Thoughts on the First 53 Man Roster

Posted August 31st, 2014 @ 02:08pm

There weren't a lot of dramatic roster battles as the Packers whittled the roster to the league mandated 53 on Saturday. The biggest question was whether the team would keep two or three QBs on the roster. But there were a few interesting decisions made.

The decision to keep Flynn and Tolzien seems like the right one, especially in light of the situation the team found itself in last season. Tolzien has progressed enough to look like a viable backup for the next few seasons, while Flynn's likely the guy the team would turn to this season, should disaster strike #12. I still wouldn't rule out a trade of Flynn, if a QB-needy team comes calling.

That third QB likely cost safety Chris Banjo a shot at being the fifth safety. Banjo is a special teams ace and seems to be a capable backup, but the move of Hyde to safety and the addition of Ha Ha Clinton Dix makes that position much more solid than it was a year ago. Sean Richardson's strong preseason showing made Banjo a luxury the team just couldn't afford. I'm guessing he gets claimed on waivers--if not, he's a lock to return to the practice squad.

The most alarming position in terms of depth is the offensive line. The starters are solid, or will be, once JC Tretter returns. The backups (Sherrod and Taylor) are raw and unproven and could cause Thompson to shop the waiver wire for a veteran that might fit. Center Greg Van Roten, a former Packer, was cut by the Seahawks and could be a candidate to return.

No real surprises at the offensive skill positions, except possibly the axing of tight end Jake Stoneburner. The team kept just four tight ends to start the season, and Brandon Bostick is a few weeks away from returning. The team is banking on Rochard Rodgers being ready to tackle the starting spot, with the very average Andrew Quarless awaiting a chance to show he's worth keeping. If Bostick were healthy I have a hunch the Pack would have parted ways with Quarless.

On defense, the biggest story is the two undrafted guys who shined in the preseason. Outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, from Toledo, was the preseason star with five sacks. His last one, against Chiefs starting tackle Donald Stephenson, no doubt locked up his spot. He won't play much, barring injury, but shows an ability to get to the quarterback and will be fun to keep an eye on. Nose tackle Mike Pennel takes BJ Raji's spot and will only play if Boyd or Guion falter in that role.

I was a bit surprised to see Jumal Rolle get released, in favor of sixthround pick Demetri Goodson, who by all accounts is a great athlete but is a latecomer to football and doesn't appear ready to contribute. He has a concussion, so it's possible he gets booted to the practice squad once he's healthy. I'd love to get Rolle back via the practice squad too, but he likely put enough on tape to draw another team's attention.

The initial roster appears deeper than usual in the secondary, at linebacker and at running back, and thinner at tight end, offensive line and the D line (though Neal and Peppers can move up to the line, and will from time to time). How it measures up against the best in the league will be answered at about 10:30 Thursday night.

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The Good, the Bad and the Raji

Posted August 23rd, 2014 @ 08:08pm

We've seen the last of the Packers starters until opening night, and that's a good thing. We've seen enough to give us hope that the Packers will compete for a Super Bowl, but the loss of B.J. Raji tempers the excitement in a big way.

It's become a rite of late summer: who will go down before the season starts to derail optimism? Last year it was Bryan Bulaga. Before Friday night, the Pack had lost top reserve Don Barclay and promising rookie Jared Abbrederis to ACLs, but neither of those losses resonate like the loss of Raji does.

We've heard much about the new leaner, younger look on the defensive line. The centerpiece, of course, was supposed to be Raji, back at the nose where he belongs, recommitted to the game and ready to play for a contract. Now, a torn bicep will cause him to miss the 2014 season and the Packers have a mammoth hole at the nose, one of the most vital spots in Dom Capers' defense.

You'll hear Packer fans scream at Ted to bring back Ryan Pickett or Johnny Jolly, but I don't see it happening. The team wants to be young and athletic at the nose, so look for Josh Boyd to get the first shot, with intriguing undrafted rookie Mike Pennel also getting a look. Former Viking Letroy Guion looked like a long shot to make the roster. Now, expect him to get a closer look from team doctors--to see if he's ready to take the field. Also, remember, the Pack will be in the nickel about half the time, with Datone Jones and Mike Daniels comprising the front.

If you would have asked me to name the three guys most vital to a defensive improvement in 2014, I would have said a healthy Clay Matthews, Hyde/Clinton Dix at safety and Raji at the nose. It's a big loss.

Offensively, I have no worries. Granted, 9-20 for Aaron Rodgers is not a number we're accustomed to seeing. But in 39 plays, Rodgers directed three touchdown drives in 39 plays. The chemistry with the wide receivers was off, but the screen game with Lacy and Harris was impressive. As was the 35 yard seam pass to rookie Richard Rogers on the first drive. Zero concerns about the offense. Zero. Rookie center JC Tretter looks up to the challenge and the unit as a hole is run blocking very well.

As for the defense, outside of the missed tackle meltdown that was the Maurice Jones Drew 40 yard touchdown scamper, it performed as you would hope against the Raiders: five consecutive three and outs, some hard hits and good pressure on the quarterback. Julius Peppers has shown enough to get us a little excited and the Pack's secondary appears to be infinitely deeper than it was a year ago.

The biggest roster question I see is whether the Pack keeps two or three QBs. I'd be surprised if they keep three; I think they'd rather keep an extra linebacker or wide receiver. I'm not sure who gets the call between the two: Flynn makes the most sense, but I have a feeling McCarthy would rather keep Tolzien, if he has to choose.

We do know there will be no panic in Titletown as the braintrust looks to cut down to 75 by Tuesday. They'll roll out the next man up theory and hope and pray that Boyd or Pennell is ready for his close up.

It's late August, which means we're talking about season ending injuries. Again.


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"Packer Preview" Owes A Debt to Brett

Posted August 5th, 2014 @ 06:08pm

On Sunday, August 31st, I'll settle in behind the mic in the KFAN studio and kick off season number 19 of "Packer Preview," the first and to this day the only, team-centered radio show airing on its arch rival's flagship station.

It would never have happened, if not for Brett Favre. The only way it gets off the ground is if the team is a Super Bowl contender. When I first pitched the show to the brain wizards at KFAN in the summer of 1995, the Pack was an up and coming powerhouse, led by its precocious and magical young quarterback. But KFAN was coming to the end of its first contract as the home of the Vikings and the last thing they wanted to do was stir things up with a Packers show.

But the Vikings flipped the rights to WCCO after the season, so I went back to the goochies and reminded them that the Pack was coming off an NFC title game appearance and would be a Super Bowl favorite in '96. "Packer Preview" was green-lighted and my first season was Brett Favre's Super Bowl season.

The Packers have always been incredibly popular in the Twin Cities, dating back to the time before the Vikings came to be. My dad grew up in St. Paul in the 40s and he was a Packer fan. Add in the number of people (like me) who discovered what a great metropolitan area the Twin Cities is and migrated over from the land of cheese, and you understand why you'll undoubtedly find one of us on your block or at your office.

By the mid-90s, Packer mania was rampant in the Twin Cities, since it looked like Favre, Reggie and the Packers were ready to take over and win a few Super Bowls. OK, that didn't happen but the Packers won one, lost one and were a perennial playoff player. And the appetite for Packers conversation was immense.

And it allowed me to remain on the air at KFAN, even when they reclaimed the rights to the team in 2000. My show got bumped back an hour from 9am to 8am (and this season we're on from 7am-8am), but they allowed me to stay, understanding that ours was a unique rivalry and the truth is, they've been one of Clear Channel's shining stars for years because they like to think and program outside the box.

But back to where I started. Favre is the reason my show ever happened, but longtime listeners know I was not pleased with #4 as the messy separation and divorce went down. For 16 seasons though, he gave us, week in and week out, NFL theater at the highest level. Every game was an adventure and we never felt we were out of a game until the last second ticked off. It was never dull. As a child of the 70s, I saw plenty of dull Packers seasons.

In this era of pinball offenses, records are broken weekly, it seems. Most of today's QB records will be taken with a grain of salt, as fans try to compare Montana to Elway to Manning to Rodgers to Luck, etc.

But Favre's two most meaningful records will stand the test of time. The consecutive game streak will never be broken. His wins record may be broken by Manning (Favre leads by 19), but 186 wins by a starting QB will look impressive for as long as the NFL is around.

We Packers fans didn't like the way it ended. Favre put the Packers in a very difficult spot and the team made what I thought was the only decision to make. But he is one of the greatest QBs of all time and certainly one of the three greatest Packers (I still put Hutson and Nitschke ahead of him. After much reflection, I reluctantly put him ahead of Starr).

It's been seven years. It's time to move on and recognize where Favre sits in the annals of Packers lore. It was never a question that his would be the sixth number retired.  I thought this would be the year. The December Monday night game against the Falcons seemed like the perfect platform--honoring Favre with the team that drafted him in the house. But by next year the new and improved Packer Hall of Fame will open and this will become its signature event.

Then on one special night next season, maybe the opener, we'll see #4 join the other hallowed Packer numbers: 3, 14, 15, 66 and 92. Precisely where it belongs.


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Which waived guy should have made the team?

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"Packer Preview" returns for a 19th season on the home of the Vikings, KFAN on Sunday, August 31st. This year's time slot: 7am-8am Sunday mornings on KFAN and Feel free to sleep in and podcast at your leisure.

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