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.
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.
– 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.
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
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.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: