Green Bay Packers: Charles Woodson

Two more Packers added to Pro Bowl

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
6:45
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Randall Cobb and Sam Shields will play in their first Pro Bowl. The Green Bay Packers' duo was added to the game on Monday as alternates.

Cobb replaced Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, who pulled out because of an injury. Shields got the spot because New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis is in the Super Bowl.

The game is Sunday in Glendale, Arizona. The teams will be divided up on Wednesday night in a Pro Bowl draft to be televised on NFL Network.

Cobb set career highs in receptions (91), yards (1,287) and touchdowns (12).

Shields had two regular-season interceptions and another in the playoffs. He became the first Packers cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Charles Woodson in 2011.

Five Packers were initially voted in. They were: quarterback Aaron Rodgers, receiver Jordy Nelson, guard Josh Sitton, fullback John Kuhn and linebacker Clay Matthews.

It's unclear if Rodgers will go, considering he has been dealing with the strained left calf for nearly a month. Sitton said Monday that he was undecided. He has been listed on the injury report with a toe injury ever since the bye week in November.
Julius PeppersAP Photo/Matt LudtkeJulius Peppers has made a big impact on the Green Bay Packers' defense this season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was the week before Super Bowl XLV, and Donald Driver walked into the Lambeau Field media auditorium with the widest grin you'll ever see.

The Green Bay Packers receiver had been waiting his entire 12-year NFL career for this -- a trip to the Super Bowl.

On the same day, in January 2011, Charles Woodson stood in the same spot. Although Woodson had actually played in one before, losing in Super Bowl XXXVII as a member of the Oakland Raiders, he, too, was relishing his chance -- perhaps his last chance -- to get a ring.

Four years later, there was Julius Peppers -- same media auditorium, similar smile on his face. The 34-year-old, 13-year NFL veteran stood on the stage in front of a bright blue banner monogrammed with the words "National Football Conference Championship."

He's that close to another shot, maybe his last shot, to win the Super Bowl.

"I think it is similar," said Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, a member of that Super Bowl XLV winning team.

"I think one thing that is different is that this is Julius' first year here, so you don't have as deep of a connection as you do with the other two that you mentioned. But I think with anyone, you want everyone to get one. If it is Julius, who is maybe toward the end of his career, the last couple of years of it, or Randall [Cobb], who has been here four years, or even a rookie, everyone wants that Super Bowl ring. Some of us have one and we want another one, so I don't think it is any different. I just think everyone wants to win games, and that's where you'll end up."

Peppers went once with his first team, the Carolina Panthers. It ended in heartbreak when New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri booted a 41-yard field goal with 4 seconds left to win Super Bowl XXXVIII.

That was Peppers' second NFL season.

"I always thought I was going to be back the following year, and that never happened," Peppers said. "It makes you realize that you've got to take advantage of the moment when you have it."

He found himself on the cusp two other times: The 2005 NFC Championship Game, when his Panthers lost to the Seahawks in Seattle; and the 2010 NFC Championship Game, when his Chicago Bears lost at home to the Packers.

Peppers signed with the Packers in part because they offered a good chance to win a Super Bowl. The three-year, $26 million contract surely played a part, too. In reality, that deal was more like a one-year trial, structured so that if the Packers wanted to move on after this season, they would actually save salary-cap space next season.

After the season Peppers turned in -- seven sacks and two interceptions in the regular season followed by another sack and two forced fumbles in the NFC divisional playoff win over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday -- general manager Ted Thompson may just bring him back.

But he has learned not to wait for next year.

His forced fumble on running back DeMarco Murray in the third quarter of Sunday's game might have been the biggest play of the game had it not been for Aaron Rodgers' game-winning touchdown pass or Dez Bryant's catch that wasn't a catch.

"Julius Peppers [made] the impact that we were definitely looking for," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I didn't know him on a personal level. I had an opportunity to coach him and be around him in two Pro Bowls. He was obviously a very private and reserved person, but just watching him be a part of our team just really from day one until now, it's night and day. He's been an outstanding leader for our football team. His style is unique. Couldn't have more credibility for what he's accomplished, and he's definitely made a big impact for us."

So much so that he was elected a playoff captain by his peers in the locker room.

"I think he has been a quiet leader," Nelson said. "Obviously, I don't think he talks much to you guys, and he doesn't stand up in front of the room and talk a lot, but a lot of guys have fed off of his experience, off of his knowledge of the game. I think as the year has gone on he has become more comfortable with us and speaking more with the defense and understanding that guys are leaning on him to be that leader and looking up to him. I think that has been great and he has just been a steady force on the defense in what he has been able to do."

Peppers, in his understated way, put it in simpler terms.

"It's worked out so far," he said. "The rest is to be determined. Hopefully it works out, and we get to where we want to go to."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – On Monday, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Clay Matthews has "probably had his best year." There could be some debate about that.

Matthews
But there's no question Matthews had his best game of the year on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and for that he was named the NFC's defensive player of the week on Wednesday. Matthews had a season-high 2.5 sacks against the Bucs to run his season total to 10, making it the fourth time in his six NFL seasons that he has reached double digits.

His fourth career defensive player of the week award, which tied Charles Woodson for the most in team history, came less than 24 hours after Matthews was named to the Pro Bowl for the fifth time in his career.

Matthews has been on a sack tear the last eight games. He has 8.5 sacks during that stretch, fourth in the NFL in that span. He'd love nothing more than to keep up that production on Sunday when the Packers play host to the Lions for the NFC North crown.

"You look at the first half of the season, and I think I was at two-and-a half [sacks] through eight games, and now I am at 10 [with] five in the last three games," Matthews said. "Some of those are coverage sacks. Some of those are just being fortunate, and some are just winning my one-on-one matchups. So that's part of the deal.

"The one thing you look for more important than the sacks is the pressure that's being generated, and I felt myself around the quarterback a lot these last several games as well as the other pass rushers on this team. Ultimately I think we're doing a good job in the front seven, the DBs are covering their man and this week it is going to be very important to step it up a spot especially with big, playmaking wide receivers."
A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews' best game of the season didn't come about because he was angry he wasn't picked as one of the Packers' playoff captains last week.

And considering he's only been a playoff captain once before, in 2012 when he shared the defensive captaincy with Charles Woodson, it seems believable.

Matthews
"You know what, I'm happy with the captains which were elected," Matthews said. "I know my voice is heard out there. I know these guys rally around me the way I play, the way I talk out there."

Morgan Burnett and newcomer Julius Peppers were selected as the defensive captains by their teammates. Burnett and A.J. Hawk were the defensive captains last year. Hawk and Woodson had the honor in both 2010 and 2011.

"I think it's like the electoral college," Matthews joked. "I think I might have won popular votes, but they put it together and Morgan and Julius got it so I don't know. Hanging chads, who knows?

"I’m going to be honest with you, the captains that were elected are captains on this team. But just because I don’t have a 'C' on my chest doesn't mean I'm not a captain. I go out there and make the plays in which I have made over the past six years and keep doing it going forward."

That's what Matthews did in Sunday's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He recorded 2.5 sacks to run his season total to 10, putting him in double figures for the fourth time in his six seasons.

Matthews had just 1.5 sacks through seven games. Only four players have more sacks than Matthews' 8.5 in the last eight games.

In case you missed it from ESPN.com: Best of the rest:

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Somewhere in the Bay Area, Charles Woodson might have been repeating his "same-old Jay" line from 2012, when the Green Bay Packers picked off Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler four times.

Woodson is long gone from Green Bay, finishing out his career with the Oakland Raiders, but if he was watching football Sunday night, he would have seen that his old team still owns Cutler and the Bears.

In their second-most lopsided victory over the Bears in 190 meetings, the Packers embarrassed the old rivals 55-14 at Lambeau Field. And here's why: Cutler was, well, Cutler, and Aaron Rodgers was not.

If you asked Packers receiver Randall Cobb, who caught Rodgers' record-tying sixth touchdown pass of the first half -- yes, the first half -- it was same-old Rodgers, too.

"He was great," Cobb said. "It's normal."

Normal against the Bears and Cutler, that's for sure.

Rodgers and the Packers (6-3) won their eighth straight over the Bears (3-6) when Cutler starts (Cutler did not play in the Bears' victory here last November, when Rodgers broke his collarbone).

Rodgers was everything Cutler was not Sunday night. He read defenses and changed plays at the line of scrimmage -- like on his 73-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson (who totaled six catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns) in the second quarter -- and it flummoxed the Bears' secondary, which twice left Nelson wide open for touchdowns.

"As they do from time to time, they tried to change the coverage up, but not everybody was on the same page," Rodgers said of the first touchdown to Nelson. "So you had Tim [Jennings] playing two-[high coverage] and the safety's playing single-high."

That was Rodgers’ 16th career touchdown pass of 70-plus yards, the most in NFL history, surpassing Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

"There's not a target on the field that he can't hit," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He has the ability to throw it as deep as he needs to. He's got a big-time arm. More importantly, he's got the athletic ability to get in space and make those throws."

Rodgers could have named his touchdown total on Sunday night, but McCarthy wisely took him out of harm's way after he missed his chance to throw a franchise-record seventh touchdown pass with 10:52 left in the third quarter. He already owned a share of the team record for touchdowns in a game.

"There's a time and a place for coming out of the game, and that was it," said Rodgers, who finished 18-of-27 for 315 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. "We were up 45-0 there, and it's time to watch."

By that time, another full-fledged Cutler implosion against the Packers was on display. Packers safety Micah Hyde picked off a pass that former Bears pass-rusher Julius Peppers appeared to tip ever so slightly to set up the Packers' second touchdown in the first quarter.

Of course, that wasn't Cutler's only interception. The game was long decided when Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

In Week 4 at Soldier Field, the Packers clung to a four-point lead at halftime. In the six head-to-head quarters since, Green Bay has outscored the Bears 72-14. In those six quarters, Rodgers has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions. Cutler has one touchdown pass and four interceptions.

Cutler is now 1-11 in his career against the Packers, including 0-4 in Green Bay.

Yes, it was easy to say, same-old Jay.

"You can. I can't,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. "But we've typically played these guys well, as you guys already know."

Fine, then how about the same-old Aaron?

"Well I can promise you, this is not easy," said Rodgers, who has 25 touchdown passes and three interceptions this season. "It's not easy to do this every week."

Mailbag: Dealing with Jimmy Graham

October, 25, 2014
10/25/14
8:00
AM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Each week, I ask for questions via Twitter with the hashtag #PackersMail and then deliver the answers over the weekend. This week, perhaps the biggest issue for the Green Bay Packers (5-2) is how they will defend tight end Jimmy Graham on Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints (2-4). We'll discuss that and some contract issues in this week's edition of the mailbag:

Demovsky: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers used to like matching up Charles Woodson against opposing tight ends, but the approach lately has been to use a variety of players from a variety of positions. Consider that last Sunday, Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen caught passes against linebackers A.J. Hawk (three catches) and Jamari Lattimore (one) and safeties Morgan Burnett (two) and Micah Hyde (two). Cornerback Casey Hayward's interception came when he was in coverage against Olsen. That said, if Burnett doesn't play because of his hamstring injury, then you could see a fair amount of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on Jimmy Graham. Clinton-Dix has started to show his physical, aggressive style in recent weeks, which is why he has moved into the starting lineup.

Demovsky: You might see Davon House on Graham at times, but only when Graham lines up split out wide. The Packers don't use House inside or in the slot; he has been exclusively an outside cover player. But he might be the Packers' most physical cornerback, which could work well against an athletic player like Graham.

Demovsky: That's an easy argument to make but consider this: Maybe Randall Cobb wanted to bet on himself and wait to see how the season progressed before accepting a deal. It's the old bird-in-the-hand question. Remember when Cobb said this summer that he hadn't done enough to earn a contract. What he surely meant was that he had not done enough to earn the kind of contract he wants. Perhaps he's done that now.

Demovsky: Mike Daniels has quickly become one of those cornerstone defensive players that the Packers will want to lock up long-term. Again, much like Cobb, it depends on how the player views himself as to when he wants to do an extension. Daniels has continued to improve. The better he plays, the more money he's worth. The Packers surely will approach him about an extension at some point if they have not already.

Demovsky: If he's back next year - and that's still a significant-sized if - it will have to be under a restructuring unless he goes out and has, say, 10 sacks in the second half of the season. Otherwise, it's almost a given the Packers won't pay him the $8.5 million base salary (plus another $1 million in possible bonuses) that he would be owed next season. Even though it was a three-year contract, the structure of it essentially made it a one-year trial. Now, Peppers has been solid and he has given Capers the flexibility to use myriad packages, but you could make a case that Nick Perry has made as many impact plays as Peppers in the first seven games. If Perry can stay healthy, which has always been his bugaboo, then perhaps they won't bring back Peppers. 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could see it in Al Harris' eyes that day back in January 2008. It was the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback was amped up for the challenge of covering receiver Plaxico Burress.

Too amped up, as it turned out.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCalvin Johnson has put up his best numbers against Green Bay, but the Packers' Sam Shields is up to the challenge.
Burress used Harris' overly aggressive, physical style against him and burned the Packers for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' upset win at Lambeau Field.

That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a megasized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."

Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.

If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."

The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson, and he held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.

However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.

Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.

"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that, and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.

But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.

"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The word "unofficial" is right there at the top of the page that contains the depth chart in the Green Bay Packers' weekly press release.

Cobb
So why believe it when starting receiver Randall Cobb is listed as the No. 1 punt returner?

Because special teams coach Shawn Slocum says so.

"He's been there all along," Slocum said Monday.

And it sounds like he might be there when the Packers open the regular season on Thursday at the Seattle Seahawks.

Slocum said both Cobb and safety Micah Hyde, who finished last season as the primary return man, will handle punt returns to start this season. Running back DuJuan Harris is expected to return kickoffs with Hyde and rookie receiver Jeff Janis as possibilities.

There's little doubt Cobb is the Packers' most dangerous return man; his three career special teams touchdowns support that. But given how big of a role he will play on offense, there was reason to think the Packers might be unwilling to use him on special teams even after McCarthy said earlier last month that he needed to "get away from that thinking."

McCarthy has been willing to use star players as returners in the past. Charles Woodson handled punt return duties in 2006 and 2007, his first two seasons with the Packers. Jordy Nelson was the primary returner in 2009 and 2010 before Cobb took over both kickoffs and punts as a rookie in 2011.

The Packers pulled Cobb off returns full time last season even before he fractured his leg and missed 10 games. In the playoff game last January against the 49ers, Cobb resumed special teams duties by returning kickoffs, while Hyde remained the punt returner.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Dom Capers and Tramon Williams aren't suggesting the NFL is not serious about its mandate that referees call receiver-defensive back contact more closely this season, but the Green Bay Packers veteran defensive coordinator and the eighth-year cornerback know one thing:

"As many flags as we've had out there the last two days," Capers said Friday afternoon, "it might be a six-hour game."

[+] EnlargeTramon Williams
Al Bello/Getty ImagesTramon Williams and the rest of the Packers secondary have gotten a crash course this week on the new emphasis on contact in coverage.
A few hours earlier Friday, after referee Ed Hochuli and part of his crew worked practice for the second straight day, Williams made almost the exact same statement.

"If they want to throw flags every day like they did at practice," Williams said, "we're just going to have to play a six-hour game."

Capers, who is in his 29th NFL season and sixth with the Packers, said he has seen different rules emphasis come and go so many times he has lost count.

Does that mean this too shall pass?

"We'll see," Capers said.

For now, Williams said he's going to keep doing what he has done throughout his seven-year career.

"You have to," he said. "Obviously it's an adjustment period, but you have to put yourself in that situation to see how they're going to call it. If they're going to call it different, then you make that adjustment. But if they're not going to call it different, then there's no adjustment to be made."

Based on the way the rest of the Packers' defensive backs have been practicing, they're following Williams' lead. Although there were fewer flags on Friday than Thursday, when Hochuli said perhaps only half-joking that his crew flagged 10 of the first 10 receiver-defensive back one-on-one plays, the emphasis on holding, illegal contact and pass interference remained apparent.

"What they're stressing right now is any tug of the jersey, [it's] PI, period," said Williams, referring to pass interference. "That's why you've been seeing so many flags out there. It doesn't matter where it is, they say you can be running down the field just with your hands on the receiver, chances are they're going to emphasize PI right now. It might be called right now, which is a little ridiculous, but it's emphasis time, so that's what they have to do."

Part of the emphasis also is on policing what receivers and tight ends try to do to defensive players. As long as that remains part of the focus, Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said he will have no issues.

If Whitt is skeptical, it's probably with good reason. Dating back to 2009, when the Packers lost to the Arizona Cardinals 51-45 in a wild-card playoff, he has been vocal in his displeasure about the way receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald have been allowed to get physical with his players.

"The Fitzgerald plays back in 2009, I showed them those plays, when he pushed [Charles Woodson] down," Whitt said of his meeting with Hochuli. "I said, 'This is why we play the way we play, because we're not going to allow 14 points.' In my opinion, that was our best football team, and we lost that game because we allowed 14 points. So you asked us to trust you then. We're going to trust you again, all right? But it has to be called. It has to be called both ways. As long as it's called evenly, there is no issue. There is no issue. And I believe the officials are trying to get it right. They're trying to get it right. But they have to call the OPIs and have it go both ways."

As you might expect, the feeling was different on the offensive side of the locker room.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, thinking ahead to the season opener and the Seattle Seahawks' physical defense, said, "Different crews will interpret things differently obviously, but I was joking with this crew that we might want them to head up to the Pacific Northwest in about a month."

Packers Camp Report: Day 3

July, 28, 2014
7/28/14
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:


  • Lest you forgot about Sean Richardson when it came time to talk about playing time at the safety position, the third-year pro reminded everyone of his potential on Monday. With the pads on for the first time, Richardson made a play that has rarely been replicated by a Packers safety since the days of Nick Collins or Charles Woodson. During a team blitz period, Aaron Rodgers fired a pass over the middle to Jordy Nelson but Richardson jumped in and snatched the ball away from Nelson for an interception.
  • For the first padded practice of camp, the temperature on Monday morning when things kicked off at 8:20 a.m. local time was just 56 degrees. An hour into the practice, it was not yet 60 degrees, but the Packers took one of their TV timeout regeneration breaks and followed it with one short period followed by another water break. Still, when asked whether it was fun to put the pads on, veteran guard Josh Sitton said, "I mean, fun is a little strong." The practice lasted 2 hours, 26 minutes – or about 10 minutes longer than the non-padded practices each of the first two days.
  • Nose tackle B.J. Raji got off to a strong start in the first one-on-one pass-rushing drill. He won all three of his reps. Of course, when someone wins, it means someone else looked bad. Twice, Raji beat JC Tretter, who is trying to lock down the starting center job. Raji beat Tretter with his quickness on one turn and then overpowered him on another. Tackle Bryan Bulaga also looked good in his first turns since blowing out his knee last camp. He won all three of his reps, including one at left tackle against Clay Matthews.
  • In other odds and ends from practice: Cornerback Davon House had a strip-sack of Matt Flynn and recovered the fumble during the team blitz period. … If you're looking for an undrafted rookie to watch, keep an eye on inside linebacker Joe Thomas of South Carolina State. He's a bit undersized (6-1, 227) but is around the ball often. … In what could be a bad sign for undrafted rookie tight end Colt Lyerla, he was relegated to the scout team that worked against the defense at the start of practice while the majority of the offensive players, including fellow undrafted rookie tight end Justin Perillo, practiced inside the Hutson Center at the start of the session.
  • Outside linebacker Mike Neal said he could be cleared to practice as soon as Wednesday. He remains on the PUP list with a core muscle injury but is scheduled to be examined on Tuesday. He said he reported to camp lighter than ever, at 263 pounds. He played last season at 275, which is about 25 pounds lighter than he was is first three seasons, when he played defensive end.
  • In addition to Neal, others who remained out were: Nick Perry (foot, knee), Jamari Lattimore (illness), Jeff Janis (illness), Letroy Guion (hamstring), and Jerel Worthy (back). Janis made an appearance at practice for the first time in camp.
  • The Packers do not practice on Tuesday. They return to the field on Wednesday at 8:20 a.m. local time.

Time to step up: Morgan Burnett

June, 30, 2014
6/30/14
1:15
PM ET
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

SPONSORED HEADLINES