21

May

Casey Hayward: What’s in store for his encore?

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers CB Casey Hayward

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward was the 62nd overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, but he was among most impactful defensive backs in football last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, opposing quarterbacks had a collective passer rating of 31.1 when throwing at Hayward. And among cornerbacks who played at least 50 percent of their team’s defensive snaps, Hayward came in at No. 3 in the league, sandwiched between Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield.

The rookie went from being buried on the depth chart early in the season–Hayward played just three snaps in the season opener against the 49ers—to being, perhaps, the most irreplaceable part of the secondary.

When veteran Charles Woodson suffered a broken collarbone in Week 7, Hayward’s presence became increasingly important. From Week 7 to Week 14, Hayward played 88.5 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps.

Coming into the season, Woodson was expected to play safety in the base and bump up to slot cornerback in the nickel. But when Hayward emerged as the team’s most reliable turnover creator, playing primarily in the slot, Woodson’s role was drastically reduced by the time he returned for the playoffs.

This offseason, the Packers decided to cut ties with Woodson, who was set to count nearly $10 million against the salary cap. Woodson, 36, remained a fan favorite at the time of his release, but the presence of a promising young talent in Hayward made the move easier to swallow.

As a team, the Packers accounted for 18 interceptions in 2012, which was tied for eighth-most in the NFL. Hayward led all rookies and tied for fifth in the league with six picks.

 

1. Week 5 @ Indianapolis (4th Quarter, 13:09)

QB: Andrew Luck / WR: Reggie Wayne / Position: Slot

Hayward’s first career interception came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 5. Matched up against Colts receiver Reggie Wayne in the slot, Hayward matched him stride-for-stride and made the play on the ball.

Wayne dominated the Packers throughout the game, catching 13 passes for 212 yards and a score. But according to PFF, Hayward allowed just one reception on three targets on the afternoon. Luck’s passer rating when throwing at Hayward was an abysmal 6.9.

2. Week 6 @ Houston (4th Quarter, 7:11)

5

February

Packers Running Backs: Present and Future?

DuJuan Harris - Packers Running Back

DuJuan Harris – Packers Running Back

I dig into every article I can find about the Packers and the draft, including here at Al’s site.  There is a wide range of opinions on the subject of Packers running backs.  Lets look at my views on running backs,  those with the team, and in the draft.

The Packers currently have six running backs and one full back listed on their roster.  Those include running backs Cedric Benson, Alex Green, James Starks, Brandon Saine, Dujuan Harris, Ryan Grant and John Kuhn at full back.  Grant filled a spot caused by injuries, showed he can still do a little, but like last year, just say thank you and good luck.   The question on Benson would be is he even worth bringing back?  He did ok at best. He is a talented back with mileage and age, he just turned 30 and is coming back from a foot injury that required surgery.   I don’t see any compelling reason to bring him back other then competition.

Harris looks like a very good 3rd down back that can fill in nicely when needed to start, but not a “featured back”.  He does it all pretty well.  Has a decent jump cut, might need to be a bit more patient looking for cut back lanes.  He needs to be brought back and coached up over the off season.  Starks has shown he can be productive as a runner, is a good receiver out of the back field, but needs to work on blitz pickup.  How much time do you put into a talented 6th round RB that can’t stay healthy?  I think he should be brought back, but with any additional injuries he would get a quick hook from me.

Saine, another UDFA like Harris, has good straight line speed, is a decent receiver out of the back field and quite good in blitz pickup.  His ability in Pass Protection might have been his best asset. Not a great fit for the Packers running game.  He lacks lateral agility, but has quickness and speed.

8

January

Green Bay Packers Video 3-pack. Kids and Their Tantrums

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Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.

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25

July

Packers Sign South Carolina WR Tori Gurley

The Green Bay Packers signed South Carolina wide receiver Tori Gurley Monday night, following up their acquistion of Utah kick returner Shaky Smithson.

Gurley didn’t make an official visit to the Packers before the draft. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Gurley is an imposing receiver who surprised some by coming out after just his redshirt sophomore season. At the NFL combine, Gurley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, the 20-yard dash in 2.67 and the 10 in 1.62. He also benched 225 pounds 15 times and had a vertical leap of 33.5 inches. He chose not to run at his pro day in March.

College summary

Gurley certainly didn’t light up the stat book in his two years at South Carolina. He caught just 31 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns in his redshirt freshman season, and he followed that up with 44 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns the next season. Joe Schad of ESPN did state that Gurley was “one of the most sure-handed receivers in the nation with no drops the entire season.”

During the 2010 season, Gurley had one of the best games in South Carolina’s receiving history. He caught 13 passes (one short of the school record) for 109 yards and a touchdown. But for most of his career at South Carolina, Gurley was stuck behind likely 2012 first rounder Alshon Jeffrey and his production lagged behind.

Commentary

From a purely physical standpoint, Gurley looks the part of a NFL receiver. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Gurley would appear to be a size mismatch for any cornerback and a legitimate red zone threat. He’s trimmed down from his playing weight of 233 pounds, and at the combine, he told reporters that the lost weight helped him increase his speed. If that’s the case, he could be a scary option down the road.

But even with the physical traits, it’s hard to look past the lack of production at South Carolina. He had one of the premier receivers opposite him, and he wasn’t able to take advantage of the mismatches that likely created for him. And though he’s almost 24 years old, Gurley had just two years of playing time with the Gamecocks.

25

July

Packers Sign Utah WR/KR Shaky Smithson

The Green Bay Packers have signed Utah wide receiver and returner Shaky Smithson to a deal Monday night, kicking off the undrafted free agent signing period that followed today’s agreement on a new CBA.

Smithson was scouted throughly by the Packers pre-draft, as he was one of 12 players who made an official visit with the Green Bay before April’s NFL draft. At his pro day in Utah, Smithson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, the 20-yard dash in 2.71 and the 10 in 1.65. He also put up 10 reps at 225 pounds and had a vertical leap of 30.5 inches.

Shaky Smithson College summary

Smithson is listed as a receiver but he made his name at Utah as one of the more dynamic returners in the NCAA. While he started just four games on offense and caught only 25 passes for 383 yards his senior year, Smithson’s 19.1 yards per punt return and four 100-yard punt return games led the nation.

He also returned two punts for touchdowns and was 24th in the nation in kick return average (24.1 yards). His 2010 totals on punt returns broke the Mountain West record for a season. For his efforts, Smithson was named second team All-Mountain West in 2010.

Commentary

Smithson is an electrifying return man, but the Packers drafted Randall Cobb in the second round and it’s widely believed that he’ll be the main returner on both punts and kicks. If Cobb has a larger role in the offense than previously expected, Smithson could be asked to be the primary returner. The Packers have been desperate to help their return game for the better part of a decade.

But like any undrafted free agent, Smithson has to be considered a long shot to make the team. He won’t contribute much as a slot receiver, and the Packers haven’t generally kept players who are one dimensional on the roster. Unless Smithson has developed some kind of offensive game, that’d be exactly what he is.

In all likeliness, Smithson will need a terrific camp and some errors from Cobb in the return game to warrant a roster spot.

Video highlights

 

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

30

August

Packers vs. Colts: Film Study – B.J. Raji (Preseason 2010)

In this installment of Film Study, I decided to focus on one player I get asked about quite a bit – B.J. Raji.  So I went back and watched all of his snaps in the Green Bay Packers – Indianapolis Colts preseason game and here are my observations:

From a personality standpoint,  Raji  hasn’t shown much of a mean streak, and that was my only real concern when the Packers first selected him. From observing Raji, and speaking to people here in NJ that knew him during his high school  years, he’s a “good boy.” Polite, kind, soft-spoken: the type of kid you’d want your daughter to marry.

Of course, that doesn’t translate well to the battlefield known as the NFL. Not to say they are mutually exclusive. There have been plenty of “good guys” who would rip your heart out on the field if needed. Bart Starr, the ultimate gentleman, has been described as such by many teammates. Raji hasn’t shown me that killer instinct, yet.

In the last two preseason games, however, Raji has been starting to show some signs. He has made steady progress in each game, and against some very good Colts offensive linemen, had a positive impact on  roughly 70% of his snaps.

There is one thing he still needs to work on – and that is keeping his head up and eyes on the ball while fighting off blocks. During this preseason, I have observed Raji getting turned around or playing with his head down way too often. In many cases, the ball carrier ran right by him and Raji never saw him until it was too late.

An excellent example of this was the long run by Joseph Addai. (Before we get to Raji, I just want to mention what a great cut by Addai after he clears the line of scrimmage). With one move he faked both Nick Collins and Morgan Burnett to the ground. Watch for it and watch for Charles Woodson getting held right behind them. I need to figure out how to post these in slow motion for you all… )

Getting back to Raji, he gets completely turned around on the play (and then gets mugged and pulled to the ground, but after Addai was past him).

24

August

Packers vs. Seahawks: Film Study Observations (Preseason 2010)

In this next installment of Film Study, I select a few plays from the Packers – Seahawks preseason game that show something interesting upon review that might have been missed on first watch.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers are committed to doing whatever possible to keep QB1 un-sacked and upright. In just his limited preseason action, Rodgers has already shown the ability to more quickly recognized his checkdowns and not hold onto the ball too long. McCarthy, for his part, seems committed to giving the offensive line more pass protection help when needed, something I felt was lacking last season.

On Aaron Rodgers’ first play, 56 yard completion to Greg Jennings, Donald Lee was used in pass protection, and seemingly left to Rodgers to decide how. As you watch the play, you’ll see Rodgers look at Lee, who is lined up on the left side. He then glances to the right and sees the Seahawks have overloaded that side. He looks back at Lee, and most likely calls a protection change. Lee goes into motion and lines up on the right side, where he can help in the protection.

It works beautifully, as the Packers now have four players to Seattle’s three, the play action gets Seattle moving left, and Rodgers has plenty of time to roll right and complete the pass.

Bryan Bulaga, who was a film study subject last week for kicking out to pickup a blitzing DB on the edge, again showed some great awareness for a rookie, this time on the sack allowed by Allen Barbre. Although he ultimately wasn’t able to get back in time to help Barbre, it was for the right reasons. It’s hard to see this from the angle this video was taken from. On the NFL Network feed, which I have on DVR, but can’t transfer to my computer (arghh!), you can see exactly what Bulaga is looking at.

As the play starts, Bulaga’s primary responsibility is the linebacker in front of him. Bulaga keeps his eye on him until he sees that he’s going to drop back in coverage. With no one to block, Bulaga next looks over to Barbre. At that moment, Barbre is squared with the rusher, and appears to have it under control. So Bulaga then looks to his right to help inside, but there’s nothing for him to do there. He looks back at Barbre, but Barbre in a flash has inexplicably let a rookie 7th round draft pick blow by him like he’s the second coming of LT. Too late for Bulaga to get there, but again, he did all the right things.