At Preseason's Halfway Point, Here's What We Think We Know

Posted August 19th, 2016 @ 02:08pm

Two games down, two to go. The next game will be the most meaningful of the preseason; the last one will be the most meaningless (except for the last few guys on the roster bubble and potential practice squaders).

First, the good news:

Eddie Lacy looks like a reasonable facsimile to the player we grew to love in his first two season. The key will be whether he grows around the middle as the season goes along. While he doesn't appear a whole lot slimmer than last season to me, he does appear much quicker and explosive. His nine carry 45 yard performance in the opening drive against the Raiders was precisely what we all wanted to see--coming against a solid, up and coming defense.

The offensive line is showing that if it stays healthy, it will be the team's strongest unit, behind QB. JC Tretter has filled in nicely for the injured Corey Linsley--maybe he'll steal the job back, after Linsley stole it from him two years ago. We all know that free agency is likely to dismantle this unit a bit after the season. So far, it looks like they will go out with a bang this season.

The defense, despite playing without Matthews, Burnett, Shields and Peppers, looks ready to take another step. The young corners held their own against Derek Carr and his weapons, granted in a game where neither team showed much. Randall and Rollins both appear to be ready to step into bigger roles and LaDarius Gunter is on the verge of being the latest in Ted Thompson's line of undrafted corners who can play. Blake Martinez looks like an improvement on the inside. He's making plays and showing a good closing burst. Datone Jones looks like he's found a home at OLB, despite the boneheaded personal foul penalty in the first quarter.

The long anticipated 2016 debut of Brett Hundley was shorter than anyone would have liked. He definitely looks the part. In the 18 or 19 minutes he played, he was very efficient--mixing in the pass with a heavy dose of the running game. His bootlegs were solid and he showed some nice zip on passes to Jared Cook and Davante Adams. The problem, of course, is his pesky ankle, which got rolled on when all world pass rusher schooled rookie Jason Spriggs (more on that in a bit). Mike McCarthy said after the game that the injury didn't appear to be as bad as the first injury. But it makes you wonder whether he can get it right in time for the opener.

Will the injury cost him the last two preseason games, denying him some invaluable and much needed experience? Can the Packers afford to trust that he'll be fine in a few weeks? Will they be forced to call Geico and buy some Matt Flynn insurance? After all, in about 15 minutes of playing time the guy earned millions of dollars. It's something to watch. Not sure we can afford to be one play away from Joe Callahan under center.

The other most noticeable bad development was the blocked punt, caused by a missed block from Gunter. The punting game is one of the team's major question marks with Masthay and Mortell duking it out, while understanding that the team could eventually grab someone off the waiver wire. Special teams was improved last season. But losing gunner Jeff Janis is a loss, as is the looming suspension for Goodson.

Since the Raiders played their starters through the first half, the Packers were able to see how their backups matched up. It gave guys like Spriggs invaluable experience--though he may not look at it that way right now. Mack had his way with the rookie, beating him several times, which is what you'd expect. No doubt, Spriggs enjoyed himself much more in the second half. But those snaps against Mack will serve him well down the road. On the flip side, the Packers' backup defense held Carr and the other Raider starters in check. A rare chance for them to play against big time players.

Finally, the news broke Thursday that the three players, and two Packers, named in the since recanted Al Jazeera report, have agreed to interviews with the NFL. While selfishly as fans, we're mostly glad to hear that they chose that route, rather than face indefinite suspensions. A part of me feels like they're dancing with the devil here. It would be different if the league claimed to have credible information regarding alleged PED use. But as Rodgers said, their CBA deal allows the commissioner unilateral power when it comes to 'conduct detrimental to the league.' Now we wait and see how this plays out. The Packers are loaded at outside linebacker, with guys like Perry, Jones, Elliott, Fackrell and McCray. But we all know that Matthews and Peppers are the heart and sole of this defense and if they miss time it would be a monumental hole in this emerging defensive unit.

Lots to learn in the final two weeks. Besides the Peppers and Matthews entanglement, what we'll be watching most closely is #87, who put the pads on and participated in individual drills before the game and appears ready to return to practice next week. Whether he plays against the Niners or not, we'll all be laser focused on his progress, and whether he slowly begins to resemble the pre-injury Jordy Nelson.


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15 Questions I'm Hoping to Get Answered in the Preseason Opener

Posted August 11th, 2016 @ 06:08pm

Have I mentioned I'm REALLY glad I decided not to make the trip to Canton last weekend? How disappointing to be there and find out at the last moment that the game was being canceled. I hope none of my faithful readers suffered that fate.

As much as we were all ready to watch some Packer football last Sunday, put me in the group that is happy the team is only playing four preseason games. As for the opener against the Browns, much of what I posted leading up to the Hall of Fame game still stands, but I felt like I had to write something leading up to the first game. So here are my 15 questions I'm looking to get answered in game number one:

1. Does Blake Martinez look the part? The Pack would love to get a major, immediate contribution from their fourth round draft pick. Here's our first chance to see if he looks quicker and twitchier than the last guy who wore #50 and roamed the middle of the defense.

2. Will Jeff Janis step up? All we've read this preseason is how he has failed to grab on to the opportunity for playing time afforded him with the injuries to Nelson and Montgomery. It sounds like he's doing all the right things, but he's a lousy practice player. He's become a core member of special teams, so it's unlikely that he's fighting for his spot, but he has a real chance to grab the #3 WR job. Here's his first chance to show he deserves it.

3. Is Kenny Clark ready for his close-up? He's the other rookie the Packers are hoping makes a major 2016 contribution. Let's face it, we're always, always, always intrigued to see the #1 draft pick for the first time on the field.

4. Can the rookie QBs play? With Aaron Rodgers being held out and Brett Hundley nursing an injury, the two rookies, Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams, will get all the snaps. It would be preposterous to expect either of them to set the world on fire. I'm just hoping they're competent enough to let us know how the other guys look. The skill guys can't show their stuff if the QBs are struggling.

5. Do we have a punter competition? So far it doesn't sound like the former Gopher, Pete Mortell, is striking fear in the heart of Tim Masthay. But maybe he just needs to play in a real game to show his stuff. He'd be a great story: Green Bay native whose dad and grandpa have been running the scoreboard for decades. But the dude needs to kick a lot better than he has in practice.

6. Can John Crockett cement himself as the #3 RB? As I've mentioned, I'd love to see the Minneapolis native show his stuff this preseason. We're all hoping for a bounce back season from Eddie Lacy. Maybe seeing Crockett run wild in August will motivate Lacy to avoid the KFC drive thru.

7. How does Burnett look at LB? We've heard that Dom Capers is exploring using the talented safety as a linebacker in the dime to keep one more athletic guy on the field, someone who has a better chance at covering the tight ends and backs on those third down plays. Not sure how much we'll see of this in the preseason, but it will be worth watching for.

8. Riiiiiiiip? OK, it doesn't roll off the tongue like Kuuuuuhn, but Aaron Ripkowski is the new John Kuhn and we'll see how he looks in short yardage opportunities and wherever else they plan on using him. He's a special teamer as well. Let's see if he's ready to make that jump in year number two. Big opportunity in front of him.

9. Does Ty look like Ty yet? Just the news that the second year WR is off the PUP and practicing is great news. He apparently suffered one of the worst ankle injuries of all time and is finally healthy. Reports that he shined in his first practice were encouraging. The next step is seeing him on the field. Not sure how much, or if, he'll play. But I'll be looking for #88. I'm hoping he can grab the #3 WR spot--if he does the Packers offense will be very versatile.

10. Is Jared Cook the answer at tight end? We won't get an answer just yet, but like Montgomery, he stood out in his first practice since coming off the PUP list and if healthy, can provide a major boost to this offense. It would be nice to see him out there for a few snaps and then see what kind of rhythm he can get in with Rodgers over the next few weeks.

11. Can Sam Barrington earn his way back? The third guy to come off the PUP this week is listed as a starter at inside linebacker and has reportedly dropped 22 pounds. We'll get our first look to see if he's ready to compete to fend off the Martinez challenge.

12. Casey who? With Hayward gone and the Pack not adding anyone through the draft to replace him, it will be interesting to see who lands at this position after Shields, Randall and Rollins. I think LaDarius Gunter will end up the #4 guy, but we'll see a number of players over the next four weeks try to earn a spot. Thompson always seems to unearth an unknown cornerback. Who will it be this year?

13. What's the rush? Or more precisely, who will provide the pass rush with Peppers and Matthews unlikely to get a lot of snaps. There will be an opportunity for someone to step up. Will Nick Perry finally be that guy? Will Datone Jones take to his new position? Can Kyler Fackrell make a name for himself? Or can we just change his name?

14. Is Jared for real? It sounds like the one wide receiver who's stood out so far is Jared Abbrederis. Can he continue to show it in preseason games? Can he stay healthy? I get the feeling the team will only keep five WRs this year. He might find himself battling Davante Adams, Trevor Davis and Geronimo Allison for the last spot.

14. Who wants the punt returner job? Right now, the depth chart reads Hyde, Davis, Abbrederis. Can Davis earn himself a roster spot by being dynamic in this role? He gets his first shot against the Browns.

15. Is Spriggs the left tackle of the future? OK, I'm pretty sure we won't get an answer just yet, but I think there's a good chance he'll be the starter there next season. Looking forward to seeing what he looks like out there. Just knowing the team may have some real depth at the position would be a nice development.

Bonus question: Can everybody please stay healthy? No injuries to buzzkill the season in August this year, okay? Is that too much to ask?

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Thoughts on the Pack's 2016 Debut and Favre's Big Weekend

Posted August 5th, 2016 @ 04:08pm

Most of us have thought about this weekend for many years: Brett Favre's Hall of Fame enshrinement. We figured the Packers would play in the game, but it was all about #4 taking his place among the game's immortals. Safe to say, most of us didn't consider the idea that his locker at the Hall would feature two team's jerseys. But here we are. More on that at the end of this blog. For now, here's what I'll be focusing on Sunday night:

Since this is a bonus preseason game, not to mention that these teams will meet in the regular season, we can expect the game plan to be the definition of 'vanilla.' We figured Aaron Rodgers would be wearing a baseball hat all night, and now it looks like Brett Hundley will follow suit, with what's being described as a minor injury. That's disappointing, to be sure. We all want to see what kind of progress Hundley's made, especially since he's one play from being the starting QB. But with four more games to play, it's not a big deal. But since this is the Pack's only nationally televised preseason game, it would have been nice to showcase Hundley a bit.

So while Andrew Luck is expected to take a few snaps, we'll get Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams. We'll see a lot from these guys over the next few weeks to see if one of them can earn a spot on the practice squad this season.

I'm looking forward to see a lot of Minneapolis' own John Crockett, who has the inside track on the #3 running back spot. We weren't going to see much of Eddie Lacy anyway, and with his ankle injury he's a scratch. Crockett very well may get the start. I'm anxious to see what all the extra training he participated in since last done for his game. The Brandons, Burks and Ross, will also get plenty of run. We'll see if either can challenge for Crockett's spot.

As for the rookies, we'll all be anxious to see Kenny Clark, who's earning some very early raves, along with second round pick Jason Spriggs, who could very well be the starting left tackle at this time next year. But the rookie we're all anxious to see is linebacker Blake Martinez. The coaches are showing a lot faith in him already; these games will show whether he's up to the task of being a three down linebacker in his first season. With Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington injured, Martinez will get an extended look in this game.

I'm also keeping my eye on Beniquez Brown, an underrated linebacker out of Mississippi State, who was thought to be a third or fourth rounder. He'll also benefit from the injuries at the top of the depth chart. I have a suspicion he'll outshine Joe Thomas and Carl Bradford, a couple of roster holdovers who are firmly on the bubble.

The wide receiver position will also be intriguing to watch. Granted, they're catching passes from completely green QBs, but there is a battle for the #3 WR spot, probably between Davante Adams and Jeff Janis. Jared Abbrederis has earned raves in camp and he might be fighting with rookie Trevor Davis for a roster spot. Davis will get a chance to return some punts and we'll see if he's a possibility there. We know Jordy Nelson and Ty Montgomery won't be out there, so the healthy guys will get plenty of snaps.

I'll be watching Datone Jones as he makes the full-time transition to outside linebacker. And with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers unlikely to play, we'll see a lot of Jones, along with rookie Kyler Fackrell. Former Bronco Lerentee McCray will also get a long look. The Packers have a logjam at this that could look very different a year from now, assuming Peppers retires. Nick Perry is also on a show-me season and needs to step up and stay healthy or his nine lives will be up.

Finally, I'm anxious to watch the young corners. Both Damarius Randall and Quentin Rollins will have much larger roles, of course. But I'm wondering who will earn the #4 spot. My money is on Ladarius Gunter, but a handful of other guys will get their first chance to show whether they can bump Demetri Goodson off the team.

Bottom line, let's get out there with no significant injuries and a good first look at this team, with four more practice games to go.

Finally, on Favre's weekend. We don't like how things ended and it bugs us that, as reported, he requested that a Vikings jersey hangs alongside his Packer jersey at his Hall locker. I wonder whether he would have requested that had the Packers not already brought him back into the family and retired his number. It feels like a 'last laugh' situation. (Update: the Journal Sentinel is now reporting that Favre had nothing to do with the inclusion of the Vikings jersey--the folks in Canton made the call. Exhale, Packer fans). In the end, as the video that introduced him prior to his donning of the gold jacket, 'while he finished his career with a couple of other teams, he will always be remembered as a Packer.'

For 16 seasons, he was a constant presence and for many of those years he was the face of the NFL. We were fortunate to watch one of the all time great QBs week in and week out for 16 seasons. Knowing every week that he would be out there and that meant the Pack had a chance to win every time he stepped on the field.

We've waited a long time for Favre to have his moment. Let's put aside the ribbing from our purple clad, perennially disappointed fans from the land of 10,000 lakes and appreciate Favre for leading the Pack's return to greatness 20 years ago and for providing us with 16 years, of unforgettable football greatness.

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What will you be watching most closely in the preseason?

Email of the Week

Hey Dave, I hate the packers.  I hate packer fans.  But just like I struggled to hate Favre and I struggle to hate Rodgers, I also struggle to hate you, cause you're so damn good at what you do. Good to hear you and double T in primetime.  No one else I'd rather hear filling in for bump.  Merry Christmas to you fellas. Go Vikes.--Big Cat 

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The Baker's Dozen Why 13 and not 10? To celebrate the Pack’s 13 NFL titles, of course. 7/27/16

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