31

July

Packers Stock Report: Too Early to Know Much of Anything Edition

It’s been a healthy start to training camp for Packers OLB NIck Perry.

It’s way too early to know much of anything about the 2013 Packers, but I can’t help myself. It’s time for this season’s first Packers stock report.

Here is who I see rising, falling and remaining steady on the Packers after only a few practices:

Rising

Datone Jones
Jones added 20 pounds since his pro day and it appears as if it didn’t come from drinking beer and eating cheese curds. Most reports of Jones have been glowing, and the rookie from UCLA has Packers fans drooling at the possibility of finally having a versatile 3-4 defensive lineman to take the place of Cullen Jenkins.

Micah Hyde
Mike McCarthy singled Hyde out for praise after the first practice and it sounds like the rookie from Iowa has been solid in other practices as well. With a number of cornerbacks out with injuries or illness, Hyde has gotten an opportunity to show what he can do. So far, itsounds like he’s taking advantage.

Nick Perry
There hasn’t necessarily been a ton of ooohhhs and aaahhhs about Perry’s play so far in camp, but it sounds like the defensive end turned outside linebacker is healthy and ready to restart his career after a season-ending wrist injury knocked him out for most of his rookie campaign. If Jones is as advertised and Perry bounces back and provides pressure on the quarterback opposite of Clay Matthews, this defense could get better in a hurry.

Steady

Randall Cobb
It’s typically rookies who end up in the rising category this early in the season. Everyone is impressed with the Packers’ shiny new toys. A strong camp is now expected from a player like Cobb, who is entering his third season and is the leading candidate to become the team’s top receiver after Greg Jennings’ departure. We haven’t heard too much about Cobb thus far — a good thing because it probably means that he looks fine and there’s nothing much to report.

Sam Shields
Didn’t it seem like yesterday when Shields was a converted receiver just learning to play cornerback? Now he’s talked about as the Packers’ most talented corner and playing for a big payday. McCarthy said Shields looks a little rusty after missing OTAs because of a contract dispute, but it sounds like he’s continuing to play more physical and improving.

21

July

Ten Packers Training Camp Topics: #4 — McMillian vs. Jennings

M.D. Jennings will battle Jerron McMillian for a starting spot. Who will win the job?

M.D. Jennings will battle Jerron McMillian for a starting spot. Who will win the job?

Packers safety Morgan Burnett just signed a four-year extension that will keep him in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. But the starting spot alongside Burnett remains very much up for grabs.

Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick in 2012, will compete with M.D. Jennings to be the starter, replacing Charles Woodson who is now with the Oakland Raiders. The Packers got a glimpse of life after Woodson when the veteran broke his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams last season.

Between the two, the Packers have a physical run defender in McMillian and a rangy cover man in Jennings. Combining the duo’s best attributes would be a recipe for a talented safety, but unfortunately for the team, only one of the two can be on the field in most situations.

Last season, Jennings was the direct victim of Lance Easley’s infamous touchdown call against the Seattle Seahawks. And for that exact reason, many football fans across the country now recognize his name.

But as proven by his 72-yard pick-six against the Detroit Lions, Jennings is capable of being a turnover producer on the back end.

McMillian, on the other hand, excels as a run defender. Despite weighing just over 200 pounds, McMillian isn’t afraid to take on a pulling 300-pound lineman head on. If McMillian can show significant improvement tracking the football in the air, the job may be his to lose, simply because of his undeniable physical advantage over Jennings.

At last year’s NFL Scouting Combine, McMillian clocked a 4.47 40-yard dash and posted a 36.5″ vertical leap at 203 pounds. Jennings is on the smallish side for a safety, tipping the scales at just 187.

Jennings played two more snaps (616) than McMillian (614) last season. And without Woodson in the fold, more playing time will be up for grabs in the secondary.

Question: Who will be the starter alongside Morgan Burnett? McMillian or Jennings?

This, along with running back and right tackle, will be one of the more compelling training-camp battles. McMillian has the edge physically, but Jennings has shown more polishas a pass defender. The competition will likely come down to who shows more improvement: Jennings as a run defender or McMillian in pass coverage.

31

May

Who Is Green Bay’s Other Starting Safety?

Packers rookie S Jerron McMillian

McMillian appears to be a frontrunner to claim one of the starting safety spots

One of the position battles that is and will continue to be a heavy focus in Green Bay is at safety.  Entrenched in one starting role is Morgan Burnett, who enters his fourth season and appears poised to take a step forward in becoming one of the team’s best defensive players.  The other safety position is still up for grabs amongst Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings and Sean Richardson.  This week, the team also signed undrafted free agent David Fulton from Chowan University (in North Carolina for those wondering).

With safety having been one of the team’s bigger needs heading into last month’s draft, the question seemed to be not “if” but “when” they would address the position.  Among the top prospects were Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, LSU’s Eric Reid, Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien and Florida’s Matt Elam.  Surely one of those would be available when Green Bay picked at the 26th spot.  That pick came and went, along with 10 others, and not one safety was selected.

Packers General Manager Ted Thompson has had a knack for standing pat at a position that he feels already has the depth and talent necessary to be effective.  In 2010 and after starting running back Ryan Grant went down early in the season, the team seemingly needed another option.  Marshawn Lynch and DeAngelo Williams were both rumored to be available via trade.  Instead, Thompson stuck with the rotation of Brandon Jackson, John Kuhn and James Starks.  It’s no secret, by now, that Thompson prefers his own players and to develop them versus playing in free agency year in and year out.  It appears that the Packers are, once again, exercising that mindset at safety.

Just prior to the draft, the Packers parted ways with long-time veteran Charles Woodson, who was moved to safety before last season.  That left a hole and only raised more speculation that the team would look to add a safety early in the draft.  Instead, they entered this spring’s organized team activities with Burnett, McMillian, Jennings and Richardson all splitting reps at practice.

11

May

Three-year comparison: Morgan Burnett vs. Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

When the Packers were forced to release Nick Collins prior to the 2012 season, they were left with a gaping hole at the most important position in the secondary.

Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler, was among the best safeties in football at the time he suffered a career-threatening neck injury in 2011, while his counterpart, Morgan Burnett, was coming off a season-ending injury of his own in his second NFL season.

Burnett’s rookie year (2010) ended in week four, and Collins’ 2011 season–and possibly career–ended in week two. Those six games comprised the entirety of the Collins/Burnett Era at safety for the Packers.

In 2010, the Packers selected Burnett with the 71st overall pick in the third round. Three years later and entering the final year of his rookie contract, Burnett may be poised to fill Collins’ shoes as the team’s key defensive playmaker.

Athletically, Burnett compares favorably to the former second-team All-Pro safety.

At the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, Burnett put up impressive numbers in the tests that best measure a player’s range at the safety position. He clocked a 6.87 in the three-cone drill, leaped 11 feet-8 inches in the broad jump, posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump and rushed out to a 1.57 10-yard split.

Burnett tested better than Collins in nearly every category, but Collins, a college cornerback, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, which trumped Burnett’s 4.51.

Obviously, athletic ability doesn’t necessarily determine a player’s on-field ability. If it did, Bengals safety and workout warrior Taylor Mays would be one of the best in the league–and he’s not even close.

As a rookie for the 4-12 Packers, Collins started all 16 games and showed flashes of his seemingly limitless potential. But those glimpses were rare, as Collins slowly made the transformation from a little-known defensive back from Bethune-Cookman to a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers.

It wasn’t until his fourth NFL season that Collins put it all together and made his first of three Pro Bowls. His first three seasons were relatively modest, as he started 45 of a potential 48 games, racking up four interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Burnett, coming from Georgia Tech, didn’t face the same transition that Collins did entering the NFL from a small school. But regardless, holding a starting spot at a position that requires sound communication can be a rough wake-up call for a 21-year-old player.

7

May

With questions at safety, could Woodson return?

Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson

For seven years, Charles Woodson was everything Packers fans wanted–a leader and defensive difference-maker.

Oh, and an expensive free agent acquisition.

But scheduled to count $9,437,500 against the salary cap in 2013, the Packers opted to release Woodson and use that money elsewhere. Since then, the Packers have signed Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews to lucrative contract extensions and brought in 11 players via the draft.

But one position that wasn’t addressed by the Packers in April’s draft was safety.

Alongside Morgan Burnett, the Packers’ have questionable depth at the position. Second-year player Jerron McMillian has his sights set on the starting job, and M.D. Jennings has added five pounds in hopes of being an every-down player. Sean Richardson, an undrafted rookie last season, also figures to compete for playing time.

Entering the draft, many expected the Packers to address the safety position early. But with the No. 26 pick, they turned their shoulder to Matt Elam and Jonathan Cyprien, and instead selected UCLA defensive end Datone Jones.

Safety was widely viewed as one of the deepest positions in the entire draft, with starting-caliber players available into the middle rounds. But the picks kept coming, and a safety was not among the Packers’ 11 selections.

So is the door completely shut on Woodson’s potential return to Green Bay?

Immediately upon hitting the free agent market, Woodson’s agent expressed his client’s desire to play for a Super Bowl contender. He had a visit with the San Francisco 49ers in March but nothing came to fruition. General manager Trent Baalke said before the draft that Woodson remains on the team’s radar.

“We had a great visit with Charles when he was here,” Baalke said, via 49ers.com. “We feel he can still play the game. That’s something we’ll continue to look at.”

But other than a visit with the 49ers two months ago, it’s been 2006 all over again for Woodson. But after months of minimal interest on the open market, the Packers pushed the hardest to sign Woodson and, ultimately, signed him to a seven-year contract in late April.

At this point, it’s pretty clear that Woodson won’t get anywhere near the $10 million he was scheduled to make for 2013. And if he’s only interested in playing for a contender, he’ll likely have to drastically reduce his financial demands.

11

April

2013 NFL Mock Draft: Two weeks until Draft Day

FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien

FIU safety Jonathan Cyprien

The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft will take place two weeks from today. That’s a good thing.

Trades are sure to shake up the order of round one, but no trades will be projected in this first-round mock. Things just get messy when projecting trades.

This mock will be updated in a week before the final version is released on draft day.

Some great value presented itself when the Packers were on the board at No. 26 in this projection. But what position of need would they choose to address if the  board fell this way? Read on.

1. Kansas City Chiefs: OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

KC: No surprise at the top. The Chiefs tagged Branden Albert, but they can’t pass on a guy like Joeckel. They’ll move Albert to right tackle and plug Joeckel in as the starting left tackle from Day 1. Had they not traded for Alex Smith, I think Geno Smith would be the guy. But clearly, the Chiefs aren’t enamored with this quarterback class.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars: QB Geno Smith, West Virginia

JAX: Jaguars GM David Caldwell has hinted that it’s down to two players at No. 2. Those two players are likely quarterback Geno Smith and pass rusher Dion Jordan. Jacksonville invested a first-round pick on Blaine Gabbert a few years ago, but he’s been a bust thus far. It’s a new regime, and I think Geno Smith is their guy.

3. Oakland Raiders: DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida

OAK: Ever since the draft order was finalized, I’ve been saying the Raiders should trade down. They have needs all over the roster and would be wise to trade down, add some picks and continue to overhaul the roster. That said, Floyd has to be the pick if they stay at No. 3.

4. Philadelphia Eagles: OLB Dion Jordan, Oregon

PHI: For the Eagles, I think it’ll be one of three players: Dion Jordan, Geno Smith or Eric Fisher. Smith is off the board in this projection, so the pick would come down to Jordan or Fisher. The offensive line was atrocious last season, but the Eagles are transitioning to the 3-4 defense, so Jordan makes a lot of sense. The Chip Kelly-Oregon connection doesn’t hurt, either.

5. Detroit Lions: DE Ziggy Ansah, BYU

28

February

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Safety

Morgan Burnett

Burnett returns as a leader of both the safety group as well as the Packers team as a whole in 2013

Packers Safeties:  One of the youngest groups on the current Green Bay Packers roster, this is a position that is expected to take a big step forward in 2013.  The team will be without long-time veteran Charles Woodson and will rely on Morgan Burnett to assume that leadership role.  Third-year player M.D. Jennings joins second-year player Jerron McMillian opposite Burnett with Sean Richardson likely in the fold as well.

For expanded coverage of this topic, listen to the podcast using the player below or download the podcast from the Packers Talk Radio Network on Itunes.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Morgan Burnett (3rd round)

M.D. Jennings (UDFA)

Jerron McMillian (4th round)

Sean Richardson (UDFA)

Burnett was a steady rock for the Packers in 2012, playing in all 16 regular season games and both playoff games.  After missing most of his rookie season of 2010 and being hampered by a hand injury in 2011, Burnett showed that he can be counted on and durable enough to play a full season.  His play improved both in coverage and run support.  The assumption is that he will continue that trend in 2013 and become one of the defensive leaders on this team.

Jennings platooned with the rookie McMillian opposite Burnett after Woodson went down.  He doesn’t have blazing speed but he has a knack for sticking his nose into the play and is not afraid to get after the ball.  He scored the team’s first interception return for a touchdown and had seemingly sealed a tough road win at Seattle before. . well, we all know that story by now.  Jennings will certainly be a part of the team’s plans at safety in 2013 in one capacity or another.  He is also a contributor on special teams so I fully expect him on the 2013 roster.  For an undrafted free agent, Jennings has, at the very least, matched the expectations he had when he was brought in.  He is trending upward and should continue on the path to exceeding them if he can stay healthy.