23

September

Game Balls and Lame Calls: Packers 30, Bengals 34

Aaron Rodgers vs. BengalsOverall, lots of bad but a couple of good things showed up in the Packers loss to the Bengals.  On one hand, we haven’t seen a game as messy as this one since maybe the 18 penalty, 2 turnover night against the Bears in 2010.  Aaron Rodgers looked a little lost amongst all the new faces making an appearance due to injuries and the Packers didn’t look as sharp as they normally did, though having to put a wide reciever/returner at running back is probably as desperate as I’ve ever seen the Packers get.  On the bright side, the Packers look like they may have another viable running back in Johnathan Franklin and the defense was for once the strength of the team.  In fact everything was flipped today; the running game was brutally effective while the passing game was wildly inconsistent and the defense was the reason the Packers stayed in the game while the offense basically blew a huge lead late in the game.

Game Balls

Johnathan Franklin: Give credit where credit is due; many fans had written Franklin off as dead after a dismal showing in the preseason and not seeing the field even in a blowout win against the Redskins last week.  Ironically, that paid big dividends as the Bengals were obviously caught with their pants down in coping with the shiftiness and wiggle of Franklin on stretch plays.  I also don’t really fault Franklin for the failed conversion, if it wasn’t for the fact that Kuhn, Starks, Harris and Lacy were all injured, Franklin would never have been called to make the play, he’s simply not that kind of back (you can fault him for fumbling the ball though).  Personally, I think teams now see what the Packers have in Franklin and I doubt the holes will be as open as they were against the Bengals, but what is perhaps more important is that Franklin does possess the physical capability to be a running back in the NFL, something that wasn’t certain coming into the season.  Franklin still has a ton of work to do on pass protection and running between the tackles, and I don’t see him really being a preferred option at running back this year, but will probably be a force to reckoned with next year when things start to click for him.

18

September

Packers Stock Report: Flashback to 2011 Edition

Only this end zone pylon slowed down Packers WR James Jones on Sunday.

Anyone else have flashbacks to 2011 as the Packers cruised to an easy win over the Redskins on Sunday?

The lasers from Aaron Rodgers. Jordy, Randall, James and Jermichael making tacklers look like fools after the catch. The defense forcing a couple of turnovers. Sloppy tackling from the Packers defense. Not quite delivering the knockout punch.

Even though many of the players are different, the sentences in the previous paragraph would have summarized a lot of the Packers’ 15 wins during the 2011 season. The Packers aren’t about to rattle off 14 straight wins and repeat their run from 2011, but the overall stock of this team is rising right now.

Let’s take a closer look at exactly why that is:

Rising

James Jones
You could easily put Nelson and Cobb in the rising category as well, but they were risers last week and investors snatched up all the available shares. Investors who bought low on Jones — shutout in the season opener — are cashing in big time after his 11-catch game against Washington. The only thing that stopped Jones on Sunday was a fumble-inducing end zone pylon (hat tip to whomever I stole that joke from on Twitter).

Aaron Rodgers
I hate putting Rodgers in the rising category because it’s just assumed that the best QB in the world belongs in the rising category every week. After a game like the one Rodgers had on Sunday, though, he deserves to have someone physically take the time to type his name in the rising category. Rodgers obviously decided to take a couple of sacks early in the game just to make things a little more challenging for himself. That didn’t even slow him down.

Ryan Pickett
Now Big Grease is swatting down passes while filling gaps and squashing running backs. Nasty.

Steady

Mike Neal
I was a serious doubter about the Mike Neal at LB experiment, but I’m starting to come around. He can move a little better than I thought and he’s tough to get off the edge against the run. Raise your hand if you predicted that Neal would drop into coverage and get an interception sometime this season? Those of you that raised your hands, go sit in the corner and take a timeout for lying.

22

August

Micah Hyde and Jeremy Ross Battling For a Roster Spot?

Micah Hyde Training Camp

Is Packers CB Micah Hyde pushing WR Jeremy Ross out of a roster spot?

Green Bay Packers rookie cornerback Micah Hyde and second-year wide receiver Jeremy Ross could be battling for the same roster spot, despite holding two different positions on two different units. The one thing they do have in common, however, is that they’re both getting looks as punt returners on special teams. In fact, according to JSOnline’s Wednesday camp report, both Hyde and Ross will be returning “most if not all the punts against Seattle.”

Micah Hyde has been making a lot of splashes this preseason. He has taken full advantage of the injuries to Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward by making the most of his reps during practice and exhibition games. While he has a couple things to refine in coverage, he has shown great things as a blitzing defensive back. Overall, his praise has been well-earned. ProFootballFocus.com (PFF) even highlighted his performance against the St. Louis Rams last week: “Leading that group (of young corners), in spite of being involved in Chris Givens’ 57 yard reception, was 5th round pick Micah Hyde (+2.4) who outside of that catch surrendered only six yards on five targets. He also broke up two passes and registered four stops including a sack.”

As a punt returner, Hyde has had only a few opportunities to make an impact; however, his 13-yard (and only) return against the Rams was the longest by a Packers player so far this preseason. Head coach Mike McCarthy likes his ability to field balls, too. According to Rob Demovsky at ESPN’s NFC North Blog, McCarthy recalled a drill from rookie orientation camp: “Just to see (Hyde’s) ability to catch the ball on the run and do different things, hell, I was tempted to put him on offense. I think he has that type of ball-skill ability.”

With the cornerback group as deep as it is with Williams, Shields, House, and Hayward, it might take some extra duties for Hyde to really lock down a significant role on the roster.

Then there’s Jeremy Ross. Not too long ago, I wrote about Ross’ problems with ball security, but since that time there have been few reports about dropped catches. After Jonathan Franklin’s failure to field the third-quarter punt against St. Louis that resulted in a turnover (according to special teams coach Shawn Slocum), Ross has one fewer competitor to take the main job.

19

August

Revisiting My 10 Top Training Camp Topics for the Packers

Eddie Lacy may not get the first carry of the season, but he's the "starter" in my eyes.

Eddie Lacy may not get the first carry of the season, but he’s the “starter” in my eyes.

About three weeks into camp and halfway through the NFL preseason, many of the Packers’ key question marks are starting to take shape.

Some of such unknowns have since seen new faces (Vince Young) enter the conversation, while other questions (Jermichael Finley) are still completely up in the air.

Prior to training camp, we put ten Packers training-camp topics under the microscope for further review. Now two games into the preseason, it’s time to revisit some of these questions and predictions.

1. Who will be the Packers’ opening-day starter at running back?

Answer: Eddie Lacy, and I feel the same. Kinda.

The Packers clearly didn’t want to (literally) hand the job to a rookie running back without some competition; the team routinely gave veterans Alex Green and James Starks run with the No. 1 offense early in the offseason.

But after the “fat” Eddie Lacy thing blew over, the rookie quickly separated himself from the pack at the position. Coach McCarthy has been effusive in his praise of DuJuan Harris, who returned to practice this week, but if “Fat” is healthy, he’s going to get at least a share of the workload.

Fat was exceptional in his preseason debut against the St. Louis Rams, racking up 51 total yards on nine touches. He broke tackle after tackle, picked up the blitz and caught the ball out of the backfield. It was certainly an impressive showing for the rookie.

But if Harris and Lacy are both available on opening day, I really think both players will get a share of the load. Harris played well against the 49ers in the playoffs, but the Packers abandoned the running game in the second half.

So, in this case, the “starter” label may be a bit subjective. It could be a “starter and closer” or “thunder and lightning”-kinda situation.

2. How many defensive linemen will the Packers keep?

Answer: Six. Now, I think they’ll keep seven, including Mike Neal.

I was cautiously optimistic and mildly skeptical about the Neal-at-outside linebacker thing, but it looks like it’s working so far. Injured second-year defensive end Jerel Worthy told me and Cheesehead TV’s Zach Kruse to “look out” for Neal in his new role, and halfway through the preseason, he certainly looks like one of the team’s best pass rushers.

14

August

Jeremy Ross’ Hands Will Be His Undoing

Jeremy Ross, Training Camp DrillIn the grand scheme of the game, it might not have been the significant difference between a win and a loss, but it’s a moment Green Bay Packers fans won’t soon forget, no matter how hard they try to repress the memories.

Mike McCarthy won’t soon forget it, either. His decision to have rookie wide receiver Jeremy Ross return punts in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers backfired in the worst way possible. With the Packers up 14-7 and building some momentum, they managed to stop the 49ers offense at midfield to begin the second quarter. Unfortunately, the ensuing punt was muffed by Ross at the Packers’ 10-yard line, and Colin Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree for a touchdown three plays later. The game was now tied, and all the momentum had shifted.

Make no mistake, Jeremy Ross could be an exceptional return man – maybe even better than Randall Cobb. He has the right combination of vision, speed, and elusiveness that can create substantial returns. The one ingredient that is missing, however, is ball security. And all things considered, it’s perhaps the most important ingredient. Teams can recover from poor field position, but it’s ten times harder to recover from a turnover.

Fast-forward to training camp, and Ross hasn’t shown any improvement in being able to field punts or make catches. He’s been given multiple reps as a returner, and it’s no secret that McCarthy would prefer him to be “the man” at that position. The head coach’s decision to put Ross into the Divisional Round game was, in large part, due to his desire to keep star wide receiver Cobb from unnecessary injury, and that desire hasn’t changed much. If the Packers can have a back-up wide receiver fielding punts and kickoffs, it reduces the risk of them losing a key player in the part of the game where injuries occur most often.

But so far, Jeremy Ross hasn’t done much to help the situation.

As training camp reports from the beat writers come out, we’ve seen some all-too-frequent accounts of muffed punts and dropped passes from Ross. JSOnline’s notes from Tuesday’s practice mention another pair of dropped passes by Ross, which adds to a growing list. Dropped passes obviously aren’t the same as muffed punts, and the mechanics of each type of catch are completely different; nevertheless, they both show a propensity for poor ball security. But even besides that, if he wants to make the 53-man roster, Ross will still need to show he’s valuable as both a wide receiver and a punt returner.

6

August

Packers Rookie WRs Johnson, Dorsey Running Out Of Time

Johnson and Dorsey

Injuries have forced Dorsey (left) and Johnson (right) to miss valuable time at training camp

With training camp over a week old now, the Green Bay Packers have established front-runners at most positions.  That preseason depth chart can, of course, always change.  Still, with a little over a month from the start of training camp to week one of the regular season, time is short and reps are precious.  This especially holds true  to the young and unproven.

In this year’s draft, the Packers took two wide receivers, Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey, in the seventh round.  Johnson stands 6’2″ and around 215 lbs while Dorsey comes in at 6’1″ and around 207 lbs.  While both were late-round choices, Johnson and Dorsey were garnering some attention heading into the offseason.  Johnson was especially intriguing because of his size and speed.  The word “potential” is grossly over-used in the football world, but still, the “p” word was thrown around by many when referring to Johnson.

Early during the team’s organized team activities in spring, both Johnson and Dorsey suffered injuries that limited their participation.  The team was hopeful that they would heal and be ready for training camp.  So far, neither has participated in a single practice and time is starting to tick away.

When Greg Jennings departed after last season, that left the core of Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb at wide receiver.  That conceivably leaves open at least two roster spots at wide receiver, a very critical position in the Packers’ offensive machine.  Vying for those two spots are nine players.  Among those are incumbent Jarett Boykin, Jeremy Ross, Johnson, Dorsey, Myles White, Tyrone Walker, Alex Gillett, Sederrik Cunningham, and Omarius Hines.

Last season, the Packers seemed to be planning on carrying five receivers into the 2012 season.  They had young hopefuls in that of Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel and there was quite a bit of scuttle that the team may have to carry a sixth receiver if one or both of them had a strong enough showing in training camp.  Down to the last preseason game, both Gurley and Borel were on the bubble along with the little-known Boykin.  Boykin came on strong in that contest and earned himself the sixth receiver slot, sending Gurley and Borel packing.

3

August

Family Night First Impressions: Mama Mia Mason Crosby

Green Bay Packers Family Night Scrimmage 2013

Green Bay Packers Family Night Scrimmage 2013

Mason Crosby sure knows how to leave a bad taste in your mouth, doesn’t he? After a fun Family Night Scrimmage for both the fans and players, one that should have left everyone feeling good, instead, there are worries.

Overall on the night, Crosby missed five of eight field goal attempts. Two of his makes weren’t by much, either. Oy vay…

Giorgio Tavecchio made six of seven attempts. I wouldn’t exactly say he was impressive, but tonight he was better and he did make a 51 yard attempt. It’s good to know he’s capable of that distance, anyway.

Eddie Lacy looked like the real deal – he can make yardage when there’s little there to be made. And when he gets in the clear – he’s faster than you’d expect.

Johnathan Franklin seems to prefer (or need) open space to operate in. Looked best catching the ball out of the backfield. Did not show much running between the tackles.

The team’s best kickoff kicker could very well be Tim Masthay. This would help Tavecchio immensely if the Packers would seriously consider keeping him but concerned about kickoffs.

AJ Hawk – who is that skinny guy? Hawk has obviously slimmed down (or did some serious fat to lean muscle conversion) and appeared much more mobile. He was very active .

Davis Baktiari got a lot of looks at right tackle. Had my eye on him. Mostly went up against Nick Perry and I’d say Baktiari did his job. No real pressure from Perry.

Johnny Jolly was in on a few stops and seemed to be moving well (although he seemed a bit out of breath towards the end).  Thought he had a good night.

Jeremy Ross is my return guy (especially kickoffs). I’ve liked him from the first time he returned a kick last year. He has the right mentality; makes a quick decision, picks a seam and just goes.  I like him better than Cobb, actually.

BJ Coleman still has issues with touch. His strong arm is a detriment at times- hasn’t learned when a pass needs more loft than force.

The stadium addition looks awesome, as does the scoreboard atop. Noise level seemed louder. I think the plan to build a wall of sound will prove to have worked.