Green Bay Packers: Jeremy Ross

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sometimes, it's easy to miss little DuJuan Harris, all 5-foot-8 of him. But there was no mistaking where the Green Bay Packers running back lined up when special teams coach Shawn Slocum called for the No. 1 kickoff return team early in Tuesday's minicamp practice.

There was Harris, standing at the goal line ready to return kickoffs.

It was the first time since he joined the Packers midway through the 2012 season that the diminutive running back took reps with the top kick return unit.

[+] EnlargeDuJuan Harris
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsGreen Bay running back DuJuan Harris is healthy again after an injury-riddled 2013.
It had been in the plans last season, but 2013 was a lost year for Harris, who had surgery that spring to have a cyst removed from his lung and then was shut down for the season in August because of a patellar tendon injury that required arthroscopic surgery to drain fluid from around his knee.

Now, Harris not only is back in the mix at running back, where he will compete for time behind starter Eddie Lacy, but he is giving the Packers another option in the return game.

When asked what Harris offers as a return man, Slocum said: "A running back."

Slocum wasn't being snarky. Rather, what he meant was he likes the idea of having someone who is used to finding holes with the ball in his hands.

Last year, the Packers tried rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, but he couldn't catch the ball consistently or make good decisions with it when he did catch it.

After they cut receiver Jeremy Ross following a botched kickoff return in Week 3 against the Bengals, they used cornerback Micah Hyde as their primary returner on both kickoffs and punts. A good as Hyde was on punt returns -- he ranked fifth in the NFL with a 12.3-yard average (and had one touchdown) -- the Packers struggled on kickoff returns. Their 20.3-yard average per kickoff return ranked ahead of only two teams.

While the Packers are keeping their options open -- among those who also fielded kicks at Tuesday's minicamp were Hyde, rookie receivers Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis and second-year receiver Kevin Dorsey -- Harris gives them a different look as a returner.

"Excellent ball skills, like his size, like his physical attributes -- toughness, speed, quickness, change of direction," Slocum said.

Harris was both a kickoff returner and punt returner in high school and college at Troy, but has not taken any punts so far with the Packers. As a rookie with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011, Harris returned 14 kickoffs and averaged 22.0 yards per return with a long of 35. The Packers did not give him reps as a returner in 2012 because they had receiver Randall Cobb as their full-time returner.

"It's something I wanted to do," Harris said. "It's a way I can help contribute to the team. They trust me back there, and they're putting the ball in my hands. I've just got to take advantage of the opportunity."

Harris impressed the Packers late in the 2012 season, when he showed a combination of speed and the ability to make defenders miss as a running back. Some of those same attributes could help him as a returner.

"We'll see," Harris said. "I don't want to speak too soon. Just taking everything a day at a time."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed one former Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl player in defensive end Julius Peppers, so why not another in return specialist Devin Hester?

Hester
The Packers have not gotten involved yet with Hester, who visited the Falcons on Tuesday, but they could if the price is right.

According to an NFL personnel evaluator whose team has discussed the possibility of going after Hester, the former Pro Bowl return specialist is currently seeking a deal in the $4-million-per-year range.

However, that may be too high for teams interested in the 31-year-old return man.

If Hester discovers the market for his services is lower, it could bring in more teams, the Packers among them, when the price drops.

The Packers want to upgrade their return game while also taking receiver Randall Cobb out of that job. Cobb, who has three career special teams touchdowns on returns, will take on an even greater role on offense this season after the departure of James Jones.

After Jeremy Ross was released and Cobb sustained a knee injury early last season, the Packers turned to rookie cornerback Micah Hyde as their primary returner. Hyde ranked fifth in the NFL last season in punt return average (12.3 yards per return) and had one touchdown. But the Packers struggled all season on kickoff returns, ranking 30th with a 20.3-yard average. Hyde is expected to have a larger role on defense this season, perhaps even moving to safety.

The Bears decided not to re-sign Hester after his contract expired following last season. He holds the NFL record for kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns with 18, one of which came last season on a punt return.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In 16 regular-season games plus the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers were on the field for 1,185 offensive snaps, according to playing time totals kept by the NFL.

Only one player took them all.

Sitton
Josh Sitton played every snap at his new position, left guard, on the way to the best season of his six-year pro career. Sitton made the switch from right guard and was a second-team All-Pro selection.

A total of 30 players took at least one snap on offense (including a pair of defensive linemen -- Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji). In 2012, the Packers used 29 players on offense.

Six players -- Sitton, right guard T.J. Lang, left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Andrew Quarless -- played on offense in every game.

Here are the total snap counts on offense with playing-time percentages in parenthesis (the defense and special teams breakdowns are coming):

Quarterbacks: Offensive line:
  • Josh Sitton 1,185 (100 percent)
  • David Bakthtiari 1,171 (98.8 percent)
  • T.J. Lang 1,156 (97.6 percent)
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith 1,118 (94.3 percent)
  • Don Barclay 1,027 (86.7 percent)
  • Marshall Newhouse 256 (21.6 percent)
  • Lane Taylor 14 (1.2 percent)
  • Derek Sherrod 6 (0.5 percent)
Receivers: Running backs: Tight ends:

Starter Pack: Why Crosby, but not Ross?

December, 10, 2013
12/10/13
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A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers' beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- All NFL players are not created equal.

And they're not treated equally, either.

Take Mason Crosby and Jeremy Ross, for example.

The Packers stuck with Crosby even after the kicker experienced the worst season of his career in 2012, and their patience with him paid off. With three games remaining, he's on pace for his best season.

In explaining why the Packers didn't give up on Crosby, special teams coach Shawn Slocum on Monday said: “The easy thing to do is to change personnel. That's not always the right thing to do.”

Yet they wasted little time dumping Ross after two kick return gaffes in a four-game stretch dating back to last season. Ross' muffed punt in the playoff loss at the San Francisco 49ers combined with his fumbled kickoff in the Week 3 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals cost him his job. The Packers cut him the day after the Bengals' game.

Perhaps they should have treated Ross the same way they did Crosby.

Instead, they opened the door for the Detroit Lions to sign him -- first to their practice squad and then to their active roster. One game after Ross burned the Packers on both special teams and on offense as a receiver and ball carrier in the Detroit's Thanksgiving win, he scored two special teams touchdowns for the Lions against the Philadelphia Eagles in a snow-storm game on Sunday. Ross returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown and a punt 58 yards for a touchdown.

To be sure, the seventh-year kicker Crosby had a much longer history with the Packers than Ross, who had been with them for less than a year.

“Mason played one position for us,” Slocum said. “The other young man played more positions. Had some problems before he left us. They were critical. In four consecutive games had two major problems, and we made a decision to move. He did a nice job against us, he did a nice job yesterday in the snow.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers still has not been cleared to return from his broken collarbone, so coach Mike McCarthy said he will prepare Matt Flynn for another start. However, Rodgers will be evaluated by team doctors before the Packers return to the practice field on Wednesday.
  • How rare was the Packers' defensive performance in the 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday? It marked just the second time all season that they didn't allow any fourth-quarter points. They came into the game having allowed a league-high 107 fourth-quarter points.
  • Remember all that talk about the Packers having three 1,000-yard receivers this season? Injuries to Randall Cobb and James Jones ruined their chances, but Jordy Nelson fulfilled that promise.
  • In a look back at the win over the Falcons, the Upon Further Review feature included items on Flynn's accuracy, changes at safety, another early two-point try and an unnecessary injury to running back Eddie Lacy on a meaningless play to end the first half.
Elsewhere:

Weekend wrap: The 57th man and more

December, 1, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Emptying out the notebook from the week that was with the Green Bay Packers:

Special teams turnover: When linebacker Victor Aiyewa lined up on the kickoff coverage team to start Thursday's game against the Detroit Lions, he became the 57th player to appear on special teams for the Packers this season.

Aiyewa, who tackled Lions returner Jeremy Ross on the opening kickoff, was promoted from the practice squad only hours before the Packers boarded for their plane for the Thanksgiving game at Ford Field.

The 6-foot-1, 237-pound first-year linebacker from the University of Washington who spent part of the 2011 offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played 12 of the 27 special teams snaps in his NFL debut.

It was another sign of just how hard the Packers have been hit by injuries. As coach Mike McCarthy said earlier in the season, it impacts special teams the most.

With four games remaining this season, the Packers already have used more players on special teams than they did all of last season, when 54 different players appears on Shawn Slocum's units.

"We always have the ability to change where guys are playing and who's playing," said Slocum, the fifth-year special teams coach.

That doesn't mean it's easy or a recipe for success. The Packers entered Week 13 ranked last in average yards per kickoff return. They also entered the week allowing the most yards per kickoff return in the league, while their punt coverage unit also was ranked near the bottom, at No. 22 overall. They were eighth in punt return average.

Still high on Tolzien: Within a five-day stretch, quarterback Scott Tolzien was taken out of a game, lost his starting job and then wasn't called upon when his replacement struggled worse than he did.

Tolzien
Yet the Packers still may be high on him as a long-term backup to Aaron Rodgers.

"I really like Scott Tolzien," McCarthy said this past week. "I think he's a young, developing quarterback. I think he has a lot of growth in front of him."

In fact, the Packers probably like Tolzien more long term than they do Matt Flynn, who was ineffective in Thursday's loss to the Lions. When the Packers promoted Tolzien to the roster on Nov. 6, they signed him to a two-year deal. When they signed Flynn off the street six days later, they signed him only through the end of this season.

Sherrod's time: Next season, the Packers expect to have both of their first-round tackles available -- Derek Sherrod (a first-round pick in 2011) and Bryan Bulaga (2010).

Bulaga is continuing to rehab his reconstructed knee that he blew out in August, while Sherrod took another step toward making that a reality Thursday. It might have seemed insignificant at the time, but the fact that Sherrod took the final six snaps against the Lions at right tackle was a major milestone.

It represented the first offensive snaps for him in more than 23 months. Sherrod had not played on offense since he broke both bones in his lower right leg Dec. 18, 2011. He spent most of the last two years on the physically unable to perform list. He was finally activated off PUP on Nov. 5. He appeared in the next two games only on special teams before taking his first offensive snaps against the Lions.

"It was good for Derek," McCarthy said. "If there was anything you felt good about, walking off the field, that was about it. Just the fact to get him back on the field. It's been two years. Just with what he's gone through and the amount of work that he's put in, that's exactly what he needs."

Franklin's future: Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin made the trip to Detroit on the same day he was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Franklin, a fourth-round pick from UCLA who rushed for 103 yards in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals, declined to discuss his injury situation in the postgame locker room at Ford Field.

He left last Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a concussion and a neck injury. McCarthy said it was neck injury that landed Franklin on injured reserve. It was unknown whether Franklin will need surgery.

Mailbag coming: With the long layoff between the Thanksgiving game and the next outing on Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons, the weekly Twitter mailbag will be pushed back to Monday. Tweet your questions to me @RobDemovsky and use the hashtag #PackersMail.

Missed tackles piling up at alarming rate

November, 29, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers are on pace to miss more tackles on both defense and special teams than in any other season since coordinators Dom Capers and Shawn Slocum took over their respective units.

Both took over their squads in 2009, when coach Mike McCarthy brought in the veteran Capers to install his 3-4 defense and promoted Slocum from assistant special-teams coach.

With 95 missed tackles on defense and 20 more on special teams through 12 games this season, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers almost certainly will surpass their highest totals under each coordinator – 101 missed tackles by the defense in 2011 and 22 by the special teams in 2010.

A day after their humiliating 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions in front of a national television audience on Thanksgiving, McCarthy estimated his team missed 20-plus tackles even though he had only reviewed the special-teams film, not the defensive tape yet.

It wasn’t quite that bad, according to PFF, but it was the worst tackling performance of the season on special teams with five missed tackles. Including the eight missed tackles on defense, it was the second-highest missed tackle total of the season behind only the first game against Minnesota on Oct. 27, when the Packers missed a total of 17 tackles (12 on defense, five on special teams).

“You get above 10 missed tackles in a game, that’s a long day,” McCarthy said Friday. “That’s a combination of special teams and defense.”

In eight of 12 games this season, the Packers have been in double figures in missed tackles. With an average of 7.9 missed tackles per game on defense, they are on pace for 126 for the season. With an average of 1.7 missed tackles on special teams, they are on pace for 27.

The most glaring missed tackle on Thursday might have been on Jeremy Ross’ 35-yard punt return that set up the Lions’ go-ahead touchdown late in the second quarter. Ross fielded the punt at his own 32-yard line. Packers cornerback Davon House had a chance to tackle him immediately, but missed, allowing Ross to jet up the field.

The Lions averaged 5.9 yards per rush on designed rushing plays, which excludes kneel downs or quarterback scrambles. They caught the Packers completely off guard when Ross ran an end-around for 24 yards in the second quarter. According to PFF, safety M.D. Jennings missed a team-high three tackles on defense, while John Kuhn missed a special-teams high two.

For the third time in four games, Capers’ defense gave up 200-plus rushing yards. The Lions ran for 241. In a five-day span against the Lions and Minnesota Vikings, the Packers allowed 473 yards rushing. In the first six games of the season, they allowed a total of just 474.

“It’s not [Capers’] fault we’re letting them run down our throat,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “It’s us. We’re the players. We’re on the field. You can’t sit there and blame the coach for us. Yeah, we’re behind him 100 percent – all of our coaches.”

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 13

November, 29, 2013
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DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thursday at Ford Field:

Who’s to blame?: One question needs to be asked after a game like this, when a team is completely dominated in all facets of the game: Was it the fault of the players or the coaches? It comes down to performance or scheme. Noting that it starts with himself, coach Mike McCarthy did go on to defend the plan he and his coaching staff put together for this game. “You line up with 46 [players] each and every week and you put a plan in for those guys to be successful, and we didn't even come close to hitting the mark today,” McCarthy said after the game. For their part, the players -- especially on the defensive side of the game -- defended the coaches. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit allowed a season-worst 561 yards of total offense, has come under fire again in recent weeks. “The scheme’s definitely not an excuse,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “The coaches are up in the box and on the sideline. It’s us. It’s us 11 out there, good plays or bad. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiMatt Flynn was sacked seven times and led only one drive that resulted in points against Detroit.
Flynn flops: Maybe it won’t matter if Aaron Rodgers comes back for the Packers’ next game, Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons. But if he doesn’t, where would McCarthy turn at quarterback? Matt Flynn played poorly against the Lions even if he didn’t get much help from the offensive line. In fact, a decent case could have been made for pulling Flynn in favor of Scott Tolzien, who was pulled from the previous game against the Minnesota Vikings. Flynn completed just 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked seven times and led only one drive that resulted in points, and that was a 54-yard field goal after the Packers started with great field position at their own 40-yard line. Flynn might have a better command of the offense, but Tolzien might be more decisive and appears to have a better arm. Flynn held the ball too long and didn’t have much zip on the ball. “I didn’t really feel Matt had a lot of great opportunities, frankly,” McCarthy said. “Hey, he didn’t play clean either.”

Trouble for Tramon: Cornerback Tramon Williams could face discipline from the NFL after he bumped an official in the fourth quarter. Williams appeared to push away the hand of back judge Dino Paganelli after Lions running back Joique Bell's 1-yard touchdown. Williams was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. He said he did not realize that it was an official. “I just saw a guy walk in front of me and kind of brush up on me,” Williams said. “I just kind of knocked his arm off. That’s about it. It was just emotions running. It wasn’t much there. There wasn’t anything behind it.”

Ross' revenge: The Packers once viewed Jeremy Ross as a triple-threat kind of player -- one who could return kicks, catch passes and even run the ball. But when he fumbled a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3, they cut him. Maybe that was a mistake. Ross, who was signed by the Lions last month, did a little bit of everything against his old team. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass against cornerback Davon House. He had one rush for 24 yards, and he had a 35-yard punt return in the second quarter that helped set up a touchdown.

Starter Pack: More returns for Hyde

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Less than a month ago, Micah Hyde was third on the depth chart at punt returner and was not even listed at kickoff returner.

When the Packers play the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football," there’s a good chance he will be the No. 1 guy at both spots.

Having already solidified the punt returner job perhaps even before his 93-yard return for a touchdown in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers appear to be strongly considering the rookie cornerback for the kickoff return job, too.

The Packers pulled rookie running back Johnathan Franklin off of kickoff returns in the second half against the Vikings and replaced him with Hyde, although he never got a chance to return one. That move could be permanent.

“I just thought that he had success there at the end of the second quarter with the punt return and he’s been working on it and I felt like the first two returns, we didn’t get what we needed,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “I decided to go with him.”

Hyde may be just the one to do it. He has quickly made himself at home as a punt returner, something he did in college at Iowa. He took over the job after the Packers cut Jeremy Ross and lost Randall Cobb to a leg injury. He leads the NFL with an 18.6-yard average on 10 punt returns. However, he did not return kickoffs for the Hawkeyes.

The Packers rank dead last in the NFL in kickoff return average at 15.3 yards per return. That’s nearly 4 yards fewer than the Washington Redskins, who rank 31st in the league, and nearly 18 yards less than the league-leading Vikings.

“I think that we’ve been really not very effective there through the whole first part of the season,” Slocum said. “I think it’s time that we start generating some production in that area.”

Elsewhere:
  • On our ESPN.com Packers page, you can read about the balance that is developing on offense, where the Packers ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game and fifth in passing yards per game, what kind of protection linebacker Clay Matthews might have to play with after he has the pins removed from his broken right thumb next week and some of the hot issues from the Vikings’ game in the Upon Further Review feature.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde revisited coach Mike McCarthy’s offseason promise for a better running game.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause wrote that the Packers are in a good spot at 5-2 considering that they should get some key players back and have a soft schedule coming up, and Weston Hodkiewicz’s notebook included the suggestion that even when starting inside linebacker Brad Jones returns from his hamstring injury, which could happen this week, fill-in Jamari Lattimore has played well enough to warrant some snaps.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein looked at the impressive pass-rush numbers since Matthews went out with a broken thumb, and Bob McGinn gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers a perfect score in his weekly Rating the Packers feature.

Starter Pack: Rodgers forced to adjust

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On Monday, after it became apparent the Packers were going to have to play without receiver Randall Cobb for four to eight weeks, we looked at how it might impact their offense.

Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information, we can define that even more clearly now.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, where Cobb and receiver James Jones (knee) both left the game in the first half, the Packers had utilized a three-receiver set on 90 percent of their plays. No other team in the league used three receivers more often.

And almost always, it had been the same three receivers -- Cobb, Jones and Jordy Nelson. They combined to play 872 snaps in the first five games of the season. The only other receivers to take the field were Jarrett Boykin (65 snaps) and Jeremy Ross (7), who is no longer on the team.

What’s more, the Packers relied almost exclusively on four players -- Cobb, Jones, Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley -- in the passing game. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has targeted each of them at least 29 times this season. No other Packers player had gotten more than seven targets.

Rodgers combined to throw 79 percent of his passing attempts -- excluding spikes of throwaways -- to the big four. Rodgers completed 69.6 percent of his passes to that foursome, averaged 10.4 yards per attempt and threw all 10 of his touchdown passes to them. On the other 21 percent of his targets, he completed just 59.5 percent and averaged 5.6 yards per attempt with no touchdowns.

Now, Rodgers may be forced to rely on some other targets.

“We’re going to run our offense,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s important. We have players that you feature, and then we have players that have roles. Our quarterback runs a system the way it’s supposed to be run. He throws the ball where it’s supposed to go. The people that are in there need to get open in the passing game, and we need to keep running it and running it with the attitude, with the finish that we have been. That part, our offense won’t look any different. There will just be some numbers that are changed out there.”

Elsewhere:
  • We also looked at how the latest player to go down -- linebacker Nick Perry (foot) -- will impact the defense and further examined the hot topics following the Ravens game in our weekly ESPN.com Upon Further Review piece.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde wrote that “for the third time in four years [the Packers] are facing a health-care crisis. Unlike the U.S. government, however, they’re not about to be shut down.”
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz noted that defensive coordinator Dom Capers views Mike Neal, who began playing outside linebacker only a few months ago, as the veteran among the group now that Perry and Clay Matthews are sidelined.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne, who was the first to report that Cobb had fractured his fibula, wrote that in a season filled with injuries Monday’s news might have been the most significant blow to date. Bob McGinn gave high marks to the linebacker group in his review of Sunday’s win over the Ravens.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers were awaiting word Monday on the severity of the injuries to receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones.

If they need help at the position this week, it probably won’t come in the return of Jeremy Ross, who was released by the Packers on Sept. 23 -- one day after he fumbled a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals.

His agent, Joe Linta, said Monday the Packers have not inquired about re-signing Ross, who is on the Detroit Lions' practice squad.

Ross played primarily on special teams before he was released. He had played only seven snaps on offense in three games -- three snaps against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, none against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 and four against the Bengals in Week 3.

The Packers were down to only two healthy receivers, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin, for the second half of Sunday’s 19-17 win against the Baltimore Ravens. Jones left in the first quarter because of a left leg injury, and Cobb left with a right knee injury in the second quarter.

Both were undergoing medical exams on Monday.

The Packers have one receiver, rookie Myles White, on their practice squad. They also had rookie receiver Charles Johnson on the practice squad until Saturday, when he signed with the Cleveland Browns.

Packers lose chance to groom rookie WR

October, 12, 2013
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BALTIMORE -- The Green Bay Packers never got a long look at rookie receiver Charles Johnson.

The seventh-round pick from Grand Valley State battled multiple injuries in the offseason and during training camp that prevented him from making a serious bid for a roster spot, but they had hoped to develop him on their practice squad.

Instead, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Johnson left the practice squad on Saturday, when the Cleveland Browns signed him to their active roster.

The Packers have only four receivers on their roster – Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin – for Sunday's game at the Baltimore Ravens. They started the season with five but cut Jeremy Ross after he fumbled a kickoff in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

They have one other receiver, rookie Myles White, on their practice squad.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 5

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 22-9 win over the Detroit Lions:

Rodgers returns to form: One of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' best attribute is bouncing back after a rare poor performance, so it was little surprise that he played near mistake-free football on Sunday in his first game since the Week 3 loss at Cincinnati, where Rodgers threw two interceptions and ended a streak of 41 games without multiple interceptions. Against the Lions, Rodgers showed again that he won’t force throws and will take what the defense gives. As the game wore on, the Lions came out of their deep zone coverage, and Rodgers took advantage. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rodgers completed 5 of 7 passes and gained 200 of his 274 passing yards on balls thrown at least 20 yards downfield. The five completions and 200 yards on balls 20 yards or more in the air both were career highs. “The opportunities outside first started with the late safety rolling down into the box and them playing soft on the outside,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “As the coverages got tight, we were able to attack deeper. We wish we probably would have been able to hit a couple more of those.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsEddie Lacy rushed for 99 yards in Green Bay's win over Detroit.
Offensive line credit: When three different running backs put up big numbers, that says something about the offensive line. Eddie Lacy came up 1 yard short of giving the Packers three straight 100-yard games by three different backs. (James Starks rushed for 132 in Week 2 against Washington, and Johnathan Franklin for 103 in Week 3 against the Bengals.) In rushing for 180 yards, the Packers hit that mark in consecutive games (they had 182 against Cincinnati) for the first time since 2003. Interior linemen Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton controlled defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, while tackles David Bakhtiari and Don Barclay have made major strides in their run-blocking. “Those guys are rolling right now,” Rodgers said of the line.

Pass-rush prowess: Anything the Packers accomplished on defense must be prefaced by reminding everyone that the Lions did not have their best player, receiver Calvin Johnson, who sat out because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, coordinator Dom Capers’ unit cranked up its pass rush and rendered quarterback Matthew Stafford ineffective. Stafford was sacked or put under duress on 22 percent of his dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Coming into the game, he was pressured on a league-low 12 percent of his dropbacks. The Packers sacked him five times -- all by linebackers. In the Lions’ first four games, Stafford was sacked just three times combined.

Return-game options: In their first game since cutting kick returner Jeremy Ross, the Packers used a platoon system but did not get enough opportunities to see whether it will work. Franklin was assigned to kickoff returns, but all of them were touchbacks. Receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Micah Hyde split punt-return duties, with Cobb handling anything that would be fielded inside the Packers’ 20-yard line. Each had two returns and both averaged 3.5 yards per return.

Emptying out the notebook

October, 5, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here are some odds and ends to wrap up the week before the Green Bay Packers play the Detroit Lions on Sunday at Lambeau Field:

Kick returner by committee: The Packers didn't identify a replacement for kick returner Jeremy Ross, who was released last week after he fumbled a kickoff in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cobb
That's probably because they don't plan to use just one player for the job.

The Packers likely will use some combination of receiver Randall Cobb, who was the Packers' primary returner for both kickoffs and punts in 2011 and 2012, running back Johnathan Franklin (on kickoffs) and cornerback Micah Hyde (on punt returns).

"It will be situational," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. "We won't put anybody back there that we weren't comfortable handling the ball."

Cobb, who has three career returns for touchdowns, probably would see more action on punt returns than kickoff returns, but the Packers might not want to expose one of their top receivers to extra injury risk.

"I can understand that view, but I would think you'd understand my view on it," special teams coach Shawn Slocum said this week. "Philosophically, you have to make a decision what direction you want to go. Going back to when we first got here as a staff, Charles Woodson was our punt returner. The punt return play, I think, has a little less risk for the big hit for a returner than the kickoff return play."

Burnett's back: Safety Morgan Burnett's return could stabilize things in the secondary for a defense that ranked 28th out of 32 teams in passing yards allowed through Week 4.

Burnett, a fourth-year pro, is the most experienced safety on the Packers' roster. Before missing the first three games of this season because of a hamstring injury, Burnett had played in 35 straight games (including playoffs) the last two seasons.

In July, he signed a four-year, $24.75 million contract extension.

"It gives you a sense of comfort and a sense of excitement because I know he wants to be out there," Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said. "That's going to be a big lift for our defense. The kid's worked his butt off, and nobody wants to sit on the side and watch. It's a great time to come back -- a division opponent, a huge game at home, coming off a loss, we're trying to get back on track. It's good to have one of your best football players back out there playing."

Burnett, who was injured in the preseason, said he does not expect to have any limitations Sunday.

"No, I'm good; I'm ready to go," Burnett said. "I've been participating with everybody throughout practice with our whole schedule. Now, I'm just ready to get it started on Sunday."

The Lions' best: In addition to the Packers' streak of 22 straight home victories over the Lions, McCarthy has a 13-1 record against the Lions, with the only loss coming at Ford Field in the 2010 game that quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn't finish because of a concussion.

But this Lions team, which comes in with a 3-1 record and already owns NFC North wins over Minnesota and Chicago, looks much different.

"I think this is probably their best team as far as the way they're playing coming into the game, as I recall," McCarthy said. "I can't sit here and tell you off the top of my head how I felt about each and every game. But I will say this is clearly a very talented football team.

"They're very systematic in their approach. Their coaching staff has been together for quite some time, and the way they play on offense and defense is pretty much the same philosophically. I think this is probably the best that I've seen them play coming into a contest."
A roundup of what’s happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

The combination of the Packers coming off their bye week and the Detroit Lions coming to town should create positive vibes around Lambeau Field.

What does one have to do with the other?

Well, the Packers have a 6-1 record in games following their bye week during Mike McCarthy’s tenure as head coach and the fact that the Lions have not won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991.

While the former might not be much of a topic of conversation this week, the latter always is when the Lions make the short trip to Green Bay.

In fact, ESPN.com colleague Michael Rothstein, who covers the Lions, has plans to take a look at some of Detroit’s closest calls during the remarkable streak of 22 straight Packers wins in their home state. He began with the memorable 45-41 shootout, known around these parts as the Matt Flynn game, in the 2011 regular-season finale.

Elsewhere:
  • Our ESPN.com coverage included the news of running back Eddie Lacy getting cleared to return from his Week 3 concussion and how Lacy and fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin might carry the load against the Lions. Also, safety Morgan Burnett, minus his dreadlocks, looks like a good bet to make his season debut this week after missing the first three games because of a hamstring injury.
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde noted that the Packers must be more concerned about the running back situation given that they promoted Michael Hill from the practice squad rather than adding a fifth receiver to fill Jeremy Ross’ old roster spot.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause’s story on the running backs pointed out that through Sunday’s games, the Packers ranked second in the NFL in rushing average (5.3 yards per carry) and ninth in rushing yards per game (128.0).
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne’s notebook compared Hill to DuJuan Harris, who last year followed a similar path from the practice squad to the active roster.

Week 3 playing time breakdown

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
5:15
PM ET
A look at the snap counts from the Green Bay Packers’ 34-30 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday:

Offense (81 total snaps)

Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers 81.

Offensive line: David Bakhtiari 81, Josh Sitton 81, Evan Dietrich-Smith 81, T.J. Lang 81, Don Barclay 81.

Receivers: James Jones 81, Jordy Nelson 80, Randall Cobb 79, Jeremy Ross 4, Jarrett Boykin 3.

Running backs: Johnathan Franklin 43, James Starks 32

Tight ends: Andrew Quarless 43, Ryan Taylor 34, Jermichael Finley 6.

Analysis: Taylor played a career-high 34 snaps on offense, all of which came after Finley sustained a concussion on the Packers’ sixth play from scrimmage. Quarless has played 76 snaps the past two weeks combined after playing only eight in Week 1. … Franklin had not played a snap on offense before Sunday. … Cobb, Jones and Nelson have combined to play 95.8 percent of the snaps this season. Jones has been on the field for 212 of the 215 snaps, Nelson for 210 and Cobb for 196. ... Ross, who also played nine snaps on special teams, was released on Monday after fumbling a kickoff against the Bengals.

Defense (56 total snaps)

Defensive line: B.J. Raji 32, Ryan Pickett 25, Mike Daniels 22, Johnny Jolly 18, C.J. Wilson 11, Datone Jones 10.

Linebackers: Brad Jones 56, Nick Perry 48, A.J. Hawk 48, Mike Neal 35, Clay Matthews 26, Andy Mulumba 6.

Defensive backs: Tramon Williams 56, Chris Banjo 54, Sam Shields 53, M.D. Jennings 52, Davon House 35, Micah Hyde 15, Jerron McMillian 14.

Analysis: Jolly’s playing time has decreased each week. He played 45 percent of the snaps in Week 1, 38 percent in Week 2 and 32 percent in Week 3. … Datone Jones, the first-round draft pick, has played just 24.7 percent of the defensive snaps so far this season. … Most of Neal’s snaps came at outside linebacker after Matthews left with a hamstring injury late in the second quarter.

Top special teams contributors (30 snaps): Robert Francois 23, Hyde 21, Jamari Lattimore 20, Sam Barrington 17, Boykin 17, Taylor 17, Tim Masthay 15, Greg Van Roten 12, Banjo 12, Daniels 12.

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