23

May

Ted Thompson Back to Collecting Wide Receivers

Ted Thompson looking for wide receivers

Wait, is that a wide receiver over there?

Shhhhhh… be vewy, vewy qwiet… It’s wabbit wide receiver season…

Trapper Ted is up to his old tricks., i.e.,  his normal off-season compulsive collecting of no-name wide receivers. On Wednesday, the Packers signed Alex Gillett, a 6’1″, 214lb former QB turned receiver from Eastern Michigan.

That brings the number of wide receivers currently on the Packers roster to eleven. That may seem like a lot at first glance, but it’s actually fairly normal for the Packers. I know this because I remember calling a few years in a row for the Packers to carry one less wide receiver on the camp roster so that they could bring in a second placekicker to make Mason Crosby actually, you know, earn his spot.

But no, we can’t waste a precious roster spot on a second kicker, I kept hearing. Well lo and behold, look what the Packers have done this season. Hey, they even went out and got an Italian kicker – Mama mia!

But before this veers off into another epic Crosby rant (I’m kind of due, aren’t I), let’s get back to the subject at hand.

The argument in favor of bringing so many receivers to camp has always been that they need camp bodies to run routes during practices so the main receivers don’t get worn out. I totally bought into that theory, but still felt it was a waste with the Packers only keeping five wide receivers – until last year.

Last season, the Packers actually brought 12 receivers into camp. (Borel, Boykin, Brewer, Cobb, Driver, Curenski, Gurley, Jennings, Jones, Moss, Nelson, Smithson). Many speculated they could keep seven. I expected them to keep six, what with Donald Driver being given a mercy roster spot after his fan popularity shot through the roof thanks to his Dancing with the Stars win. But seven?

The two players most assumed had the best chances of being #6 and #7  (Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley) were sent packing, while relative unknown Jarret Boykin (a rookie camp tryout invitee) was the surprise choice as the #6 receiver. In October, the Packers signed Jeremy Ross to the practice squad and signed him to the active roster on Dec 1. So the Packers did end up with seven wide receivers after all.

9

January

Packers Spread Formations can Keep 49ers’ Willis off the Field

Patrick Willis

49ers LB Patrick Willis might spend a lot of time on the sidelines if the Packers spread things out.

The Packers best bet to to overcome the physicality and viciousness of the 49ers’ defense in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game might be to go with four and five wide receivers and spread things out.

Yes, the Packers’ running game has shown signs of life in the last month. But do you really think the Packers will win Saturday because they line up against San Francisco and blow them off the line in the running game? Doubtful.

You know how teams say the best way to slow down the Packers is with long possessions on offense that keep Aaron Rodgers of the field? The best way to attack the 49ers’ defense might be to try and get one of their best players off the field.

If the Packers use a bunch of four- and five-wide sets, it likely means that San Francisco’s all-pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis will spend a lot of time on the sideline. The 49ers will need another defensive back, probably Perrish Cox, on the field to deal with the Packers receivers instead of Willis.

What gives the Packers a better chance of winning? Running at a stout 49ers defense with Willis manning the middle of the field? Or using four or five receivers and putting the game in the hands of Aaron Rodgers while Willis watches from the sidelines? I vote for the latter.

All the Packers receivers are finally healthy (or at least healthy enough to play). Might as well use them, right?

Of course, the Packers should mix in run and power plays when needed. This isn’t Madden on the PS3. But spread sets and passing should set up those traditional formations and running plays, not the other way around.

Justin Smith, San Francisco’s mauling defensive lineman, will be slowed by a shoulder injury, which should reduce some of the stress on the Packers’ offensive line. Either way, there will be a lot of pressure on the offensive line to hold up and on Rodgers to make decisive throws if a receiver gets just an inch of separation.

The chess match on Saturday night will be interesting.

——————

Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

——————

11

September

Why do the Packers Throw Deep on 3rd and Short?

Jordy Nelson

The Packers’ Jordy Nelson and Aaron Rodgers like going deep on 3rd and short.

Because the Packers have the personnel and talent to do it. That’s the simple answer.

But it still seems to drive people nuts whenever Aaron Rodgers launches a pass downfield on 3rd and short. It doesn’t drive me nuts, and never will as long as Rodgers is the quarterback and the Packers receivers remain one of the better groups in the NFL.

Opposing teams spend the entire week trying to figure out how to stop the Packers offense, which means they spend a good part of that week scheming against the Packers deep passing attack. Mike McCarthy’s best shot at creating a mismatch downfield often comes on 3rd and short, and it’d be silly for him to not take advantage.

Obviously, the bomb on 3rd and short isn’t always the right call. But I trust McCarthy and Rodgers to figure out when it should be called and when it shouldn’t. I thought the bomb to Jordy Nelson on 3rd and short during the opening drive of the second half on Sunday was an excellent call.

The Packers struggled to get over the top of the 49ers defense in the first half and needed to take a shot. That was as good a time as any to try and get single coverage downfield. Unfortunately for the Packers, the 49ers weren’t fooled. Both defensive backs took one look at Rodgers’ play-fake, pointed and laughed, then dropped back to double Nelson. “Hahaha! That’s cute, McCarthy,” the defensive backs said. “Fake like you’re going to run the ball. Hilarious. Like we care if you hand the ball off against our amazing front-seven. Go ahead. Good luck. We’re going to hang back here and prevent this 50-yard touchdown you’re trying to sneak past us.”

This poses a problem for the Packers. The surprise factor might not be there on 3rd and short bombs like it used to be. Other teams might not bite on the play-action like they usually do. I never could figure out why other team’s bit on Packers’ play-actions anyway, but they often do.

Even if the Packers running game improves, giving teams a reason to bite on play-action, perhaps other teams will just say the heck with it, let the Packers pick up two yards and a first down, and live to fight another series. That’s a lot better scenario than selling out on the run, leaving the deep part of the field open, and watching Rodgers connect on a game-changing bomb.

12

August

Diondre Borel and the Battle to be the Packers 6th Wide Receiver

Diondre Borel

Green Bay Packers wide receiver Diondre Borel runs the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Diondre Borel had an opportunity to separate himself from the competition in the race for the sixth wide receiver spot on the Packers’ roster Thursday night.

Did he do it? Well, not really. But he also didn’t take a major step backwards. Like the whole battle-for-the-sixth-receiver-spot storyline has been thus far, Borel was just kind of meh against the Chargers. Not terrible, but far from great.

Things didn’t start well for Borel. He got drilled by San Diego’s Demorrio Williams on a first quarter kickoff and fumbled. Coughing the ball up is the surest way to find yourself in Mike McCarthy’s doghouse and off the team, so Borel put himself in a deep hole right off the bat.

Borel returned three more kicks/punts on Thursday, including a 34-yard return late in the first half where he flashed some of the speed and burst that make him an intriguing prospect.

Borel finished with three catches for 13 yards and was targeted five times by Graham Harrell. Those numbers are nothing to brag about, but he didn’t have any drops and he definitely didn’t look overmatched.

Like he showed on the 34-yard return, Borel looked quick after he caught the ball — as quick as someone can look when they’re immediately being swarmed by defenders, anyway.

I’d like to see what Borel could do one-on-one against a would-be tackler. If McCarthy really wants to see what Borel is made of, perhaps he’ll call a quick screen in the next exhibition game to see if Borel can get by the first defender and make something happen in the open field.

Maybe Borel would have gotten that chance later in the game, but he exited early with a groin injury, joining a long list of injured Packers on the sidelines.

To make the WR situation even more muddled, Dale Moss looked good and had a nice catch on the sideline.

The race for the sixth WR position is no more clear now than it was before training camp. Nobody has staked an early claim to the slot based on performance, and Borel didn’t exactly seize his opportunity on Thursday.

13

June

Diondre Borel Catches the Eye of Aaron Rodgers on Day 1 of Packers’ Minicamp

Photo: David Dermer, Getty Images

NFL teams rarely keep six receivers on their 53-man rosters. Seven is almost unheard of.

But if the young players comprising the Green Bay Packers depth chart at receiver continue to impress as they have to start this offseason, GM Ted Thompson may have no other choice than to select more than five for his final roster.

After the first day of the Packers mandatory three-day minicamp Tuesday, quarterback Aaron Rodgers singled out one of those young receivers to heap on more praise: Second-year receiver Diondre Borel.

“Diondre Borel is a guy that gives us a different look because he plays a similar position of that of Randall Cobb,” Rodgers said in an interview with Packers.com. “Diondre has made as big of jump as anybody from year 1 to year 2. He really made the most of his reps on the scout team last year.”

The Packers signed Borel as an undrafted free agent in July of 2011. Despite catching just two passes for 35 yards during the preseason, Borel impressed Thompson and the Packers staff enough in camp to earn a spot on the team’s eight-man practice squad to start 2011.

What made Borel’s inclusion on the practice squad all the more impressive was the fact that the former Utah State Aggie was making a transition back to receiver from quarterback, a position he played during his final three seasons in college. At Utah State, Borel threw for almost 7,000 career passing yards—ranking him second in school history—after playing in eight games as a receiver during his freshman season.

Borel was impressive enough during his time on the Packers’ practice squad that he eventually received an offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be on their active 53-man roster—an invitation Borel declined for a pay bump in Green Bay and a chance to make the roster in 2012.

At just 6-0 and a little under 200 pounds, Borel doesn’t possess a unique frame or blazing speed. 6-foot-4 Tori Gurley—another practice squad receiver who will be competing with Borel for a roster spot—has the height that no other Packers’ receiver has. But Rodgers thinks Borel’s history as a quarterback gives him the mental capacity to make his mark on the receiving depth chart this summer.

30

March

Packers Keeping 6 WRs Doesn’t Make Sense

Donald Driver

Could the Packers keep six WRs to retain Donald Driver?

Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke highly of Donald Driver this week, giving no indication that the team plans to cut the 37-year-old any time soon. Of course, McCarthy wasn’t going to come out and say that Driver will be off the team shortly, so take the coach’s praise for Driver with a grain of salt.

Actually, McCarthy had a general quote about the Packers WR philosphy that I think actually hurts Driver’s chances of being a Packer in 2012. McCarthy said:

“We don’t just try to get four receivers or five receivers and stop there. You want to get as many as you can.”

This is bad news for Driver because it tells me that the Packers won’t hesitate to draft a WR if they see one they like. No, WR isn’t a position of immediate need, but Ted Thompson doesn’t draft strictly based on need. If there’s a WR he likes and feels is a good value for the round he’s drafting in, he’ll take him.

But let’s say Thompson doesn’t draft a WR. Driver’s main competition would be Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, both practice squad players last season that other teams tried to sign away from the Packers. Would Thompson keep a 37-year-old over two up-and-comers?

Now lets say Thompson drafts a WR, maybe an unpolished guy in the fifth or sixth round. Based on McCarthy’s above quote and past history, I don’t think Thompson would hesitate to do so. That’s more competition for Driver and yet another young player in the wrestling match for a roster spot.

Whether the Packers draft another WR or not, they could choose to keep six WRs, perhaps all five from last season and one of the young guys. This is the option I dislike the most.

The future seems bright for the Packers at WR. Greg Jennings (if they extend him), Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb appear on track to be contributors for a while. James Jones is decent enough and Jermichael Finley is basically an extra WR. Packers WRs have also manged to stay healthy the last couple of seasons. There’s no reason to stockpile an extra WR by keeping six on the roster.

21

November

Has Jordy Nelson Become the Packers No. 1 Receiver?

Jordy Nelson has become the Packers No. 1 receiver...at least for now.

When Ted Thompson signed Jordy Nelson to a 3 year, $13.35 million contract extension, the Packers GM probably thought he was locking up his second best receiver for the foreseeable future.

Or maybe not.

Perhaps Thompson knew Nelson was more than a No. 2 guy and felt he had to sign him before Nelson himself realized he was more than a No. 2, and set his price higher than what the Packers could afford.

Either way, the signing was a good one and Nelson has taken his game to a new level since the deal was announced. Actually, Nelson has played so well that he’s the Packers No. 1 receiver, at least for now.

Since signing the extension on Oct. 2, Nelson has 30 catches for 555 yards and seven TDs. He’s led the Packers in receiving yards three times and seems to be Rodgers’ favorite target when the QB breaks the pocket and needs to get rid of the ball.

Over that same stretch, Greg Jennings, generally considered to be the Packers No. 1 WR, has 35 catches for 498 yards and five TDs. Jennings hasn’t gone over 50 yards in his last three games and only managed two catches for six yards on Sunday.

For the season, Nelson has 40 catches for 759 yards (19 yards per catch) and nine TDs. Jennings has 53 catches for 761 yards (14.4 per catch) and seven TDs.

If you ask Rodgers who the Packers No. 1 receiver is, he will likely tell you he just throws to whoever is open. If we use the QB’s criteria, Nelson belongs in the discussion.

If we factor in big plays, the ability to get open when a play breaks down, and recent performance, Nelson is the clear No. 1.

Jennings might reclaim the top spot at some point this season. But either way, Thompson should pat himself on the back for locking up Nelson when he did.

——————

Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

——————