Packers Mini Camp and Offseason Recap

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Jared Abbrederis
Abbrederis is one of many who need a strong training camp to crack the Packers final roster

The Green Bay Packers wrapped up their final mini camp practice on Thursday and thus ends another offseason in Green Bay.  The next team gathering will be on July 25th at the official opening of training camp.

Quite a few stories have come out during the team’s organized team activities (OTA’s) and this last week at mini camp so here is a recap of the highlights and latest on where the team stands as they prepare for the preseason.

Some of these notes are brought to you by a host of Packers beat writers and media including ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde, ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Mike Vandermause and Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Ty Dunne.

Early offseason/free agency

The biggest move in terms of the interest and excitement created was the acquisition of defensive lineman and former second-overall draft pick Julius Peppers, who was released by the Chicago Bears shortly after the 2013 season ended.  The signing was significant in that it was the first time since 2006 that Packers general manager Ted Thompson signed a free agent of notable name.  Peppers was said to be in great shape during the offseason workouts and practices and is expected to provide a boost to the pass rush from the “elephant” end position.

Despite Peppers’ age (34), he says he has a lot left in the tank.  Playing in the same division against your former team who released you and may have thought you had nothing left to offer has served many past players in that same scenario.  Jay Cutler, you’ve been warned.

The Packers also signed former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Letroy Guion.  Guion is anything but a lock to make the team’s final roster, but he did choose Green Bay over other offers and if he can become serviceable, he could end up being a bargain.  Remember Howard Green in 2010?

The Packers re-signed cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract.  The Packers also re-signed defensive lineman B.J. Raji to a one year “prove it” deal worth $4 million.  Other re-signings include Mike Neal, John Kuhn and Chris Banjo and Matt Flynn.  Shields was a must, in my opinion.  He knows the defense and has the speed to make up for errors.  He’s not the best corner in the league but he’s the best corner on the Packers.

Flynn was re-signed to back up Aaron Rodgers.  After the Packers watched last season nearly unravel to the point of no return, they finally decided to bring Flynn back as a more solid insurance in the event that Rodgers has to miss time in 2014.  Flynn was set to meet with the New York Giants when the Packers swooped in with an offer and brought him back.

Lost in free agency were veteran receiver James Jones and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson, both of whom signed with the Oakland Raiders.  The Packers addressed the receiver position by drafting Adams, Abbrederis and seventh rounder Jeff Janis.  Don’t forget about Kevin Dorsey, who missed last season on injured reserve.  He was said to have had a strong finish in mini camp.  Only Adams seems sure to crack the final roster but this at least provides some good depth and competition at the position.

Safety M.D. Jennings was not re-signed and he has since joined the Bears.  He is replaced by Micah Hyde and rookie first rounder Ha Ha Clinton-Dix although I’d take a lamp post over Jennings after last season.

Center Evan Dietrich-Smith was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The team appears to be going with second-year and unproven lineman J.C. Tretter at the center position, as indicated by reps during the offseason.  The Packers also drafted center Corey Linsley in the fifth round.

A few former Packers who remain free agents at the moment:  Jermichael Finley, Ryan Pickett, and Johnny Jolly.  I don’t expect to see any of the three in Green Bay this season.  Finley’s injury is just one in a way-too-long string of neck injuries and those have not been kind in returning players to the Packers or the NFL, for that matter.  Jolly is also healing from a neck injury and is likely too risky to bring back at this point.  Pickett may return if the Packers face an injury and are desperate for more depth on the defensive line, but otherwise his days in Green Bay are over.

NFL draft

The draft brought about nine selections and a draft in which Thompson didn’t trade a single pick.  All nine players are under contract and participated in mini camp.  Most notable picks were Clinton-Dix, second round wide receiver Davante Adams, fourth round linebacker Carl Bradford and fifth round wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.  The Packers balanced offensive and defensive picks, looking to restock the roster with young talent on both sides of the ball, replacing the most notable holes (safety, receiver) with early picks.

No rookies will be handed jobs but I would be very surprised if Clinton-Dix isn’t the starting safety in week one and if we also don’t see a healthy dose of Adams early and often.

OTA/Mini Camp

– Heading into OTA’s, the big news was the Packers signing of undrafted rookie tight end Colt Lyerla.  Lyerla was an impressive talent at Oregon who NFL teams shied away from due to his issues off the field.  Lyerla was caught using cocaine and left the Oregon team last year after a disagreement with the coaching staff.  He also posted an interesting take on the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school last year that led many to question his mental state and judgment.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson went on record as saying he understood the baggage that Lyerla came with and that he thought the young player was worthy of another opportunity to resume his football career.  Surely Lyerla is on a “no tolerance” program and stands to be on his way out of Green Bay at the first sign of any trouble.

– Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made a statement early on during spring practice when no rookies lined up at any starting position.  This was also the case last season and McCarthy went on to say that no job would be won in June.  The team is expected to face a very tough and competitive training camp next month.

– Defensively, the Packers are going to simplify their scheme in the hopes that the younger players can adapt and play better within it.  The system is typically complex and achieved its most success with a good amount of veteran players.  Packers have a lot of young guys but don’t want to abandon the defense either.  McCarthy has said he will be more involved on the defensive side of the ball this season.

– One battle worth watching will be at inside linebacker.  Jamari Lattimore lined up with the first team on Tuesday in place of incumbent starter Brad Jones.  Lattimore filled in last season when Jones was injured and flashed his playmaking ability at times.  He also missed responsibilities and making plays as a result, but he has managed to stick with the team over the past three seasons.  While he can’t directly be compared to former Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop, Lattimore is in that familiar position of a guy who has played and shown some good abilities and who is waiting in the wings for a chance at a regular role.  That worked out well for Bishop until his injury in 2012.

– Earlier in the week, defensive lineman Mike Daniels went off about the team’s lack of toughness and aggressiveness.  He is clearly embracing a leadership role on the team and is looking to bring some nasty to the defense.

Injuries

The good news is that no new major injuries surfaced during the spring.  The other news is that some old injuries are still not healed.  McCarthy said he is hopeful that defensive lineman Jerel Worthy and linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews can be ready by training camp.  None of the three participated in any work this spring.  Matthews is still recovering from his thumb surgery at the end of last season.  Perry and Worthy’s injuries were not announced by the team.  Worthy’s injury was said to be unrelated to the knee ACL tear and surgery that forced him to miss most of last season.

Tight end Andrew Quarless did not participate in spring activities, but was not singled out by McCarthy as a player expected to miss any of training camp.

On Thursday, McCarthy shared the unfortunate news that running back Johnathan Franklin would not be back with the Packers due to a neck injury suffered last season.  This came as a surprise to many, as this was not an injury that was widely discussed.  The team was conducting tests over the past few days and made the determination.  An official announcement is expected today.

The Packers reportedly utilized yoga quite a bit during the offseason to try and cut down on the number of preventable injuries that have plagued this team over the past four seasons.  I don’t know much about yoga but at least these players and the team are trying something different in order to get a different result.  Still, there’s not much that can be done about a helmet ramming into a shin bone or a body being slammed to the unforgiving turf.  Sometimes it helps to just get lucky when it comes to staying healthy.

Both McCarthy and the coaching staff were not shy about expressing how detrimental it was for those who weren’t able to practice with the team.

McCarthy’s final press conference following Thursday’s practice:

– Micah Hyde looks comfortable in what they’re asking him to do.  He lined up at safety opposite Morgan Burnett much of OTA’s and training camp

– Gave veterans with five years in the day off on Thursday.  Extra rest for them, need to see rookies more

– He was happy with the targets that the team reached this spring.  Praised his coaching staff for the extra work they put in as well

– A nine-week program is tough to get all work in that they want.  Heavy emphasis on young players

– Thursday’s practice was about the younger guys.  Singled out quarterback Scott Tolzien as having improved

– Offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga had a good spring according to the head coach.

– Tight end Richard Rodgers was described as productive

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of good question marks going into camp next month:  How many running backs with the team carry?  Wide receivers?  Who’s the starting tight end?  Will Ha Ha claim the starting safety spot?  Can Casey Hayard return to his rookie form?  Just a few of those that we’ll start getting answers to in just over a month.

The Packers are in an interesting situation heading into 2014. While their core players are young, they seem to be realizing the urgency to take full advantage of their stock of talent now.  With the signing of Peppers along with adjustments on both sides of the ball this Packers team wants to win now.  And I’m not just talking about another division title.

McCarthy seems to have a bit less patience this season for the lack of player availability and mental lapses.  He knows this team needs to be more physical and take advantage of every opportunity this season.  The competition in the NFC is fierce with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers lurking.  The Packers need to be a “strike first” team and play sound, fundamental football.  They’ll get a stiff test of that in week one against Seattle on the road.

Obviously there’s not much to predict right now as we haven’t seen any of these players in pads yet.  That’s when reality starts to set in and the cream really does rise to the top.  For now, let’s hope for no off-field injuries or drama and a hungry team in camp in 36 days.

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Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.com

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  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Thank you, Jason. Nice to get all this on one page.

    • http://allgbp.com/category/authors/jason-perone/ Jason Perone

      Thanks Ed!

  • Big T

    Here’s to hoping someone can increase the intensity of play and decrease the mental mistakes on this team. MM needs to light a fire under some azzes. We need to call on the spirit of Vince to toughen these limp wristed players up a bit. A kick to the ding ding from time to time won’t hurt anything MM…

  • Savage57

    When you look at all of this, it’s pointing towards some growth in the areas where the team showed some weaknesses last year. As much of a bummer as the news about Franklin is, it along with JF’s and JJ’s injuries are hopefully the last leavings of the injury bug that has so hamstrung (no pun intended) the team the last few years.

    It is time for a change of fortune on the health front for the Packers.

  • funcrusher

    Nice article! This looks to be a much improved Packers team. Positions that were gaping holes last year seem to have a lot of competition now.

    I do think the Packers are going to win the Super Bowl this season. There seems to be that sense of urgency that wasn’t there before. Let’s set the tone week one, by stomping all over the Seahawks!

  • Icebowler

    The one thing that bugs me about what I’ve been reading this spring (not this particular article), is that the “elephant” is going to be our defensive savior. Peppers, Neal, Perry, and others are all going to excel at the position they say. How many “elephants” can we play at once? Is an elephant just a pass rusher or can it also stop the run and drop back in coverage? The Packers say their going to simplify the defense, but doesn’t adding a “new position” complicate it? We need more speed (forward, backward, and side to side) from the LB positions, and “elephant” just doesn’t conjure up a speedy image in my mind.

    • Stroh

      The primary guys that will be Elephant Ends are Peppers and Perry. Neal will be used at OLB and as a DT in some passing situations. Neal won’t be used at Elephant, even tho he could play that, they value him pass rushing either as an OLB or a DT. Perry will be used as an OLB and at the Elephant. Peppers will be used as the Elephant, but he’ll also be utilized all up and down the DL.

      Its quite possible all the guys you mentioned as Elephant End could, and probably will, be on the field pass rushing at the same time.

      Peppers at LDE, Daniels, Neal and Perry at Elephant, w/ Matthews possibly being a blitzing LB. Or they could use Peppers at Elephant, Daniels and Jones inside and Neal at LDE, again w/ Matthews as a blitzing LB.

      Peppers they signed to play Elephant as well as other DL spots and Perry who played Elephant End at USC are really the only ones who will play that position.

    • Stroh

      The Elephant End is mostly a pass rusher. Think Charles Haley… He played Elephant for SF. Its unlikely they are used in coverage

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        I agree that ‘Elephant’ in coverage will not be ‘primary coverage responsibility for the TE’

        But the elephant players will be used in coverage in the sense of ‘drop to cover this short zone while we fool them about who the pass rushers are.’ Think Raji in the 2010 season NFCC game against the Bears. The concept is ‘zone blitz’ after all.

        • Stroh

          When was the last time the Packers actually used a zone blitz where they dropped a DL into coverage? Zone blitz doesn’t imply LB dropping.

          The point is that the Elephant position shouldn’t be used in coverage much if at all. How often did you see Charles Haley or DeMarcus Ware drop in coverage? I know I would much rather not have Peppers or Perry in coverage.

          • Ed Schoenfeld

            Yet in a different response you quote a description of the elephant as “‘tweener ends/linebackers who are as likely to rush the passer as they are to drop into coverage” with specific reference to Ware.

            And I did provide an example of the Packers dropping a DL into coverage while other players rushed. The fact that the example was 4 years old should be a cause for grief and mourning, not argument.

            Here is what I want — I want Capers to be able to run his defense the way it is meant to be run, without being limited by players who are too inexperienced (Perry in 2012, Datone Jones last year, etc.), physically not up to playing all aspects (CJWilson, Pickett for the last couple of years), or injured (just about everybody from time to time).

            Capers full defense involves two outside linebackers who can both cover and rush the passer, and defensive linemen who can hold the point, provide some pressure, and occasionally drop into short zone coverage to help disguise a blitz.

            Peppers as an athlete is *ideal* for all of those roles, both with his hand down as a hybrid DE and standing up a 3-4 OLB. He *can* cover the short zone and for the defense to work right Peppers *has to* occasionally do that — otherwise you lose half the potential headache Peppers can give the offense and the defense *cannot* work correctly.

            Perry and Neal cover more like d-lineman but they still cover well enough for all of the threats to be available when they are on the field, now that they both have had sufficient time in the scheme (well, Neal has had enough time, Perry still has some catching up to do but if motivated and healthy it should be possible for him to learn enough in camp).

            The killer for the Packers defense schematically over the past few years has been having personnel groups on the field where two or more of the front seven were *not* capable of providing a dual rush/coverage threat. That limits what the offense has to guard against and degrades the effectiveness of the D. To improve the D, *all* of the front 7 players, including Peppers, Neal and Perry, will need to cover *occasionally* to maintain the dual rush/cover threat.

            • Stroh

              Most of that other comment was copied and pasted from one of the multiple articles I bothered to take the time to research and read. How often did Ware, Haley and other Elephant ends actually drop in coverage?

              Peppers has rarely if ever been used in coverage in his NFL career. Perry clearly isn’t very good at it either. Simply the vast majority of the NFL Elephant position players either in a 34 or 43 ever have dropped in coverage. Raji did the one time, and honestly I haven’t seen it since. Not from a DL. I doubt Peppers gets more than 5 or 6 drops in a season for the Packers.

              The less Peppers or Perry drop in coverage the better the Packers D will be.

              I Like that they are accumulating a lot of interchangeable players in the front 7. Losing the Picketts and Wilson’s should actually help the Packers D, as much as we all loved Pickett.

              All I want is to see the Packers D be dominant. Whether that includes the Elephant dropping in coverage. But the Elephant Ends rarely if ever drop. The less they do, the better the D is IMO.

  • JRMD

    I’m puzzled by all the confusion about the elephant position? It’s merely a versatile DE who lines up at a variety of positions along the defensive line. It allows Capers to disguise pre-snap looks and confuse pass protection assignments. Peppers, Perry, and Jones can and will all play this position. It really doesn’t complicate your defense for pro’s. Capers wanted to install it last year but they didn’t have healthy personnel(Jones & Perry). Elephants are large, powerful, fast, and very intelligent animals. I believe this is where the name comes from. Either way, expect a lot more excitement from the pass rush this season if injury prone Perry & Mathews can stay on the damn field! I’m getting sick and tired of them being constantly injured! I’m not sure why they seem to be these huge strong guys that can’t take a snap without limping off the field! Really frustrating!

    • Stroh

      Here’s an excerpt of an article I found on a google search.

      “DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys’ standout defensive end/linebacker hybrid, is the latest in a long line of ‘tweener ends/linebackers who are as likely to rush the passer as they are to drop into coverage. Over time, the position has been referred to as the “Elephant,” “Leo,” or “Buck,” and although Ware is the latest version, it’s existed all the way back to 49ers and Cowboys star Charles Haley in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

      Willie McGinist and Mike Vrabel also played an Elephant position for NE.

      I don’t see Datone Jones playing that position, but would substitute Neal in his place. Datone will be more of a 34 DE/43DT hybrid along w/ Daniels.

      McCarthy said this “”‘Elephant’ is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front,”. Interesting that he didn’t mention OLB in that description.

      The Packers will use Peppers in a variety of ways — he’ll rush from an end spot when the Packers are in base defense, slide inside in nickel, and he can play up as a 6-foot-7 linebacker, rerouting tight ends off the line, covering in short areas or rushing the passer.

      Basically from what I’ve gathered the Elephant is a 34 position and the Leo (another term for it) is more of a 43 D position, which is largely what Sea uses Bruce Irvin as.

  • Stroh

    Here’s another Packer related article on the Elephant position…

    http://espn.go.com/blog/green-bay-packers/post/_/id/7767/a-new-position-possible-for-nick-perry

    Essentially the Elephant End plays as an OLB/DE position w/ one gap responsibility on the open side (weak side) of the defensive formation.

    • marpag

      I agree with most everything you’re saying Stroh. Personally, I SERIOUSLY doubt that we are really going to see any coverage responsibilities from the elephant position. Frankly, I sincerely hope that we don’t, because the last thing I want to see is Peppers trying to cover Rudolph while we’re playing MINN. To me, it makes sense to say that the elephant is something like a base 3-4, only tweaked to allow for the insertion of a 4-3 DE (elephant).

      • Stroh

        I agree… And I’ve said that before as well too. The last thing I want to see is Peppers (or Perry for that matter) dropping into coverage. Really the coverage responsibilities of the Elephant are virtually non-existent.

        Peppers might have a LB number and be in the LB meetings, but he has all the experience in the world playing DL, and any new responsibilities are LB related, so it makes sense to have him in those meetings. He could probably sleep thru any DL meetings and not miss anything. LOL I think he’ll be a Elephant End on early downs and move around the DL on pass rush downs.

      • Stroh

        The off shoot of this is that Matthews might have his coverage responsibilities increased slightly. I hope the Packers actually move Matthews to the LOLB spot to create the opportunities for Peppers and Perry on the weak (open) side. Matthews did that very well in ’10 season where he was mostly the LOLB and had his best sack season.

        • Ed Schoenfeld

          I am actually looking forward to seeing Peppers drop into short zone coverage from time to time. At 6’7″ he will take away a LOT of passing lane.

          That implies he lines up on the same side as Matthews, at least occasionally — Who is dropping? Who is rushing from the outside? Who made it look like they were dropping to cover but really blitzed on an inside stunt?

          But those kinds of mind games only work when you show (on previous plays) both players involved doing all of the potential moves.

          • Stroh

            Your looking forward to seeing a guy that has never dropped into coverage in the NFL or college football try it now, at age 34? I’m sorry but that just crazy! No Way I want to see Peppers in coverage. The less he and Perry have in coverage the better off the Packers will be.

            • Ed Schoenfeld

              It is incorrect to say that Peppers has never dropped into coverage at any level. He’s played a defensive line position in the NFL for over 10 season, DL occasionally dropping into short zone coverage is a common feature of many defenses (Remember, Peppers played at Carolina before he was with the Bears).

              Lets not confuse ‘dropping into short zone coverage occasionally’ with ‘matching a receiver stride for stride 40 yards downfield. They are quite different tasks.

              • Stroh

                Even dropping into a short zone, like in the flat, do you really want to see Pepper or Perry one on one in space w/ a RB? Not me… If Peppers gets more than 5 drops in a season I would be very surprised.

        • Icebowler

          I guess I first stirred the stew on this discussion, so thanks all of you for the insights (as well staying civil I might add). I think Stroh just answered my concern the best. Besides Jones, Clay is our best LB option to drop back in coverage. We have more pass rushing options than ever, but an interception is still better than a sack in my book. If only Hawk could cover better…but that’s a whole other can of worms.

  • marpag

    One short line on Richard Rodgers? I thought he was far and away the story of the rookie class.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Marpag, a TE known for being a shrinking violet when things get tough looking good in shorts is no surprise. Let’s wait for the pads come on and see if he has what it takes.

      • marpag

        Fair enough. I didn’t suggest that we anoint him the next Tony Gonzales. But for all the flak that TT got for drafting Rodgers in the first place, there was no guarantee that he would look good even in shorts. It seems to me that a player looking good in shorts is more of a story than a player looking like crap.

        Another “TE known for being a shrinking violet when things get tough [but] looking good in shorts” would be Jermichael Finley.

        • Stroh

          Finley wasn’t the shrinking violet. That label goes to DJ Williams! Finley may not have been overly physical all the time but he wasn’t a shrinking violet either.

          • marpag

            While there certainly may have been players who are/were “shrinking-er” than Finley, I take it as a pretty well-established fact that Finely A) didn’t handle physical play very well, and B) had a disturbing knack of being invisible in big games or at crunch time. Teams like the Giants and the 49ers knew that the way to take Finley out of the game was to beat the crap out of him at the line.

            • Stroh

              I would take that as Cherry picking! Did he shrink in the playoff game vs AZ? Certainly not, he stepped up BIG time and played physical football. Last year, pre injury he was running over and thru tackles and averaging the best yac of any TE. Were there times when he let injuries affect his play? Yeah, that much I’ll grant.

              But he was in NO way a shrinking violet either!

              • marpag

                If you’re referring to the ARI game in which 96 points were scored off of 1,024 total yards, then yeah, Finley got himself a piece of that action. I’ll give you that.

                Now let’s look at his OTHER playoff games.

                2009 was the ARI game.

                2010 out due to injury.

                2011 – Against NYG, Finley has 4 catches 37 yards, 0 scores. The Giants make Finley look like a donkey and the Pack is one and done.

                2012 – Against the Vikings, Finley comes up small with 1 catch, 10 yards, 0 scores. The Packers manage to win despite him. Against SF, Finley had a masterful 4 catches for 35 yards, 0 scores.

                2013 – Out due to injury.

                So yeah, I’ll give you the ARI game, in which no defense was played whatsoever, by anyone. In the three playoff games since then, Finley has averaged 3 catches, 27 yards, and 0 TDs. Even including the ARI game, he has has yet to score in the postseason.

                How much more is the violet supposed to shrink?

              • Stroh

                Like I said, when he wasn’t worried about injuries he didn’t shrink. Finley all but admitted that there were a lot of times he let previous injuries affect his play. The point that your missing is that when he didn’t let injuries affect him either physically they weren’t or mentally, he wasn’t a violet. He came out last year and was playing very physical with the ball in his hands. He dominated in the AZ game physically running over and thru tackles just like he was last year.

      • Ed Schoenfeld

        Where did you get the idea that Richard Rodgers is ‘known to be a shrinking violet’?

        Seriously, I would like to know. And yes I understand he played slot receiver, not TE, in his senior year. But he also played an in-line TE position with blocking responsibilities at 275 lbs for two years before that (different coach, different offensive system.)

        • Stroh

          His name is DJ Williams. A recent Packers TE that looked all world in OTA’s, shank quite a bit in training camp, then disappeared altogether when the games started.

        • Stroh

          FWIW I don’t consider Rodgers anything like DJ Williams. IMO the only things they have in common is that they both looked good in OTA’s.

          • Ed Schoenfeld

            I don’t think R.Rodgers was anything like what DJWilliams was in college, either.

  • White92

    Great job Jason. I really like this recap all in one spot. I don’t really have time to check the transaction wires daily and sort through all the fluff pieces.

    Great stuff