Monday, August 19, 2013

Predicting the Final 53 (and practice squad implications)

Position-by-position analysis of who I think makes the roster after 2 preseason games.  If I put (PS) after their name, I believe they'll be a practice squad consideration.  I'll give a short analysis after each position.
Quarterback (2)
Coleman (PS)

Graham Harrell appears to have held off the challenger Vince Young for now.  There's still a lot of time left for this battle to take place and all that can be certain at this position is that Rodgers is a lock.  Coleman is likely a practice squad consideration at this point, unless the Packers get wind of someone trying to give him a shot on an active 53, but that's doubtful.

Running Back/Full Back (5)

I almost thought 4 was enough here, especially given the lack of emphasis on the run, but I think in the end, the Packers will carry 5.  The final spot will be between Green and Starks.  Green and Franklin are basically the same player in my mind and Starks is the only other big back if Lacy goes down, so I give Starks the nod.  The competition is close though.  Pease has been terrible at blocking on both Special Teams (near block given up last week) and on offense (twice I saw defenders run past him).  If for some reason they only go with 4, then Pease will have done enough to warrant a look on the practice squad

Tight End (4)
Stoneburner (PS)
Bostick (PS)

Quarless is still in the running but time is ticking on his availability and Mulligan can do what Quarless can do blocking-wise and on special teams.  He was nicked up though in the last game, so we'll see because I think availability will play a big role in who stays past Finley.  Bostick still can't block and needs more seasoning.  Stoneburner is an intriguing prospect and could make the practice squad as well.  DJ Williams is very inconsistent but has answered the bell more than anyone so far in preseason.  If they keep 5 here, then they either reduce one running back or one offensive linemen.

Offensive Line (9)
Van Roten
Lewis (PS)

The Packers might keep 8 here if they believe that either or both Sherrod and Tretter will be ready by midseason to activate off of the PUP list.  That would allow them to carry an extra tight end for the short term as well and see how that turns out.  Bulaga is put on IR in this situation as well and will be back next year.

Wide Receiver (6)
J. Jones
Dorsey (PS)
Johnson (PS)

The Packers may try to keep 7 here depending on availability of Cobb and Nelson.  Dorsey and Johnson might end up on the practice squad or IR depending on their injury status.  Ross makes it at this point because of Cobb's injury, so he takes the special teams duties.  With the multiple sets the Packers use, having 6 WRs on the roster is a necessity and 7 isn't out of the question.  Boykin is not a deep threat, but he is running better routes lately.  For the first time ever I saw him get a little separation on a route last week.  His speed will forever limit him.

Defensive Line (6)
D. Jones

CJ Wilson is the odd man out here (Neal is listed as an OLB).  Wilson has improved over the few years he's been here but not enough to give up on a guy that's flashed some upside in Boyd. The resurrection of Jolly's career hurts Wilson the most.  Both are essentially on 1-year contracts and Jolly has far more talent and desire than Wilson at this point.  Wilson will be signed by someone else though, he's not a bad player, he's just not good enough with the depth that they have.  Worthy remains on the PUP list and eventually hits IR in my opinion as well.  With Neal playing a hybrid position, I can't see them keeping more than 6 here.

Outside Line Backer (4)
Mulumba (PS)
Palmer (PS)

If Mike Neal plays only defensive line this year, Mulumba probably makes the roster with what he's flashed so far.  He's raw but has a good motor and could be good on special teams with some seasoning.

Inside Line Backer (4)
B. Jones
Manning (PS)

Barrington has laid some pretty big hits so far and looks fluid out there.  Lattimore and Manning are still projects and Manning I believe could qualify for the practice squad (he was on the roster all 18 games last year though, so I could be wrong).  I think it will be wrong of the Packers to keep more than 4 here, but they might just do that at the expense of a safety.

Corner Back (6)
Nixon (PS)

House makes it by the skin of his teeth at this point, but with Williams and Hayward unavailable for all of camp, it shouldn't really surprise anyone.  The Packers need those guys back or else it will make for some very tough decisions at other positions to make more room here.

Safety (4)

Banjo only makes it if the Packers keep the stated number of any number of positions, otherwise he's simply a practice squad kind of guy.  Only the top three have played well enough to merit a roster spot at this point, especially when you factor in that Bush can play safety in a pinch and Hyde probably can as well.  Sean Richardson goes on PUP/IR as well here or has an injury settlement if the doctors refuse to clear him from his neck injury.

Kicker (1)

Crosby has been coming on strong since the debacle in family night.  He has responded of late and if he continues, he will hold off the hard charging Tavechio.  Crosby's kickoffs are better, and it is very evident he has the stronger leg, which the Packers have always valued.  They 'might' go get a different kicker here but only if both falter.

Punter (1)

He needs to pick it up a bit here.  I hope he's just working on things because he hasn't looked nearly as good so far as he did last year.  I'm not too worried yet, as Masthay has had some small slumps before.  I'd rather have him hit the slump now than in the regular season.

Long Snapper (1)

Consistent long snapper.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Preseason Game 1: Final thoughts and player analysis

The Packers were shutout in their first preseason game last night.  The score is largely irrelevant, as the team uses these games to see how players battle in their one-on-ones.

Where was the Packers pass rush?
This is an easy one.  The 3-4 defense is predicated on creating pressure, but the Packers had little pressure throughout the night.  Capers did dial up a few blitzes, but they rarely got home.  I wouldn't put much into this though.  3-4 pressure is designed to create mismatched one-on-one rushes (outside linebacker vs a running back) or to create "free" runners to the ball (much more risky as you typically have to disguise very well or create an overload which opens up other parts of the field).  The Packers were interested in seeing only one-on-one matchups in this game and they say plenty.  The linebackers are rarely going to beat tackles with running back support and that's what they saw most of the evening.

What was with the Packers coverage?
They did not cover well.  Davon House had perhaps his worst game I've seen from him.  He will need to clean that up if he wants to make the roster at this point.  He was reticent to make contact and could not run with players time and again.  Other corrections were things the Packers can clean up on film.  Micah Hyde gave up a fade touchdown.  He played inside leverage on the WR even though it appeared he had inside help.  Further, the receiver had lined up way too far inside to give inside leverage (allowing a clean outside release).  He needs to realize where the receiver lines up and make the adjustment to where his help is.  The receiver might have released inside then and still caught an easy slant but the key is to press the man (Hyde missed his jam) and let him go to your help inside.  Again, film study should reveal and clean that up.

How did the Packers O-line play?
I'll get more into this with individual players, but overall they were solid.  The line did a good job of getting to the second level.  There were some hiccups, for sure, but I thought against a very vanilla defense that the line gave the QB and RB a chance on nearly every play.

Individual Players (Grade per their playing time)
Aaron Rodgers (B+)
Played fast, efficient football.  Could have had a TD pass to Finley but was broken up (not a drop as the defender had his hands on the ball).  Threw a great pass to Jones down the sideline.

Graham Harrell (D+)
Statiscally, it didn't look good, but he had a fair number of drops.  He was pretty decisive on his throws, but he lacked zip on a couple of short check-downs that allowed the coverage to get there and make a tackle for little gain.  The fumble was not his fault and the interception looked to be his fault.  Even if the WR ran the wrong route, the other route wasn't open either as there were two defenders playing outside and inside on the WR (I believe it was Ross).  The ball came out late and probably shouldn't have been thrown.

BJ Coleman (F)
Late on virtually every read I saw.  Missed a wide open Gillette on the two-minute drill and instead opted to try to force it into cloud coverage on the right instead of throwing to an open Gillette playing against off-zone on the left.  Starting a two-minute drill with a 2 yard over the middle completion is not effective either.

Vince Young (D+)
Vince Young had the unenviable position of being a QB without knowing much of the playbook or reads.  It looked like he knew about a dozen different pass plays and the Packers played him in 3rd in the game because they knew he couldn't run the 2 minute offense.  He made some decent reads and when his first read wasn't open he tucked the ball down and took off.  The WRs didn't do him any favors with dropped balls though.  I felt his throws were mostly accurate, but it's tough because it was obvious the Packers gave him a very small amount of plays to work with.  His feet need a lot of work.

James Starks (B)
Solidified himself on the roster.  Ran decisively and made good decisions when doing so.  The goal line carry was a problem, but those carries are not his forte (he runs too high).

Alex Green (F)
Everyone is trumping up Green like he has that burst back that they saw out of Hawaii, but I still don't see it.  He makes poor reads with the football in his hands and either waits too long for his blocks or not long enough.  At this point, I'd be surprised if he makes the roster.

DJ Williams (D)
Williams made one great catch and then dropped two other routine catches.  He did not block particularly well either and was pretty quiet.

Jermichael Finley (C-)
This would have been an A had he hung on to the pass in the end zone that was broken up.  It was catchable.  He did block better than normal and he also ran good routes.  Just wish he would have come down with the one that counted.

Mathew Mulligan (C-)
He is what the Packers thought he was.  He's like an extra lineman out there.  He's 265 lb and quick enough to get to the second level immediately on run plays.  I like him for that, but it remains to be seen if the Packers will get something out of him as a receiver.  They need to in order for him to warrant any playing time outside of goal line packages.

TyroneWalker (B)
Walker put a lot of pressure on the Packers with a good night receiving.  The jury is still out if he can play and get open on the outside.  He makes a living in the slot and with his height, that might be the only place he can play at this level.  He catches everything and runs excellent routes, snapping them off where he should and creating space for him to catch the ball.  He seems very aware on the field and looks like he knows the position very well already.  Look for him to at least make the practice squad depending on what happens with the two 7th round draft choices ever getting activated.

David Bakhtiari (B)
He held his own and blocked well.  I thought on running plays he did a good job shielding his man from making the tackle (his guy only assisted on a single tackle all night), and he got to the second level well too.  He is nimble out there and looks strong enough to play.  We will see at some point once teams start running stunts and bull rushes or bring combination/overload pressure to his side.  We might not see that much this preseason though, but expect a lot of it in the regular season.  The thing I noticed the most is that I never saw him off his feet the entire time.

Marshall Newhouse (D)
Newhouse looked much improved on the run, especially on the right side, but he failed to get a proper kickout and get his hands on the rusher in a play that resulted in a fumble that took less than two seconds to happen to Harrell.  That will get your QB killed.  You need to get a piece of him and hold him in that case if you don't.

Don Barclay (C-)
He moved around a lot.  From the tackle position, he seemed responsible for two bad runs.  Still he mostly held his own and didn't get his QB killed.

Greg VanRoten (C+)
He moved around the three interior positions and really solidified himself as the top inside back up.  Had one marginal snap.

Lane Taylor
No grade as I didn't watch him much, but I did see him do a really good job on a running play once from the guard position, so there's that I guess.

Johnny Jolly (A-)
Jolly looked excellent.  He got good push, held his point when he needed to hold outside leverage on run plays, and battled well with his hands.  He got a pressure on a bull rush, and was pretty much never off his feet (which is amazing considering where he plays).  I really liked what I saw from Jolly and believe he'll be a contributor this year.  I think he makes the team for sure.

Alex Daniels (D-)
He got some pressure from the right side, but when he was at LDE, he got sucked in over and over (flashbacks to the 49ers playoff game), was off his feet regularly, and didn't hold the point.  This was a bad game for a guy that is very tough to block one-on-one.  I just don't think he is the right guy in a 3-4 alignment.  He's a Kevin Williams type of a guy that can shoot gaps and there is no place for that with his lack of size in a 3-4.  I like the guy, but outside of playing in a sub situation, he's not doing it for me.  They ran at him repeatedly.  When comparing his play to Jolly snap to snap, Jolly completely dominated the performance.

Datone Jones
No grade, he barely played after tweaking his ankle early.  We'll see what the prognosis is for him in a couple of days.  Ankles are very important for his position.

No individual ratings here other than to say that the entire unit needs to wrap up better.  They let DREW STANTON break tackles on them.  That is a symptom from the 49ers playoff loss.  Wrap up and hold on.  When they blitz, their bodies seem rarely in control (outside of Mathews) and that leads to some pretty awkward-looking missed tackles.

Davon House (F)
He had a terrible game.  His strength has always been in zone press coverage, and he played an awful lot of off-man in the game.  Still, WRs regularly got behind him or in front of him or to the side of him.  He allowed completion after completion.  He was not physical either.  The shoulder may still bother him or he just isn't that good.  The key is that he would probably be just fine as the Packers dime defender (with Hayward, Shields, and Williams the other three).  This way he can play to his strengths much better.

Micah Hyde (C)
He gave up some plays but he was physical and showed why he was the Big Ten CB of the year last year at Iowa.  I thought he showed some quickness but had poor form on the fade TD that he gave up.  That is correctable in film though.  He could steal House or Bush's position for sure.  If the Packers like what they saw, expect to see Bush get more 1st and 2nd team reps in the next game to see if he can play as well as House (which opens the door for Hyde)

James Nixon
No grade as I didn't see much of him, but what I saw showed he wasn't very solid in coverage

Loyce Means
Same as Nixon.  They were garbage time minutes, so it was hard to evaluate.

Again no ratings here as I focused on the DL and CB with this game, but they certainly didn't stand out.  On the early big completion for a TD off of House, it looked like House was playing as if he expected safety help and didn't get any (or he was just beat, I couldn't tell - in any regard that play was a good pass, but you expect good QBs to complete those passes, one reason why the Packers get lit up by good QB play).

Punter (D-)
Masthay mishit two kicks and only managed to pin the Cardinals around the 10 yard line on his punts inside the 20.  He needed at least one booming kick and didn't have any.  I'm going to hold my breath and hope that he corrects this by next week.

Kicker (INC)
We got shut out so they kicked off one time (Crosby) and he kicked it through the endzone.  Can't do much to advance the kicker battle here other than to say that the Cardinals appear to be in no better situation than the Packers.   both of their kickers struggled mightily.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Why Vince Young has an uphill battle to make the roster

On Sunday reports began trickling in (thanks to Wes Hodkiewicz for breaking the story) that Vince Young is going to have a tryout with the Green Bay Packers on Monday.  That tryout came and went and the Packers signed Vince Young reportedly for the veteran's minimum.  How the mighty had fallen for the once 3rd overall pick in the draft (the Packers selected 5th in the round and had he fallen there, Andrew Brandt reported that there might have been some push to pick him - Ted Thompson has always been intrigued with Young's talent).

First, let's lay out why Thompson and McCarthy brought in the 30 year old quarterback who's been out of football since 2011:
1.  Defending the Read-Option.
Vince Young can and will run well.  He is a large (6'5") imposing quarterback cut from the same cloth as Kaepernick in San Francisco.  Unlike many of the younger camp-arm options to practice the read-option against, Young possesses an NFL arm that can make the throws anywhere on the field.  Of course, he may not always know where the ball is going (accuracy has always been an issue for him) and his ability to read defenses has never been a particular strong point, but that is probably a wash with other available QBs.

2.  Thompson/McCarthy have always been intrigued by an athletic quarterback
McCarthy has always thought highly of Vince Young and even Tim Tebow and this was an opportunity to bring in a guy that normally you wouldn't be able to bring in.  Add to that the Green Bay cut their other camp arm due to an injury before camp started, and he's a little bit of a fit.  McCarthy said he wanted 4 arms in camp.  Now he has that.

3.  The Play of Coleman/Harrell
Harrell has been up and down in camp.  He was ok in the scrimmage, but I'm sensing that on tape he made too many check-downs and did not make the proper read one too many times for the Packers.  Coleman is a gunslinger who has a long way to go to ever figure out an NFL defense.  Both quarterbacks have seemed slow to read and react to what the defense is bringing.  Vince Young will give some competition for them in that position.

So why will it be so hard for him to make the roster?
1.  It's always about the money
First, it's finances.  Vince Young is a vested veteran (meaning has more than 4 accrued NFL seasons).  Quote below courtesy of NBC Sports - Greg Rosenthal
If a so-called “vested veteran” is on a team at the start of the season and thereafter is released, he has the right to collect the balance of his base salary for the season — even if he later signs with another team. 
Each player may do this only once in his career.
For vested veterans signed after the season starts, the available termination pay drops dramatically.  Each player is entitled to the balance of the first 25 percent of his base salary or one week’s pay based on the minimum salary for players with 10 or more years of service, whichever is greater.
 If the Packers keep Young on the roster on final cut-down, they'll likely owe him the entire salary regardless of whether or not he is on the team.  They cannot sign him until after week 1 to avoid the payout.

2.  The complexity of the offense
Had the Packers actually thought they needed the competition, they would have signed Young (perhaps they tried) earlier so he could learn the offense during offseason OTAs and minicamp.  But they didn't.  Now, he has to get up to speed all in one training camp.  This offense is completely different to anything Young played under previously.  It stresses accurate on-time throws and patience and footwork when the read isn't open yet.  Young can do the latter quite well, but he has always struggled with throwing on time and accuracy.

3.  Lack of opportunity
Though Rodgers won't play much in the preseason, Harrell and Coleman likely will.  Young, having already established that he won't have a full idea of the offense (playing with others who will be looking for him to know the offense better than him as they'll be mostly rookies and young players), will not receive meaningful snaps in the preseason until week 3 (where Rodgers will take much of the available playing time from him) or week 4 (where competition is noticeably less than in week 2 and 3 of preseason).

My opinion:
I hope he makes it.  If he does, it likely means that he's found it again and has something that he can contribute to the Packers.  And if he's cut, then it might just mean that the backups aren't quite as bad as previously thought as well.

Will the Packers reach out to Donald Driver?

Going into this past off season, the Packers had a lot of roster turnover about to start.  Jennings was unlikely to sign and Driver was likely to retire... or be shown the door.  Jennings left to the rivals across the river, and not without a few parting shots, and Driver took the high road and hung up the cleats.

The Packers then proceeded to draft two receivers in the later rounds to compete with the likes of Ross and Boykin for the final two spots on the roster.  Returning were Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb.  And things were looking up.

And then the wheels came off.

Both rookie wideouts have yet to finish a practice and remain out indefinitely, Jordy Nelson just had knee surgery (something that I believe had been on the table since December based on my inside source) and won't be available the rest of camp, and Randall Cobb dropped out today with an apparent biceps injury.  Add to that the inconsistent play of Ross in the scrimmage and the quiet camp Boykin has had, and you've got  a serious problem.

This begs the question, will the Packers reach out to Donald Driver?  He swallowed his pride last year and accepted the diminished role.  Would he be willing to do the same?  In Green Bay, receiver is one of the most difficult positions to play in the offense.  All receivers are expected to know all of the positions; they do this because the quarterback could flip the play and adjust the routes at any time based upon what he sees in coverage.  It is imperative that the receivers and quarterback are schematically on the same page.  Donald Driver is perhaps the only available player that could achieve that level of understanding before the season began.  He could be ready right now.  Always a workout warrior, Driver is bound to be in shape and ready to go.

The second question is will he?

Make no bones about it, the Packers are getting desperate just to have enough bodies to run drills.  Driver would bring veteran leadership to the position, is well respected by his former teammates, has never made waves in the locker room, and still showed enough life last year that he could contribute.  But, will he be willing to go through the pounding of an NFL season one more time only to potentially be thrown to the scrap-heap once the Packers get healthy?  That is a question for which we may soon find an answer.