NFC North: Alex Green

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the preseason opener looming on Saturday at Tennessee, the Green Bay Packers released their first depth chart of the season.

It was labeled "unofficial."

And there were few, if any, surprises.

At almost every position where there is even a hint of competition, the more experienced player was listed first.

Keep in mind that a year ago, the first depth chart of the season listed Eddie Lacy as the No. 4 running back behind DuJuan Harris, Alex Green and James Starks. Harris never played a down because of a knee injury, Green got cut at the end of camp and Lacy became the NFL's offensive rookie of the year. The same chart listed Marshall Newhouse as the starting right tackle and Bryan Bulaga as the left tackle. By then, Bulaga had already blown out his knee, and Newhouse did not start a game until Week 11.

Nevertheless, here's what stood out on the first edition of this year's depth chart:
  • Without Jermichael Finley, the order at tight end was Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick, Ryan Taylor, rookie Richard Rodgers and Jake Stoneburner.
  • Although coach Mike McCarthy said he has not decided how the backup quarterback reps will be divided up against the Titans, Matt Flynn was listed as No. 2 and Scott Tolzien No. 3 behind Aaron Rodgers.
  • At running back, James Starks was listed as the No. 2 behind Lacy. DuJuan Harris was third followed by Michael Hill, Rajion Neal and LaDarius Perkins.
  • JC Tretter was the top center ahead of rookie Corey Linsley.
  • The No. 2 outside linebacker combination behind starters Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers was Mike Neal and Nick Perry. Neal was the backup to Matthews on the right side, while Perry was behind Peppers on the left even though Perry has been more productive on the other side.
  • Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde were listed as the starting safety duo with Sean Richardson behind Burnett and first-round pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix behind Hyde.
  • At right cornerback, former practice-squader Jumal Rolle was No. 3 (behind Sam Shields and Casey Hayward) ahead of rookie sixth-round pick Demetri Goodson, who has struggled so far.
  • At kickoff returner, it was Hyde followed by Harris, Cobb and rookie Jeff Janis. The punt returners were Hyde and Cobb.
  • The depth chart also included the assistant coaches' locations on game days, and there was one major change. Offensive coordinator Tom Clements is going to the coaches box after previously working from the sideline. He will be joined in the box by defensive coordinator Dom Capers, offensive quality control assistant Luke Getsy, assistant offensive line coach Steve Marshall, defensive/special teams assistant Jason Simmons and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.

Taking the blame for Vince Young

September, 1, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- After the Green Bay Packers released veteran quarterback Vince Young on Saturday, it was worth discussing -- as we did here -- whether more time in the system would have made a significant difference in his bid to be the team’s backup.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson, the man who waited until Aug. 5 to sign the 30-year-old quarterback, thinks that perhaps it might have done just that.

[+] EnlargeTed Thompson
AP Photo/Morry Gash"I probably should have had him in here earlier," Packers GM Ted Thompson said about Vince Young.
In discussing his roster moves on Sunday, Thompson placed the blame on himself for not acting sooner to bring in the former first-round draft pick.

“Quite frankly, it probably wasn’t fair to Vince,” Thompson said. “We threw a lot on his plate, and the fault is probably mine. I probably should have had him in here earlier.”

Thompson praised Young for being a good teammate and a humble guy.

“If there was fault, it was probably mine,” Thompson said.

The decision to release Young left B.J. Coleman, who spent all of last season on the practice squad, as the only quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers. Coleman’s shaky play early in training camp was one of the reasons Thompson turned to Young in the first place.

The Packers no doubt are exploring all of their options at quarterback, but the list of those available was far from impressive. They were expected to add a quarterback to the practice squad -- Scott Tolzien, the former University of Wisconsin starter who was released by San Francisco last week.

“We’re actively pursuing everything there is in the National Football League at every position,” Thompson said. “I’m not just making this up. At every position, we’re looking to see if we can get better.”

If the Packers stick with Coleman, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that they went into the season with an inexperienced backup. They did so last season with Graham Harrell, who like Coleman had previously been on the practice squad. And they did so in 2008 with rookie Matt Flynn.

When asked if Coleman, who completed just 41.2 percent of his passes this preseason, would be an adequate fill-in if something happened to Rodgers, Thompson said: “Well, we think he has a good chance to do that. Again, there’s a lot of things that he hasn’t seen yet. He’s played in preseason games but never played in a regular-season game. We’re getting ready to tee it off, so we’re getting ready to play.”

Note: The Packers have not announced their practice-squad signings yet. But in addition to Tolzien, they are expected to add receivers Charles Johnson and Myles White, tight end Jake Stoneburner and cornerback James Nixon, according to multiple media reports. Those four all were released by the Packers on Saturday. The Packers had hoped to bring back center Patrick Lewis to the practice squad, but he was claimed off waivers by Cleveland. Four others released by the Packers on Saturday were claimed off waivers: running back Alex Green (by the New York Jets), tight end D.J. Williams (Jacksonville), linebacker Dezman Moses (Kansas City) and linebacker Terrell Manning (San Diego).

Reviewing the roster projections

September, 1, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Playing NFL general manager isn’t easy.

I tried to do it twice this preseason by predicting the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man roster, first on Aug. 22 and then again on Friday, the eve of the final cuts.

In the first go-around, I actually had outside linebacker Andy Mulumba and guard Lane Taylor on the 53, only to remove them on Friday. Of course, both made the team.

In the end, my final roster prediction had 49 of the 53 players that general manager Ted Thompson kept. Here’s a look at my predictions compared with the actual roster:


Prediction (2): Aaron Rodgers, Vince Young

Actual (2): Aaron Rodgers, B.J. Coleman

Running backs

Prediction (5): Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, James Starks, John Kuhn

Actual (4): Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, James Starks, John Kuhn


Prediction (5): Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross

Actual (5): Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross

Tight ends

Prediction (4): Jermichael Finley, Matthew Mulligan, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick

Actual (4): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick

Offensive line

Prediction (7): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten

Actual (8): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten, Lane Taylor

Defensive line

Prediction (7): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd

Actual (7): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd


Prediction (10): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Terrell Manning, Mike Neal, Nate Palmer

Actual (10): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Andy Mulumba, Mike Neal, Nate Palmer

Defensive backs

Prediction (10): Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo

Actual (10): Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo


Prediction (3): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode

Actual (3): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode

Green Bay Packers cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2013
Most significant move: After the Packers released Graham Harrell on Aug. 24, the backup quarterback job was Vince Young’s to lose. The former first-round draft pick on the Tennessee Titans lost it. After an unimpressive performance in the preseason finale at Kansas City on Thursday, when Young led only two field goal drives in 11 possessions, the Packers released him on Saturday.

Perhaps he was fighting a losing battle from the start, considering he wasn’t signed until Aug. 5. That was 11 days after the Packers opened training camp. He missed the first seven practices and a scrimmage.

It leaves an unsettled situation behind starter Aaron Rodgers. For now, the only other quarterback on the roster is B.J. Coleman, who spent all of last season on the practice squad. Coleman opened training camp as the No. 3 quarterback but slipped to fourth string after Young was signed and before Harrell was released. In the preseason, Coleman completed just 14 of 34 passes (41.2 percent) for 128 yards with one touchdown and one interception. It’s hard to imagine the Packers won’t explore other options over the weekend.

2011 revisited: With running back Alex Green and tight end D.J. Williams among the most surprising cuts on Saturday, it made a strong statement about the 2011 draft class. Packers general manager Ted Thompson drafted 10 players in April of that year. Only three of them – receiver Randall Cobb (second round), cornerback Davon House (fourth round) and tight end Ryan Taylor (seventh round) – remain on the roster. Tackle Derek Sherrod (first round) will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. He still has not returned from the broken leg he sustained on Dec. 18, 2011. Green was a third-round pick, while Williams was taken in the fifth round.

What’s next: Like all teams, the Packers will scour the waiver wire and free-agent lists. Their focus likely will be on the quarterbacks. Even if they find one they like, they might have to use Coleman as the No. 2 early in the season while the newcomer gets acclimated to the offense. The Packers haven’t carried three quarterbacks on their active roster since late in the 2011 season. They also can begin signing players to their eight-man practice squad on Sunday afternoon. Thompson is scheduled to meet with reporters on Sunday afternoon.

Players cut: QB: Vince Young. RB: Alex Green. FB: Jonathan Amosa. TE: Matthew Mulligan, Jake Stoneburner, D.J. Williams. WR: Charles Johnson, Tyrone Walker, Myles White. OL: Andrew Datko, Garth Gerhart, Kevin Hughes, Patrick Lewis. DL: Jordan Miller. LB: Terrell Manning, Dezman Moses, Donte Savage. CB: Loyce Means, Brandon Smith, James Nixon. S: David Fulton, Chaz Powell.

Midafternoon Packers cuts update

August, 31, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The biggest name among the Green Bay Packers' cuts so far clearly was quarterback Vince Young, who was released on Saturday morning.

But they also have cut a couple of players who saw significant playing time last season in running back Alex Green and tight end D.J. Williams.

Green was their leading rusher last season with 464 yards, and Williams played in 14 of 18 games last season (including playoffs).

With a few hours left before teams have to trim their rosters to 53 players, here’s the latest list of the players who have been released.

Note: This list is a compilation of our own reporting here at ESPN plus reports from the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Packer Report, and players with verified Twitter accounts. With 18 cuts already confirmed, the Packers will have to make four more roster moves to reach the 53-man limit.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the past 24 hours, the Green Bay Packers worked out “Kickalicious” (a.k.a Havard Rugland, the Norwegian-born placekicker made famous by a YouTube video) and made plans to bring in running back/kick returner Joe McKnight for a look-see.

If nothing else, it tells you the Packers’ 53-man roster might not be set even though final cuts are due by 6 p.m. ET.

There’s bound to be a player or three who winds up on the Packers’ roster who wasn’t with them in training camp. It could be a free-agent signing, a trade or a waiver claim.

But for the sake of this exercise, which was first attempted nine days ago, let’s assume general manager Ted Thompson keeps 53 of his own players. Here’s the final projection for how the roster will look after the final cuts are made (note the changes from the Aug. 22 version of this projection):

Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Vince Young

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: No change from the Aug. 22 version, other than in the interim the Packers cut Graham Harrell. B.J. Coleman needs another year on the practice squad and likely will get it if he clears waivers.

Running backs (5): Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, James Starks, John Kuhn

Moved in: Starks

Moved out: DuJuan Harris

Analysis: The loss of Harris to a season-ending knee injury will force coach Mike McCarthy to alter his plans for the running game. He was hoping Lacy and Harris would provide a one-two punch.

Receivers (5): Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross

Moved in: Ross

Moved out: Tyrone Walker

Analysis: With Cobb and Nelson finally healthy, there’s probably no need for a sixth receiver. Ross showed enough in the final week that he could be serviceable as the fifth receiver, if necessary, and he’s too valuable as a return specialist to let him go. Walker’s best shot is if they keep six at this position.

Tight ends (4): Jermichael Finley, Ryan Taylor, Matthew Mulligan, Brandon Bostick

Moved in: Mulligan

Moved out: Jake Stoneburner

Analysis: Mulligan has returned from his elbow injury and is the kind of blocker the Packers need to help their running game. Stoneburner’s fumble near the goal line against Seattle on Aug. 23 hurt his chances. He’s a strong practice-squad candidate. Veterans Andrew Quarless and D.J. Williams appear to be in trouble.

Offensive line (7): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten

Moved in: None

Moved out: Lane Taylor

Analysis: The Packers got by with seven offensive linemen to start last season, and Taylor now looks like someone they can sneak through to the practice squad.

Defensive line (7): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd

Moved in: Boyd

Moved out: None

Analysis: Thompson doesn’t easily part with draft picks, and Boyd (a fifth-rounder) has shown steady improvement in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeNate Palmer
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannSolid showings in the final two preseason games might have secured Nate Palmer a spot on the Packers' roster.
Linebackers (10): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Terrell Manning, Mike Neal, Nate Palmer

Moved in: Palmer

Moved out: Andy Mulumba

Analysis: Palmer has had a sack in each of the last two preseason games and, like Boyd, he’s a draft pick. Again, I’m counting Neal as an outside linebacker rather than a defensive end.

Defensive backs (10): Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: Banjo solidified the final safety spot with another strong performance in the preseason finale.

Specialists (3): Mason Crosby (kicker), Tim Masthay (punter), Brett Goode (long snapper)

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: Crosby’s restructured contract gives the Packers flexibility if they need to make a mid-season change, but if Crosby continues to kick like he has of late, that won’t be necessary.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As far back as the NFL annual meetings in March, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy had a plan in mind to improve his running game.

“You’d like to get into a one-two punch deal,” McCarthy said.

As he talked at the Arizona Biltmore hotel back in March, McCarthy had no way of knowing then what his roster would look like five months later, but it was clear he envisioned one of those two punches would be thrown by DuJuan Harris. McCarthy liked how Harris finished last season, when he started four games (including both playoff contests) and averaged 4.2 yards per carry with four touchdowns.

Even after the Packers drafted a pair of running backs -- Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth -- McCarthy continued to project Harris as his starter.

When Harris returned to practice Aug. 12 from the knee injury that kept him out for most of the offseason workouts, McCarthy’s vision became more clear: He would use the quickness of the 5-foot-8, 203-pound Harris and the power of Lacy (5-11, 230) to provide that one-two punch to jolt a running game that finished 20th in the NFL last season.

Less than two weeks before the season opener at San Francisco, McCarthy will be forced to alter that plan because Harris reinjured his knee in Friday’s preseason game against Seattle and is headed for injured reserve.

“It sucks, honestly,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “He’s a hell of a player. He was going to be a big part of this offense. You’ve got to move on.”

The Packers may have to ride Lacy, who despite a rough outing against Seattle in which he totaled minus-5 yards rushing on eight attempts has been impressive so far.

“He’s going to have to step up and probably have a larger role,” Sitton said. “He’s going to have to grow. He can’t be a rookie anymore.”

However, there are concerns about Lacy’s conditioning and injury history that may prevent McCarthy from giving his rookie a greater workload than was originally planned.

“Every offseason you go through an evaluation with your offense, you do offseason studies, you project how you envision your offense looking and having to firm things up after the draft,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “You have a vision of packages in place on how you’re going to start the season. That goes along with part of my individual focus for the season. So, last week was the first opportunity to play both DuJuan and Eddie Lacy as a one-two punch format.”

Because Franklin doesn’t look ready to contribute, that leaves returning veterans Alex Green and James Starks as possible alternatives to Harris currently on the roster.

Green was the team’s leading rusher last season with 464 yards but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry and wore down late in the season, a year after returning from reconstructive knee surgery. But he looks stronger this season and has the team’s longest rush of the preseason, a 31-yard gain against Seattle.

“It’s unfortunate for DuJuan; he’s obviously a great player,” Green said. “We’ll see what happens. But right now, I’m just having the same mindset I had when I first came here.”

Starks, who has missed 26 of a possible 48 games in his first three NFL seasons and played in only six games last season, may have new life now. He was seemingly headed for the trading block or the waiver wire after he fumbled against St. Louis on Aug. 17. He had fallen to fifth on the depth chart behind Harris, Lacy, Franklin and Green.

When asked about Starks and Green, who were seemingly battling for the last running back spot before Tuesday’s developments, McCarthy said: “It’s a long year. You need ’em all. And I think both those guys have had good training camps.”

Packers' 53-man roster projection

August, 22, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers have two preseason games and three training camp practices left to evaluate their roster before final cuts are due on Aug. 31.

Here’s a position-by-position projection of how the 53-man roster would look if the final cuts were made today. It is based on camp-long conversations with coaches and NFL scouts and could easily change in the next nine days.

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesVince Young could be tabbed to be Aaron Rodgers' backup.
Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Vince Young

Analysis: Keeping three quarterbacks is unlikely, so the Packers have to decide between Young and Graham Harrell. There’s a growing sense within the organization that they need a better backup than Harrell. Young might not have a firm grasp of the offense for several more weeks or even months, but it’s a risk they may be willing to take.

Running backs (5): DuJuan Harris, Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, John Kuhn

Analysis: James Starks looks like the odd man out. He plummeted down the depth chart after his fumble on Saturday at St. Louis. The Packers could see if there’s any possibility of trading Starks or Green, but they haven’t received any offers yet. Kuhn still has value as the lone fullback because of his blocking, leadership and special teams contributions.

Receivers (5): Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Tyrone Walker

Analysis: Given the injuries to Cobb (biceps) and Nelson (knee), they may have to consider keeping a sixth receiver. That could bring Jeremy Ross, Kevin Dorsey or Charles Johnson back into play. But for now, the undrafted rookie Walker has the edge for the final spot. The Packers had hoped Ross would show more as a receiver so that they could also make him their kick returner. Rookies Dorsey and Johnson, both seventh-round picks, missed so much time because of injuries that there’s not enough information to go on. At this point, they look like practice-squad candidates if they clear waivers.

Tight ends (4): Jermichael Finley, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick, Jake Stoneburner

Analysis: This is perhaps the most muddled position after the starter, Finley. There’s no clear-cut No. 2. Taylor is on most of the top special teams units but so is D.J. Williams. The problem with Williams is his inconsistency. He practices well but doesn’t carry it over to the games. Bostick may have the most upside because at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, he’s built like Finley. Stoneburner, an undrafted rookie, has made a strong impression of late. Veteran Andrew Quarless can’t stay healthy and hasn’t played in nearly two years. Meanwhile, veteran free agent Matthew Mulligan, another blocking tight end with special teams ability, has an elbow injury that may have derailed his chances.

Offensive line (8): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten, Lane Taylor

Analysis: Last year, the Packers kept only seven but would prefer to keep eight. If Barclay holds on to the starting right tackle job, Newhouse would be the swing tackle. Van Roten can back up all three interior positions and has even played a little tackle. Taylor, an undrafted rookie, has impressed at guard. Derek Sherrod (leg) and JC Tretter (ankle) will likely start the season on PUP, while Bryan Bulaga (knee) will go on IR.

Defensive line (6): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly

Analysis: Despite coach Mike McCarthy’s insistence that Mike Neal is a defensive end, he’s going to count as an outside linebacker, where he has seen more practice time. Jolly has been impressive in short stints and has overcome long odds after missing the last three seasons because of a suspension. If the Packers keep a seventh defensive lineman, it will be rookie fifth-rounder Josh Boyd, who is big and athletic but might not be ready to play right away. Jerel Worthy (knee) will likely start the season on PUP.

Linebackers (10): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Terrell Manning, Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba

Analysis: The inside spots are fairly clear cut behind the starters, Hawk and Jones. Francois, Lattimore, Barrington and Manning will play on special teams. Behind Matthews and Perry on the outside, Neal might be the next-best option. Mulumba, an undrafted rookie, has shown more than sixth-round pick Nate Palmer or second-year pro Dezman Moses. However, Mulumba’s knee injury this week could slow him down.

Defensive backs (10): Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo

Analysis: There’s concern that Williams’ knee injury may prevent him from being ready for the opener, so that could force the Packers to keep another cornerback, likely Loyce Means or James Nixon. Banjo, who was signed off the street on July 29, has a hold on the No. 4 safety position but that could be a spot that’s addressed via the waiver wire. Hyde also could be the punt returner.

Specialists (3): Brett Goode (long snapper), Tim Masthay (punter), Mason Crosby (kicker).

Analysis: Crosby's spot is most tenuous. He could ease some of the concerns about him if he makes a few long field goals on Friday against Seattle. Those concerns were heightened on Wednesday, when he missed three straight kicks from 42, 42 and 44 yards in practice. His competitor, Giorgio Tavecchio, didn’t do himself any favors by missing a 49-yarder at St. Louis on Saturday. Whereas Crosby is a power kicker, Tavecchio is a form kicker. If the Packers went with Tavecchio, they would be sacrificing distance. The Packers reached out to former Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter, who decided he had a better chance to win the job in Arizona, so it’s possible their opening-day kicker isn’t currently on the roster.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers got a glimpse of what life would be like without Aaron Rodgers.

And it wasn’t pretty.

With their starting quarterback at home nursing a head cold, coach Mike McCarthy on Tuesday put the offense in the hands of backups Graham Harrell and Vince Young while B.J. Coleman once again ran the scout team.

Harrell and Young each made a handful of plays that made them look capable of running the offense, but more often they were inconsistent.

In a non-pads practice, Harrell got the bulk of the snaps with the starters, including a lengthy no-huddle period. As usual, he looked fine on the short-to-intermediate throws, but the difference between him and Rodgers was evident on the deep balls.

[+] EnlargeGraham Harrell
AP Photo/G. Newman LowranceWith starting QB Aaron Rodgers out of action, Graham Harrell got most of the snaps with the Packers' first-team offense Tuesday.
During that no-huddle period, Harrell had receiver Jarrett Boykin open down the right sideline but sailed the ball over his head. Six plays later, Harrell overthrew receiver Tyrone Walker, who had a step or two on the nearest defender.

Harrell also threw an interception in the red zone when linebacker Terrell Manning stepped in front of a dump-off pass to running back Johnathan Franklin.

“It’s always good to get in there with (the starters),” Harrell said. “I missed some balls, but you’ve just got to go in there and no matter when it is or who you’re in there with, you’ve just got to make the most of your reps.”

Young, who is in his third week since signing with the Packers, took a few snaps with the starters but worked mostly with the No. 2 offense.

“There were some rough plays there,” McCarthy said, “but that’s why we watch the tape. … I’m curious to watch it.”

In other developments from Tuesday’s practice:
  • It’s starting to look more and more like DuJuan Harris and Eddie Lacy will be a one-two punch in the running game. For the second consecutive day, they took the first two reps of each team period with the starters, followed by rookie Franklin and then veterans Alex Green and James Starks.
  • Rookie linebacker Sam Barrington, a seventh-round pick, has shown up on more of the top special-teams units of late. On Tuesday, he was on the No. 1 kickoff-return and No. 1 punt-return teams.
  • Without pads on Monday and Tuesday, there have not been any one-on-one pass-rushing/pass-blocking drills since last Wednesday.
  • With temperatures in the mid-to-upper 80s, it was one of the hottest practices of camp so far. Said McCarthy: “The only game I’m concerned about weather-wise is probably (at) Cincinnati (in Week 3). Now that I’ve said that, it’s probably going to be hot as hell against San Francisco and Washington, but you can’t really plan for that. But it’s good to get in the heat.”
Medical report: Other than Rodgers, the only other new injury was to cornerback Loyce Means (ankle).

Cornerback James Nixon tried to return from the ankle and knee injuries he sustained Saturday at St. Louis but couldn’t make it through practice.

Others who missed practice were WR Charles Johnson (knee), WR Randall Cobb (biceps), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL J.C. Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Matthew Mulligan (elbow), WR Jordy Nelson (knee) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).

What’s next: The only full-pads practice of the week is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m.

Observation deck: Packers 19, Rams 7

August, 17, 2013

The Green Bay Packers evened their preseason record at 1-1 with a 19-7 victory at St. Louis on Saturday.

Here’s a rundown of the night:
  • Aaron Rodgers played three series and looked sharp despite failing to get into the end zone. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 134 yards and a rating of 113.2, but the starting offense struggled on third down. A holding penalty on tight end Jermichael Finley on third-and-1 from the Rams’ 13-yard line wiped out a 7-yard run by Eddie Lacy on the first series. On the second series, the Rams stopped Lacy for a 2-yard yard loss on third-and-1 at the 29. On the third series, Rodgers was sacked on third-and-5. All three possessions ended with field-goal attempts, and the offensive starters totaled six points.
  • Finley, who has drawn repeated praise from Rodgers during training camp, made two big plays. He had a 25-yard reception on the first series and a 33-yard catch-and-run on the third series. He had four catches for 78 yards.
  • In his preseason debut, Lacy rushed eight times for 40 yards and showed off his ability to break tackles. On his first carry, he made a defender miss in the backfield and picked up 7. On his second carry, he broke two tackles and gained 15. He also had one catch that went for 11 yards thanks to a spin move that juked a defender. Lacy played the first three series (although Johnathan Franklin actually started) after missing last week’s opener against Arizona because of a hamstring injury.
  • Rookie cornerback Micah Hyde bounced back after giving up a 57-yard completion to speedy Chris Givens in the first quarter. On the same series, Hyde had good coverage and tackled rookie receiver Tavon Austin for a 1-yard gain on second-and-goal from the 3. On the next play, Hyde stopped running back Isaiah Pead for a 1-yard gain. It’s possible Hyde was counting on help from safety Jerron McMillian on the deep pass to Givens, but he might be better suited to play inside, where speed isn’t as big of an issue. Hyde also had a sack in the third quarter.
  • Hyde also got a crack at a punt return, and brought it back 13 yards. He had not previously been used as a returner in practice this summer.
  • Franklin made a major mistake as a punt returner in the third quarter. He failed to run up and catch a punt that hit one of his blockers, Brandon Smith, and was recovered by the Rams at the Packers’ 10-yard line.
  • Don Barclay got the start at right tackle and alternated series with Marshall Newhouse. Barclay had a good block on Lacy’s 15-yard run on the first series and another on a 13-yard rush by Alex Green in the third quarter. Newhouse also played left tackle in the second half.
  • Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari made his first major mistake in pass protection since taking over for the injured Bryan Bulaga. Rams defensive end Robert Quinn beat Bakhtiari inside and sacked Rodgers on third-and-5 on Rodgers’ final series.
  • Tight end D.J. Williams, who had a poor showing against the Cardinals, dropped one pass and missed a block on a field goal that was partially blocked. His inconsistent play may have opened the door for Brandon Bostick, who caught three passes for 29.
  • Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly may have taken a big step toward completing an improbable return. In just his second game since returning to the NFL after serving a three-year drug suspension, Jolly was part of two turnover plays in the third quarter. First, he pushed back guard Barrett Jones and tipped a Kellen Clemens pass that Jarrett Bush intercepted. Then, he dropped into coverage and intercepted a Clemens pass that was tipped. Earlier, he fought off a double team and tackled running back Benny Cunningham for a 2-yard loss in the second quarter.
  • One the most impressive players of last preseason, outside linebacker Dezman Moses hasn’t looked the same this summer. He made a couple of glaring errors – a missed tackle that led to a 10-yard catch-and-run by Pead and a blown coverage on a 37-yard completion from Sam Bradford to tight end Jared Cook.
  • Backup quarterback Graham Harrell played three series and completed 5 of 10 passes for 44 yards and accounted for three points. He had no turnovers after losing a fumble and throwing an interception against Arizona last week.
  • Vince Young followed Harrell and played three series in the third quarter. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 26 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He accounted for just three points, and it came on a short field after the Packers took possession at the Rams’ 29-yard line. On Young’s first series, he had receiver Myles White open down the seam but overthrew him on what could have been a 29-yard touchdown. Three plays later, Young was late on a fade to White, who ran out of room in the end zone.
  • B.J. Coleman followed Young and played the fourth quarter. He looked considerably better than he did in the Aug. 3 scrimmage and last week against the Cardinals. He led the only touchdown drive of the game, capping a 13-play, 75-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown pass on the run to tight end Jake Stoneburner.
  • Running back James Starks lost ground in the running-back competition when he fumbled in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Green.
  • Mason Crosby looked solid on field goals of 34 and 48 yards. He also made a 30-yarder that was partially blocked. Giorgio Tavecchio missed wide left from 49 yards and made a 38-yarder.
  • Tight end Matthew Mulligan and linebacker Nate Palmer left with injuries. Their status was not immediately known.
  • The following players were not in uniform: WR Kevin Dorsey (hamstring), WR Charles Johnson (knee), WR Randall Cobb (biceps), RB DuJuan Harris (knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), T Bryan Bulaga (knee), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), TE Ryan Taylor (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), DE Datone Jones (ankle) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Admit it: You chuckled when you saw DuJuan Harris listed as the starting running back after the Green Bay Packers released their first depth chart of training camp last week.

After all, how could a guy who had not passed his physical or taken one single snap in organized team activities or minicamp practices this past offseason be the starter?

[+] EnlargeDuJuan Harris
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsMike McCarthy intends to continue letting DuJuan Harris carry the load in Green Bay's back field.
To be sure, Harris finished last season as the starter and provided a late-season spark to an otherwise punchless running game. But so much has changed in the Packers’ backfield since then. They drafted two running backs, Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth, and two others, veterans Alex Green and James Starks, have come back healthy.

On Monday, Harris finally passed his physical and practiced for the first time since he sustained a knee injury before OTAs began. Though he was on a limited snap count, sure enough Harris took the first rep with the No. 1 offense during a team period that was focused on the running game.

“The way we finished the season, I would classify him as a starter on our football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. “That doesn’t mean he goes out and plays every down, [but] I have confidence in him.”

Still, it’s worth wondering whether McCarthy merely listed Harris as the starter because that’s how last season ended or perhaps he wanted to send a message to Lacy and Franklin that just because they were drafted, doesn’t mean they will be handed jobs.

Of the top-five running backs on the Packers’ roster, Harris was the only one who was undrafted coming out of college. He entered the NFL in 2011 as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Surely, Harris’ height (5-foot-8) played a part in that, however the Packers have never viewed Harris’ size as a detriment. They like his quickness and feel that he has enough power at 203 pounds.

“A lot of players are undrafted and frankly DuJuan Harris being undrafted is probably one of the best things to ever happen to him and the fact that he was out of football,” McCarthy said. “There’s a different level of motivation for guys that go that route in my opinion. Entitlement is abundant sometimes when you’re dealing with some of these guys coming into our league from college and when you see a young man like DuJuan Harris, it’s refreshing to see how motivated he is.”

Signed to the practice squad in Week 8 last season, Harris was promoted to the active roster on Dec. 1. Eight days later, he started against the Detroit Lions and averaged 4.4 yards per carry on seven attempts, including a 14-yard touchdown run. In four regular-season games, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry -- tops among the five different backs the Packers used in the regular season -- and then started both playoff games.

“Last year was last year,” Harris said. “I’ve got to bring something new to the table this year.”

On Monday, it also was more difficult to figure out where Harris fit in because Lacy was held out of practice with a hamstring injury. Lacy did not play in last Friday’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals either. Before his hamstring injury, it looked like Lacy’s strong start to training camp was enough to win him the starting job. The rotation behind Harris during the first team period on Monday was Starks, Green and Franklin. Harris didn’t get any work during the second team period.

“If [McCarthy] believes in me, I believe in myself also,” Harris said. “I’m not going to let him down.”

Harris said he hopes to play in Saturday’s preseason game at St. Louis, but that might be a stretch considering all the time he has missed.

Last year, Harris took a crash course in the Packers’ offense just to get ready to play late in the season and would have benefited from a full offseason program this year. However, his knee injury and an emergency surgery in June to have a cyst removed from his chest set him back.

“It took us a while to get him ready last year,” McCarthy said. “But I thought he finished the season very strong, and I look for him to just get through this week, and we’ll evaluate him as he comes off this injury. I’m very confident that sometime next week, he’ll be where he needs to be.”

What to watch: Packers-Cardinals

August, 9, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers open the preseason Friday night against the Arizona Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

Here are five things to watch:

1. David Bakhtiari. In most preseason openers, Packers coach Mike McCarthy plays his starters only a few series. But look for new starting left tackle Bakhtiari to stay on the field even after the rest of the No. 1 offensive line retires for the night.

“He needs to learn to play the position at this level and speed and see the things he’s going to see in Week 1,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy tabbed the fourth-round pick from Colorado to start after Bryan Bulaga sustained a season-ending knee injury, and so far the 21-year-old from the University of Colorado has performed well.

“To his credit, he has picked things up really nicely and done a good job for being book smart, but he transfers that onto the field,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “He’s the type of guy who’s very cerebral and can go out there, see it in the meeting, take the information, process it and put it on the field.”

2. The kickers. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum could not have been put it any more directly when asked about veteran kicker Mason Crosby’s on-going struggles.

“It’s time to make some field goals,” Slocum said this week.

Of course, he said the same thing last season when Crosby went through a horrible stretch in which he missed 12-of-24 field goals on the way to an NFL-worst 63.6 percent conversion rate. Crosby had another woeful performance in last Saturday’s scrimmage, when he made just 3-of-8 field goals. He bounced back with a 3-for-4 performance in the lone field goal period during practice this week but is just 15-of-23 so far in training camp.

The challenger, unproven first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, can’t match Crosby’s leg strength but has been far more accurate (19-of-23). Fundamentally, they are completely different kickers. The right-footed Crosby use a two-step approach, while the left-footed Tavecchio uses a three-step approach.

“I’ll tell you this, I’m going to withhold my judgment until we see these games start to occur,” Slocum said. “That’s the biggest stage we can evaluate with right now, and that’s where we’ll do that.”

(Read full post)

We're Black and Blue All Over:

This piece from retired NFL quarterback Sage Rosenfels is notable in a number of ways, among them his revelation that teammate Brett Favre said he "choked" at the end of the 2009 NFC Championship Game between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. What stood out most to me, however, was the way Rosenfels conveyed the intensity and tension of that game.

"Every play felt like a fourth down," Rosenfels wrote, and having covered that game myself at the Superdome, I couldn't agree more. There was a tension I have rarely felt in a sporting game, largely because, as Rosenfels wrote, "Both teams' fans had been waiting decades for a Super Bowl berth; the Saints had never made it there in their then-43-year history, and the Vikings hadn't been to the big game in more than 30 years."

It might not have been the most perfectly played game we've ever seen, and it has since been overshadowed by the NFL's bounty case against the Saints. But rarely have I experienced a game where so many moments and plays simply took your breath away.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Packers practice report

August, 6, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On most days, an unexpected surgery for a starting receiver who combined for 22 touchdown catches the last two seasons would be the news of the day.

But Tuesday was no ordinary day in Green Bay Packers’ training camp. It was the debut of new backup quarterback Vince Young (more on that below) and the first look at the offensive line without injured left tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Still, before we get to the rest of what happened on Tuesday, it’s worth noting how the absence of receiver Jordy Nelson impacts the Packers. Nelson, who caught seven touchdowns last season and 15 in 2011, is expected to miss the rest of training camp. Coach Mike McCarthy said he was hopeful Nelson would be ready for the season opener at San Francisco on Sept. 8.

What’s more, receiver Randall Cobb dropped out of practice on Tuesday with what McCarthy called a bicep injury. That means two of the top-three receivers were out. Of that trio, only James Jones remained standing. Given how often the Packers use a three-receiver set, they consider Cobb, Jones and Nelson all to be starters.

Combine that with the fact that two of the top candidates to be the Nos. 4 and 5 receivers -- rookies Kevin Dorsey (leg) and Charles Johnson (knee) -- have been out since the second day of camp, it’s a thin receiver group.

The Packers signed one receiver, rookie Justin Wilson of Delaware State, on Tuesday, but placed another Sederrick Cunningham (wrist) on injured reserve.

One bright spot among the receivers was second-year pro Jarrett Boykin. He made a tough, back-shoulder catch for a 16-yard gain during the no-huddle period. Two plays later, he picked up 20 yards on a post that set up Aaron Rodgers' 16-yard touchdown pass to Jermichael Finley to end the drill. Look for Boykin to get even more opportunities this preseason.

Young’s role: In his first practice in nearly a year, Young spent most of it standing next to quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.

Young, who last was on an NFL roster with the Buffalo Bills last August, took only two snaps in team (11-on-11) periods, and both were handoffs. Young took part in all of the individual drills, much of which concentrated on his footwork. McCarthy considers footwork to be an integral part of playing quarterback. As much as Young will have to learn the offense, he also has much to work on in the fundamental aspect of the game.

“You don’t want to spend the majority of your time with that, but just the way the quarterbacks are trained on a day-to-day basis, it’s part of our daily operation,” McCarthy said. “He’ll definitely be trained in it, but we have to teach him the language and get him up to speed.”

Young said there was some carryover from the offense he ran in 2011 with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he spent one season. Then-Eagles coach Andy Reid runs a West Coast offense similar to McCarthy’s.

If Young doesn’t know enough to play in Friday’s preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals, it might be one of the last opportunities for backups Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman to make a better impression. While Harrell has shown improvement over last season, Coleman has struggled during the first week of training camp.

By signing Young, the Packers clearly sent the message that Harrell and Coleman haven’t convinced them that they could serve as a capable backup.

Odds and ends: David Bakhtiari, who took over for Bulaga at left tackle, won all four of his reps in the one-on-one pass blocking drill, including a turn against outside linebacker Clay Matthews. He improved his camp-long record in that drill to 14-4. Said guard Josh Sitton: “I’ve been impressed by him; he seems to win a lot of his blocks. He’s done really well in the one-on-one drills.” Bakhtiari took all of his reps with the No. 1 offensive line at left tackle. Marshall Newhouse stayed at right tackle, while Don Barclay also took some reps there. ... Every time it appears Jeremy Ross has done enough to allow the Packers to take Cobb off kick return duties, Ross makes another mistake. After returning a kickoff 49 yards during Saturday’s scrimmage, Ross muffed a punt off the machine on Tuesday. ... It should come as no surprise considering how well he performed in Saturday’s scrimmage, but running back Eddie Lacy opened Tuesday’s practice as the starter.

Medical report: In addition to Bulaga, Cobb and Nelson, the other new injuries were: defensive end Datone Jones (illness), running back Alex Green (knee) and defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (cramps). There’s concern about Green because it’s the same knee that he blew out in 2011 and gave him problems last season.

Others who missed practice were: RB DuJuan Harris (knee), S Sean Richardson (neck), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), CB Tramon Williams (knee), OL JC Tretter (ankle), DE Mike Neal (abdominal), T Derek Sherrod (leg), TE Andrew Quarless (quad), TE Ryan Taylor (knee) and DE Jerel Worthy (knee).

What’s next: The Packers practice at 8:20 a.m. CT on Wednesday.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – When the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV, it was worth wondering whether that might be the beginning of a dynasty.

With a star quarterback in the prime of his career and enough young playmakers on both sides of the ball, talk of multiple titles didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

In the two seasons since quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ Super Bowl MVP-winning performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6, 2011, the Packers have put together regular seasons of 15-1 and 11-5 that resulted in a pair of NFC North titles.

But in that same span, they have won only one playoff game -- last season’s wild-card round against a Minnesota Vikings team that had to make the last-minute switch to backup quarterback Joe Webb because injured starter Christian Ponder couldn’t go.

What’s more, in the two playoff losses -- to the New York Giants on Jan. 15, 2012, and to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 12, 2013 -- the Packers were, as linebacker A.J. Hawk so bluntly put it this week, “blasted.”

The Packers gave up a combined 82 points in the two playoff losses. The 45-31 loss to the 49ers, who piled up 579 yards of offense, has put Dom Capers’ defense under intense scrutiny heading into this season in large part because 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made the Packers look completely unprepared for the read-option offense. Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards (the most ever in a game by an NFL quarterback), including a 56-yard touchdown run that broke a 24-24 tie midway through the third quarter.

“We went to the playoffs twice and got blasted,” Hawk said. “We got beat bad. They took the game from us.

“Specifically, as defensive guys, we let our offense down, so that’s something as a defense we need to get some pride back and take it. That’s why I think this whole offseason, if you’ve watched anything, our practices or whatever we’re doing, it’s almost stepped up a notch.”

Capers has spent at least a small portion of almost every training camp practice working against the read-option, using some of what he and his staff learned during their March visit to College Station, Texas, where they met with the Texas A&M coaches to study the read-option.

While Capers has insisted throughout the offseason that his defense’s performance against the 49ers was an anomaly and pointed to the statistical improvement -- to 11th in yards allowed in 2012 after finishing dead last in 2011 -- the lasting image of his unit from last season is them chasing (and almost never catching) Kaepernick.

“We kind of hit the perfect storm there,” Capers said. “We’d made so many strides with so many young players, and it kind of went out the window. Because when you have a game like that, you kind of say, ‘How the hell did that happen?’ It can happen real easy in this league. That offense, the next week went for about 400 [yards], and then in the Super Bowl it was like a track meet after that blackout.”

When it comes to defending that offense, Capers’ defense will be tested early. The Packers open the season at the 49ers and then host the Washington Redskins in Week 2. If Robert Griffin III is back from his knee injury by then, they will face two read-option quarterbacks in as many weeks.

“I think every team right now is working on that. Every defensive coordinator is trying to figure out how to stop this pistol-read option,” Hawk said. “At the same time, offensive coordinators are working on new wrinkles to beat these defenses, so we’ll see. That’s what’s fun. Week 1 and Week 2, we get a nice, big test. We’re looking forward to it.”

Three hot issues

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThere's no question that Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is absolutely integral to the Packers' chances in 2013.
1. Protect the investment. There’s nothing more important to the Packers than protecting Rodgers, who signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension this offseason. Rodgers was sacked a league-high 51 times last season. Not all of the sacks were the fault of the offensive line; sometimes, Rodgers held the ball too long. Nevertheless, coach Mike McCarthy decided to revamp his front five, moving right tackle Bryan Bulaga and right guard Josh Sitton to the left side. T.J. Lang went from right guard to left, and the right tackle position was declared an open competition that has yet to be decided.

"You say, 'Look, we have to protect the backside of the quarterback, so let’s put the two most accomplished guys to date there,'" offensive line coach James Campen said.

The problem is, one of those two most accomplished players is already a scratch. Bulaga injured a knee during Saturday night’s scrimmage and will miss the entire season.

The jury remains out on whether the line changes will work.

"It’s a progression," Campen said. "I’d say we’re climbing the hill now."

2. Find a running game: The Packers haven’t had a running back gain 100 yards or more in a regular-season game since Brandon Jackson rushed for 115 against the Redskins on Oct. 10, 2010. Their streak of 43 straight regular-season games without a 100-yard rusher is the longest in the NFL.

It got so bad last season that when opposing defenses often left both safeties deep and dared the Packers to run, they still couldn’t do it. They finished 27th in rushing yards per game using a handful of different backs who either couldn’t stay healthy or didn’t produce.

Enter second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy of Alabama and fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin of UCLA. They have shared reps with two returners from last season, Alex Green and James Starks. It’s a safe bet Lacy will end up as the starter, but nothing has been decided yet.

“We have great competition," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. "The preseason will all work itself out."

3. Jones’ impact: In April of 2012, general manager Ted Thompson used his first six draft picks on defensive players -- a clear reaction to finishing last in the NFL in yards allowed the previous season. He didn’t go as heavy on defense in this year’s draft but did use his top overall pick on UCLA defensive end Datone Jones.

The hope is that Jones can become a three-down player capable of playing end in Capers’ 3-4 defense and as one of two inside rushers in the nickel and dime packages.

Early returns suggest Jones will provide some immediate help, at least in the sub packages. Through the first week of practice, he has shown well in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill. By subjective count, he has won 10 of his 19 reps in that drill.

“You can see his quickness out there and some of the things that he’s been able to do," defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. "But some of the mistakes that he makes you don’t see."

Reason for optimism

The Packers have arguably the best quarterback in the league and a trio of receivers capable of getting open and running after the catch. Rodgers’ accuracy (67.7 percent over the past two seasons combined) and ability to take care of the ball (14 interceptions over the past two seasons combined) means the Packers will put up points. If receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson, plus tight end Jermichael Finley, stay healthy, Rodgers has plenty of weapons.

Reason for pessimism

Mike McCarthy
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswirePackers coach Mike McCarthy had 16 players sidelined with injuries during the team's scrimmage.
Injuries have hit the Packers hard in two of the past three seasons, and they have already begun to pile up this year. Bulaga's injury could ruin the plans for the offensive line. Two of their top three cornerbacks (Tramon Williams and Casey Hayward) remain sidelined. McCarthy was so concerned about his team’s inability to stay healthy that he examined every aspect of his operation this offseason -- from weight training to nutrition to practice routine. Still, they had 16 players sidelined for their scrimmage on Saturday.

Observation deck
  • The Packers stuck with Mason Crosby through a kicking slump last season, when in one stretch he missed 12 out of 24 field goals on the way to a league-low 63.6 percent conversion rate, but they might be running out of patience. Crosby had an abysmal performance in their scrimmage on Saturday night -- missing five of eight kicks -- including two from inside 40 yards. During live-kicking periods so far this summer, Crosby has made just 12 of 19 field goals (63.2 percent). For the first time since 2007, Crosby has competition in camp. Going head-to-head with Crosby, first-year kicker Giorgio Tavecchio has made 16 of 19 (84.2 percent), including six of seven in Saturday’s scrimmage. However, the issue with Tavecchio is leg strength. His longest make so far has been from 53 yards, but he hit the crossbar before it went through.
  • Few title contenders probably could remain as such if they lost their starting quarterback for any length of time, but the Packers appear especially vulnerable if anything serious happens to Rodgers. The competition between last season’s backup, Graham Harrell, and practice-squader B.J. Coleman hasn’t been decided. Regardless of who wins the job, neither has done anything to make anyone believe the Packers wouldn’t go in the tank if they lost Rodgers. Perhaps that is why the Packers decided to bring in veteran Vince Young for a workout on Monday.
  • M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian have been taking turns playing the safety spot next to Morgan Burnett, but no starter has been named yet. Regardless of who wins the job, both Jennings and McMillian will play. Jennings appears better suited to playing deep zone coverage, while McMillian looks better closer to the line of scrimmage.
  • Don’t be surprised if rookie fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari ends up as the starting right tackle if Marshall Newhouse falters. Bakhtiari has begun to get more work reps with the starters.
  • Second-year defensive tackle Mike Daniels might be the most improved player on the roster. He has been a major force in the pass-rushing drills.
  • Backup receiver Jeremy Ross might make it possible for the Packers to take Cobb off kick-return duties and concentrate solely on receiver. Ross had a 49-yard kickoff return in Saturday’s scrimmage and has had no issues catching kickoffs or punts.
  • The Packers have a history of keeping an undrafted free agent or two on their 53-man roster, and the best candidate this season looks like outside linebacker Andy Mulumba of Eastern Michigan.