Green Bay Packers: Michael Sam

Halfway through the preseason schedule, the Green Bay Packers' roster and depth chart is starting to take shape.

Here's a look at who hurt their chances during Saturday’s 21-7 victory at the St. Louis Rams:

1. Derek Sherrod: A week ago, the Packers were raving about the return of the former first-round draft pick, who saw his first extensive playing time since he broke his leg late in his rookie season of 2011. A week later, they have reason to be concerned about whether he can be the backup swing tackle they need without Don Barclay (who was lost for the season to knee injury early in camp). Sherrod had all kinds of trouble with a pair of Rams backups. On his very first snap at left tackle, Sherrod got smoked by defensive end Eugene Sims, who drilled quarterback Scott Tolzien just as he released the ball. Later on the same drive, Sims beat Sherrod again to pressure Tolzien into an incompletion. "I thought Scott had some tough situations," coach Mike McCarthy said, referring to the protection problems. Sherrod also got some time at right tackle late in the game, but he did not fare much better. He got beat by rookie Michael Sam, who then sacked Matt Flynn. Although Flynn held the ball for 3.5 seconds (one full second longer than McCarthy wants), the responsibility for the sack should sit with Sherrod.

2. Aaron Adams: See above. Sherrod's running mate at tackle with the No. 2 offensive line had troubles of his own. Playing right tackle on the first series with Tolzien, Adams allowed rookie defensive end Ethan Westbrooks to beat him and then hit Tolzien as he threw. On the next series, Adams gave up a sack to Westbrooks on third down. Adams spent all of last season on the practice squad and had impressed the coaches during the early part of the training camp.

3. Corey Linsley: If the Packers were to lose center JC Tretter during a game, they might be more likely to move one of their starting guards rather than go with rookie Corey Linsley in the middle. Although the fifth-round pick has worked as the No. 2 center throughout camp, his performance against the Rams likely gave the Packers reason to believe he's not ready for regular-season game action. Linsley committed a pair of penalties, including one that wiped out a Tolzien touchdown pass to Myles White. Perhaps it was just a bad day in his first NFL game in a dome because Linsley has been solid in practice.

4. DuJuan Harris: Last season, running back Eddie Lacy fumbled only once – it came in his regular-season debut – in 15 games. If Harris is going to take some of Lacy's snaps this season, he can't cough up the ball like he did in the third quarter. The Packers like Harris as a change-of-pace back but if ball security is an issue, they have other options. Undrafted rookie Rajion Neal was impressive in Week 1 before he sustained a knee injury. He could return this week. Michael Hill averaged 4.3 yards on four carries and had a 27-yard reception against the Rams.

5. Brandon Bostick: The tight end literally hurt himself in the first quarter, when he left the game because of a lower leg injury and did not return. Although Bostick did not start (rookie Richard Rodgers did), he has been making a push for the job and at the very least would be in line for significant playing time. Injuries have slowed Bostick in the past. He finished last season on injured reserve because of a broken foot.
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted to stay healthy, and he wanted to lead a touchdown drive.

He did both in his preseason debut Saturday afternoon in St. Louis.

In fact, Rodgers nearly had two touchdown drives, but his second was wiped out by a penalty.

After sitting out the preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans a week earlier, Rodgers completed 11 of 13 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown (a 3-yarder to Randall Cobb on a classic Rodgers play in which he moved out of the pocket to buy more time). On Rodgers' second -- and final -- series, he thought he had a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on a comeback route, but it was called back because of a penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari, forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal.

Rodgers led a pair of 12-play drives and when he came out, the Packers had a 10-0 lead and went on to a 21-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. The Packers evened their preseason record at 1-1 heading into Friday's game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field.

Here are some other thoughts on the Packers' second preseason game of the season:
  • The game's opening drive was the perfect example of how coach Mike McCarthy wants to play. In the no-huddle offense, McCarthy did not make any substitutions and kept things moving quickly. That meant plenty of touches for running back Eddie Lacy, who had five carries for 25 yards and two catches for 22 yards. He stayed on the field for the only third down on the drive.
  • Outside linebacker Julius Peppers, who admitted he did not get much done in his 10-snap Packers debut against the Titans, had a tackle for loss on Rams running back Zac Stacy for a 2-yard loss and also had a hit on quarterback Sam Bradford in which Peppers beat rookie tackle Greg Robinson, the second overall pick in the draft.
  • After a slow start in large part because of shoddy pass protection by backup tackles Derek Sherrod and Aaron Adams plus a lost fumble by running back DuJuan Harris, backup quarterback Scott Tolzien got into a rhythm and put together a good drive in the third quarter. He hit rookie Davante Adams for a pair of 14-yard completions on a drive that ended after a failed fourth-and-goal play from the 5-yard line. However, Tolzien had a 4-yard touchdown pass to Myles White taken away because of an illegal hands to the face penalty on backup center Corey Linsley. Tolzien, who replaced Rodgers, finished 10-of-15 for 107 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions before giving way to Matt Flynn midway through the third quarter.
  • Sherrod struggled after a solid showing against the Titans. He allowed at least two quarterback hits in the first half and then gave up a sack to Rams rookie Michael Sam in the fourth quarter.
  • In his preseason debut, rookie seventh-round receiver Jeff Janis showed off his 4.42-second 40-yard dash speed. He caught a short crossing route and turned it up the field for a 34-yard touchdown from Flynn in the third quarter.
  • Undrafted rookie defensive tackle Mike Pennel helped his bid for a roster spot. He spun away from a double team in the second quarter and sacked Rams backup quarterback Shaun Hill in the second quarter. Mike Neal slowed down Hill to allow Pennel to make the play.
  • Another undrafted rookie, outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott, made quite the impression with three sacks in a four-play stretch in the fourth quarter. The last one was a strip-sack of quarterback Austin Davis.
  • The only injury announced during the game was to tight end Brandon Bostick (lower leg), who did not return. Bostick finished last season on injured reserve after he broke his foot.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Some long-time attendees of the NFL combine estimated that the crowd of reporters around former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam was the largest media gathering around a single player they had ever seen.

“I just wish you guys would see me as Michael Sam the football player, not Michael Sam the gay football player,” the draft hopeful said Saturday.

It sounds like Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson sees it that way. When asked for his reaction to Sam being the first openly gay player in the NFL, Thompson on Friday said: “I haven't had much of one.”

“I think there's a lot to do about much of nothing,” Thompson said.

He echoed what coach Mike McCarthy said on April 10, the day after Sam made his announcement, when McCarthy said the Packers “have room” for any player that can be a good teammate and a productive player.

“With the Packers and every one of these teams, what we've been talking about the last 10 minutes since I've been standing here is how do we win and how do we do things?” Thompson said. “If someone can help us win games and be a good citizen, we’re fine with him."

Countdown to combine: Packers part 3

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers' greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.

Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.

Monday was dedicated to the safety position. On Tuesday, we looked at the defensive linemen.

We’ll wrap up the defensive side of the ball with the linebacker spots, both inside and outside.

Why the Packers need help: If the Packers are going to field a defense that at all resembles the units fielded by the NFC’s top two teams -- the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers -- they need to upgrade their linebackers. Specifically, they need more speed both on the outside and up the middle.

The Packers seem satisfied with A.J. Hawk but might be looking to upgrade the other inside spot, which was occupied most of last season by Brad Jones. The Packers gave Jones a three-year, $11.75 million deal that included a $3 million signing bonus.

On the outside, they continued their search for someone to complement Clay Matthews. Mike Neal’s conversion from defensive end went perhaps better than could have been expected. He had five sacks, including four in the last seven games, but is scheduled to be a free agent next month. For the second straight season, Nick Perry (a first-round pick in 2012) battled injuries and still hasn’t shown whether he’s a natural fit at outside linebacker.

Linebackers the Packers should be watching:

Chris Borland, Wisconsin: Probably the second-best inside linebacker in the draft behind Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, who almost certainly won’t be around when the Packers pick at No. 21. The only issue with Borland is that he’s a tad short at 5-foot-11, so he will need to have an impressive showing at the combine and his pro day in order to convince the Packers he can be effective.

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State: With the top two outside linebackers -- Buffalo’s Khalil Mack and UCLA’s Anthony Barr -- likely being top-10 picks, Shazier might be the best remaining option. But there are questions about whether he can rush the passer.

Michael Sam, Missouri: After revealing earlier this month that he is gay, Sam will be perhaps the most scrutinized player at the combine. Projected as a mid-round pick, teams will have to decide whether he can make the adjustment from defensive end to outside linebacker.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- That the Packers released backup center Greg Van Roten on Tuesday wasn't as surprising as the timing and their reason for doing so.

According to his agent, the Packers wanted to get bigger at his position.

Van Roten, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, was actually up to 315 pounds last season before he injured his foot in Week 5. That would have made him the biggest center on the roster. Instead, after two seasons as a backup, Van Roten is looking for work.

It's worth wondering what that means for Evan Dietrich-Smith, who took over as the starting center in late 2012 and held the job for the entire 2013 season. At 6-2 and 308 pounds, Dietrich-Smith is no bigger than Van Roten.

If the Packers indeed want to get bigger up the middle, then perhaps Dietrich-Smith, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next month, might not be re-signed.

The only other centers on the Packers' roster are JC Tretter (6-4, 307) and Garth Gerhart (6-1, 310).

In case you missed it on ESPN.com: Best of the rest:
  • At ESPNWisconsin.com, Jason Wilde profiled Gash, who talked about the rigors of playing 12 years as an NFL fullback.
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Weston Hodkiewicz also profiled Gash. Also in the Press-Gazette, via USA Today, Jim Corbett talked to Vince Lombardi Jr., who explained that his legendary father might have been the perfect coach for Sam.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tyler Dunne wrote that Sam's position coach at Missouri, Craig Kuligowski, believes his former player will have to adjust to playing outside linebacker in the NFL but that he should be drafted within the first three rounds.
A roundup of what's happening on the Green Bay Packers beat.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy now has a former running back coaching running backs and a former quarterback coaching quarterbacks.

Not that it's imperative to do it that way but in his most recent restructuring, McCarthy has restored some order to his staff with Sam Gash in charge of the running backs and Alex Van Pelt tutoring the quarterbacks.

Van Pelt, an NFL quarterback for nine years with the Buffalo Bills, spent the past two seasons coaching the Packers' running backs. It was the first time working at that position for him after serving as a quarterbacks coach with the Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

McCarthy said he hired Van Pelt two years ago not necessarily because he thought he would excel as the running backs coach -- although he did so -- but in part to one day move him up on his staff.

“I think it definitely has broadened his horizons as far as coaching offense,” McCarthy said of Van Pelt. “I know he's very appreciative of the two years coaching running backs. But he's a quarterback coach. You're talking about a very talented football coach, played the position, knows this offense.”

Van Pelt replaced Ben McAdoo, who spent two years coaching quarterbacks despite having never played the position. McAdoo was hired last month as the New York Giants offensive coordinator.

“Anybody can coach the position,” Van Pelt said. “The only thing [having played quarterback] gives you is the ability to say, ‘Hey, I experienced this.' That's about it in that regard. I actually took a five-step drop and had to pressure out to the right side and threw an interception. I know what that's like. I've done that. That's really about all it does give you is [the ability to] say ‘Hey, I've had these experiences and this is what I've learned from them.'”

Meanwhile, Gash, a former teammate of Van Pelt's in Buffalo, was twice a Pro Bowl fullback in his 12-year NFL playing career and spent six seasons as the Detroit Lions running backs coach before sitting out of coaching last season.

“I've always like Sam Gash,” McCarthy said. “He's an excellent fit for us. He's played the position. He's coached running backs. He did a very good job in the interview process. He's worked with Alex Van Pelt in the past, I think his transition will be very easy to our offense.”

In its current form, McCarthy's offensive staff includes four players who were NFL players at the position they now coach -- Gash, Van Pelt, offensive line coach James Campen (offensive line) and Joel Hilgenberg (assistant offensive line). In fact, all of his offensive position coaches played in the NFL. Tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot was an offensive lineman, and receivers coaches Edgar Bennett was a running back.

In case you missed it on ESPN.com:
  • In the wake of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam revealing that he is gay, McCarthy said the Packers would view him like any other player in the draft and would evaluate him based on his playing ability and his character.
  • Despite some juggling of responsibilities on his defensive staff, McCarthy said he's committed to sticking with a 3-4 defense -- albeit with some tweaks.
  • The Packers might have the most overqualified assistant special teams coach in the NFL with the addition of two-time former college head coach Ron Zook in that role. But both McCarthy and Zook see it as a good fit.
  • Finally, please join me in our weekly Packers chat at 4 p.m. ET (3 p.m. in Green Bay and the surrounding areas). You can submit questions ahead of time or do it in real time. Either way, it can be found by clicking here.
Best of the rest:
  • In the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Mike Vandermause wrote that assistant head coach Winston Moss, whose role was expanded this offseason to coach both inside and outside linebackers, believes improvement on defense will come through technique and fundamentals rather than a change in scheme.
  • In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Silverstein wrote that Gash compared running back Eddie Lacy to Pro Football Hall of Famer Curtis Martin, who was Gash's teammate with the New England Patriots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Green Bay Packers find Michael Sam to be a productive player and a good teammate, then the team would have no doubts about drafting the defensive lineman from Missouri who said Sunday that he is gay.

That’s their criteria for any player, and Sam’s case appears to be no different.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy and at least one of his assistant coaches echoed that sentiment on Monday.

“I think you definitely have to feel he’s a courageous young man, but my understanding is that he’s a talented player,” McCarthy said during a session with reporters at which he introduced the new members of his coaching staff. “We’ve always, from day one, talked about our program and about our culture.

"[General manager] Ted [Thompson] and [the scouts] are going through the draft process right now, and at the end of the day it comes down to good football players. Any player that can come here and be a good teammate, follow the rules of our program which is one, be respectful and produce on the football field, we’ve got room for that guy.”

Former NFL player Alex Van Pelt, who was promoted from Packers running backs coach to quarterbacks coach last week, also called Sam’s decision “courageous.”

“If anybody can come in and help us win games and be successful -- black, white, yellow, straight, gay -- I don’t think it matters,” Van Pelt said. “As long as you’re a good person and you’re respectful in the locker room to each other, then you can help us win on Sundays.”

Sam was an All-American defensive lineman at Missouri and the Associated Press SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season, when he had 11.5 sacks. He could project to an outside linebacker in the Packers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

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