Green Bay Packers: Charles Woodson

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson say it every offseason: It is not the rookies who will make the difference for the Green Bay Packers but rather the returning players.

With that in mind, over the next couple of weeks, we will take a look at some returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.

Burnett
First up is safety Morgan Burnett.

Why he needs to step up: It's not just about living up to the four-year, $24.75 million contract extension he signed last July. Regardless of the financial commitment the Packers made, they need more plays from their strong safety. When the Packers picked Burnett in the third round of the 2010 draft, they thought they were getting a ball-hawking safety. He picked off six passes and forced four fumbles in his first 36 NFL games, but had no interceptions or forced fumbles in 14 games (including playoffs) last season.

What he has to do: McCarthy and safeties coach Darren Perry have defended Burnett's play by saying he has been steady and assignment-sure, but they know they need more from him. That's why McCarthy said this offseason that Perry's task will be to turn Burnett into a big-play machine. Perhaps having a more qualified partner at free safety -- whether it's second-year pro Micah Hyde or rookie first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix -- will help Burnett.

Outlook: Burnett looked like a prototypical free safety when the Packers drafted him out of Georgia Tech, but the Packers have played Burnett more in the box since the departure of Charles Woodson. Still, Burnett should be in position to make more plays on the ball. Burnett is only 25, so there's reason to think his best football is ahead of him.

Quotable: "I still think Morgan is a heck of a football player," Perry said. "I know our critics may not agree, but again Morgan is going to be fine and he's still a young player, ascending, and we've just got to keep him going."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Perhaps you've heard this before about the Green Bay Packers' defense: Everything will be fine as long as they're healthy.

The problem is – or has been – that they have not stayed healthy.

Last year, playmakers like Clay Matthews and Casey Hayward missed significant time because of injuries.

[+] EnlargeJamari Lattimore
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsThe ability to fill various roles will likely earn LB Jamari Lattimore additional playing time in 2014.
The year before, it was Desmond Bishop, Nick Perry and Charles Woodson.

In the Super Bowl season of 2010, it was Nick Barnett and Morgan Burnett, among others.

Coach Mike McCarthy has apparently grown tired of watching his defense struggle when players go down. Simply plugging in replacement players and asking them to do the same jobs has not always worked.

To combat that, he and defensive coordinator Dom Capers have agreed on some changes.

At the root of those changes isn't necessarily Capers' scheme or whether it will continue to be his traditional 3-4 alignment in his base package, or a regular nickel or dime in sub packages. But rather, it is a plan to develop players who can play multiple positions in different defensive looks in order to better combat issues that could arise during the season.

The buzzwords appear to be these: More personnel, less scheme.

To be sure, there will be changes in scheme – some of which McCarthy does not want to discuss before he unveils it in the regular season. Some of them might even be a drastic departure from what Capers has done since he arrived in Green Bay in 2009 and throughout his career.

"We've learned some hard lessons here of late, the last couple years of maybe playing some players that probably weren't quite ready and because of a scheme [that] we were playing," McCarthy said after the Packers' first open OTA practice on Thursday.

The addition of veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers by way of free agency provides a window to the changes. Peppers, who has been a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 scheme for most of his career, will play multiple positions for the Packers. During Thursday's OTA, he lined up almost exclusively as an outside linebacker in a two-point stance, but don't be surprised if he moves inside and rushes from a three-point stance as well. The same could be said for Perry and Mike Neal.

Likewise, there could be additional roles for the inside linebackers. While Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk do not appear to be in danger of losing their spots, Jamari Lattimore could see the field more, too. He was featured prominently during Thursday's practice in a variety of roles.

All of that could free up the cornerstone of the defense, Matthews, to move around more, too.

"It just seems like a lot of the linebackers have taken on roles that require them not only to be the traditional 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 [linebacker] but to do both," Matthews said. "Whether that's one minute rushing against a tackle or playing out on the slot receiver. Really, I think it just provides a lot of versatility for the guys we have here.

"I think rather than making players fit into certain schemes, we're making those schemes fit around players now. I think it's great for the personnel that we have and what we’re trying to accomplish moving forward."

It's an effort to reverse a trend that has seen the Packers finish in the bottom third of the defensive rankings in two of the past three seasons and struggle in a pair of playoff losses to the San Francisco 49ers to end the past two seasons.

"I think we have to change something," Hawk said. "Not change, but we have to evolve and hone in on who knows what our plan is going in once the season comes, but we need to find a way to play better. We need to find a way to get off the field. I don't think you have to make any crazy, drastic changes. I don't think that's what we're going to do. But you have to find a way to evaluate what we did wrong and find a way to get better at that."

Capers did something similar earlier in his career. When he took over as the Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator in 1999, he inherited a roster filled with players who better fit the 4-3 scheme they had run previously.

So instead of trying to force feed players a defense that did not suit their skills, he adjusted.

That season, the Jaguars gave up the fewest points in the NFL and the fourth-fewest yards.

"I hope it works as well as it did that year," Capers said. "We've done that, really, since we've been here. The first year we came in, there's a reason why Charles Woodson was the Defensive Player of the Year. He's a good player, and you do a lot of good things to feature your best players."
After opening the preseason with two road games – at Tennessee in Week 1 and at St. Louis in Week 2 – the Green Bay Packers won't have to leave home for the remainder of the summer.

For someone who likes to keep his team on as normal a schedule as possible, that has to be pleasing to Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

The Packers will close the preseason with a pair of games at Lambeau Field, including a Week 3 nationally televised game against the Oakland Raiders on CBS. That will be a Friday night game, kicking off at 7 p.m. local time.

The game against the Raiders will mark a homecoming for receiver James Jones, who spent his first seven years with the Packers before signing with Oakland as a free agent last month, and former Packers defensive back Charles Woodson, who left the previous offseason.

The Packers will close the preseason with a Thursday game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field on Aug. 28. Final roster cuts will be due two days later.

It would give the Packers a full week to prepare if they are picked to open the season at Seattle against the defending champion Seahawks on Sept. 4.

Dates have not been finalized for the opening two games.

The Titans, Rams and Chiefs are familiar exhibition foes. The Packers closed eight straight preseasons against the Titans from 2002-2009. Since 2010, they have closed the preseason against the Chiefs every year. This will be the second straight preseason the Packers have played against the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome.

This will be the third straight year that the Packers will not play any of their preseason opponents during the ensuing regular season.

Because no date has been set for the preseason opener, the exact opening of training camp is not yet known. It could open as early as July 23 or as late as July 26. The collective bargaining agreement allows camps to open 15 days before a team’s first preseason game.

Here's the full preseason schedule:
  • Week 1: at Tennessee, Aug. 7-10, Time TBA
  • Week 2: at St. Louis, Aug. 14-18, Time TBA
  • Week 3: vs. Oakland, Aug. 22, 7 p.m. CT (CBS)
  • Week 4: vs. Kansas City, Aug. 28, Time TBA
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Micah Hyde played only a part-time role last season. Casey Hayward played virtually no role at all.

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy expects that to be different this season.

Hayward
Hyde
That could be the next step toward fixing the problems that hampered the secondary last season.

As a rookie, Hyde played 39.4 percent of the defensive snaps, and almost all of it came as either the nickel or dime defensive back covering or blitzing from the slot.

He rarely stepped foot on the field when defensive coordinator Dom Capers employed his base 3-4 scheme.

That, apparently, will change.

"Micah Hyde deserves the opportunity to be an every-down player on our defense," McCarthy told reporters this week at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. "And as we go into 2014, that's our responsibility as a coaching staff to create those competitive opportunities for him to get that done. I got to a point in the season where Micah was standing on the sidelines too much."

Hyde has shown a penchant for finding the football even though he dropped what could have been a game-changing interception in the final moments of the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers. That's something the Packers lacked, especially from their safeties last season. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that did not get an interception from a safety.

They already are assured of fielding a new starting free safety this season. They let 16-game starter M.D. Jennings walk in free agency, opening the door for Hyde to play that spot at least some of the time. He could assume a role similar to the one Charles Woodson played in his final season with the Packers in 2012, when he played safety in the base defense and as a slot corner in the sub packages.

"We're going to give Micah the opportunity to play on all three downs -- whether that's corner, nickel, dime, safety," McCarthy said. "That's the versatility I think he brings to our football team."

Like Hyde, Hayward played almost exclusively in the slot as a rookie in 2012. After leading all rookies with six interceptions in 2012, his second season was a washout. He played only three games because of a recurring hamstring injury that he first pulled on the eve of training camp and which finally ended his season on Nov. 23.

In an interview just days after this past season, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said he had no doubt that Hayward also could line up on the outside as a true cover corner in addition to playing in the slot.

"And he will be given the opportunity to do that," Whitt said.

That plan remains intact.

"I look for Casey to come in and try to compete to be on the field for three downs," McCarthy said this week. "He had a heck of a rookie year. He missed all of last year with an injury. My understanding is he'll be full go once he comes back. But I won't know until we put those guys through physicals when they come back the 22nd [of April for the offseason program]. I would think he'd be ready to go."
 

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Who says Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson doesn't sign any free agents?

Yes, you've heard that line before, but almost every time it should have been hashtagged with this: #sarcasm. How else can you explain a signing such as Raymond Webber?

Who?

Exactly.

No hashtag needed this time.

Not for Julius Peppers, who signed a three-year, $30 million contract Saturday to continue his career in Green Bay.

This is more than a little splash. It's cannonball-sized, especially for Thompson, who specializes in no-name signings such as Webber, a street free-agent tight end whose signing last month barely made a ripple.

Not since 2006, when Thompson signed cornerback Charles Woodson, has he made a move like this. This won't count as a true unrestricted-free-agent signing, at least not under the terms of the NFL's formula for awarding compensatory draft picks, because Peppers was released last week by the Chicago Bears.

Forget technicalities. This was a significant -- and much-needed -- move for a defense that sank to 25th in the NFL last season and needs an infusion of playmakers.

There's plenty still to be learned about Peppers, including how much the eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end still has left at age 34 and where exactly he will play in Dom Capers' 3-4 defensive scheme.

He's coming off his lowest sack total (7.0) since 2007, but, in his past three seasons combined with the Bears, he has 29.5 sacks. In his 12 NFL seasons, he has had fewer than 10 sacks only three times (2003, 2007 and last year), and he hasn't missed a game since 2007.

At 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, Peppers has been an ideal 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. But defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme don't typically command $10 million average salaries because they're not asked to jet up the field and pile up sacks like 4-3 ends.

Perhaps Capers will use Peppers in the elephant end position coach Mike McCarthy recently discussed as a possibility for Nick Perry and Mike Neal, both of whom can be considered hybrid defensive end/outside linebackers.

The possibilities could be endless.

Regardless of how Capers uses Peppers, it should help outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Not that teams won't still double-team Matthews, but say Capers lines up Peppers and Matthews on the same side of the formation. What's an offensive coordinator to do?

Peppers nearly ruined the Packers' 2013 season. Had fullback John Kuhn not gotten the slightest of chip blocks on Peppers in the final minute of the regular-season finale at Soldier Field, Peppers would have drilled quarterback Aaron Rodgers before he could have released the 48-yard bomb to Randall Cobb for the game-winning and NFC North-winning touchdown pass.

He could be just what the Packers need in 2014.

Thompson might be done in free agency for this season. For that matter, he might be done in free agency for next season and the one after that. But don't say he doesn't sign free agents. Hashtag: #serious
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- To the surprise of no one, the Packers sat idle on the first day of free agency.

And Day 2 could be more of the same.

As of the end of the day on Tuesday, the first day of the new NFL year, the Packers did not have any visits set up with any of the available players.

If the Packers do anything in free agency -- and they often don't -- it's almost never in the opening days. As good a signing as Charles Woodson was for the Packers in 2006, it's worth remembering that almost no one else wanted him. He did not settle for the Packers' offer until three days before the draft that season.

The Packers view defensive end Julius Peppers, who was released by the Chicago Bears, as the best defensive front player still available. But at age 34, he probably isn't a player Packers general manager Ted Thompson would be willing to pay.

Perhaps the next best option as a pass-rusher is DeMarcus Ware, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys for the same reason as Peppers. Ware is younger (he turns 32 in July) and would be a good fit for the Packers' 3-4 defense. The Packers spent part of Tuesday discussing Ware but have not set up a visit. That would likely only happen if Ware goes unsigned after the initial wave of interest.

Here’s a recap of the rest of the Packers-related happenings from day one of free agency, with a little perspective added in:

Hyde could minimize safety need

February, 26, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers must be careful not to overestimate their own returning players, something that cost them last season, but their need for a playmaking safety might not be as great as it once appeared.

Hyde
The Packers plan to expand the role promising young defensive back Micah Hyde played last season as a rookie.

In his second year, Hyde could slide to safety in some -- if not all -- of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' packages.

"I mean Micah's to me a multiple position player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week at the NFL scouting combine. "I'd like to see Micah compete to play all three downs on defense, so if there's a personnel group that he has to play safety, yeah that's an option."

Last season, Hyde played mostly as the third cornerback in the Packers' nickel and dime defenses. He was on the field for 39.4 percent of the snaps but rarely played in the base defense. If the Packers want to increase his playing time -- and it sounds like they do -- then playing him at safety in the base package would be a way to do it. That would be similar to the role Charles Woodson played in 2012, his final season with the Packers. Woodson, a former cornerback, played safety in the Packers' base package and then moved up to the slot (or nickel position) in the sub packages.

"He's definitely someone that I think has earned the opportunity to compete to be on the field all three downs," McCarthy said of Hyde.

The Packers like Hyde's nose for the ball and sure-handed tackling ability and from the moment he was drafted as a cornerback, there was reason to wonder whether his long-term position might be safety.

That doesn't mean the Packers won't still address the position in the draft, perhaps even in the first round, after completely ignoring the position last offseason.

Last year, the Packers not only signed strong safety Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension but they also believed that either Jerron McMillian or M.D. Jennings would be suitable in the free safety role. Jennings beat out McMillian for the starting job, although McMillian started early in the season while Burnett was out because of a hamstring injury. By December, the Packers were done with McMillian and released him and also began splitting snaps between the ineffective Jennings and Sean Richardson, who had come off the physically unable to perform list following a neck injury.

The safety prospects met with reporters Sunday at the combine, and not surprisingly many of them said they had met with the Packers or had meetings scheduled with them.

The top-two safeties -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor -- give teams different options if they're looking for that position.

"He plays fast," Clinton-Dix said of Pryor. "He's always around the ball. He can hit. He's a physical person, so if I could compare myself, I'd say I'm as quick as him. I can't say I could hit like him. He's a big hitter."

Clinton-Dix was correct about the speed. Both ran identical 4.58 40-yard dashes Tuesday at the combine. That was tied for eighth among the safeties. Florida State's Terrence Brooks, a far less heralded prospect, improved his stock by running the fastest 40 (4.42 seconds) among the safeties who ran Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Hyde's 40 time last year of 4.56 was considered on the slow side for cornerbacks but would have ranked seventh among the safeties who ran Tuesday.

Packers could learn from Seahawks

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- You'll never see a picture of a shirtless Ted Thompson wearing a championship belt, but the Green Bay Packers' general manager might do well to emulate his counterpart with the Seattle Seahawks, John Schneider.

And we're not talking about questionable fashion decisions.

[+] EnlargeTed Thompson
AP Photo/Morry GashAt 61 years old, Ted Thompson said he's not ready to retire as Packers GM anytime soon. "I'm feeling good and ready to go," he said.
For five years in Green Bay, Thompson listened to Schneider's opinions about all things personnel -- free agency, the draft, trades, waiver claims ... you name it. Not that Thompson, conservative by nature, always acted on Schneider's suggestions, but it was the protege's job to offer opinions and suggestions from his office down the hall at Lambeau Field.

Now, they sit more than 1,900 miles apart, competitors, not colleagues. Yet as Thompson faces one of the most important offseasons since he took over the Packers' personnel department in 2005, there are things he could learn from the man who put together a Super Bowl-winning roster.

Not that Thompson doesn't know how to do that; he built much of the roster that won Super Bowl XVL. But since the Packers' last championship, they have won just one playoff game -- against the Minnesota Vikings, who were forced to start backup quarterback Joe Webb at the last minute.

If there's a common denominator in their playoff exits, it's that their defenses failed them.

With salary-cap space to use and holes to be filled, Thompson might want to examine how Schneider built the Seahawks' top-ranked defense.

Although Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said shortly after the Super Bowl that it would be unrealistic to expect the Packers -- or any other NFL team -- to play at the same level as the Seahawks did last season and in their 43-8 destruction of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, there are some things Thompson might be able to do to help bridge the gap between the Seahawks' dominating defense and the Packers' half-broken unit that slipped to 25th last season.

"If you're able to acquire players that can run fast and are big and are good-looking, then you've got a shot," Schneider said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.

The Schneider formula for acquiring speed and size on defense goes like this:

  • Make your early-round draft picks count -- see outside linebacker Bruce Irvin (2012 first round), inside linebacker Bobby Wagner (2012 second round) and safety Earl Thomas (2010 first round).
  • Find gems in the middle and late rounds -- see cornerback Richard Sherman (2011 fifth round) and safety Kam Chancellor (2010 fifth round).
  • Retain key players before they hit free agency -- see defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, a third-round pick by the previous administration who in 2011 signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension.
  • Dip into the free-agent market but don't break the bank -- see defensive ends Michael Bennett, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract, and Cliff Avril, who signed a two-year, $13 million deal.
  • Work some trades -- see defensive end Chris Clemons, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Thompson has tried to employ some of those strategies. He used his first six draft picks in 2012 on defensive players with only minimal success. He signed safety Morgan Burnett to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last offseason only to see Burnett fail to come up with a single interception last season. But he hasn't touched free agency in any significant way since 2006, when he signed Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett.

With the 21st pick in this year's draft, Thompson could be looking at defensive players again. Given the copycat nature of the NFL, it's worth wondering if another team, say the Packers, could duplicate what Schneider and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have done on that side of the ball.

"It wouldn't be very hard, I don't think," Schneider said. "Just [get] more speed. It's just about having guys that are willing to teach and play young players, and [the Packers] have that. They have a young team. They have good teachers."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said last week defensive coordinator Dom Capers' unit "is going to change some" and that he would "set the vision for the defense and Dom Capers and the defensive staff will carry it out."

To do so, Thompson might have to take more aggressive measures to rebuild a defense that in the Super Bowl season of 2010 ranked fifth in the NFL and ranked second in 2009.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers are in a familiar place with their salary cap as they head toward free agency.

And it's a good place to be.

[+] EnlargeCharles Woodson
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellCould the Packers again target a bona fide free agent with their ample cap space, as they did with Charles Woodson in 2006?
From the days of Lance Lopes managing their salary cap in the 1990s to Andrew Brandt doing so in the 2000s to Russ Ball, the team's current vice president of football administration/player finance, the Packers have rarely -- if ever -- found themselves in trouble during the salary-cap era.

This offseason is no different, as this chart put together by ESPN's Kevin Seifert indicates.

As the data shows, the Packers will be able to roll over nearly $10 million -- $9,820,459 to be exact -- in unused salary-cap space from last season.

Combine that with the fact that the Packers were already projected to be between $17 million and $18 million under the 2014 salary cap and it means that -- depending on the exact salary-cap limit for this season, which has yet to be finalized -- they will have between $27 million and $28 million in available cap space this offseason.

The question is how will they use it?

They will need roughly $5 million to sign their rookies, but that still leaves plenty of room for other moves. Certainly, they will re-sign some of their own players scheduled to be free agents with cornerback Sam Shields as the priority (and the most expensive) and perhaps work on extensions for players like receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, who have contracts that expire after this season.

But will this finally be the year general manager Ted Thompson returns to the free-agent market in earnest?

We're not talking about low-level signings like tight end Matthew Mulligan (who didn't even make the team last season) or offensive lineman Duke Preston (who also didn't make the team when he was signed in 2009), but rather bona fide impact players like Thompson signed in 2006 with cornerback Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett.

With a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season and was short on playmakers save for Shields, Clay Matthews and perhaps cornerback Tramon Williams (whose own contract situation may have to be addressed given that he's scheduled to make $7.5 million this season), Thompson may see fit to work the open market more like he did in 2006 (when he also signed safety Marquand Manuel, who lasted only one season).

That's the way at least one national reporter sees it. According to the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the Packers plan to address some of their defensive needs -- including getting more athletic and versatile up front -- via free agency.

Thompson gave no indication recently that he planned to alter his approach to free agency, telling ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan at last month's Senior Bowl that he believes the draft-and-develop policy is the best approach to roster building.

"We just think it's a good model to use under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement and that sort of thing," Thompson said at the time. "We just feel like your best policy is to try as best you can -- and it doesn't always work out because sometimes you have to do different things -- but if you draft good people, you develop them, you get a good coaching staff that coaches them up, they like it there, so you try to retain your own players as much as you can and you don't [always].

"We lose players just like everybody else. But if we can, we like to keep our own and continue adding guys through the draft and through free agency."

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
Each week, I will ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail, then will deliver the answers over the weekend.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers’ defensive formula did not change this past season.

It was the same as in 2009, when the Green Bay Packers ranked second in the NFL in total defense. It was the same as in 2010, when it ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense on the way to winning Super Bowl XLV.

For that matter, it was the same as in his days as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator in the early 1990s.

There have been tweaks from season to season depending on personnel and from week to week depending on the opponent, but the basics of it remain the same.

“Really, the basis of our philosophy is being able to stop the run, make the game one-dimensional [and] try to create situations where we can take the ball away,” Capers said Wednesday while wrapping up his 28th NFL season.

Translation: He needs playmakers.

Now that it appears Capers will return for a sixth season with the Packers, the task will be to figure out why this year’s group didn’t turn into the big-play defense that Capers expected.

In his first four seasons, Capers' defenses combined to rank third in the NFL in takeaways (133) and first in interceptions (103). In 2013, only six teams forced fewer turnovers than the Packers' 22.

Capers got almost nothing out of his defensive front in terms of big plays. Defensive tackle B.J. Raji, once viewed as a major playmaker, had a pedestrian season. First-round pick Datone Jones barely cracked the defensive line rotation except in certain sub packages.

Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, a Pro Bowl selection in his each of his first four seasons, twice broke his thumb and missed five games plus the playoffs in his fifth year. Cornerback Casey Hayward, who led all rookies in 2012 with six interceptions, never got going because of a hamstring injury.

The safety position, once responsible for big plays from Nick Collins and Charles Woodson, offered next to nothing. Morgan Burnett flopped after signing a four-year, $24.75 million deal in July.

If not for cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams – who combined for nine of the Packers’ 22 takeaways – the lack of big plays would have been even more startling.

“I've always believed this -- to be a real top-notch defense, you have to have two or three guys that basically are what I consider difference makers where some time within a 60 play game you're going to see two or three plays that really have an impact and influence the game,” Capers said. “You've seen that happen with us here when we've been a top-five defense. The first two years we were No. 2 and No. 5, and we had guys like Woodson, who was defensive player of the year, and Clay Matthews, who came out of being a rookie to having a great year his rookie year. The next year we won the super bowl we had guys that impacted the game.”

Thus, the onus is on general manager Ted Thompson to figure out how to infuse this defense with additional talent while trying to decide whether free agents like Raji, Shields, Johnny Jolly, Mike Neal and Ryan Pickett are worth re-signing.

Meanwhile, it will be up to Capers and his staff to develop the returning players.

“We need more impact players, we need more players making plays on defense,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in his season-ending news conference. “I think that’s stating the obvious. I feel that those guys are here, but do we have more coming in? That’s really what the offseason’s for.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For at least the past eight seasons, the Green Bay Packers have been one of the youngest teams in the NFL.

Based on opening-day rosters, the Packers were the sixth-youngest team in the NFL this season with an average age of 25.42 years. Before that they were fifth, second and fifth in the age rankings. And every year from 2006-09, they were the youngest team in the league.

A day after their season ended with Sunday's 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, it was worth wondering if the Packers need more veterans.

One such inhabitant of their locker room thinks so.

“A lot of guys thought they know how to prepare when they were in college and whatnot, but then they get into the league and you find out that it's a different level to preparation,” said 30-year-old cornerback Tramon Williams, who just completed his seventh NFL season. “That's what you're faced with with young guys. Even though we always say it's a young league, yeah, it's a young league but it's an old league, too, because the old guys make the league go. That's the guys who've been there before, who know how to prepare, who mold the young guys. That's what they're there for. I understand that.”

[+] EnlargeTramon Williams
Al Bello/Getty ImagesCornerback Tramon Williams is of the mindset the Packers need more veterans on their roster.
Williams' own future with the Packers could be in doubt. He's scheduled to make $7.5 million next season in salary and bonuses, and although he had his best season since 2010, his age and salary make him vulnerable in general manager Ted Thompson's youth-based system.

To be sure, Williams is worried about his own situation, but it's clear he thinks the constant roster turnover has impacted the defense, which struggled to a 25th overall ranking this season.

This season, he played in a secondary that was littered with youth and inexperience. Among the key players who played alongside him for most of the season were cornerbacks Sam Shields (age 26, fourth season), Davon House (24, third season) and Micah Hyde (23, rookie) plus safeties Morgan Burnett (age 24, fourth season), M.D. Jennings (25, third season) and Sean Richardson (23, second season). Of that group, only Burnett was in his second NFL contract.

“I had the privilege to play with [Charles] Woodson and [Nick] Collins and Al Harris,” Williams said. “I understand what chemistry in the secondary can do. That's what you try to find when you get a good group of guys. You want to get guys all on the same page. You want guys to see things like you see it if you're the leader of that group. When you can get guys to that point, it slows the game down for everyone in that back end. That's when you start seeing a lot of plays being made out there. Whether it's your play or not, you know where the ball's going and you go in and you make the play. That's what we're trying to get.

“We have a great group of young guys in this room but, like you said, they're young. They can play, very talented but still, they're young.”

The Packers have 17 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, meaning they all have at least four years of NFL experience. Depending on how many of them are re-signed, the Packers could get even younger next season.

“When you have a young team like this, that's what you're challenged with,” Williams said. “You're challenged with coming in and – with young guys, with talented young guys, they play but the game's still fast for them because they don't understand what teams are trying to do. They don't understand the scheme fully. They don't understand what the scheme can do for them once they understand it. That's what you're faced with.”

It may be a problem more so for the Packers' defense given that receiver James Jones – a 29-year-old seventh-year veteran who is one of the 17 free agents to be – didn't necessarily have the same view as Williams on the idea of veteran leadership.

“There's a lot of leaders in this locker room,” Jones said. “You can't just point out one or two leaders in the locker room just because they're older. A lot of the young guys lead in this room. I don't think that's going to play a part [in getting re-signed]. We've got a real good locker room here. Everybody loves each other, everybody works hard, fights for each other. I don't think that's going to be an issue. They're not going to be bring me back for some leadership.”

Halftime speech has Woodson-like impact

December, 15, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- In this very stadium, Charles Woodson delivered one of the more important halftime speeches in Green Bay Packers' history.

It was Super Bowl XLV, and the Packers' defensive leader was out for the rest of the game with a broken collarbone. He stood in front of his team and told them how much he wanted them to win it before he was moved to tears.

Sunday’s halftime talk, led by defensive tackle Johnny Jolly and backup linebacker Jamari Lattimore, may have rivaled that in importance and impact.

Down 26-3 at halftime, something had to change for the Packers, who would go on to match the largest comeback in team history and pull out an improbable 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

“Jolly had a lot to say,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji. “He was talking about how, ‘Just keep playing, keep fighting.’

“And actually Jamari Lattimore really spoke from the heart, got real emotional. I think the guys really felt them on that.”

Like Woodson was in the Super Bowl, Jolly was sidelined with an injury -- a shoulder that would prevent him from returning in the second half.

“I just came in and told them ‘keep fighting,’” Jolly said. “We took their best shot in the first half, and we knew if we kept fighting and stuck together something would break for us soon. We went out there and fought hard and those guys fought to the end and the results came out and proved we were right. If we stick together like we did, everything will fall in place. A couple of things didn’t go our way in the first half, even in the second half, we kept playing and made things happen. It was good to see the guys fight through it.

“Guys need to hear those things. I’m on the sidelines seeing what’s going on, so they need to hear it. They know I’m right there and I’m going with them. Hearing it from, it gave them a little push, and they went out there and did what they had to do.”

On the other side of the room, the offensive players -- separated from the defense by a wall of lockers -- could hear what was going on.

“We’re more the quiet side, but we definitely could hear what he was saying on the other side,” running back Eddie Lacy said. “And we took what we heard as if he was talking to us even though he was on the other side.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he told the team at halftime that this was the most adversity this team had faced and the season was on the line.

“We’re not going to panic,” McCarthy said he told the team. “We’re going to take it one play at a time. This game’s going to come down to the last sequence of plays. You’ve got to believe in that.’

“I addressed the offense, what I felt they needed to do. The defense and special teams, and our players did it. I can’t say how proud I am of our football team, especially our players, because they just stayed after it one play at a time.”

From the first play of the second half, a 60-yard run by Lacy, it was clear those messages had been received.

Double Coverage: Packers-Cowboys

December, 12, 2013
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IRVING, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys are two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, but with three games to play in the 2013 season both are on the outside of the playoff chase and in need of a win.

The Packers have fallen on hard times without Aaron Rodgers but won last week against the Atlanta Falcons. The Cowboys are coming off a humiliating loss to the Chicago Bears and have a short week to get ready.

ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Cowboys reporter Todd Archer debate the matchup in this week's Double Coverage.

Archer: I'll skip the "What's Aaron Rodgers status?" and ask about Ted Thompson's approach to the backup quarterback. The Cowboys pay Kyle Orton a lot of money to hopefully never throw a pass. Is there any regret form the Packers that they did not have a better backup quarterback situation behind Rodgers, considering their struggles without him?

[Editor's note: Rodgers was officially ruled out for Sunday's game on Friday.]

Demovsky: Thompson admitted at the end of training camp that he probably should have signed Vince Young much earlier than he did, although after watching Young for about a month, I'm not sure he would have been any better had the Packers signed back in the spring. Where they probably erred was in not drafting a quarterback. They overestimated what they had in Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, and neither one developed enough. When Ron Wolf was the GM, he made it a regular practice to draft a quarterback in the middle-to -late rounds. Not all of them worked out, but guys like Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through the Packers' system.

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Tony Romo is "playing probably as good as he has in his career." Do you agree with that assessment?

Archer: I'd agree with that, sure. It's hard to argue against his numbers. He has 3,244 yards passing with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He's taking care of the ball. He had one really careless throw and it cost the Cowboys big-time in their loss to the Denver Broncos. Romo gets most of the blame for the December/January woes this team has had, but in his last 16 games he has 34 touchdowns and seven picks. It's hard to play better than that. But you know what? He has to. This defense is so bad that Romo has to be nearly perfect. There can be no poor drives. If they don't get points they at least need to chew up time because there's not an offense the Cowboys can slow down right now.

When the Packers won Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium they were able to overcome so many injuries, especially on defense as we talked about. The difference this year is Rodgers missing time, but is there anything more to it than that?

Demovsky: They did end up with 15 players in injured reserve in their Super Bowl season, and then during that game itself they lost Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone. But you know what? This defense played fine early this season and even during the stretch Clay Matthews missed because of his broken thumb. Capers said last week that losing Rodgers had nothing to do with the Packers' defensive slide, but I'm not buying it. The Packers' defense got four turnovers in the Thanksgiving game at Detroit and still got walloped 40-10 because the offense couldn't do a darn thing with them. To be sure, there are issues on defense. Their failure to address needs at safety has hurt them up the middle, where their inside linebackers also haven't played well enough.

It sounds like Monte Kiffin is already taking heat, but how much of it is personnel? When I saw Packers castoff Jarius Wynn playing Monday night against the Bears, to me that was a red flag that there are talent issues, perhaps some of them caused by injuries.

Archer: There are talent issues and there are depth issues. Blame the owner and GM who constructed this team. Blame the coaches -- Kiffin and Rod Marinelli -- for saying the line was a position of strength. The Cowboys thought they had pieces to fit Kiffin's scheme at the start of the year. DeMarcus Ware has not been DeMarcus Ware in part because of injuries, but he acknowledged he has to play better. Bruce Carter was supposed to be the ideal weak-side linebacker and he just has not made any plays. The corners are more man corners and Kiffin has tried to play more man but all of them -- Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick -- have had issues. Sean Lee has been hurt and could miss Sunday's game with a neck injury. He's been good but the defense has been lit up with him on the field, too. It's just a mess. Until Jerry Jones realizes he needs better players, not necessarily better schemes, it will be a mess.

Let's stick with the defensive coordinators. From the outside looking in, it appears Capers is catching a lot of grief too. Are the Packers committed to the 3-4 regardless or could they pull a Dallas and move to a 4-3 in the future?

Demovsky: When the cornerstone of the defense is Matthews, an outside linebacker, I would think they'd have to stick with the 3-4 even if they part ways with Capers, which I'm not sure will happen anyway. Mike McCarthy has continually praised Capers and the defensive staff. It's probably more about personnel. They need a few more playmakers to help out Matthews. They haven't gotten enough production from their defensive front. I'd look for an overhaul in personnel more than a coaching change.

Knowing the temperature in the Cowboys locker room like you do, how do you think they will react to getting steamrolled Monday night? Is this a group that will fight? Or will they pack it in?

Archer: This is where I have to give Jason Garrett credit. This team has fought. Maybe they didn't fight all that much in the losses to New Orleans and Chicago, but they have not packed it in. You saw the last time the Cowboys packed it in in 2010 at Lambeau Field when Wade Phillips was the coach. The Cowboys lost 45-7 and were completely disinterested. Phillips was fired the next day and Garrett took over. There is some gumption to this team. They do work hard. They do the right things. I'll say it again: Most of it is a talent issue. I'd expect the Cowboys to come out with the effort Sunday because they're still very much in the playoff chase. But do they believe they can really make a run? I don't know about that.

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