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.

15

February

Packers News: Team set to release Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson

Charles Woodson may have played his last down as a member of the Green Bay Packers.

Woodson has had an illustrious NFL career up to this point. After winning the Heisman Trophy and being drafted No. 4 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, Woodson spent seven seasons in Oakland before signing with the Packers.

The Packers and Woodson agreed to a seven-year, $52-million contract on April 26, 2006.

After the best season of his professional career in which he recorded nine interceptions and three touchdowns, Woodson was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.

But Woodson has been on the decline athletically the past few seasons, and he missed nine games in 2012 due to a broken collarbone. Per Ian Rapaport of NFL Network, the team is now prepared to cut ties with the 36-year-old defensive back.

According to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel, “Woodson was due a base salary of $6.5 million with a roster bonus of $2.5 million the first day of training camp” in 2013.

Prior to breaking his collarbone against the St. Louis Rams, Woodson was used as a hybrid safety/cornerback. With Woodson out of the lineup, rookie Jerron McMillian and second-year player M.D. Jennings filled Woodson’s duties at safety. Rookie Casey Hayward took over as the team’s slot cornerback, emerging as a key playmaker on Green Bay’s defense.

It’s unknown as to whether or not Woodson refused to take a pay cut, or if the Packers simply decided to sever ties with the veteran.

By the time Woodson returned to the lineup, Hayward had a firm hold on the team’s slot cornerback position. Hayward figures to have an expanded role with the defense next season. The team could be in the market for another young safety to compete with McMillian and Jennings for playing time.

——————

Follow @MJEversoll

Marques is a Journalism student, serving as the Sports Editor of UW-Green Bay\'s campus newspaper The Fourth Estate and a Packers writer at Jersey Al\'s AllGBP.com. Follow Marques on Twitter @MJEversoll.

——————

11

February

M.D. Jennings: 2012 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

M.D. Jennings

M.D. Jennings

1) Introduction:  Packers safety M.D. Jennings entered 2012 trying to crack the roster at safety after playing primarily on special teams in his rookie season of 2011.  With Charles Woodson moving from cornerback to safety and with the team having drafted rookie Jerron McMillian in April’s draft, Jennings faced some stiff competition for reps at safety.  Because of the team’s many sub packages on defense, Jennings did get on the field as early as week one.  When Woodson went down midway through the season, Jennings started several games and gained valuable reps at safety.

2) Profile:

Melvin Delanie “M.D.” Jennings

  • Age: 24
  • Born: 7/25/1988 in Grenada, MS
  • Height: 6’0″
  • Weight: 195
  • College: Arkansas State
  • Rookie Year: 2011
  • NFL Experience: 2 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season:  Jennings was expected to develop and see some reps in the team’s nickel package as well as back up Burnett and Woodson.  The team’s hope was that Jennings could push to eventually become a regular on the team’s defense when Woodson eventually departs.  He was also there to compete with rookie McMillian.  Jennings continued to be an important part of the team’s special teams coverage units.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Jennings best game in terms of his grading came against the Houston Texans.  He graded positively in each area.  Jennings did score the Packers’ first intercpetion return for a touchdown in week 11 win against the Detroit Lions.  His low lights include the most controversial moment of the NFL’s 2012 season.  It was Jennings who had “simultaneous” possession of the ball at the end of the Monday Night game in Seattle that was eventually ruled a touchdown catch.  Replay clearly showed that Jennings had secure and sole possession of the ball.  The play should have been ruled a game-ending interception and a Packers victory.  In reality, Jennings got his true low light of the sesaon out of the way in week one.  Jennings badly blew his coverage assignment on San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Randy Moss, who snuck behind Jennings and nabbed a touchdown pass on the play.  The Packers eventually lost that game.

9

December

Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

 

Aaron Rodgers and Ndomukong Suh

The Packers are hoping Suh won’t get this close to Rodgers on Sunday

We’re back to the Detroit Lions already?  It seems like just three weeks ago I was breaking down the key matchups between these same Lions and the Green Bay Packers.  That’s because I was.  Due to the fate of the 2012 scheduling, the Green Bay Packers ended up with five divisional games in their final seven and didn’t see either the Lions nor the Vikings for the first time until week 11.  That means there will be a short time in between each matchup.  In the case of this rivalry, it was a mere 21 days.

With not many changes in the game’s key matchups, I’m going to drill down on the top three and spend more time on them.

Packers Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Line

No, not an earth shattering proclamation and yes, it’s a repeat from the first matchup.  But alas, it’s still a key in this game.  Since the last matchup, the Packers are dealing with yet more injuries on the line.  Starting guard/tackle T.J. Lang did not participate in practice on Wednesday and Packers head coach Mike McCarthy did not seem too optimistic with his progress early on this week.  I don’t expect Lang to play on Sunday which clears the path for rookie undrafted free agent Don Barclay to make his first NFL start at right tackle.

Barclay will be matched up against Lions left defensive end Cliff Avril.  Avril has had another solid year for the Lions and has 8.5 sacks on the season.  His quick initial burst will immediately test Barclay’s footwork and I expect the Packers offensive game plan to slide some help to that right side.  In a one-on-one matchup, I would expect Barclay to struggle.  For the football junkies out there, keep an eye on this matchup throughout the game as there will surely be a few mano-a-mano opportunities.  This will tell us a lot about what the Packers have in Barclay.

One source that may provide that much-needed assistance to the right side is newly acquired veteran running back Ryan Grant.  Grant was signed after it was determined the James Starks would miss quite some time with a knee injury.  While not the fleetest of foot, Grant is solid in his pass protection and should provide a boost there.  He knows the offense and should be able to step in and contribute right away.