The Green Bay Packers picked up their first win of the preseason Friday night, defeating the Arizona Cardinals 28-20 at Lambeau Field. There were plenty of individual winners and losers from the game, but here are five storylines to take from the Packers’ home preseason opener.
Chastin West: Worthy of a roster spot?
Entering the season, it was almost a guarantee that the Packers would keep five wide receivers. Chastin West is making the Packers’ brass think twice.
West hauled in five catches for 134 yards Friday night, including a 97-yard touchdown grab from Matt Flynn in the fourth quarter. It was just another chapter in what has been an impressive preseason showing from the first year receiver out of Fresno State, who now stands a chance at making the 53-man roster.
There is realistically no way West would stick on the Packers’ practice squad, as another team would give him a look on their roster, so the team will have a decision to make.
Should West stick, a player such as Quinn Johnson or one of Tom Crabtree/Ryan Taylor would have a much tougher time making the roster. While the Packers will be fine at wide receiver without West, he is turning into quite a talent the Packers could use down the road as emergency insurance (Donald Driver’s age, Jordy Nelson 2012 FA).
Defensive Line Wearing Thin; Raji moves outside
Winner: Randall Cobb, WR: The second round draft pick from Kentucky was electric in his first game as a professional, hauling in three passes for 60 yards and returning two kickoffs for 29 yards apiece. Cobb is built in the mold of a young Donald Driver/Percy Harvin and adds a new dimension to the Packers’ offense.
Loser: Pat Lee, CB: The biggest loser of the night was Lee, who was burnt early and often. He looked slow covering both Josh Cribbs and rookie Greg Little, and the outstanding play of fellow cornerback Josh Gordy may have cost Lee a roster spot. He is most likely on the outside looking in after tonight’s performance.
Winner: Morgan Burnett, SS: After missing all but four games in 2010, Burnett returned in a big way. On back-to-back plays in the first quarter, Burnett blew up an inside run on second down and made an open-field tackle on tight end Evan Moore to force a fourth down. His time was limited, but he sure made the most of it.
Loser: Second string offensive line: For the most part the starters on the offensive line were stellar, giving Aaron Rodgers plenty of time to stand in the pocket. But for as good as they were, their backups were just as bad. Marshall Newhouse (see below) looked lost at right tackle and T.J. Lang was just as bad at left tackle. The second group will need work.
Winner: Derek Sherrod, OL:
The new kickoff rules certainly did not matter to rookie Randall Cobb, who returned two kicks in the opening quarter for 29 yards a piece. He showed no hesitation, hit the hole, and spun off a few tacklers to pick up extra yards. Fellow rookie Alex Green, who sat out tonight, is listed as the starting kick returner, but Cobb will give him a run for his money.
It was Frank Zombo, not Erik Walden, who started at right outside linebacker to begin the night.
Mike Neal showed great push and got down the line to make a shoestring tackle on running back Peyton Hillis on the Browns’ first offensive series. He looks small compared to Cullen Jenkins, but he makes his presence known.
Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush were both burnt badly on the Browns’ first possession. Lee failed to get his head around on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Colt McCoy to Josh Cribbs, while Bush bit on a playaction pass that allowed McCoy to pass for a first down.
Ryan Grant is listed as the starting running back in Green Bay, but James Starks looked excellent in his first quarter carries. He runs with North-South power but also has quick feet that allow him to make great cuts. He ran two times for 14 yards in the first quarter. Grant did not rush but caught one pass for five yards.
Training camp has come and gone for the Green Bay Packers, who will begin their preseason schedule tomorrow night in Cleveland against the Browns. Some players have shown up in a big way, others have floundered and others have suffered injuries that will hurt their chances of making the team.
On the eve of the the 2011 Packers season officially getting under way, here is one person’s take on who will make the 53-man roster when the team takes the field against the Saints on Sept. 8 in Lambeau Field.
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Why: Graham Harrell has performed well in training camp but there is no reason to keep three quarterbacks on the Packers roster.
RB (3): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Alex Green
Why: Dimitri Nance is ahead of Green on the unofficial depth chart right now, but Green should move to the No. 3 spot by the end of training camp. Green is expected to field kick returns, as well.
FB: John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson
Why: Quinn Johnson isn’t flashy but is an important aspect to the Packers’ offense as the only true “bruiser” in the backfield. The tight end situation could change things, however (see below).
WR: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb
Why: Tori Gurley, Brett Swain and Chastin West certainly are good enough to make the roster, but with so much talent at both wide receiver AND tight end mean the Packers are most likely to keep just five wide receivers.
TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree, Ryan Taylor
After the NFL lockout delayed the meeting between President Barack Obama and the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for months, the two parties met Thursday afternoon at the White House.
Obama, a known Chicago Bears fan, jokingly admitted that seeing the Packers enter his house to celebrate the championship was difficult.
Back in January, the Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, 21-14, in the NFC Championship Game. Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, to win Super Bowl XLV.
In his speech, Obama also
“I guess I especially have to welcome Charles Woodson,” the President said. “Where’s Woodson? I admit Woodson’s a good ball player. And for those who don’t know, I gave Woodson a little bulletin board material apparently, last year.”
After the Packers defeated the Bears, Woodson addressed the team and declared, “If the President don’t wanna come watch us play, we’ll go see him!”
The All-Pro cornerback was referring to the invitation to the White House all major sports teams receive for winning their respective championships.
Later that week, Obama flew to Green Bay to visit a local company and was greeted by Governor Scott Walker and Green Bay Mayor James Schmidt, where he was given a jersey signed by Woodson that said, “See you at the White House.”
“And I have now learned something that every NFL quarterback knows all too well: Don’t mess with Charles Woodson,” the President joked.
Woodson then presented President Obama with a stock certificate making him an official owner of the publicly owned team. Obama then created some mild controversy when he exclaimed, “If I’m part owner, I think we should initiate a trade to send [Rodgers] down to the Bears,” potentially taking a shot at Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
NOW it’s officially football season.
The Green Bay Packers will play their first game since winning Super Bowl XLV when they take on the Browns in Cleveland on Saturday night.
While the preseason contest has no official meaning, there will be plenty to watch for tomorrow. These five headlines will be broken down in a post tomorrow following the game.
Which cornerbacks will step up with top three battling injuries?
Starters Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams both worked with the scout team rather than the first team Thursday night, which could indicate that they will sit out Saturday night. Sam Shields was injured on the second to last play of practice last night and reserves Davon House and Brandian Ross have missed the entire practice week battling hamstring injuries. That leaves just Jarrett Bush, Josh Gordy and Pat Lee as the only three healthy cornerbacks for Saturday night.
While head coach Mike McCarthy said there is a chance a few of the injured cornerbacks will be ready for Saturday night, this is a huge opportunity for Gordy and Ross (if he can play). Brandon Underwood’s tenure in Green Bay is likely over as he is expected to miss two weeks with a knee injury, and that could open up an extra spot at the position. Both Gordy and Ross have played well but, if Gordy can play well with the first team defense, it could give him the upper hand in making the roster.
Healthy? 2010 injured can prove it tomorrow night
The Green Bay Packers released their first unofficial depth chart of 2011 Tuesday, four days before their preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns.
With four preseason games and just under a month before Week 1, take this depth chart with a large grain of salt. Plenty will happen between now and Sept. 4, meaning plenty of names will be moved around.
Here is a look at the depth chart, via Packers.com:
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Graham Harrell
RB: Ryan Grant, James Starks, Dimitri Nance, Alex Green/Brandon Saine
FB: John Kuhn, Quinn Johnson, Jon Hoese
WR1: Greg Jennings, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Brett Swain/Diondre Borel, Kerry Taylor
WR2: Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, Chastin West, Tori Gurley/Antonio Robinson, Shaky Smithson
TE: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Tom Crabtree, D.J. Williams/Ryan Taylor/Spencer Havner
LT: Chad Clifton, Marshall Newhouse, Theo Sherman
LG: Derek Sherrod, T.J. Lang, Adrian Battles
C: Scott Wells, Nick McDonald, Evan Dietrich-Smith, Sampson Genus
RG: Josh Sitton, Nick McDonald, Caleb Schlauderaff
RT: Bryan Bulaga, Chris Campbell, Ray Dominguez
In case you haven’t heard, the quarterback spot in Green Bay is locked up for the foreseeable future.
While that is great news for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers receiving corps and the coaching staff, it has created a roadblock for backup Matt Flynn.
As the three-year veteran enters the 2011 season, the final year of his rookie contract, his audition for a potential move at the end of the year will come over the next four weeks as the Packers go through their preseason schedule.
A seventh round draft choice out of LSU, where he won the National Championship in 2008, Flynn entered the league without a rocket arm, without the measurables of a franchise quarterback, and without the pinpoint accuracy of a player like Matt Ryan, who was selected third overall by the Falcons in that same draft.
However, Flynn excelled early in preseason games and was awarded the backup job to Rodgers over second round draft choice Brian Brohm, currently with the Buffalo Bills. In his rookie season, Flynn finished the preseason 27-of-42 (64.3 percent) for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
A year later he threw just eight passes in preseason, completing six for 63 yards. In 2010, Flynn turned heads again by completing 50-of-85 passes for 583 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, including a 304-yard performance in the finale against Kansas City.
His most impressive performance came last year in his first and only start to date, when he filled in for an injured Aaron Rodgers in New England and passed for 251 yards and three touchdowns in an eventual 31-27 loss.
The secret is now out on Flynn as a potential starting quarterback, and one executive in personnel for an NFL team even touted him as “the best backup in the NFL.”
Unfortunately for Flynn, he will not get a chance to start, barring injury to Rodgers, until at least the 2012 season.
The Green Bay Packers coaching staff will need to cut the team roster from 80 to 75 on Aug. 31, and then again to 53 players by Sept. 4, four days before the Packers open the 2011 NFL season with a home game against the Saints.
While the Packers have approximately 40 locks (by my estimation), there are plenty of players fighting for both active roster spots as well as practice squad spots. Here are five players who could surprise by being suited up on Sept. 8.
Brandian Ross, CB: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was intercepted just 11 times during the 2010 season, so when it happens people take notice. Ross, an undrafted rookie free agent, picked off Rodgers on Family Night last Saturday and returned it for an interception.
With Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Davon House all assumed locks to make the team, Ross will have his work cut out for him. He will most likely be competing with Brandon Underwood, Pat Lee, Josh Gordy and Jarrett Bush for two roster spots. Helping his cause is the fact that Ross played safety for two years at Youngstown State, before shifting to cornerback.
He has the size (6-feet, 191 pounds) and now has the attention of coaches and fans alike. Should he continue his impressive streak of play in the coming weeks, he just might find himself a roster spot. After all, a year ago Sam Shields was an undrafted free agent cornerback, and that turned out fine.
Brandon Saine, RB: Not much has been said out of training camp regarding Saine, another undrafted rookie. The Ohio State Buckeye finished his career with 1,408 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran a 4.43 forty-yard dash at his pro day, but a lack of top end speed and durability concerns left him undrafted.
No position was more injury-riddled for the Green Bay Packers in 2010 (and there were a lot of them) than at linebacker. Of the 15 Packers who eventually were placed on injured reserve, four of those players, linebackers Nick Barnett, Brandon Chillar, Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga, were all contributors to a 2009 defense that ranked second in yards allowed and seventh in points allowed.
The depth concerns were amplified at outside linebacker, where Jones had been the clear-cut starter in 2009 after taking over for an injured Aaron Kampman. Inside, Barnett and Chillar were only reserves behind A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop and, while Chillar was used in situational packages, he was easier to replace than finding a new starting outside linebacker.
Jones had not shown any signs of a sophomore slump in his five starts in 2010, which included the first two of the season and weeks five through seven. While he did not produce a sack in those five starts after recording four sacks in seven 2009 starts, Jones recorded 27 tackles, including 16 solo. In a Week 7 contest against the Vikings, however, Jones aggravated a shoulder injury suffered in training camp and was shelved for the rest of the season.
Filling in for Jones was little-known Frank Zombo, an undrafted rookie from Central Michigan. After 32 teams, including the Packers, passed over him in seven different rounds, Zombo tore up the 2010 preseason (18 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble) and found himself on the 53-man roster. He then wasted no time getting into the action, recording a sack in Week 1 against the Eagles and again in Week 3 against the Bears. It seemed the Packers had found their answer in Zombo, but a Week 14 knee injury against the Lions sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season, putting the Packers up against the wall to once again strike gold on a seemingly no-name outside linebacker.
This time around it was Erik Walden’s turn to make general manager Ted Thompson look good. A sixth round draft choice by the Cowboys in 2008, Walden saw time on special teams for Dallas and the Dolphins before latching on with the Packers in October, shortly after Jones was lost for the season.
He only started two regular season games, Week 15 in New England and Week 17 against Chicago, but he certainly made them count. In the season’s final week, with the Packers facing a must-win situation to make the playoffs, Walden ran circles around the Bears offensive line, finishing with 12 tackles (11 solo) and three sacks, earning him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors as the Packers defeated the Bears 10-3 to claim the NFC’s final playoff spot.
One of the early headlines coming out of Packers training camp involves a tight end who fans did not get to see much of in 2010.
But it isn’t Jermichael Finley.
Instead, fifth round draft choice D.J. Williams has been showing off his impressive ball skills in seven-on-seven segments and individual drills, making fans believe that general manager Ted Thompson has once again struck gold in the middle rounds of the draft.
There’s no denying that Finley is a lock to start as long as he is healthy, but the departure of free agent Donald Lee and no apparent back-up could mean that Williams, a junior from Arkansas, could contribute in 2011.
Wondering if Williams defines Ted Thompson’s mantra of “Packer people”? ESPN’s E:60 ran a segment on Williams portraying his extremely difficult childhood. Growing up, Williams dealt with a drug-inflicted, abusive father and eventually escaped with his mother and sister to Arkansas, where the family of three began a new life.
Two years ago, Packers’ Aaron Rodgers was being booed by Packers’ fans as he stepped on to the team’s practice facility in training camp. Yet he accomplished what many believed to be an impossible feat: stepping out of Brett Favre’s shadows establishing himself as a premier NFL quarterback, passing for over 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns.
And it was a mere six months ago that Rodgers shed the label of failing to win in the clutch, reeling off six straight win-or-go-home contests on his way to a Super Bowl XLV championship, a game in which he was awarded the MVP (and a shiny, new car).
So with the city of Green Bay backing his every move and a world championship under his belt (pun intended), Rodgers will now try attempt to accomplish the next feat in his already-stellar career: the title of league’s best quarterback.
Since New England’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning entered the league in 1998 and 2000, respectively, they have been at the head of their classes, combining for 660 touchdowns, four Super Bowl rings and two future busts in Canton whenever they decide to walk away from the game.
But with Manning dealing with a neck injury that could force him to miss time in 2011, and Brady having just celebrated his 34th birthday, the window of opportunity for Rodgers to surpass both just opened, and there’s an excellent chance for him to do it.
The Packers added valuable prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft and re-signed wide receiver James Jones and fullback John Kuhn, but there were a handful of players the team lost last week. Here’s a look at where those players wound up, what it means for those teams and how it will affect the Packers in 2011.
Daryn Colledge: Arizona Cardinals — 5 years, $27.5 million
Why he left the Packers: A common theme with all the Packers who left via free agency is that the Packers simply could not afford them. This is certainly the case with Colledge, who leaves Green Bay after five successful seasons. The money was not there, as seen by the contract Arizona gave him, and the Packers had viable (and cheaper) replacements in Derek Sherrod, T.J. Lang, Nick McDonald and Marshall Newhouse.
Why he joined the Cardinals: Colledge received a big payday as an injury-free starting left guard on a Super Bowl team, replacing long-time veteran Alan Faneca, who retired at season’s end. He will start from day one, protecting new quarterback Kevin Kolb and blocking for Beanie Wells. The Cardinals are starting fresh, in a sense, with Kolb and Colledge is now a piece of that.
What it means for the Packers: Ted Thompson clearly believes in the candidates at left guard, as the money was there for the Packers to bring back Colledge. The rookie Sherrod has seen first team reps during the first week of practice, and Lang, McDonald and Newhouse should make for healthy competition.
Brandon Jackson: Cleveland Browns — 2 years, $4.5 million
The Green Bay Packers announced Wednesday that the team will make its long awaited trip to the White House on Friday, Aug. 12, just one day before they open their preseason schedule at Cleveland.
The visit to meet with the President, a tradition for all major sport champions, had been delayed due to the NFL’s lockout, which forbade coaches and players from contacting each other.
Cornerback Charles Woodson created playful controversy in a post-game address to the team after the Packers defeated the Bears 21-14 in the NFC Championship Game.
He told the team, in regards to Obama, a Chicago native and Bears fan, not traveling to Dallas to watch the team in Super Bowl XLV: “If the President don’t wanna come see us play, we’ll go see him.”
Woodson will now get that chance to go see the President, but his former teammates will not.
The Packers certainly were not the only NFC North team who made big splashes in free agency, both gaining and losing valuable pieces. Here’s a list of notable free agent signings and departure and how it will affect the Packers’ chances at winning the NFC North.
Please let me know if I missed any:
Additions: DT Stephen Paea (R), OL Gabe Carimi (R), CB Corey Graham, WR Roy Williams, WR Sam Hurd, RB Marion Barber, DE Vernon Gholston, DT Amobi Okoye, P Adam Podlesh, C Chris Spencer
Subtractions: LB Hunter Hillenmeyer, DT Tommie Harris, WR Rashied Davis, S Danieal Manning, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, C Olin Kreutz, P Brad Maynard, TE Brandon Manumaleuna
The Bears improved in a number of areas in the 2011 offseason, but at the same time will be relying on a handful of veterans to make immediate impacts. Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi was a steal at No. 28 in the first round of the draft and will start at right tackle from day one, while former Seahawk Chris Spencer will replace veteran Olin Kreutz, who left on bad terms after the Bears low-balled him on a one-year deal. Regardless of Kreutz’s struggles in 2010, Spencer is a downgrade and will need to prove his worth (and health) if the Bears are to compete.
The Cowboys will have a head start on their offensive scouting report for the Bears if the two meet in the playoffs, as Marion Barber, Roy Williams, and Sam Hurd all join Chicago in 2011. Barber, who rushed for a career-low 374 yards (3.3 YPC), will replace Chester Taylor and act as a third down/goal line back to complement Matt Forte.
Williams, 30, re-joins offensive coordinator Mike Martz, where he enjoyed his best seasons as a pro in Detroit. He hasn’t topped 40 catches in any of the last four seasons but the Bears got him cheap and are hoping an increased role in the offense turns his career around.
Bringing back Corey Graham will help depth in the secondary and Podlesh, who punted in Jacksonville the last four years, ranked 15th in punting average a year ago. Maynard was a fan favorite but had run his course in Chicago, finishing last in the NFL with a 40.1 average in 2010.
The Bears still have major concerns on their offensive line, specifically left tackle J’Marcus Webb, but Carimi will help. Harris is the only major contributor to leave an already impressive Chicago defense, and second round pick Stephen Paea will impress in his rookie campaign.