As I have been doing for the past few press conferences by Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, I am sharing highlights of his comments along with some of my own thoughts. As always, enjoy the read and feel free to agree, disagree, cheer or jeer.
Credit for this recap goes to the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Mike Vandermause for his great coverage of McCarthy’s comments today via Twitter.
On the offensive line situation heading into 2014: Bryan Bulaga moving back to right tackle. MM likes Bakhtiari at LT. Derek Sherrod will be swing tackle, start out on left side
The return of Bryan Bulaga from his ACL injury last year means more shuffling on the outside. I have always thought putting Bulaga back at right tackle made the most sense, after watching David Bakhtiari hold his own at left tackle during his rookie season. Bakh has plenty of room to improve and certainly needs to as he matures, but I have no qualms about his being the starting left tackle heading into this season.
As far as the departure of Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Packers will enter their fourth consecutive season with a new center. The popular theories on who the current front runners have been second-year man J.C. Tretter and current guard T.J. Lang. Lang stepped in at center last season in emergency relief and quickly made a case for himself to remain at guard. Lang wasn’t horrible, but he’s been effective at guard and the Packers don’t need to tinker with a good thing there.
Simpy handing the keys to Tretter is risky for a guy who hasn’t played a single down yet. McCarthy will need to closely evaluate what he has in Tretter throughout the offseason program. Pre season game action will tell the biggest tale, as that is obviously the closest look to an actual game that they will have to go on. Still, Green Bay would be wise to exhaust all remaining avenues to add some talent to the competition at center. They have the draft in early May, undrafted free agency, and the current free agency period at their disposal. There will also be roster cuts this summer and we never know who might be on the move.
On the role Julius Peppers will play in the defense: Julius Peppers will serve in an elephant role, playing both OLB and D-line. Will bring lots of flexibility to defense.
Since Peppers joined the Packers over a week ago, a lot of discussion has been had about what his role will be in the defense. Peppers has spent his entire 12-year career as a 4-3 defensive end. While he has said on a few occasions throughout his career that he would enjoy playing in a 3-4, he has yet to actually do it. Peppers isn’t quite ancient, in NFL terms, but he is certainly at the point of the valid question “can you teach an old dog new tricks?”
The Packer want to do some different things on defense to improve their productivity and keep opposing offenses guessing. Peppers seems to help add this dimension merely by his being on the field. At least he does on paper. Aaron Kampman and Julius Peppers are not on the same par, but we saw what happened when the Packers attempted to move Kampan to outside linebacker in 2009. It wasn’t pretty. I wouldn’t put it past Peppers to be effective, but it’s far from a certainty.
Peppers is said to be “motivated” coming into this season. He gets to face both of his former teams and we know football players love to show their old employers why they should still be playing for them. If that alone can make Peppers effective enough to elevate the defense through his play or the play of others, then he will have done what general manager Ted Thompson likely hoped for when he signed him.
On Micah Hyde: Wants Micah Hyde to be every-down player, whether it’s safety, slot, CB, dime. Wants him on the field more.
The safety position has been the hot topic this offseason after watching last year’s unit produce paltry numbers. Many are speculating that the Packers are hoping to land one of this year’s top safeties in the draft. With many other teams also needing a safety, the guy they want may not be on the board. This year’s class is said to be deep at safety, but the further from round one, the less likely it is that Green Bay would be drafting a sure-fire starter on day one.
Here, we see McCarthy alluding to the idea of Hyde at safety so it’s now officially being discussed at 1265 Lombardi Ave. McCarthy prefers versatile athletes on his team and guys who can play multiple roles. Whether they see Hyde as an occasional fill-in at safety or something more, this is now more than just some grand idea floating around the Internet. It’s a very real possibility that Hyde is the safety opposite Morgan Burnett in week one.
On B.J. Raji: B.J. Raji will play over center, tailor him more to his skill set and “cut him loose.”
More validation from McCarthy about what has already been speculated: that Raji will return to nose tackle in 2014. After Raji turned down last year’s extension offer from the Packers that was reportedly for $8 million per season, he went on to post one of his worst seasons.
As McCarthy would say, “stats are for losers”, but Raji just looked flat. The Packers pulled that offer and allowed Raji to test the free agent waters when that time period began a few weeks ago. They clearly knew what the rest of the league must have already been thinking, because Raji received little to no interest on the open market. He re-signed with the Packers on a one-year “prove it” deal worth about $4 million.
Raji’s comments last season indicated that he was trying to be a good soldier and play his role in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense, which was to occupy blockers up front and create opportunities for the linebackers. Still, it was evident that Raji wanted more freedom to rush up field and create pressure. The Packers were listening and will give Raji some of the same opportunities that helped him earn 6.5 sacks in 2010. It could be Raji who may benefit from the presence of Peppers up front but either way, Raji should enter 2014 motivated and mad.
On Jermichael Finley, Johnny Jolly: Finley looks to be in great shape. Would like Johnny Jolly back but will have to clear medical hurdles first. Hasn’t ruled out Ryan Pickett coming back.
No surprises here. It was reported that the Seattle Seahawks couldn’t pass Finley during his recent visit with them and therefore, did not offer him a contract. The Packers already knew this to be the case and presumably will proceed as if Finley won’t be returning to them. As a result, tight end is a position of close watch as we near the draft. The Packers may feel like they are OK with Andrew Quarless and may draft a wide receiver or they may decide that another young tight end is worth an earlier pick.
Jolly is not getting any younger and still has to wait for his hip to heal. Bone was grafted from Jolly’s hip to help fuse his neck during a recent surgery. Jolly has been cleared for light workouts, but he has not been fully cleared to resume football activity. Any defensive line would benefit from having a healthy Jolly on it, but the key there is “healthy”. Determining that is a process that the Packers will likely a very conservative approach to, if they take one at all. I would assume that they will at least give Jolly a workout to determine where he is at. If they are confident enough, Jolly could be added and they may let one of their existing guys go, including recently signed Letroy Guion. If Jolly remains available throughout the summer and an injury strikes, the Packers may elect to bring him back at that time.
On the quarterback situation: My personal preference is to have 3 QBs on roster and another on practice squad. But he’s a realist. Would like 4 QBs in camp.
McCarthy isn’t in complete control of the player acquisition process and he understands that. Currently, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien under contract this season. Matt Flynn remains unsigned and a free agent. That we are a few weeks into the free agency period likely means that Flynn’s best shot to get on a roster is for an injury to another quarterback somewhere. Or to re-sign in Green Bay. Sounds simple, but at this point, we have to wonder what Green Bay’s true interest is in bringing Flynn back. They could have signed him by now and likely to a very cap-friendly contract but they haven’t.
Nothing is out of the question when it comes to Ted Thompson and the draft. I’m never surprised when the Packers draft a quarterback and this year is no exception. It won’t be in the early rounds unless something very mysterious happens to a top prospect. A sixth or seventh rounder is very possible to come in and compete for a back up spot and give the Packers a better option than they see in Flynn. Still, it’s hard to argue with the results that Flynn produced last season after he was signed. Besides the Thanksgiving Day debacle in Detroit, Flynn was more than serviceable and would seem to be Green Bay’s best option to back up Rodgers this season, if healthy.
For a complete recap of McCarthy’s comments from today, check out Mike Vandermause’s Twitter timeline or check out PackersNews.com.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: