Green Bay Packers: D.J. Smith

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The way Mike McCarthy talked on Friday, it was almost as if the Green Bay Packers coach wants Jamari Lattimore to never relinquish the starting spot he will occupy Sunday against the New York Jets in relief of the injured Brad Jones.

It would not be the first time a Packers linebacker won a job that way.

Desmond Bishop was an injury replacement for Nick Barnett early in the 2010 season and did not give up the job until he was injured in the 2012 preseason. And midway through the 2012 season, Jones took over that spot after an injury to D.J. Smith.

Could it be Lattimore's turn?

Jones has a quadriceps injury that may or may not have contributed to his poor play in the season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks and has been ruled out for Sunday's home opener.

"I would think anytime you get a chance to go and perform, if you perform at a high level, you don't want to give that spot back," McCarthy said Friday. "I think that's the part of injury. You look at the history of the National Football League, some of the greatest careers were started because of an injury in front of that particular player. This is a big opportunity."

But it's not Lattimore's first shot.

He started four games last season -- three in October plus the regular-season finale -- while Jones had hamstring and ankle injuries. Lattimore played well early in the season, including a career-high 14 tackles (with a sack) against the Browns on Oct. 20, but was not as effective in Week 17 against the Bears.

What no one outside the Packers knew until Friday was that Lattimore was dealing with an illness the entire time. Although the fourth-year pro did not disclose all the details, he said Friday that it was stomach-related and also had to do with allergies. He said he was on medication all of last season.

"I don't like to talk because it was bad for me," said Lattimore, who has no lingering problems from the illness. "So I don't really like to bring it back up."

The illness, which he said he still doesn't know exactly what it was, never kept him out of a game. The only game he missed was because of a quad injury. Other than the four starts, most of his action came on special teams, where he was voted as a team captain for the playoffs.

"I had no choice," he said. “It's my job. I've got to go and play. But I didn't feel good. But you just have to suck it up."

In the offseason, he was tendered as a restricted free agent at the lowest rate, $1.431 million, with no promises that another shot at the starting job would come with it. But here he is, a week into the regular season with that shot again, even if he's not quite looking at it that way.

"It's not a break," said Lattimore, who came into the league in 2011 as an undrafted free agent. "Every play is important to me because when I'm on the field I get to make a play. For me, yes, it's an opportunity, but it's just doing your job. What they brought you in here for, for you to do your job, for you to play that position. It's all up to the player to be accountable. It's not necessarily a big stage or first time. It's doing your job."

Time to step up: Brad Jones

July, 4, 2014
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 returning players who need to take their game to another level in 2014.

Now, it's inside linebacker Brad Jones.

Why he needs to step up: Maybe we should not have expected anything more from Jones just because the Packers gave him a three-year, $11.75 million in 2013. But if the Packers are going to pay Jones that kind of money, they expected more of a return on their investment. Instead, Jones took a significant step backward. How big? In's player ratings system, Jones was a minus-4.1 last season. That may not mean anything to those who don’t study PFF's ratings, but know this: The year before he was a plus-9.8. He was especially deficient against the run last season.

What he has to do: At the very least, Jones needs to return to his 2012 form, when he became the starter in Week 7 after injuries to Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith. The Packers thought so much of Jones that season that he took over as the defensive signal caller and played on all three downs. Last year, the Packers made A.J. Hawk their three-down inside linebacker, meaning Jones usually did not play in the dime defensive package.

Outlook: Although the Packers insist Jones' starting spot is not in jeopardy, look for Jamari Lattimore to push for more playing time. Lattimore made four starts last season while Jones was sidelined with hamstring and ankle injuries. Whether Lattimore can earn more playing time this year probably depends largely on how Jones performs in the early going. Jones is entering just his third year as a full-time inside linebacker after beginning his NFL career as an outside backer.

Quotable: "Brad's our starter until I'm told otherwise," linebackers coach Winston Moss said near the conclusion of the offseason program last month. "Brad has fought through injuries as of late, but when Brad was healthy and Brad was dialed in, Brad was playing his [expletive] off."

Previous installments

Part one: Morgan Burnett

Part two: Nick Perry

Part three: Datone Jones

Part four: Jerel Worthy
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since he took over as general manager of the Green Bay Packers in 2005, Ted Thompson has drafted 87 players.

Leading up to this year's draft, in which Thompson currently has nine selections, we will look at his best and worst selections in each round.

We'll start at the bottom and work our way up over the next week. After discussing the seventh round on Monday, we look at Round 6.

Total players drafted: 14.

By position: Linebackers 3, defensive tackles 2, cornerbacks 2, defensive ends 1, safeties 1, guards 1, receivers 1, running backs 1, fullbacks 1, kickers 1.

Best pick: Mason Crosby, K.

Crosby (No. 193, 2007) had his best season last year, when he made 89.2 percent (33 of 37) of his regular-season field goals. He also made both of his postseason kicks. That followed his worst season, when he made just 63.6 percent of his field goals in 2012. Without that season, Crosby would have a career average of 81.2 percent. He still has two more years left on the five-year, $14.75 million contract he signed in 2011.

Honorable mention: James Starks, RB (No. 193, 2010), Johnny Jolly, DT (No. 183, 2006), Desmond Bishop, LB (No. 192, 2007).

Worst pick: Ricky Elmore, OLB.

The Packers tried to convert Elmore (No. 197, 2011) from a defensive end at Arizona to an outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, but it did not work. They cut him at the end of training camp and thought so little of his potential that they did not bother even bringing him back to the practice squad.

Dishonorable mention: Craig Bragg, WR (No. 195, 2005), Brandon Underwood, CB (No. 187, 2009).

Notes: The Packers traded one of their sixth-round picks, Caleb Schlauderaff, G (No. 179, 2011) to the New York Jets for a seventh-round pick in 2012. That pick was eventually packaged in a draft-day 2012 trade with the New England Patriots so the Packers could move up in the fifth round to take LB Terrell Manning, who lasted only one season. … Tyrone Culver, S (No. 185, 2006) played one season for the Packers and was released. He went on to play 66 games for the Miami Dolphins from 2007-2012. … Among the other sixth-round picks who became contributors were D.J. Smith, LB (No. 186, 2011), Jarius Wynn, DE (No. 182, 2009) and Mike Montgomery, DT (No. 180, 2005).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We’re in the second week of our position-by-position look at what the Green Bay Packers have and what they need.

We can revisit this process before the draft based on what -- if anything -- general manager Ted Thompson does in free agency.

So far, we’ve looked at quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, centers/guards and defensive linemen.

Next up, linebackers.

2014 free agents: Mike Neal, Robert Francois and Jamari Lattimore (restricted free agent).

The good: Inside linebacker A.J. Hawk had perhaps his best season. The ultra-reliable veteran led the Packers in tackles and posted a career-high five sacks. On the outside, Clay Matthews, when healthy, was productive. Neal, who made the transition from defensive end, showed some promise. Rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer look like developmental prospects on the outside, while Lattimore and Sam Barrington could be the same at the inside positions.

The bad: The twice-broken thumb that cost Matthews five regular-season games plus the playoffs left the Packers without a key playmaker at a position that is supposed to make big plays in coordinator Dom Capers’ defense. Thompson also made major investments in two players -- inside linebacker Brad Jones and outside linebacker Nick Perry -- and neither one paid off. He gave Jones a three-year, $11.75 million contract that included a $3 million signing bonus and then cut Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith to hand Jones the starting job. Two years ago, Thompson used a first-round pick on Perry, who played defensive end in college. The transition to outside linebacker has been anything but smooth and has been slowed by injuries.

The money: The Packers have more salary-cap space committed to linebacker ($18.7 million so far) than any other position for 2014. Matthews, who signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last offseason, accounts for $6.71 million of that followed by Hawk ($5.2 million) and Jones ($2.5 million). Neal would be the only impending free agent who might command any kind of significant money, and it remains to be seen whether the Packers intend to re-sign him.

Draft priority: The Packers need playmakers on defense, but this position might rank behind safety and defensive line in terms of importance.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When you're a draft-and-develop team like the Green Bay Packers, hitting on less than half of your draft choices probably isn't good enough.

But after cutting second-year safety Jerron McMillian on Tuesday, general manager Ted Thompson's percentage from the 2011 and 2012 drafts combined dipped below 50 percent.

"You never want to give up on a young guy," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said shortly after McMillian was released.

But that's exactly what the Packers did with McMillian, a fourth-round pick in 2011, and several others from the 2011 and 2012 drafts.

Of the 18 players Thompson picked in those two years combined, only eight remain with the Packers. And only six of those are on the active roster. Randall Cobb, a second-round pick in 2011, is on injured reserve/designated to return. Casey Hayward, a second-round pick in 2012, is on injured reserve.

Because Thompson believes in the theory that the more swings you have at the plate, the better your chances of finding good players, his percentage might be a little bit lower than a team that simply picks every time their turn comes up rather than trading back to acquire more picks.

But look at Thompson's 2010 draft, for example. He made only seven picks, and all are still with the Packers, although first-round pick Bryan Bulaga is on injured reserve.

Here's a player-by-player look at the 2011 and 2012 drafts:

2011 (Total players selected: 10. Players still with the Packers: 4)
  • T Derek Sherrod (first round, No. 32 overall): Returned to the roster last month after nearly two years on the physically unable to perform list because of a broken leg he sustained Dec. 18, 2011. Played his first snaps on offense since his injury Thursday against the Detroit Lions and likely will compete for a starting job next season.
  • Cobb
  • WR Randall Cobb (second round, No. 64 overall): Budding star who led the Packers in catches (80) and receiving yards (954) last season but sustained on leg injury Oct. 13 and was placed on temporary injured reserve. He is eligible to return Dec. 15 against the Dallas Cowboys but has not been cleared.
  • RB Alex Green (third round, No. 96 overall): Sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament as a rookie and despite coming back to lead the team in rushing with just 464 yards in 2012, he was released in the final cuts after training camp this season.
  • CB Davon House (fourth round, No. 131 overall): A part-time starter for the first time this season but has allowed five touchdown catches this season, according to
  • TE D.J. Williams (fifth round, No. 141 overall): Caught just nine passes in two seasons before he was released in the final cuts after training camp this season.
  • G Caleb Schlauderaff (sixth round, No. 179 overall): Traded to the New York Jets on Sept. 3, 2011 for a conditional draft choice that ended up being a seventh-round pick in 2012.
  • LB D.J. Smith (sixth round, No. 186 overall): Started the first six games of the 2012 season but tore his ACL and was released this past April.
  • LB Ricky Elmore (sixth round, No. 197 overall): Cut at the end of training camp in 2011.
  • TE Ryan Taylor (seventh round, No. 218 overall): Has become one of the team's core special teams players.
  • DE Lawrence Guy (seventh round, No. 233 overall): Spent all of his rookie season on injured reserve and then was on the practice squad in 2012 until the Indianapolis Colts signed him to their active roster.
2012 (Total players selected: 8. Players still with the Packers: 4)
  • LB Nick Perry (first round, No. 28 overall): Has battled injuries each of his first two seasons but has been a starter when healthy.
  • DE Jerel Worthy (second round, No. 51 overall): Played a part-time role as a rookie before he tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. Came off PUP last month and has played in one game this season.
  • CB Casey Hayward (second round, No. 62 overall): Led all rookies with six interceptions last season but a recurring hamstring injury limited him to just three games this season before going on injured reserve.
  • Daniels
  • DT Mike Daniels (fourth round, No. 132 overall): Perhaps the best player from this draft class. Daniels has become a force as a pass rusher with 5.5 sacks this season, which is second on the team to Clay Matthews.
  • S Jerron McMillian (fourth round, No. 133 overall): Began the season as the starting strong safety but was released Tuesday after being phased out of the defense for poor play.
  • LB Terrell Manning (fifth round, No. 163 overall): Released in the final cuts at the end of training camp this year. Played only sparingly, mostly on special teams, as a rookie.
  • T Andrew Datko (seventh round, No. 241 overall): Released in the final cuts at the end of training camp this year. Spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was never on the active roster.
  • QB B.J. Coleman (seventh round, No. 243 overall): Released in Week 1 after Seneca Wallace was signed to be the backup quarterback. Spent his rookie season on the practice squad.