Sunday, August 28, 2011

Packers' cuts begin with Havner, Swain

All NFL teams have to get their rosters down to 80 players by Tuesday's deadline. With 86 players on the roster for Friday's game versus the Colts, the Packers today released veteran TE Spencer Havner, WR Brett Swain, and undrafted rookie OT Theo Sherman. Both Havner and Swain were victims of the upgraded quality and number of players at their respective positions, as well as injuries which have hampered them last season and this camp.

There will be three more cuts by Tuesday. The more difficult cuts for Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy will come after the last preseason game versus the Chiefs.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Packers vs. Colts preseason recap

First things first. It was a lackluster performance. I'm referring to my golf game in the charity scramble I played in yesterday. Guess that's what happens when you don't swing a golf club for two months. Good shot, bad shot, good shot, bad shot. Yikes. But at least the kitties and dogs at the shelter benefited from my angst-filled participation. And really, that's the important thing, right?

I guess in some ways, though, we could say this scenario played out a bit for the Packers in Indy last night. Now, to be honest, I saw only the very end of the first half and the first few minutes of the second half. Listened to more of the second half on the radio. But...and here's the important part...I missed the ending. And never heard the final score. I went to bed last night thinking the Packers had lost 21-13.

Soooooooo...imagine my shock -- and awe (wait, where have I heard that expression before???) -- when I hit the 'net this morning to find that the Packers WON 24-21. Huh? Really? What the heck did I miss?

Apparently, a great ending. and for the rest of the Packer fans out there who also missed out, allow me to quote the great Packers reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bob McGinn, who said in his article, "The Packers won it with their shock troops, scoring a touchdown on an 11-yard pass to tight end Ryan Taylor with 35 seconds left, a 2-point conversion on another pass to Taylor and a field goal from 50 yards by Mason Crosby as time expired."

I guess it didn't surprise me that the Packers scored a late TD and 2-point conversion. But when I read that Crosby hit a 50-yarder to win the game as time expired...? Especially after he missed a 41-yarder earlier? A 50-yarder at the end of the game to win? This has been the knock on Crosby. Strong leg. But like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, when it comes to Crosby with the game on the line you never know what you're going to get. To be honest, we still don't. But let's look at this kick as the proverbial glass-half-full type of thing: perhaps there is hope that Crosby can do this with the game on the line in the regular season. Coach Mike McCarthy never seems to hesitate to throw him out there for those 50+ yard kicks. So, fingers crossed on this front.

Other than QB Aaron Rodgers slicing and dicing the Colts from the no-huddle offense, and getting hit more times than you want to see because of the O-line (particularly Chad Clifton and Josh Sitton) having breakdowns, the other key observation that reports of the game make clear is that third-string QB Graham Harrell is showing that he may just have what it takes to be the backup to Rodgers when Matt Flynn is either traded or lost in free agency next season. While tossing an interception that led to the Colts going up 21-13, Harrell had the moxy (there's a word you don't hear every day, Edgar) to get his you-know-what together and engineer an 11-play, 73-yard TD drive that made the score 21-19 Colts. On both the TD pass and the ensuing 2-point conversion, Harrell connected with WR Ryan Taylor who, truth be told, is another one of those young receivers that is showing that he can play. If not in Green Bay, somewhere in the league.

And then, the Packers pulled off an onside kick. Cool. Well done.

Next up, Harrell gets the Packers close enough for Crosby to boot the game-winner as time experied. Even more cool.

But let's back up a second. Why, late in a preseason game, would Coach McCarthy go for a 2-pointer and an onside kick? Most coaches (e.g., Lovie Smith) would have mailed it in. Take the loss that doesn't count anyway and go home. Not McCarthy. He wants to set a tone with his players that winning matters. Always. Hmmm...sounds a great deal like another coach that walked the sidelines for the Packers once upon a time, doesn't it? That coach built a dynasty. And with the depth of personnel the Packers have now, especially at key skill positions, with the coaching staff, and with GM Ted Thompson working his magic, Coach McCarthy could also be creating a new Packers dynasty. Not as straightforward as it may have been in Lombardi's time; not that it was a piece of cake then, either. But it's still possible. And McCarthy's got the mindset, it seems, to draw the best from the players he has to work with.

Interesting stat: the Packers had 45 different players start last season. The Colts had 38. They were the two teams devastated by injuries more than any other last season. And yet, McCarthy and his staff got those players and guys off the street (in football terms anyway) ready to roll all the way to and through the Super Bowl.

That attitude has to permeate the entire organization and the players have to get it. Really get it. That starts in the preseason. And that's why Coach McCarthy played out the end of the game the way he did. And, apparently, to see the way the players reacted they definitely were taking this as not just another meaningless preseason game. They're getting it. To read a great article about McCarthy's choices at the end of the game, check out Rob Demovsky's piece at

One other good outcome, at least as far as we know, is that there were no major injuries. However, both Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley did get nicked up a bit before halftime. Nelson had a knee bruise and Finley sprained an ankle. Neither of them were going to play in the second half and both stayed in the locker room for treatment.

Next up: the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night at Lambeau Field in the preseason closer.

Go Pack Go!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Packers vs. Cardinals preseason game recap

The Green Bay Packers defeated the Arizona Cardinals 28-20 at Lambeau Field last night in the second of four preseason games.

What were this writer's observations? Probably the same as many who either were at the game or saw it on TV: it's a preseason game. In other words, there was some good, some bad and lots of so-so. How's that for an insightful analysis? Actually, it must be on target because many of the folks who get paid to cover this stuff have said basically the same thing. (By the way, for any media enterprises out there that would like to pay me to relate these pithy commentaries to your readers/viewers/listeners...let's talk...and now, back to your regularly scheduled programming....)

On offense, the first few series for the number one unit were pretty lackluster until things shifted into gear with the no-huddle offense. QB Aaron Rodgers seemed to get into more of a rhythm, connecting with multiple receivers and finally hitting on a great back shoulder endzone toss to Greg Jennings. It was nice to see TE Jermichael Finley back in the lineup and he looks ready to go. Ditto for Ryan Grant, although head coach Mike McCarthy made it clear in his post-game comments that he knows Grant needs more reps this next week at Indianapolis. Second-year RB James Starks was held out, which helped set the stage for our first look at rookie RB Alex Green. Green didn't disappoint. He reeled off a 25-yard gain on a screen play and two plays later powered into the endzone for a two-yard touchdown score. Green needs help on his Lambeau Leap, however. That'll come around. As, hopefully, will his blitz pick ups; he missed one which resulted in backup QB Matt Flynn taking a hit.

But Green wasn't alone in the missed-blocks area. More concerning were the hits and sacks allowed by the starting offensive line on Aaron Rodgers. T.J. Lang, starting at left guard, missed an assignment. But to be fair, so did the usually steady RG Josh Sitton. When rookie Derek Sherrod took over at left guard it became clear he is not yet ready to start. His pad level was too high, his foot work was slow, and he did not use his hands well enough. It would seem that trying to make Sherrod into a guard when he appears to be more naturally suited to the tackle position is an experiment worth trying, but also ending. Let the youngster apprentice behind Chad Clifton.

Another standout on offense last night was WR Chastin West, who wound up converting a sideline route into a 97-yard touchdown from Matt Flynn. The Packers already have 5 receivers that are locks to make the squad: Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb. But West's performance will sure give coaches something to think about. Would they carry six receivers? Doubtful. But we didn't think they'd carry three fullbacks last season either.

Third-string quarterback Graham Harrell also had an impressive performance. Given that Matt Flynn will be a free agent next season, it's great to see Harrell really step up his grasp of the offense and decisive play. He had some great throws, as well.

On defense, C.J. Wilson, filling in for the injured Mike Neal, who was replacing the departed Cullen Jenkins, had to leave the game early with what was reported to be a concussion. That meant Jarius Wynn and others got more playing time at defensive end. Asked about the injuries, GM Ted Thompson indicated that he still didn't think he'd have to look for a free agent to help bolster the D-line.

Defensive back Josh Gordy continues to get playing time and make an impression. He's giving Pat Lee, and maybe others, a run for the money in a backup role.

The defense played things pretty vanilla last night, and at times seemed to be a bit lost, especially in coverage by the backups. Starting outside linebackers were giving the corners far too easily on the runs by Beanie Wells in particular. Not much on this side of the ball to write home I said at the outset, so-so.

But the bottom line was a win. It doesn't really count, of course. But on a beautiful August evening in Green Bay, Wisconsin -- Titletown -- the fans got to see some of the favorites for a few plays and then got to take a look at some of the young players competing for a handful of spots on what still looks like a championship caliber team.

All that can be said a the moment is that it's great to be a Packer fan!

Go Pack Go!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Now THIS is a badge you hope a police officer flashes

Yes, yes, I know. The Packer are continuing to prepare for Friday night's game against the Cardinals at Lambeau Field. And injuries are continuing to keep some young players on the sidelines who somehow have to find a way to get on the field and show what they can do: cornerback Davon House and running back Alex Green among them. Let's also not forget the scare that Mike Neal's leg injury has thrown into Packer fans everywhere. He says he's fine, and coach Mike McCarthy says he's day-to-day. But if he goes down, the Packers find themselves mighty thin at that defensive end spot. They are counting on Neal to replace Cullen Jenkins and he needs to stay healthy and on the field. Keep your fingers, toes, and eyes crossed, Packer fans!

But aside from these on-field matters, the gist of this post is something really cool happening with the Green Bay Police Department: officers can now purchase for their use, through next August, an optional badge that includes the Packers "G" logo and “Super Bowl Champions XLV” on its face.

Now, cool is that? It almost makes you want to be a member of the department just so you can get one of those badges, doesn't it? Or at the very least, see how soon one of them shows up on eBay.
(Photo credit: Green Bay Police Department)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Packers preseason game #1 review

So the first chance the Green Bay Packers have to smack guys in other jerseys around came up a tad short on the scoreboard. The Pack dropped their first preseason game 27-17 to the Cleveland Browns. Big whup.

As tens of thousands of NFL fans across the nation know, these games don't count. Hence the not-even-half-filled Cleveland stadium last evening. It was an entertaining game only if you're OK seeing starters for just a few series of plays, and watching veteran backups and rookies battle for roster spots. In the abbreviated evaluation period teams have this season, every play that these backups and rookies get may be their only chance to show the coaches and management "what they got."

So who stood out for the Packers last night? Rookie WR/KR Randall Cobb is a keeper. He not only did a good job on kick returns but flashed good hands and explosive speed on three receptions for 60 yards. The Packers have to have the most dangerous receiving corps in the league: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson. Now throw Cobb into the mix. And we haven't even mentioned the tight ends yet.

Jermichael Finley did not suit up last evening, although he says he will be ready for the next game. That gave second-year tight end Andrew Quarless the start and he acquited himself admirably, making a couple catches...which was a problem for him last year. He did leave with a groin injury, however. Quarless is in a battle for the spot behind Finley with Tom Crabtree and a few newcomers including rookie D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, both of whom made catches last night. In fact, lots of different players made catches last evening: 18 by final count.

Holy post route, Batman! Perhaps the Eagles aren't so crazy after all mortgaging the farm to transform their defensive backfield to try to hold the Packers in check. Still...good luck with that.

On the offensive line, both first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod and veteran T.J. Lang got lots of looks at left guard. And left tackle. The duo was being rotated just about with every series, including with each other flip-flopping the slots. Both looked just fine. As has been the case in Green Bay for a long time, the idea is to put the best five offensive linemen out there. The Pack's O-line will be OK.

As to running backs, it was nice to see Ryan Grant get a couple carries. Nothing major, but he did show some nice burst on a couple runs around the corner. James Starks also showed some speed and power, but he finished with an ankle injury of unknown severity...although don't think it was anything serious. Whew! Rookie Alex Green did not suit up last night so we'll have to wait another week to see what he brings to the party.

For the quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers found his rhythm in the second series, Matt Flynn engineered a 2-minute drill drive nearly the length of the field for a TD, and Graham Harrell got extended playing time...and needs more. He had three fumbles on the evening, one a blind side hit where a lineman or tight end failed to pick up the outside rusher; that was returned for a TD by the Browns.

The defense didn't do much of note either, really, particularly in the way of getting pressure on Browns QB Colt McCoy who, as a result, looked pretty sharp last evening. It was nice to see second-year safety Morgan Burnett stick his nose in on a few tackles; it was his first contact since the leg injury which ended his promising rookie season last year. And rookie D-backs Josh Gordy and M.D. Jennings both got interceptions to help them get noticed, if not by the Packers perhaps by some other teams.

Mention should also be made that punter Tim Masthay did an outstanding job last evening. He had five punts averaging 52.2 yards each, with a long of 60 yards. Granted, it's not punting outdoors in December, but you still like to see this kind of consistent performance out of your punter especially so early on. His hang times were also tremendous. Special teams tackling, however, left a bit to be desired. But, hey, it's early and lots of young players are playing special teams perhaps for the first time in a long time...or ever. They'll get the hang of it...or they'll be gone.

One player who probably didn't take advantage of his opportunities was undrafted rookie kick returner and wide receiver, Shaky Smithson. He did have three returns for an average of about 24 yards each, with a long of 25. His lone punt return went for three yards. Not bad, but not enough to win the wows that are needed to land a spot on the roster or practice squad. The youngster has a great personal story and he's a young man you have to root for. So this writer will. I hope he takes one all the way back Friday night at Lambeau Field versus the Cardinals.

There might be a few more observations which could be made, and perhaps will be. But in the meantime...enjoy your day.

And remember: it's great to be a Packer fan!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Gettin' ready for Packers football - preseason game #1

The team buses pulled into Cleveland stadium (does it have a corporate name, btw?) about 15 minutes or so ago as this post is written. Kickoff for the first preseason game of the Packers repeat championship season is a little more than three hours away.


Yes, it's only preseason. And who knows what the quality of play will be given the lack of OTAs and minicamps due to the lockout? But there are one or two givens: the veteran starters will see limited play, while rookies and others on the bubble (mentioned much earlier than usual because of the shortened player evaluation period) will see most of the action.

The primary competition on the offensive line is at left guard. Rookie Derek Sherrod and veteran T.J. Lang will battle for that spot. Marshall Newhouse will likely see a lot of play at left tackle while Chad Clifton is saved for more important days ahead. Nick McDonald will get extended play at center behind Scott Wells.

As we well know, there is an abundance of talent at wide receiver and tight end. Some folks will be auditioning for other teams in these next few games as the chances of sticking with the Pack are slim, unless they can be slid onto the practice squad down the road.

At running back, the question is who will take Brandon Jackson's spot as the third-down back protecting Aaron Rodgers and catching passes out of the backfield. Will this be FB John Kuhn's role? Or will James Starks or rookie Alex Green be able to step in?

There is obviously no controversy at quarterback. The only question may be, since Matt Flynn established his credentials as a solid number 2 and potential starter -- just not in Green Bay -- whether backup Graham Harrell can display enough to have the Pack see him as a backup to Rodgers. It's likely that Flynn will be gone next season, either through trade or free agency, and the Packers have to be comfortable with Harrell. We should see him a good deal in these first two games, at least.

On the defensive side of things, coordinator Dom Capers will want to see whether Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Jarius Wynn can make up for the departure of Cullen Jenkins. In the linebacker corps, who will win the spot playing opposite Clay Matthews? Frank Zombo? Brad Jones? Erik Walden? And in the defensive backfield, it's another logjam. But Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields are not expected to play this evening, leaving lots of room for veterans Jarrett Bush and Pat Lee to show their wares, along with undrafted rookie Brandian Ross.

On special teams, it will be nice to see if the Packers have a legitimate punt and/or kick returner in their midst at long last. Shaky Smithson and Randall Cobb will get their chances, as might Alex Green...and anyone else the Packers want to get a look at. We've been waiting so long, at this point let's try anyone!

Anyway, starting to feel the excitement once again. No, it's not the same as the regular season. We won't fret if they lose. We'd like to see the Pack win, of course, but mainly we don't want anyone getting hurt. Beyond that, we want to see which players are going to grab the brass ring and make the most of their opportunities.


Go Pack Go!!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Thoughts on Packers' Chandler, White House visit, and more

News hit on Thursday that kicker Don Chandler, from the legendary Lombardi teams of the 1960s, had died in Tulsa, OK, after fighting cancer. He was 76 years of age.

As the great article in yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Tyler Dunne noted, Chandler was instrumental in the Glory Years teams' playoff and championship runs. He may not have received all the credit he was due at the time, but his fellow teammates knew exactly how important he was to the teams' successess, especially in clutch situations. Read the article for comments from Chandler's teammates such as Zeke Bratkowski and Carroll Dale which reiterate that fact.

On a personal note, I remember as a kid that there was some kind of Don Chandler kicking instruction booklet being marketed (does this date me???). As a regular Punt-Pass-Kick participant (and sometime winner) back in the day, I remember reading, studying and practicing that straight-on kicking style until my leg hurt. helped. Didn't get me to the pros. But was like taking personal instruction from a member of the Green Bay Packers. Didn't get any better than that. Well, except for meeting Ray Nitschke and other Packers when they'd do their winter basketball games versus local high school teachers. (Wouldn't it have been nice if that was part of the new collective bargaining agreement? Players must play at least three charity benefit basketball games within their locale during the offseason. Ah, to dream...)

Pack visits White House
Today was the long-awaited official visit of the Super Bowl Champions to the White House. It was somewhat of a scenic route journey for the Pack as they head to Cleveland for their first preseason game of this new season Saturday night.

Of course, this visit was especially sweet as President Obama is a fan of Da Bearz. Which, for those with short-term memory issues, is the team the Packers beat in the NFC Championship -- in Chicago -- to earn the trip to the Super Bowl. QB Aaron Rodgers presented the President with a Packers jersey with the number "1" on it and "CommanderinChief" as the name on the back. CB Charles Woodson, who declared in the Packers locker room that if the President wouldn't come to see them in the Super Bowl (as he had said he'd do if Da Bearz had won the NFC) then the Packers would go see him. And thus it came to pass. Woodson presented the President with a minority shareholder certificate for the Packers. Upon receiving it, the President joked (as he did frequently during the visit) that now that he was an owner he'd like to trade Aaron Rodgers to Da Bearz. Ouch! That had to hurt, eh, Jay Cutler? Major dis from the Prez. Gotta love it.

One ex-Packer makes the White House cut, one current player doesn't
One nice touch by the Packers was including recently-released veteran Mark Tauscher as part of the travelling party. Tauscher, as all fans know, spent his entire professional playing career with the Packers. He's apparently undecided yet as to whether he will try to resume his career elsewhere or retire. If there's any player that deserved to be there -- even if he's not currently on the roster -- it's Tauscher. Nice move, Packers.

But one current Packers player, Desmond Bishop, was not allowed in the White House even though he made the trip. The glitch, according to a Tweet by Bishop, was that he had forgotten his photo ID on the plane. Without it, there was no admittance past the White House security. Oops! Well, Bishop took it in stride, noting that he'd be sure to have it with him the next time the Packers visit the White House. Which all Packer fans, of course, believe will be at the end of this football season.

Ahman Green retires
Some may have thought this already happened, given Green's waning career in lesser leagues. But he wanted to retire as a Packer. To that end, the Packers signed Green to a one-day contract, as is usual in these situations, so Green could go out in style with the team for which he is the all-time leading rusher. Congrats, Mr. Green. See you in the Packers Hall of Fame.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Quick takes on Packers' quick practice

For the third time in four years, the Packers' Family Night event at Lambeau was shortened due to stormy weather rolling through. In effect, the glorified practice before more than 43,000 fans amounted to three drives by the number one offense versus the number two defense. It lasted perhaps about 20 minutes. But at least after the storm cleared, fans were treated to the promised fireworks...not of the football variety...real fireworks.

So, what can we take from this all-too-brief team scrimmage?

Firstly, rookie T/G Derek Sherrod, at 6'5" and 321 lbs., looked huge playing left guard, where the Packers have been working him extensively the first week of camp. Looks as if he has good movement. Definitely has the size to play left tackle but that is still veteran Chad Clifton's job, although Marshall Newhouse filled in at that spot last evening.

Second-year running back James Starks looks a bit bigger -- supposedly he added about 15 pounds of muscle according to some reports -- and extremely quick. He had a couple runs last evening, one in particular, where he waited for the lane to open and with what seemed like two quick steps was through the defense. Very fast and explosive. Great to see veteran Ryan Grant back, as well. But if Starks continues to display this combination of explosive moves and speed it might be hard to keep the ball out of his hands. Combined with Grant and rookie Alex Green -- who the coaches are also high on -- defenses will be hard pressed to defend both the run and the Packers' passing game.

Speaking of the passing game, it was great to see James Jones back. Jordy Nelson made a nice catch on a fade route in the endzone for a TD. And rookie Randall Cobb -- another one the coaches are pleased with at this point -- made a nice move on an underthrown ball. He's going to add another element for defenders to worry about downfield.

QB Aaron Rodgers looked as if he was getting into rhythm with new receivers and never missed a beat with his long-time receivers.

Defensively, we didn't get a chance to see the number ones last night. So can't really say much on this side of the ball. Except that undrafted rookie free agent CB Brandian Ross made a nice read on Aaron Rodgers' first pass of the evening, jumped it, and wound up getting an interception return for a pick-6 TD. No Lambeau Leap, though...hey, he's a rookie. He said in post-scrimmage comments that Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and other veteran defensive backs had been helping him along. Appeared as if he was listening to whatever they were telling him. Given the logjam at cornerback, Ross might be a longshot to make the the team. But he's someone to keep your eye on. Seemed very thoughtful, respectful, and has instincts for the position. He'll have a job somewhere if not in Green Bay.

That's about all we could get out of last night's scrimmage. Unfortunately, especially for the rookies, they weren't able to get more repetitions. But Coach McCarthy and the Packers err on the side of keeping the players healthy and safe. The team is off today as, under the new collective bargaining agreement, they are only allowed to practice four days in a row. They'll be back to work Monday. Friday is an off day which will see the Super Bowl champs visiting the White House to be honored by the President (and Da Bearz fan). Saturday they'll be in Cleveland for the first preseason game of the new football year.

Football. You gotta love it. Glad it's back!

Go Pack Go!!!