up a position on the depth chart does not guarantee success — look at the Jets’ QB bumblings or Oakland’s failures at receiver. So, just bringing in two rookies to pile on top of three veterans will not necessarily bring the Packers a better run game.
What may do that, however, is the healthy mix of abilities that Green Bay appears to have corralled. The trick for the Packers will be figuring out which guy to have on the field … or when to turn to a rotation.
With camp a few weeks away, the safe money is on Lacy handling first- and second-down duties and Franklin spelling him on third downs or if the Packers find themselves behind late. Harris and Green, especially, could have a lot to say about that plan.
Original story here
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – The demand seems simple enough. In today’s NFL, teams need large, athletic defensive linemen.
As the spread offense proliferates, defenses must dot the field with multiple defensive backs. And more players on the back end means fewer players up front. Disruptive interior pass rushers are at an all-time premium.
This player has eluded Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, one of the game’s top talent evaluators. In Datone Jones this year, he hopes he finally has found an answer.
Jones says it’s a perfect fit. Packers coach Mike McCarthy says Jones “hit the lottery.” Now comes the hard part.
Hold the point. Transition to a pass rush.
These players aren’t easy to find.
“The interior lineman,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos, “that’s tough business there because you have to obviously stop the run. And then on passing situations, on third down or second and long, now you have to transfer it over. In a split second, you have to use your quickness and your hands to beat the guard and get to the quarterback.
“Datone does a great job of transitioning from his run keys to his pass keys and then he’s really athletic. At his size (6 feet 4 inches, 285 pounds), he’s very athletic and uses his hands.”
Since 2005, Thompson has drafted 14 defensive linemen. At No. 9 overall in 2009, he nailed the B.J. Raji pick. Elsewhere, not so much. There was a historic bust (Justin Harrell), a sixth-round pick gone south (Johnny Jolly), talent hounded by injuries (Mike Neal), a solid one-dimensional run defender (C.J. Wilson) and undersized rotational rushers (Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels).
He has not, however, found the defensive lineman capable of doing it all.
Considering about 75% of the game today is played with five and six defensive backs, all defensive coordinators better boast a down lineman capable of caving the pocket. In Dom Capers’ scheme, it’s essential. As repeated ad nauseam, he had that player in Cullen Jenkins in 2010 and the Packers won a Super Bowl.
Spanos’ first year with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a scout was Capers’ final year as defensive coordinator. Their paths hardly crossed. Still, he was around Dick LeBeau for two stints with the Steelers before taking over Jim Mora Jr.’s defense at UCLA in 2012. He was in the NFL from 1995-2011.
In that 2012 season, Jones’ game took flight. He finished with 62 tackles (19 for loss) and 5½ sacks.
“I think it was his approach to it,” Spanos said. “From Day 1, he knew that this was his last chance to make something in college. So he trusted Coach Mora, myself and our D-Line coach more often that this system is successful and works. He thought, ‘How can I be my own person in this system and blossom?’ ”
UCLA’s 3-4 terminology, Jones noted last weekend, is the same in Green Bay. He was not overwhelmed by the playbook. Chances are, he’ll dazzle off the ball through organized team activities and minicamp, too. The true questions about Jones – if he can wreak havoc inside – won’t be answered until the pads come on in August.
With the Bruins, he played all along the defensive line. Spanos asked Jones to hold the edge, to play the three-technique, to even rush over the head of the center. And while Jones – a former high school point guard and 100-meter sprinter – is athletic, Spanos makes a distinction.
He cautions not to confuse “athletic” with “finesse.”
“Being athletic, he’s strong at the point. That’s what makes Datone special,” Spanos said. “You say, ‘Oh, he’s athletic.’ No, he’s not athletic as in finesse. He’s athletic as a football player. He’s strong at the point. Even against double-teams, he can hold the point. That’s what makes Datone a special player.”
Those before him haven’t been special. When Green Bay won the Super Bowl in North Texas, the injured Harrell was in the mountains of Tennessee with his family. That following off-season, Thompson finally cut his losses. The Mike Neal project shouldn’t be abandoned yet, but time’s ticking.
Worthy could miss all of the upcoming season while recovering from a knee injury. Daniels is best as a super-sub.
The starting ends in Green Bay’s base defense – Ryan Pickett and Wilson – were solid against the run last year. Yet combined, they have seven sacks in 145 games with the Packers.
It’s on Jones.
He says speed is “definitely” his strength and that he can fit in anywhere on Green Bay’s defense.
“I thought Green Bay took a big chance on me and I really took that to heart,” Jones said last weekend. “The one thing I wanted to make sure of when I got here is I wanted to work hard, learn my playbook, get familiar with my new teammates and have fun at practice and make sure I’m getting better every day.”
The job description is unique, especially in the NFC. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read option. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. Offenses going with three and four wide receivers. The Packers can’t afford a one-trick pony at defensive end…. full story here
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider senior editor
~A year ago, you couldn’t find a Packer fan in Wisconsin anywhere who had even heard of Jarrett Boykin. He was an undrafted receiver who would get a short, three-day look in Jacksonville, before being released quickly last May.
Boykin, Virginia Tech’s all-time leading receiver, went undrafted because he ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at the combine in February. He should have been taken at least sometime on day three, and sadly for him, Jacksonville has not been able to properly evaluate both receivers and quarterbacks for a decade now.
He eventually tried out with the Packers during their rookie orientation camp, and was signed.
Still, he still appeared a safe bet to be an early cut as the Packers had the deepest receiving corps in the NFL, including youngsters Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel on the depth chart.
Both Gurley and Borel had been offered contracts by other teams to leave Green Bay’s practice squad, but they chose to stay in Green Bay where the MVP would be throwing them balls. They appeared to be the next-in-line guys at wide receiver for the team, behind Driver, Jennings, Nelson, Jones, and Cobb.
Once preseason arrived, Boykin started to open some eyes, both of fans and coaches.
Despite only playing with backup quarterbacks Graham Harrell and rookie B.J. Coleman, Boykin flat-out produced.
It was the final preseason game, against Kansas City, where he sealed the deal as an against-the-odds success story and made the team. Against the Chiefs, with Harrell slinging the ball, Boykin had five receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown, seen here.
He didn’t get much playing time during the regular season, however, as Cobb, Jones, Jordy, and Jennings were still the main targets at receiver, as well as tight end Jermichael Finley. But he was called on in week 17 at Minnesota in a big play, a 4th down play with 5:45 to go, and he produced with a 7-yard reception for a key first down.
He was interfered with on the play which brought a penalty, but he also got his foot stuck in the terrible turf in the Metrdodump and was injured, pretty uglily. It ended his game and season, but turned out it wasn’t as serious as feared, apparently. (Play shown below in this photograph)
But now Jennings has gone purple, and Driver has retired. Boykin, if he makes any progress as expected, should be the fourth guy at WR and be a factor.
Boykin doesn’t possess blazing speed, which a couple of the rookie receivers do, so there’s that. But he has good size at 6-2, 218 lbs. and he runs precise routes and has huge hands. His size is almost the exact same as Jordy Nelson.
Every Packer starting receiver missed some time last year, and that quite possibly could be the case again this year.
Fortunately for the Packers, they still have depth at the position as Boykin can make plays.
However, as Gurley and Borel learned last year, nothing is given, so Jarrett is going to have to produce during training camp and preseason.
There is a new crop of rookie WR’s who are eager to make the team.
Cobb, Jones, and Nelson have the first three spots locked up, barring catastrophic injury.
Second-year Jeremy Ross looked good in his opportunities last year as well, aside from his crucial muffed punt in the playoff loss at San Francisco, near the goalline with the Packers up 14-7.
Few would argue that the Packers top trio is as good as any in the NFL, but you should feel confident in the number four and five guys as well. In Boykin and Ross, the Packers are just fine there. And if someone happens to beat either out, that means the talent level got even better.
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY - In Year 2, Randall Cobb became a go-to weapon. Lining up in the backfield, the slot, wherever, the former college quarterback single-handedly opened up the Green Bay Packers’ playbook.
And Cobb believes 2012 was just the beginning.
“I really don’t think I’ve peaked yet,” Cobb said Tuesday before the Packers’ annual Tailgate Tour. “I’m 22 years old. I’ve got a lot of learning still to do. I have a long way to go and I just hope I continue to get better over the next years.”
That’d be good news for the Packers. With Greg Jennings off to the Minnesota Vikings and Donald Driver retired, the receiving corps officially enters a new era. In 2012, the passing game started with Cobb, who led the team with 80 receptions for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. Green Bay did function and flourish without Jennings in the lineup last season.
Now, his absence is permanent. Cobb presumably will take on a bigger role alongside James Jones and Jordy Nelson.
“I think definitely with Donald retiring and Greg leaving, it’s definitely going to be a lot more weight on me, James and Jordy’s shoulders,” Cobb said. “But we’re taking on the challenge head-on. We’ve been really excited to get back and work. We’ve got some young guys, some drafted guys that’s coming in.
“We’re excited to get back to work and see how it’s going to turn out this year.”
Don’t be surprised if the coaches pull Cobb off special teams. 2011 NFL Play of the Year
At the NFL scouting combine in February, coach Mike McCarthy said he was hoping Cobb would not return punts and kicks next season. He’s dangerous in the return game. Cobb averaged 9.4 yards per punt return and 25.4 yards per kick return in 2012.
But it may be more dangerous for the Packers to subject their top offensive weapon to gunners at top speed.
In Week 16 last season, Cobb injured his ankle while fielding a punt against Tennessee. Afterward, McCarthy insisted he wouldn’t “play scared” by removing Cobb from return duties. Yet by the divisional playoff round at San Francisco, wide receiver Jeremy Ross returned punts.
Ross showed promise in the 55-7 win over the Titans with a 58-yard punt return. But he also had a costly fumble against the 49ers.
“I don’t know,” Cobb said. “If I’m able to do it and they want me to do it, perfect. If not, perfect.
We have one goal and that’s to bring the title back home. Whatever it’s going to take to bring us there, if that’s me returning, if that’s me not returning, that’s something we’ll figure out over the next few weeks going into training camp and early on in the season.”
Cobb’s ascent has been quick. Before embarking on a full week of charity functions, autographs and non-stop attention, Cobb seemed surprised to be such a star attraction at age 22.
“You really just have to embrace it,” Cobb said. “You have to love it and have fun with it. I’m really excited about this tour to give me an opportunity to have fun with it.”
Original story here
RANDALL COBB had a team-leading 80 receptions last year, including 8 touchdown catches and 45 first down receptions. He took a punt back for a touchdown last season as well as his rookie season in which he had both a punt and kick return for a touchdown.
Randall also was a very effective runner, as he averaged a whopping 13.2 yards per carry on his 10 attempts last season. While it worked very well, it’s a bit dangerous to risk giving the ball to Cobb too often, as Packer fans know as well as anyone how often running backs get injured. Alex Green, Cedric Benson, James Starks, Brandon Saine are all bigger and stronger than the 5-10, 182-pound Cobb is, and they all sustained serious injuries against the big defenses of today’s NFL.
By Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – To hear Eric Bakhtiari tell it, his little brother did all the things that little brothers do.
Seven years younger, David (6’4″ 295lbs) was by his older brother’s side whenever possible, emulating him at every turn.
Some little brothers grow out of it and branch out on their own.
Right up until last Thursday, when he left to report to the Green Bay Packers’ rookie orientation camp, there was David, a fourth-round pick last month, grabbing every last piece of advice he could from big brother, a linebacker who has played for the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers in addition to practice squad stints with five other NFL teams.
So perhaps better than anyone, Eric, 28 and a free agent hoping for another shot to go camp with a team this summer, knows how David, 21, projects to the NFL and whether he can grab the Packers’ starting right tackle job — a position that was blown wide open after coach Mike McCarthy moved Bryan Bulaga to left tackle earlier this month.
Though David hasn’t played right tackle since his redshirt freshman year at Colorado in 2010, he might head into training camp this summer as one of the favorites to win that job. After playing right tackle in his first collegiate season, he moved to left tackle following the departure of Nate Solder, a first-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2011.
To Eric, that experience tells him that such a role won’t be too big for his brother as a rookie.
“The fact that he started opposite of Nate Solder his redshirt freshman year at Colorado, that was kind of a surprise to us all because he was maybe 280 pounds, and he held his own and did great that year,” Eric said. “And I think that he has the confidence. He’s one of those players where he knows he’s got ability and he knows what he has to do to be successful. He wants to be the guy they count on. He wants to be the guy who shuts down the pass rusher, the guy who gets after guys in the trenches and things like that. He relishes that.”
And he’s already had some hands-on NFL training. For the last six weeks, Bakhtiari has been working out at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., with his brother. Among other NFL players who train at the facility is Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews, a friend of Eric’s.
“On his first day here, when he was training with us, he started asking Clay a bunch of questions,” Eric said. “They paired him against Clay, and he started asking Clay a bunch of a questions. Clay started taking him through some things, like ‘when you set like this, I’m going to do this,’ and he was just enthralled. He was just being a student, and he loves being a student.”
It’s going to take a crash course for Bakhtiari to get up to speed in time to make a serious run at the job, but the Packers think he can do it. He opened the rookie camp at left tackle while fellow fourth-round pick J.C. Tretter of Cornell started at right tackle, but the two were expected to flip-flop as the camp went on.
“I’m most comfortable at left tackle; that’s where I played the past two seasons,” David Bakhtiari said. “But wherever I can get the most time and reps at, I can feel comfortable at that position. Wherever they want to put me is where I’m going to play.”
The Packers finished last season with undrafted free agent rookie Don Barclay at right tackle after Bulaga sustained a season-ending hip injury, but Barclay probably isn’t the long-term answer. Marshall Newhouse, who struggled through the last two seasons at left tackle, will get a turn at right tackle. So will Derek Sherrod, the 2011 first-round pick, if he can recover from the broken leg that kept him out all of last season.
The 6-foot-4 Bakhtiari is the lightest of them. He played last season at 298 pounds and was 299 at the combine in February, but he weighed in at 305 when he reported to the Packers this weekend. His arm length of 34 inches, one of the key attributes for tackles, compares favorably to Eric Fisher (34 1/2) and Luke Joeckel (34 1/4), the tackles taken one-two in the first round last month.
“If you look at him physically, while he doesn’t necessarily look prototypical, he’s super strong,” Eric said. “We did a lot of core work this offseason to get his core up to speed with guys who have been in the league for several years, Clay and myself. And he’s got the athleticism for it.”
With Eric back in Southern California waiting for a team to give him another shot, David is on his own. But in the back of his mind, he’s holding out hope that he still gets to hang around his big brother again. This weekend, he allowed his mind to wander to the notion that the Packers might sign Eric before training camp begins.
“That would be ideal,” Eric said. “That’s one thing he made me promise him when they first mentioned him as an NFL prospect a couple of years ago. He said that I …. full story here
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – Last year, he was an undrafted rookie hoping to hang on. This year, Brandon Bostick (6’4″ 230lbs) has a different set of expectations.
Out with No. 48, in with No. 86.
“It looks better than No. 48,” said Bostick, laughing. “Forty-eight is like a fullback or something.”
When coach Mike McCarthy said Friday that the Green Bay Packers are “really a draft or undrafted” football team, he was talking about players like Bostick. Last May, Bostick was a needle-in-the-haystack tryout player at rookie camp, a wide receiver from microscopic Division II Newberry College. Green Bay saw tight end potential, signed Bostick and kept him around on the practice squad.
Now, his outlook is much different. About 10 pounds heavier, he’s aiming for a roster spot and, eventually, a role in the offense.
“They just kept working with me and kept believing in me,” Bostick said. “Each week, I kept doing what I can do to better myself. Luckily, I stuck around and I’m back this year. If I keep doing what I did last year, hopefully I make it.”
The position does have some future uncertainty. Starter Jermichael Finley is entering the final year of his two-year contract. Matt Mulligan replaced Tom Crabtree. Andrew Quarless (knee) hasn’t played a down since December 2011. And urgency rises a bit with D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor both entering their third season.
After a full year on the practice squad, the raw Bostick has a chance to blend in.
On the scout team last year, he typically emulated the opposition’s top tight end – and Green Bay faced some good ones. Bostick spent about an hour breaking down film of Vernon Davis, Jimmy Graham, KyleRudolph or whomever the Packers faced that week. His job was to give the offense a complete look. But he also tried to re-create himself at a new position.
Bostick said Davis “is very explosive,” adding “I tried to model my game after his.” Through three weeks of prep, he grew to admire Minnesota’s Rudolph because “he can do it all.”
“I treated every practice like a game,” Bostick said. “That was my game. That was my time to show them what I can do. So I went out there and played as hard as I could every time. And I tried to make a play when it was time to make a play.”
At Newberry, Bostick caught 136 passes for 1,935 yards with 19 touchdowns, also playing one year of basketball. He admits he could get away with things in the South Atlantic Conference – the what? – that he can’t in the NFL. His blocking needed a lot of work. Instead of taking on D-II cornerbacks, he was now blocking defensive ends. So Bostick added weight.
In college, Bostick played at 240-245 pounds. Last year, he was 250. Today, he says he’s up to 260 pounds. Leading the tight end group at rookie camp this weekend, he’s working on the finer points of run blocking.
“It’s about your technique and footwork, your hand placement and your aiming point,” Bostick said, “where you block and knowing how to leverage a guy.”
Blocking is Bostick’s ticket to the 53-man roster. Stretching the field as a receiver is what would keep him there.
Two weeks ago, he did watch…… full story here
By Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – This is how different things are for Green Bay Packers second-year quarterback B.J. Coleman:
During a rookie orientation camp practice Friday inside the Don Hutson Center, Coleman came up to the line of scrimmage, got his receivers lined up in the right place, barked out the signals and then did what he couldn’t do a year ago at this time.
He dropped back fluidly, read how the safeties had split wide, spotted that his tight end had bent his route to the post and then fired a shot down the middle of the field that dropped right into the fingertips of undrafted free agent Jake Stoneburner.
At this time a year ago, Coleman, a seventh-round pick out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was up at the line mostly hoping he knew the play that was called in the huddle.
“From Year 1 to Year 2, you’re making that jump from doing it to why you did it,” Coleman said Saturday. “Sometimes when you get thrown into that rookie camp for the first time, it’s like, ‘I’m trying to survive. Where’s the open guy?’
“This year, it’s Cover-2, guy splits the seam, get the ball up and down over the top, get the ball to the tight end, give him a chance to catch and carry.”
Right after Coleman high-fived with a teammate, there was coach Mike McCarthy, up in his face.
Only this time, he wasn’t telling Coleman what he should have done. He was asking him why he did what he did. Justify your throw and talk about what you would have done had things been slightly different.
“He was like, ‘If this happened, what would you have done?’ ” Coleman said. “It’s what you have to prepare yourself for because really and truly in this game you have to expect the unexpected.
“Anything can happen. (There could be) a blown coverage and sometimes if you’re too robotic you get upset because you’re like, ‘You’re supposed to be here.’ But that’s the beauty of the game.”
And it’s the advanced position Coleman finds himself in entering his second season.
Eligible to practice with the rookies because he was on the practice squad last year, Coleman is relishing the role of knowing the offense better than any other player on the field. Instead of running the opponents’ offense, which is the job he shared with backup Graham Harrell all of last season, Coleman is running the offense Aaron Rodgers runs.
If you were to pick between Harrell and Coleman based on physical talents, Coleman would win in a landslide. He’s 6 feet 3 inches, 231 pounds with a chiseled body and a big arm. Size and strength just aren’t the 6-2, 215-pound Harrell’s forte.
But what Harrell has and Coleman wants is a keen understanding of the offense, quick decision-making ability and the footwork that allows the ball to come out of his hand almost as quickly as the decision is made.
“I think the biggest thing for me, the biggest jump that I’ve felt other than obviously diving into the X’s and O’s, is synching myself up with the wide receivers and tight ends and running backs, so I can put ourselves in the best chance for success,” Coleman said. “That’s what it really comes down to. You have to play fast, make good decisions and think on your feet. That’s kind of the whole game.”
Coleman has benefited from watching Rodgers for a year and said he has tried to be like a sponge, sopping up every bit of knowledge he can from the veteran. Known as a film-room junkie, Coleman has had to spend a lot of time there catching up on some of the things he missed playing at a small college.
More of a pocket passer than Rodgers and Harrell, Coleman has to prove he can be elusive and throw on the run to do the things McCarthy expects. There will never be any question about his arm strength or toughness, so it’s just a matter of refining his game.
McCarthy said after practice Friday he expected Coleman to be way ahead of the rookies given his experience and would have been disappointed if he wasn’t correcting other players and making sure the offense was running smoothly.
“I thought B.J. exhibited that today as far as his command in the huddle, where to go with the football and doing things because obviously he’s been here going through the off-season program with the rest of the team,” McCarthy said. “Based on what I saw, I was pleased.”
Coleman said he has not wasted the time he has spent with Rodgers. He knows it’s an opportunity to learn about the offense that few quarterbacks get and he doesn’t want to squander it.
The one thing he is careful not to do is copy too much.
“You don’t try to be (him), but you try to take the things that he does that you like that fit your game and you incorporate it,” he said. “You don’t want to be someone (else). You want to say, ‘I like this, I’m going to add this to my arsenal.’
“But when you go out there, you have to be relaxed and have fun. I think that’s the difference, too. I feel comfortable to where I’m going out there and I’ve got the guys laughing and relaxed and that’s important.”
When organized team activities begin in a week, Coleman will be back to going head-to-head with Harrell for the spot behind Rodgers. Harrell didn’t distinguished himself in the preseason or in the little action he saw last year, but he’s only a year ahead of Coleman and is aiming to sharpen his game, too.
Harrell got more playing time than any of the three quarterbacks during the 2012 preseason, throwing a team-high 78 passes to Coleman’s 18. Harrell’s passer rating was 78.2, and Coleman’s was 29.2.
This year, it’s likely the repetitions will be spread more evenly between Harrell and Coleman so the coaches can set up a fair competition. Coleman has to show that he’s capable of handling the full offense.
“I think the most important thing is to … full story here
By Jason Wilde Thing, ESPN Milwaukee
~ GREEN BAY – As much as this weekend will be about Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy and the rest of the Green Bay Packers’ rookie class, the team’s success in 2013 is more likely to hinge on the players who took part in the annual rookie orientation camp last year.
For while the post-draft chatter always centers on which rookies will have the greatest impact in the upcoming season, the “develop” portion of the Packers’ draft-and-develop philosophy demands that the second-year players make a significant leap forward after their rookie seasons.
“Again, our veterans will determine the fate of our team,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said after the draft, repeating one of his frequently used phrases.
That’s not to say that Jones won’t play a major role on the defensive line, or Lacy or fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin won’t win the starting running back job and be vital on offense.
But especially defensively, the Packers will be counting on their sophomore class.
That means first-round pick Nick Perry, second-round pick Casey Hayward, fourth-round picks Jerron McMillian and Mike Daniels and undrafted free agent Dezman Moses will have to become more consistent contributors on a team that annually eschews veteran free agency and relies on promoting from within.
Although the Packers are unlikely to get a lot of help from defensive end Jerel Worthy – the second-round pick’s rookie season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Dec. 30 at Minnesota, leaving his availability for the Sept. 8 season opener in serious question – Perry, Hayward, McMillian, Daniels and Moses will all be looking to expand their roles this season.
That’s what wide receiver Randall Cobb did last year, when he was the one offensive player the Packers could count on, as Greg Jennings (eight games) and Jordy Nelson (four games) missed time with injuries and five players served as lead running back at different times. Cobb, who caught only 25 passes and had his greatest impact on special teams as a rookie, wound up leading the team in receptions (80) and receiving yards (954) while finishing second in touchdown receptions (eight) last season.
Cobb was the one player from the 2011 draft class to step forward last season, as first-round offensive lineman Derek Sherrod missed the entire year as he still recovered from the broken leg he suffered as a rookie; third-round running back Alex Green couldn’t hold onto the starting running back job; fourth-round cornerback Davon House’s promising season was interrupted by a shoulder injury that required surgery; tight ends D.J. Williams (fifth round) and Ryan Taylor (seventh round) made limited contributions and since-released sixth-round linebacker D.J. Smith started the first six games in place of an injured Desmond Bishop before suffering a season-ending knee injury himself.
This season, after Thompson used his first six draft picks on defensive players last year, the Packers will need more from those picks on the defensive side of the ball.
“I think we can’t forget how many of our young players, our rookies, played on defense last year. Frankly, for as excited as we are about the 2013 draft class, the most improvement of our football team will come from the men that are already in the building,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Our young players on defense will be a year better.”
As rookies, Hayward played the most snaps, at 769 according to ProFootballFocus.com. McMillian (614), Moses (504), Worthy (467) Daniels (280) and Perry (211) also saw at least 200 snaps of action on defense.
Sixth-round inside linebacker Terrell Manning did not play a defensive snap but did chip in on special teams after a training-camp illness stunted his early growth.
Perry actually suffered what turned out to be a season-ending wrist injury in the Sept. 9 season opener vs. San Francisco but played through it. Then, he suffered a knee injury at Houston on Oct. 14, later undergoing surgery for the wrist injury.
In his 211 snaps, Perry managed two sacks – including a forceful blow to Colts rookie Andrew Luck that drew a controversial penalty and $15,000 fine – along with eight hurries.
Although he struggled early on in transition to 3-4 outside linebacker, he appeared to be getting more comfortable when his season came to a crashing halt.
Now, with co-starter Erik Walden having departed for a surprisingly lucrative unrestricted free-agent deal from Indianapolis, Perry should be the starter if healthy and will need to be a difference-maker. The only outside linebacker the Packers drafted was Illinois State’s Nate Palmer in the sixth round.
“You know, I think he was coming along. There’s a lot to learn at this position,” outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said of Perry. “You really need to put in a lot of time and the cleats on the field to get better. It’s just hard to watch and get better. You really need to have time on the field. He was coming along.
“I saw a couple good things and I saw a couple bad things, which is typical of a young fella coming in and trying to learn the system and making that transition from a defensive end to an OLB.”
Hayward played primarily as the Packers’ No. 3 cornerback in its nickel and dime packages, handling slot-corner duties after veteran safety Charles Woodson’s collarbone injury. Hayward started seven games (six in the base defense and one as the third cornerback) and finished with six interceptions, most among rookies and tied for fifth-most in the NFL. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Hayward was targeted 76 times on the season and allowed only 33 completions (a 43.4 catch rate) for 456 yards and no touchdowns and an opposing passer rating of 30.4. More impressively, he was not flagged for a single penalty all season.
With Tramon Williams having been forced to match up with opponents’ best receivers all season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt is hoping Sam Shields and Hayward can take on some of that burden in 2013.
“Tramon was put in all the difficult matchups. What I have to ask is, ‘Is Sam to the point where he can handle those difficult matchups? Is Casey to the point where he can get those difficult matchups and balance this thing out?’” Whitt said. “Casey probably played better than any of you all expected him to play and probably played better than I expected him to play. So the competition in the room has gotten better.”
Daniels was pressed into action because of injuries and showed some burst as a pass-rusher (two sacks) while delivering a game-altering fumble return for a touchdown against Detroit on Dec. 9, while Moses got his shot after making the 53-man roster coming out of training camp and recorded four sacks, five QB hits and 12 hurries while sharing time with Walden after Perry’s wrist surgery.
Worthy said at the Wisconsin Sports Awards in April that he expects to be ready this season, but defensive line coach Mike Trgovac acknowledged that the odds are against him. That could lead to more opportunities early for Jones.
“This will be a challenge for Jerel because he is transitioning from the defense he played to this defense. This would have been a big offseason for him,” Trgovac said. “Hopefully, he’ll get back a little bit sooner, but that’ll be a challenge for him. I think he can do it, but it’ll definitely make things a little tougher on him.”
McMillian, meanwhile, could have the most important role. He shared time with M.D Jennings at safety, seeing extensive action in the nickel and dime defenses while appearing in all 16 games. He did not start a game all season, but with the Packers releasing Woodson and not drafting a safety last month, the safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett is there for the taking for McMillian.
“I think he has a lot of upside. He did a good job when he was in there taking the place of Woodson in the dime spot,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “He made some plays and he did some good things that get you excited. But, as with all young players, there’s still room to grow. Obviously, he’s not there yet but we think he’s got a chance to be a productive player for us.”
Original story here
By Pete Dougherty, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~GREEN BAY – Ken Delgado has coached six defensive linemen in college who have played in the NFL, including former first-round draft picks Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan at California, and recent Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame inductee Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila at San Diego State.
This year, the Eastern Michigan defensive line coach has a player, Andy Mulumba, who is among the most highly regarded players in the Packers’ 2013 class of undrafted free agents. That group will take the practice field Friday for the start of this weekend’s three-day rookie minicamp.
Delgado said Mulumba is not the accomplished pass rusher Gbaja-Biamila was coming out of college, when the Packers selected him in the fifth round of the 2000 draft. But if Gbaja-Biamila was the superior prospect because of the premium placed on pass rushers, Delgado considers Mulumba a comparable talent physically and a more well-rounded player even though he grew up in Congo and only started playing football in Canada as a 10th-grader.
“I’m not one to make a bold prediction on what’s going to happen,” Delgado said, “but I’m very interested to see how it unfolds, because Andy has the potential to make an NFL roster, especially with what they’re asking (outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme) to do these days.”
Mulumba is looking to become the latest undrafted rookie to play outside linebacker for the Packers since they switched to the 3-4 defense in 2009. In 2010, Frank Zombo won a roster spot and later had a sack in the Super Bowl, the high point of his three injury-dominated seasons with the Packers. In ’11, Vic So’oto and Jamari Lattimore made the team but made minimal impacts. And last year, Dezman Moses played 436 snaps from scrimmage and had four sacks while splitting playing time opposite Clay Matthews.
Moses was the best prospect of the group coming out of college — he had 15 1/2 sacks in his two seasons at Tulane. But Mulumba is an interesting player in his own right. Despite his limited sack production — 4 1/2 in his last two seasons — he might have untapped talent after starting the game so late in life. He played football only after moving to North America and spent his first three years in the sport in Canada rather than a more sophisticated and competitive high school program in the United States.
Mulumba has decent length (6-feet-3 1/4) and good size (260 pounds) for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He ran the 40 in 4.80 seconds, which is only OK for the position, and had a good 36-inch vertical jump. For comparison, Moses coming out was 6-1 7/8 and 248 pounds; ran the 40 in 4.90 seconds; and had an athletic 36 1/2-inch vertical.
Mulumba, though, had only one sack last season and 3 1/2 as a junior playing defensive end. He was voted the team’s most valuable player last season but went undrafted because he’s so raw as a pass rusher and still is learning the mentality of a playmaker. Delgado said the coaching staff at Eastern Michigan spent Mulumba’s first two seasons teaching him the fundamentals of football.
When the Packers drafted Gbaja-Biamila, he was undersized, didn’t make the 53-man roster at the end of his first training camp, then was promoted from the practice squad later in his rookie season. But even early on, he showed the ability to get off fast at the snap and dip his shoulder around the corner as a pass rusher, which became his trademark as an outside rusher in the NFL.
Mulumba hasn’t shown anything like that as a rusher. But Delgado said once he’s immersed in an NFL training program, Mulumba is talented enough to become proficient. He might be too raw to have much shot at the 53-man roster this year, especially since the Packers drafted another outside linebacker, Nate Palmer of Illinois State, in the sixth round.
But Mulumba is a strong developmental candidate for the practice squad.
“It’s just going to take patience from an NFL team,” Delgado said. “He brings a lot of stuff to the table as far as skills. Some of the things Andy does are very skillful. He’s an unbelievable athlete with his hips. (Outside linebackers) now have to be hybrid-type animals that can do a lot of things. Andy has all those qualities. When it comes to the old rear back and get the sack that’s changing football (games), when you’ve got that guy that can step up and make that play, Andy needs to prove he can do that. With teaching and environment, I think he can do that.
“Whether someone will have the patience to do that in the NFL, I don’t know.”
Mulumba came to football late because he grew up in Congo before his family moved to Montreal in the early 2000s. He said his parents considered Congo too dangerous to raise their six children and wanted them to benefit from an education in North America. So after his father earned his Ph.D. at Auburn University while living on his own in the U.S., he got a job with a United Nations food program and moved the family to Canada, where it was cheaper to live.
Mulumba played soccer growing up in Congo but tried football as a sophomore in Montreal. As a senior, he helped Vieux Montreal High School to the Canadian national championship and was defensive MVP of the title game. Eastern Michigan’s previous coaching staff recruited him via word of mouth from a contact who had a relative on Mulumba’s high school team.
Delgado characterized Mulumba as one of the most interesting players he’s coached — Mulumba didn’t redshirt and graduated in four years with a degree in business administration, and he speaks four languages (English, French and Congolese dialects Lingala and Tshiluba).
But even though Mulumba moved to Canada and then the U.S. in large part for the academic education, he says he’s committed to making a career in football. He was the No. 2 pick overall by Winnipeg in the CFL draft last week, but he says the CFL is only a fallback if he doesn’t make an NFL roster or practice squad.
He signed with the Packers because they were the only team that brought him in for a pre-draft visit, though Tampa Bay also offered a contract and a couple of other teams showed interest.
“It was an honor to be drafted in the CFL with the second pick,” Mulumba said. “But my goal is to play in the NFL. I want to play at the highest level.”
Original story here
By Tyler Dunne, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – For three years, Eddie Lacy rammed into a crowded line of scrimmage. It was the norm. So not surprisingly, the 229-pound running back is licking his chops to join the Green Bay Packers’ backfield.
Lacy believes he’ll be the X-factor that finally makes Green Bay’s opponents respect the run.
“I think that I can be that guy,” Lacy said this week. “I feel that I can fit into the offense perfectly. They won’t have to change anything. I’ll be able to go in there and adapt to it. It’ll keep defenses guessing.”
And yet, nearly the entire league passed on Lacy twice. Two weeks ago, Lacy tripped all the way to the 61st overall pick. One reason was leaked afterward. Before his final year at Alabama, Lacy underwent surgery on the big toe of his right foot. For a bigger, mashing running back whose job is to inflict and absorb punishment, this was a red flag.
Only longevity – or a lack thereof – will ultimately prove who was right on draft day. But this week, both Lacy and his team doctor at Alabama insisted that the toe is not a problem. True, a small piece of bone in Lacy’s big toe on his right foot was “fused.” He did undergo turf toe surgery before his final season at Alabama. But it wasn’t “toe fusion surgery” in the classic sense, his doctor said.
Lacy had surgery on his toe to prevent potential problems. Alabama’s team doctor, E. Lyle Cain Jr., believes the window of legitimate concern – immediately after the surgery – has passed. And Lacy is not worried at all.
“I’m good until I basically can’t run on it anymore,” Lacy said. “It’s nothing that I’m thinking about. I’m pretty sure I won’t have any problems with it. It’s holding up good. The surgery was basically perfect, and now it’s about getting back to doing what I know how to do best.”
For Lacy, this all began early in his sophomore season. From September on, he battled a turf toe, a sprain of the ligaments around the big toe that can affect an athlete’s ability to push off the foot. Serving as Trent Richardson’s sidekick, Lacy didn’t miss a game. But he also didn’t want the turf toe pain to linger through his football career. So after that 2011 season, he had surgery.
One of Cain’s partners teamed with a doctor from the Steadman Hawkins Research Clinic in Vail, Colo., to perform the bone fusion. Unlike the typical toe fusion surgery – which hardens the big toe completely, thus limiting mobility – only the bone on the tip of Lacy’s big toe was fused. He never needed the full, rocking-chair-like fusion doctors often use.
“The joint underneath the toenail was fused to allow the ligament to work better basically,” Cain said. “It’s something you do to give you a better push-off. His big toe moves just like a normal big toe in terms of motion. . . . If you fused it completely, it’d give you a stiff big toe and you can’t push off and that’s a big problem. In Eddie’s case, he does not have that. His fusion does not affect his big-toe motion.
“The bottom line is, the fusion he had does not affect his big-toe motion.”
Lacy experienced initial soreness in 2012, but that quickly subsided. The surgery did not dull his running style in rushing for 1,322 yards on 204 carries (6.5 avg.) with 17 touchdowns.
Without mentioning names, Cain said he has had other players undergo this same surgery go on to have highly successful NFL careers. Last year, he followed up with Lacy often. And while Lacy did endure other nicks and bruises – “nothing of long-term consequence,” Cain said – the toe was never an issue. Not once did Lacy consult with Cain about the toe in the training room, after practice or on the sideline during games.
Most importantly to Lacy, he didn’t lose his push-off strength. He was able to cut and explode. That’s the purpose of the surgery, Cain said. They wanted to prevent turf toe from becoming an issue in the future. The fact that Lacy made it through the 2012 season – with no problems, visits or complaints – was enough to convince Cain.
“That answered the question really,” Cain said. “I think that takes it out of the equation. . . . I expect Eddie Lacy to have a long, productive NFL career. I don’t think the toe will be a problem in his career.”
Still, other NFL teams apparently disagree. A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report said the Steelers “would not touch” Lacy because of the toe. Also, per the Denver Post, the Broncos director of player personnel, Matt Russell, told season-ticket holders that the turf toe was a concern of theirs in choosing Wisconsin’s Montee Ball over Lacy.
Lacy called a draft “a process,” adding “it’s not meant for me to know” why teams passed.
“They make their own decisions and conclusions and go from there,” he said. “But I played with it. I know how it feels and I don’t have a problem with it. I know I can play, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Lacy views his injury history in a positive light. Whatever he dealt with, he played through. One teammate said Lacy never missed practice last fall. A thick skin to gut through pain in general, the running back believes, should be viewed as a strength.
“It is because as a running back you’re going to get banged and bruised,” Lacy said. “You’re going to get injured and you’re going to have to play through it. I did that and I didn’t have a problem with it. So it is a strength. It shows the team how tough you are both mentally and physically.”
“I have a very high pain tolerance. I don’t know how to explain it. I can get banged up and not get injured. I’ll play through the whole game.”
Lacy has had zero setbacks with the foot since surgery. And the Packers, evidently, are banking on it staying that way. After the pick, general manager Ted Thompson said other teams may have been worried about Lacy’s health but that they “felt pretty good about it.” In the fourth round, Thompson did add UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin as insurance.
If healthy, Lacy could be the threat that finally lures another defender (or two) into the box.
Moments after being picked by Green Bay, Lacy assured the fall to No. 61 would be motivation. Again, he made that clear. After seeing one reason for his draft-day plunge, Toegate, Lacy is aiming to prove he’s durable.
“It’s a lot of motivation, just from falling so far back and not being the first running back picked, but I felt like I fell to the perfect place,” Lacy said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go, a better team to play for. I’m just excited to go out and let everybody know that nothing’s wrong with me physically.”
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