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20

June

Packers Mini Camp and Offseason Recap

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.

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19

June

RB Franklin Not Returning to Packers

Johnathan Franklin

It was announced that Franklin will not be back with the Packers due to a neck injury sustained last season

The Green Bay Packers find themselves in a situation that is unfortunately all-too familiar to them.  It was announced today by head coach Mike McCarthy that running back Johnathan Franklin will not return to the team in 2014 due to a neck injury he suffered late during his rookie season.  Mike Vandermause from the Green Bay Press-Gazette shared the news after today’s mini camp practice.

Franklin was drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft and had a very productive day in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, rushing for over 100 yards and a score.  He had just six carries the rest of the season after some issues with ball security.

The Packers drafted both Franklin and Eddie Lacy last season to boost the running back position.  Franklin sat behind Lacy, who was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year, and veteran James Starks.  Franklin was expected to be in the mix this season and had even taken some reps as a kick returner, which he also did during the 2013 season.

Franklin’s departure leaves the team with Lacy, Starks, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn, Michael Hill, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins at the running back position.

Franklin tweeted out a thanks to his supporters from his Twitter account today.

This is just another in what is becoming a long string of neck injuries in Green Bay.  In 1994, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire after his injury.  The Packers have also lost receiver Terrence Murphy and safety Nick Collins to neck injuries over the past decade.

Both Jermichael Finley and Johnny Jolly are currently recovering from neck injuries suffered last season while with the Packers.  Both are still free agents.

To get into a discussion about the rash of neck injuries that have hit the Packers over the past three years is another topic by itself but it’s noteworthy that the team has dealt with more than their fair share during that time.

No official roster move has been made yet and no speculation on who will take Franklin’s spot yet.

Here is Vandermause’s tweet announcing the news on Franklin:

 

30

May

Mike McCarthy OTA Press Conference Highlights

Mike McCarthy

McCarthy had some good insight after Thursday’s OTA practice

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy spoke to the media following Thursday’s OTA practice and as I have been doing with his major pressers, I break down some of the comments he made.  These quotes are courtesy of Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

“We want to operate on lower volume of scheme. Went after scheme evaluation with focus of doing less, with more people available.”

This mostly applies to the defense.  Dom Capers’ scheme is not an easy one.  With various formations and personnel groupings, there are a lot of moving parts and things for players to keep track of.  With as many younger players as the Packers have on the defensive side, McCarthy has said that he wants to simplify the scheme and let the players play.  Back in 2011, many wondered if the Packers were playing vanilla defense throughout the season so they could “open up the playbook” come the postseason.  We found out very quickly that was not the case.  As the season progresses and these players become more familiar with each other as well as the different responsibilities, don’t be surprised to see Capers toss in a few old wrinkles along the way.

“Regarding Peppers and Matthews, the more a player can do, brings value to football team, utilizes creativity as football coach.”

We have already heard about some of the things the Packers may do on defense with these two imposing figures on the field.  While Julius Peppers has aged and some question how much he can really add to the Green Bay defense, expect to see the Packers find out in every way that they can.  An effective Peppers opposite a healthy (fingers crossed) Clay Matthews means some homework for opposing offensive coordinators.  It should also help the other nine guys make a few more plays than they did last season.

“Peppers moves like a young man. Impressive person from all angles. Very professional in his approach. Takes care of himself…looks awesome, very natural at OLB position.”

30

May

Packers OTA Quick Hits

Peppers and Matthews

Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews practice as teammates for the first time. Big things are expected of both this season in Green Bay (Rob Demovsky/ESPN)

The Green Bay Packers started their organized team activities (OTA’s) on Thursday.  This was the first time that all players on the current roster got together to practice.  Two week ago, the Packers held a rookie orientation and mini camp to acclimate the newcomers to the team’s culture, facilities and schemes.

I, for one, am glad that we finally have some live action to talk about.  After all of the draft build up and free agency, it’s good to get back to seeing guys doing actual football things.

Here are a few quick hits from the practice opener:

- Not OTA-related but the Packers did agree to terms with first round pick and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix today.  The deal is reportedly worth four years and $8.25 million.

- Speaking of rookies, not one of them worked with the first teams on Thursday.  No entitlement going on in Green Bay this season.

- Rookies Davante Adams and Khyri Thornton not at practice.  At NFLPA Rookie Premiere

- Micah Hyde lined up at the safety position next to Morgan Burnett in first team drills.  Clinton-Dix will have to earn his way to a starting gig.

- J.C. Tretter lined up at center with the first team.  Rookie Corey Linsley is also in for a battle.

- Among those returning punts:  Tramon Williams, Randall Cobb, Micah Hyde, Jared Abbrederis, and Jeff Janis

- Offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga, running back DuJuan Harris and cornerback Casey Hayward were active in Thursday’s practice.  Bulaga lined up at right tackle and wore a knee brace.

- Julius Peppers worked with the outside linebackers

- Offensive lineman Josh Sitton is apparently taking a page out of the Boston Red Sox’s playbook from last year and not shaving his face. . at all.  Frankly, I’m glad.  The Packers could use a bit more “nasty”.

- Tight end Colt Lyerla caught some, dropped some.  Did appear to receive the biggest ovation from the crowd, even bigger than Abbrederis’s

- Tight ends Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick, linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry and running back Johnathan Franklin watched, but did not participate in Thursday’s practice.

 

We will have more updates as the week progresses!

29

May

Jermichael Finley Receives Medical Clearance

Packers TE Jermichael Finley

Finley’s return to football took a step forward when he received his first medical clearance this week

Free agent and former Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley received some good news today.  He was medically cleared by the neurosurgeon, Dr. Joseph Maroon, who performed his neck fusion surgery last year.  The surgery was to the C3 and C4 vertebrae and such a procedure has ended many NFL careers before Finley.

If Finley truly wants to resume his NFL career, this is a step in the right direction.  It is also, however, a relatively small step.  Maroon’s clearance is one thing.  Finley still needs to be cleared by a team doctor before he can seriously think about a return to football.

Finley met with the Packers medical staff earlier this week.  No tests were done and Finley did not work out for the team.  This was more of an informal discussion and meeting.  The Packers have expressed interest in Finley’s return to the team if he is cleared and able to play.  Head coach Mike McCarthy recently stated that he sees Finley as a Green Bay Packer and would certainly welcome him back to the offense.

While that sounds great in theory, there are still hurdles to be cleared and decisions to be made by the Packers.  Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette tweeted the news about Finley’s clearance and made the point that this doesn’t mean a return to the Packers is imminent.

Finley’s agent, Blake Baratz, indicated that Finley has a meeting scheduled with a team later this week but would not reveal who, at the team’s request.  There is still interest in Finley among NFL circles.  The Packers have proven to take a more conservative approach when dealing with players returning from neck injury.  Perhaps another team may be willing to take the bigger gamble sooner.

Beyond the medical side of this equation is the potential contract that Finley would be looking for.  Just taking a stab here, but Finley has never been the type to question his ability.  Neck injury or not, he is likely going to see himself as the same player who started out last season for the Packers.  That also means he will be looking for a decent paycheck.  The Packers have some other areas of concern when it comes to their current cap space, which should be around $12 million after rookie contracts are finalized.  If the stars align and the two sides find themselves at the bargaining table, the Packers will have to decide what that paycheck should be in a green and gold uniform.

21

April

Lattimore Remains Unsigned

Jamari Lattimore

Lattimore remains unsigned on the eve of Packers team workouts

According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN, Green Bay Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore remains unsigned one day before the Packers will begin offseason workouts.  Without being signed, Lattimore won’t be permitted to join his teammates.

The Packers were not expected to tender Lattimore following the 2013 season, thereby making him an unrestricted free agent.  Instead in early March, the Packers did designate the original round tender on Lattimore.

Under the original round terms, Lattimore can sign an offer sheet with another team.  The Packers then have an opportunity to match those terms and keep Lattimore.  If they do not match another offer sheet, Green Bay would receive no compensation from the receiving team because Lattimore was originally an undrafted free agent back in 2011.

The current offer is for one year and $1.431 million for the 2014 season.

Lattimore filled in last season when starting inside linebacker Brad Jones was forced out with a hamstring injury.  In limited time, Lattimore was adequate and appeared to be making a case for more playing time.  After the 2013 season, there will still talk about whether Lattimore might push for a starting spot in 2014.

With the draft just over two weeks away and with much chatter about what the Packers could do to address the linebacker position, Lattimore’s unresolved contract will continue to hamper his prospects of moving up the depth chart.

In many instances and as former Packers Vice President Andrew Brandt has often said, deadlines spur action.  With the Packers starting to gather tomorrow, this could very well be a non-story soon.

 

 

 

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

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27

March

Mike McCarthy Speaks at Owner’s Meetings

Mike McCarthy

McCarthy spoke about the current state of the Packers at this week’s Owner’s Meetings

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.