NFC North: Andrew Quarless

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NEW ORLEANS -- If you saw Aaron Rodgers walk across the Superdome field with a security guard at his side on the way out of the stadium late Sunday night, you would have never known there was anything wrong with the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

He never broke stride on his way to the team buses.

Some of his teammates didn't even know during the game.

But they will when they see the film.

After Rodgers pulled his hamstring on the opening drive of the third quarter, he and the Packers' offense changed for the worse. Gone was Rodgers' ability to keep plays alive with his feet, to roll out or buy time for receivers to get open -- like he did on his 70-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the first quarter -- and to force the defense to respects his scrambles.

Consider Rodgers' production pre- and post-injury:
  • Before the injury, he was 14-of-19 for 298 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 133.1.
  • After the injury, he was 14-of-20 for 120 yards with two interceptions for a 45.8 passer rating.
When Rodgers felt the twinge in his left leg on a 7-yard scramble for a first down, the game was tied at 16-16. The Packers managed only one score after his injury in a 44-23 loss that sent them into their bye week with a 5-3 record and in second place in the NFC North behind the Detroit Lions (6-2).

The injury forced coach Mike McCarthy to ditch a large chunk of his game plan.

"We kept him in the gun [and] obviously didn't really even get into the play-action game ... and obviously scratched off all of the quarterback movements," McCarthy said. "He was limited."

A year ago, the Packers were 5-2 and feeling good about themselves when Rodgers broke his collarbone and missed the next seven games. They were in the same position Sunday night, and although their fortune wasn't altered for the long term by this injury, they need their quarterback healthy for the stretch run following next week’s bye.

"I didn't even know he had an injury," right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "That's new to me."

Rodgers did not use his injury as justification for the Packers' second-half ineffectiveness, but he was in the unusual position of explaining two interceptions after his first multi-interception game since Week 3 of last season.

Three plays after Rodgers felt a pull in his hamstring, with the score tied 16-16, he fired a slant for Andrew Quarless on third-and-goal from the 5. The tight end couldn't handle the throw, and the ball bounced into the hands of linebacker David Hawthorne.

"I'd have to watch the film to see what happened, but I feel good about the throw," Rodgers said. New Orleans followed up by taking the lead for good four plays later on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Brandin Cooks.

After the Packers failed on a fourth-and-1 run on their next possession -- running back Eddie Lacy tried going behind fill-in right guard Lane Taylor, who got blown off the line of scrimmage -- the Saints went 40 yards in four plays to take a 30-16 lead. On the Packers' following possession, Rodgers threw his second pick, a ball that went off the hands of rookie receiver Davante Adams. It was one of the few post-injury plays in which Rodgers rolled out. When he threw on the run, it went off Adams' hand and was picked off by cornerback Corey White.

"Had to move to my right because of the pressure," Rodgers said. "Not sure if that made him think he was going to break his route out or whatnot but definitely missed my spot on that one."

From a pure passing yardage standpoint, it was one of Rodgers' best showings with 418 yards (the second-highest total of his career). But his mobility is one of his biggest assets, and with that largely removed from his repertoire, the Packers' offense could not keep with Brees and the Saints.

"Well if I felt it, then I had to back off a little bit," Rodgers said. "We had to do a little more in the shotgun, but it wasn't a big deal ultimately."
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 44-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night at the Superdome:
  • Williams
    No defense, big problem: Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn't especially proud of his team's defensive effort, but he didn't think the Saints played much either. The two teams combined for 986 yards and for the second time this season, the Packers were involved in a game without a punt. Before this season, that had occurred only once in NFL history. "I don't think they slowed us down at all defensively," McCarthy said. "We dropped the ball [by Andrew Quarless] that was an interception, we had a route that stopped [by Davante Adams] that turned into an interception. I don't think there was a whole lot of defense that was played here tonight, clearly by not our team."
  • Williams peeved: Packers cornerback Tramon Williams clearly thought Saints tight end Jimmy Graham should have been called for pass interference on his 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. "Oh my god, let's not even talk about that," Williams said. "It's ridiculous. It's crazy."
  • Lang's prognosis: Right guard T.J. Lang left the locker room with a boot on his left foot. He left the game after the first series with an ankle injury. McCarthy said he did not know the severity of the injury. "I'm told it's an ankle sprain," McCarthy said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The fake spike got all the attention, but it would have been nothing more than a footnote in Aaron Rodgers' career rather a highly celebrated moment if not for Andrew Quarless.

Quarless
For it was Quarless, the Green Bay Packers tight end, who validated Rodgers' decision to forgo stopping the clock and instead surprise most everyone with his quick pass to Davante Adams on his penultimate snap of Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Even after Rodgers and Adams pulled off a 12-yard gain, there was work to be done. The Packers faced first-and-goal at the 4-yard line with six seconds left. Rodgers had time for one, maybe two snaps. And that's where Quarless came in.

"We got out there, and they were in man coverage with [a linebacker] out on Q," Rodgers said, referring to Miami's Philip Wheeler. "And Q had been kind of in my ear most of the day about throwing him the ball when we had that matchup."

And Quarless knew it was coming.

"Once I got the signal," Quarless said, "in my head I was jumping around already."

Three seconds later, it was a touchdown.

Quarless called the moment "epic for me."

"I believe this is probably my first game-winning touchdown of my career," Quarless said. "So that's definitely a blessing. It just shows the hard work is paying off."

Quarless is not the playmaking tight end the Packers had in Jermichael Finley and probably never will be, but after being somewhat forgotten this summer -- when rookie Richard Rodgers was busy winning the starting job and Brandon Bostick was looking like Finley-lite -- it has become clear that the fifth-year veteran is their best tight-end option. That's because Richard Rodgers has not been able to carry over his play from this summer and worse yet, he has become an untrustworthy blocker. And Bostick can't even do enough in practice to convince the coaches to give him any playing time.

"I'm thankful [Aaron Rodgers] came to me with it," said Quarless, who had only one other catch (for 4 yards) on Sunday. "It just shows how we're building. I'm happy. I'm proud about that."
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Green Bay Packers' offensive line had no idea the fake spike was coming.

Right guard T.J. Lang heard Aaron Rodgers yelling "clock, clock," indicating he planned to spike the ball. Center Corey Linsley heard Rodgers make a protection call, which told him to be ready in case a play was on.

As Rodgers came to the line of scrimmage with the Sun Life Stadium clock running down in Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins – 15 seconds, 14 seconds, 13 seconds – he raised his right hand and made a fist just before he ducked in under center.

Perhaps that was the signal to receiver Davante Adams.

"Don't be giving away our secrets now," Packers wideout Randall Cobb warned Adams as he was asked about the play.

Whatever the signal was, Adams knew what was coming next. Rodgers took the snap with 12 seconds left, hunched over like he was going to slam the ball into the turf to stop the clock and then dropped back five steps and fired the ball to Adams in the right flat.

Jordy Nelson, who was lined up as the slot receiver on the same side of the field, never even came out of his stance.

"I didn't [know]," Nelson said.

The key was this: Rodgers saw Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan playing well off Adams – at least 10 yards back – as he came to the line of scrimmage.

"It's one of those things that you don't really tell anybody what's going on," Rodgers said. "You're just yelling 'clock' and signaling 'clock' and then right before I snapped it, I looked out to the right and they were way off outside, so I just kind of faked it and moved."

Dolphins fans had seen this before. Their own Dan Marino executed the fake-spike play to beat the New York Jets on Nov. 27, 1994.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAs the clock ticked on the final drive, Aaron Rodgers kept his fake spike play a secret from just about everybody.
Rodgers' masterful decision would have been negated if the rookie Adams didn't have the savvy beyond his years to get out of bounds once he realized he would not reach the end zone. Without a timeout left, anything short of the end zone or the sideline would have ended the game and fueled the cockamamie criticism of Rodgers for his lack of comeback victories.

Adams, who had six catches for 77 yards, caught the ball at the Dolphins' 14-yard line and trucked down the right sideline, where Finnegan and cornerback Jamar Taylor shoved him out of bounds at the 4-yard line with six seconds remaining.

At that point, Rodgers -- whose record improved to 5-13 in games decided by three points or fewer and 7-25 in games in which he has trailed by eight points or fewer in the fourth quarter, according to Football Outsiders -- needed to finish it off.

He might have had enough time to get two chances at the game winner, but when he saw linebacker Philip Wheeler on Andrew Quarless -- a mismatch in his mind -- he changed the call at the line of scrimmage and fired to his tight end in the right corner of the end zone with 3 seconds left, and a drive that started at the Packers' 40-yard line with 2:05 left was completed.

So was the comeback.

"I just told A-Rod just now, 'That was epic for me,'" Quarless said. "He said that was fun for him, too."

As Quarless reached for the sky with the ball in his right hand to celebrate his touchdown, Rodgers ended up on his back. He stayed there for a second or two, pointing in the air as Lang came over to him. The celebration continued on the sideline, where Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy embraced.

There were other factors critical to the final drive – Lang's third-down fumble recovery that set up a fourth-down conversion to Nelson among them – but the fake spike will be the one to remember. It led to Rodgers' second go-ahead touchdown pass in the final minute of a regular-season game; the first came in Week 17 last year to Cobb to beat the Chicago Bears.

"That's how you want it," said Rodgers, who threw three touchdown passes. "You want the opportunity to make a play at the end."
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 27-24 victory Sunday over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium:

Shields
Nothing torn: Cornerback Sam Shields limped out of the Packers' locker room in pain but was relieved that the initial diagnosis on his left knee is that nothing was torn. The weird thing about Shields' injury was how it happened. He was lining up in coverage when he went down before the first snap of the Dolphins' final drive of the third quarter. "It just gave out," Shields said. "I felt like a little pinch. They say nothing's torn, but it hurts." Two plays later, the Packers lost their other starting cornerback, Tramon Williams, to an ankle injury. So the Packers finished the game with Casey Hayward and Davon House as their top two cornerbacks and Jarrett Bush as their nickelback. Coach Mike McCarthy had no updates on their injuries or the neck injury that Jamari Lattimore sustained in the first half. Shields was expected to undergo more tests Monday.

Lang's big save: Right guard T.J. Lang's eyes opened wide when he was asked what he saw when quarterback Aaron Rodgers fumbled on the Packers' final drive. That's probably what his eyes looked like when he saw the ball on the ground. Packers president Mark Murphy came by Lang's locker and told him it was "the play of the game." It's a drill the Packers' offensive linemen used to do in practice all the time until JC Tretter broke his ankle while doing it last season in organized team activities. They have since curtailed it.

Fake spike: When Rodgers saw former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino on the field at halftime, he surely had no idea he was going to replicate one of Marino's most famous plays. But that's what Rodgers did when he pulled off the fake-spike play, just like Marino did for the Dolphins in a 1994 playoff game against the New York Jets. Rodgers faked the spike and hit receiver Davante Adams for a 12-yard gain to set up the game-winning, 4-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless. "That was kind of some freestyling right there," Rodgers said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Day after day in training camp this summer, rookie receiver Jeff Janis made eye-catching play after eye-catching play.

It could be time to see if he can do that when it matters.

With the Green Bay Packers in search of offensive diversity, Janis might not be a panacea for everything that has bogged the offense down but could help in one important way: by stretching the field.

Janis' speed and ability to make difficult catches down the field stood out this summer, and with Aaron Rodgers' yards per attempt on pace for a career low (6.8), another deep threat to go along with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb wouldn’t hurt.

The seventh-round pick from Saginaw Valley State has found himself on the game-day inactive list in each of the first three weeks of the season.

"I'm not really sure as far as when I'll get a chance, but as far as being ready to go whenever they do call my name, definitely, I'm ready," Janis said this week as the Packers (1-2) prepared for Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears (2-1).

Rodgers could use another target. He has sent the ball the way of Nelson and Cobb a combined 58 times in his 102 passes this season, accounting for 57 percent of his targets. Entering this season, only once had two Packers receivers (Greg Jennings and Donald Driver in 2008) made up more than 40 percent of Rodgers' attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

No other Packers receiver has more than nine targets so far this season. Combined, the Packers' No. 3 and 4 receivers (Jarrett Boykin and Davante Adams) have seen the ball thrown their way 16 times. Tight end Andrew Quarless ranks ahead of both of them, with 10 targets.

If that's an indication Rodgers does not trust or have confidence in his other receivers, then why would it be any different with Janis?

"I can't get into Aaron's head on that," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "He's worked with all of them."

The 6-foot-3, 219-pound Janis put his 4.42-second 40-yard dash speed to use in the preseason, when he caught touchdown passes of 33 and 34 yards. Although they were his only catches of the preseason, he showed off the same big-play ability that was on display in training camp.

"It's just like training camp; it’s just making plays whenever the ball comes my way," Janis said. "I think that's the biggest thing in gaining the trust of the quarterback and the coaches. That's what I've got to show."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Midway through training camp, Brandon Bostick looked like the Green Bay Packers' best chance to replicate what Jermichael Finley offered them at the tight end position.

Bostick
Even if he did not win the starting job, Bostick had put himself in position to play a major role in an offense that thrives when it has an athletic player who can operate down the seam like Finley did before his neck injury last season.

So why hasn't Bostick played a single snap on offense yet when he seemingly offers an antidote to the ills of the Packers' passing game?

The leg injury he sustained Aug. 16 kept him out through Week 1 of the regular season, but that is no longer an issue. Bostick has taken his full workload on special teams in each of the last two games, and special-teams coach Shawn Slocum said there's nothing wrong with the way Bostick has run down the field on the coverage teams.

So it can't be the injury that has prevented coach Mike McCarthy from throwing Bostick into the game plan.

From the way offensive coordinator Tom Clements made it sound on Monday, Bostick's practice habits have not warranted playing time. When asked whether Bostick can elevate his play to match what it was in training camp, Clements said: "Sure, he can. It's just a matter of being consistent and getting back into the groove."

Meanwhile, the second-year pro waits his turn.

"I think it's kind of hard to play three tight ends," said Bostick, one of four tight ends on the roster. "You can't play three tight ends. It's whoever's hot right now."

The problem is, no one has been hot. Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game but has been a nonfactor in the passing game (one target and no catches in three games) and is a liability as run blocker (see the safety play from Sunday's game), leaving the Packers perplexed about why Rodgers has not been able to carry over a relatively solid showing in training camp.

"Well, I'm not sure of the answer to that," Clements said.

We may already have seen the beginning of a reduced role for Rodgers. Andrew Quarless played nearly three times as many snaps as Rodgers in Sunday's loss to the Lions and caught four passes for 43 yards and a touchdown, but he doesn't have Bostick's ability to stretch the field.

Perhaps Clements and McCarthy will give some of Rodgers' snaps to Bostick in Sunday's game at the Chicago Bears.

"I'm eager," Bostick said. "I'm just ready to get back to where I was before I left off, before I got injured."

With no reason to think Finley will walk back into the locker room given that Packers physician Dr. Pat McKenzie has not given him clearance to return, the Packers need someone from the tight end spot to take some of the defensive attention away from receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

Aaron Rodgers has thrown the ball the way of his tight ends less than four times per game this season -- 3.7 times to be exact. That's nearly two-and-a-half targets fewer than his average of 6.1 throws to tight ends in the previous six seasons. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that tight ends had a large share of blocking assignments in the six quarters the Packers played Derek Sherrod at right tackle in place of the injured Bryan Bulaga. But with Bulaga back from his knee injury, that should not be necessary.

"They're always, for the most part, involved with the pass game," Nelson said of the tight ends. "Sometimes we'll keep them in for pass protection, but they're doing what they're being asked to do."

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

Some of former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley's biggest games came against the Chicago Bears. There was Finley's nine-catch, 115-yard game in 2010 and his three-touchdown game in 2011.

But unless the Packers can find someone to replicate Finley's production, the Bears might not have to worry much about the tight ends during Sunday's game at Soldier Field.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown to his tight ends an average of just 3.7 times per game this season, which would rate as a career low. In his first six seasons as a starter, Rodgers averaged 6.1 attempts per game to his tight ends.

Rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers has started every game yet has been a nonfactor in the passing game, with only one ball thrown his way in three games. Although Andrew Quarless caught four passes for 43 yards (including a 10-yard touchdown) on Sunday against the Lions, he lacks the big-play explosiveness the Packers had with Finley, whose career remains on hold because of the neck injury he sustained last season.

The only way to replicate that might be to use Brandon Bostick, who is the closest thing the Packers have to Finley in terms of athleticism among their tight ends. But the coaches thus far have refused to give Bostick a chance. He was inactive for Week 1 while recovering from a preseason leg injury and played only on special teams the last two games. It might be time for the Packers to give Bostick a shot and see if he can help make something happen down the field like Finley often did.
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DETROIT -- It was just one play, one failed play, but in many ways it encapsulated everything that was wrong with the Green Bay Packers' offense in Sunday's 19-7 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

It was fourth-and-5 from the Lions' 20-yard line with 6:59 remaining. Jordy Nelson, the NFL's receiving yardage leader through the first two weeks of the season, found himself open up the right seam. It's a route he has run, and run successfully, hundreds of times. As Nelson took the route to the post, quarterback Aaron Rodgers saw him break free and fired what would have been a touchdown that could have at least given the Packers a chance at a comeback victory for the second straight week.

And the ball came up short and well behind Nelson.

Game over.

With the Rodgers-Nelson connection off -- Nelson had just five catches for 59 yards after combining for 18 receptions and an NFL-high 292 yards the first two weeks -- the Packers (1-2) had little chance given their lack of a running game and dearth of playmakers at the other skill positions.

The result was the lowest scoring output of a game that Rodgers started and finished -- and his second-lowest passing yardage total in such games -- since he took over as the Packers' quarterback in 2008, leaving it open to wonder what exactly is missing from what has been and what was supposed to be a prolific offense.

"There's a lot missing," said Rodgers, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards. "There's execution missing. We haven't been able to run the ball very well in any of the three games. We just haven't executed as well as we have in the past in the passing game."

Forget for now about the Packers' woeful running game, which totaled just 76 yards on 22 carries and featured a fumble by Eddie Lacy on his second carry of the game. That Rodgers & Co. could not shred a Lions' second-handed secondary which was missing starting strong safety James Ihedigbo and also had to play its fourth, fifth and sixth different nickel defensive backs of the season at various points on Sunday is perhaps most troublesome.

It showed that even a patchwork secondary can take away one player -- Nelson -- if it wants to and expose the lack of weapons around him. The Packers dropped at least three passes, one each by Randall Cobb, James Starks and Jarrett Boykin.

Cobb called his three-catch, 29-yard showing "embarrassing."

"I've got to figure out what it is that I can do to help and do more and give this team more," Cobb said.

Although the only points came on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Quarless in the first quarter, the Packers' tight ends have not come close to replicating the big-play threat that Jermichael Finley provided before his neck injury last season.

"We need to find a way to get those guys the ball when they're really trying to take Jordy away," Rodgers said. "Find a way to get Randall the football more, and we've got to run block better and we've got to run better."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted that perhaps he stuck with an unproductive running game too long, saying he "maybe should have given [Rodgers] the ball completely earlier," but the normally accurate Rodgers missed his mark more than usual, so it might not have mattered.

Even before the missed fourth-down throw to Nelson, Rodgers overthrew Cobb on a roll-out pass on third down that killed the opening drive of the third quarter and then short-hopped a ball to Boykin on third down that ruined the next possession.

Counting the Nelson play, five of Rodgers' incompletions where underthrown, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. That came a week after six underthrown incompletions (the most of his career).

"We got what we wanted," Nelson said of the fourth-and-5 play. "We had an opportunity to make a play and just weren't able to connect on the throw. It's not an easy game. Sometimes we make it look easier than what it was, but today was not easy at all."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It often takes an injury or an unusually poor preseason showing for a Green Bay Packers draft pick to get cut at the end of his rookie training camp.

Take last year's class as an example. Of the 11 players picked, eight made the opening-day roster.

The three who did not – fourth-round pick JC Tretter plus seventh-rounders Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey – all had injury issues. Tretter missed all of camp because of a broken ankle that forced him to start the season on the physically unable to perform list, while Johnson and Dorsey battled injuries throughout the offseason. Johnson played in only two preseason games, while Dorsey played in only one. Johnson landed on the practice squad before the Cleveland Browns signed him, and Dorsey spent the season on injured reserve.

With that in mind, here's a look at where things stand for each member of general manager Ted Thompson's 2014 draft class heading into Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, plus the undrafted rookies who could be on the verge of winning a roster spot:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S (first round): After a slow start to training camp, Clinton-Dix has found himself around the ball more often of late. He has three interceptions during practices this summer, which ties safety Sean Richardson for the camp lead. However, it looks like he won't unseat second-year pro Micah Hyde for a starting job. That means Clinton-Dix likely will play only in the dime (six defensive back) package to start the season.

Davante Adams, WR (second round): Early in camp, Adams was pushing Jarrett Boykin for the No. 3 receiver spot but inconsistent play derailed that. Meanwhile, Boykin has overcome a slow start to secure that spot. If Adams can refine his route running and shore up his hands, he could still make a push for more playing time as the year goes on.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsRookie Richard Rodgers is in line to be the Packers' starting tight end.
Khyri Thornton, DE (third round): Much like fifth-round defensive end Josh Boyd last season as a rookie, it's been a big adjustment for Thornton. Thompson has never cut a third-round pick coming out of his first training camp, but Thornton might have trouble getting on the field early in the season. Playing mostly against second- and third-stringers in preseason games, Thornton has just one quarterback hurry and no sacks or hits in 81 snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Boyd was inactive for six of the first eight games last season. Thornton could follow a similar path.

Richard Rodgers, TE (third round): Without much fanfare, Rodgers appears to have won the starting job over veteran Andrew Quarless and up-and-comer Brandon Bostick (who went down with a foot injury in the second preseason game). However, Bostick almost certainly would have been the tight end in two-minute situations and likely will be when he returns next month. Rodgers' blocking has to catch up to his pass-catching ability.

Carl Bradford, LB (fourth round): It doesn't matter how the Packers spin the last-minute decision to switch Bradford from outside to inside linebacker this week, that's a tell-tale sign that they're concerned he may never be able to be a productive pass-rusher off the edge. Thompson has not cut a fourth-round rookie since receiver Cory Rodgers in 2006, but Bradford has been just as disappointing. If he makes it, it's solely because they're not ready to give up on him yet.

Corey Linsley, C (fifth round): This was supposed to be a redshirt season for him, but the knee injury to Tretter last week means Linsley might be the most important rookie on the team when the Packers open the regular season in Seattle. His responsibility as the starting center, even if it's only until Tretter returns, is far greater than what any other member of this draft class faces. Physically, he looks the part, but his mental errors have hampered him.

Jared Abbrederis, WR (fifth round): The former Wisconsin standout almost certainly would have made a strong push for the No. 5 or 6 receiver spot if not for a torn ACL in the first week of camp. He also would have had a chance at the kick return job but instead will spend his rookie season on injured reserve.

Demetri Goodson, CB (sixth round): The former college basketball player at Gonzaga who then played three years of football at Baylor has struggled mightily in coverage despite obvious athleticism. He sustained a concussion in last Friday's preseason game against the Raiders, leaving his status his doubt.

Jeff Janis, WR (seventh round): Still raw and unschooled in the complexities of the Packers’ offense, Janis' speed can't be ignored, which is why Thompson likely will keep him on the roster. After his impressive 34-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the second preseason game, it's likely a team would claim him before the Packers could sneak him through to the practice squad.

Undrafted rookies with a chance: Defensive tackle Mike Pennel of Colorado State-Pueblo is a virtual lock to make the roster after B.J. Raji's season-ending injury, while outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott (who is tied for the NFL preseason lead in sacks with four) might be only one more good showing away from joining him on the 53.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The lower leg injury Green Bay Packers tight end Brandon Bostick sustained on Saturday against the St. Louis Rams likely will keep him out for the remainder of the preseason.

That also could leave his availability for the Packers' regular-season opener at Seattle on Sept. 4 in doubt.

Bostick
"He's going to be a couple of weeks," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday. "They were encouraged once they got all the testing done."

Bostick is not expected to need surgery, but McCarthy would not give any other specifics about the injury.

The second-year tight end was injured after he caught a 9-yard pass on the third snap of the Packers' second offensive possession against the Rams. Bostick remained on the field for one more play before taking himself out.

The Packers have been preparing rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers for the starting job -- he opened each of the first two preseason games with the No. 1 offense -- but Bostick is a big part of their plans, too. He has taken many of the first-team reps in the two-minute drill throughout training camp. He has the big-play ability the Packers lose without Jermichael Finley. Of all the tight ends on the roster, Bostick most resembles Finley in terms of size and athleticism.

Veteran Andrew Quarless replaced Bostick on that series against the Rams and went on to lead the Packers with four catches for 58 yards.

However, when it came time to replace Bostick in practice Monday -- at least in the two-minute period -- second-year pro Jake Stoneburner filled that role.

There were no other new injuries as a result of the game against the Rams.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're taking water breaks and serving snacks during training camp practices. They're using a GPS system to monitor players' movements.

They changed their practice plan, flip-flopping their Friday-Saturday in-season schedule, and even within those individual practices they moved drills that used to be at the beginning to the end, and vice versa.

All for one reason: To reduce the injuries that have befallen the Green Bay Packers in recent years.

And what good has it done?

They already have lost two players -- rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis and offensive lineman Don Barclay -- who almost certainly would have been on the opening day roster. Both suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments within the first two weeks of practice.

Some injuries -- no matter what the training staff does to keep players energized for practice and regardless of how coach Mike McCarthy designs his schedule -- just have to be chalked up to bad luck.

"Watch either one of those things as it happened, it wouldn't give any sort of indication that it was going to be a bad deal," Packers general manger Ted Thompson said. "It's just the way it turned out."

But so far in camp, the number of missed practices due to muscle or fatigue-related injuries has been low. A year after hamstring pulls were the order of camp, the only serious muscle pull in the first two weeks was an oblique strain suffered by starting strong safety Morgan Burnett.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsA rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers is showing no aftereffects -- so far -- of last season's broken collarbone.
1. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers turned 30 in December and is coming off the worst injury of his career (a broken collarbone), but you would never know it by watching him now. He has been humming along in training camp as well as he ever has. His command of the offense is so great that McCarthy has been able to cut several practices short because they have not been forced to repeat plays ruined by mental errors. Rodgers reported to camp about 11 pounds lighter than he was last season, thanks to a combination of workouts (which included yoga) and diet.

2. If there's such a thing as a distraction-free training camp, this has been it. They addressed their No. 1 contract concern by signing receiver Jordy Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension on the morning camp opened. A few days later, they locked up Thompson with a multiyear extension and said McCarthy would be next. And perhaps they have finally put any bad vibes from Brett Favre behind them when they announced last week that their former quarterback will have his number retired next summer, when he also will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. All of that has allowed the team to focus on its preparation without anything getting in the way.

3. The biggest area of concern last year, the safety position, now may be one their strengths. Micah Hyde's switch from cornerback has gone better than expected, and first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks game-ready. Then there's third-year safety Sean Richardson, who has made perhaps more big plays in practice than anyone on defense. If Burnett comes back soon from his oblique strain -- and finally starts to perform like the Pro Bowl-caliber player they thought he was when they gave him a four-year, $24.75 million extension last summer -- then there should not be any concerns.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Packers still do not know -- and may not know for a while -- whether JC Tretter can handle the starting center job. After a rough start to training camp, the second-year pro seemed to settle into the position and was solid in the preseason opener. But given the opener is at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in perhaps the loudest stadium in the league, there's probably nothing that can prepare Tretter for what he will have to deal with in Week 1.

2. As good as the Packers feel about Nelson, receiver Randall Cobb and running back Eddie Lacy, they don't have many other proven weapons for Rodgers. No one from the tight end group has emerged as the favorite to replace Jermichael Finley, although Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and rookie Richard Rodgers have had their moments (both good and bad). And among the receivers, Jarrett Boykin has been no better than average in his quest to replace James Jones as the No. 3 receiver. Every time it looks like rookie Davante Adams may take that job from Boykin, he drops a ball.

3. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews participated in every practice during the first two weeks but still is not ready to proclaim his twice-broken right thumb 100 percent. Perhaps it's more of a mental hurdle for Matthews, but he needs to be able to use his hand without restrictions in order to return to his Pro Bowl level. It's hard to tell if Matthews is babying the injury, but in the first two weeks of practice, he took only two reps in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill and lost both. He played a few snaps early in the preseason opener against the Titans and did not seem to have any issues.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Morry GashB.J. Raji, back at nose tackle after spending last season at defensive end, has had an impressive camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • B.J. Raji looks re-energized after moving back to nose tackle. He signed just a one-year contract (worth $4 million) after the free-agent market proved soft, and might be motivated by another chance to test free agency next offseason.
  • Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is preparing second-year pro Datone Jones for a big role. Last year as a rookie, the first-round pick played almost exclusively in the sub packages and hardly ever played in the base 3-4 defense. Now, Jones has been penciled in as a starting defensive end while also playing as an inside rusher in the nickel and dime defenses.
  • If there's a high draft pick who might struggle to get on the field early in the season, it's perhaps third-round defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. Much like defensive end Josh Boyd last season, Thornton might not be ready for playing time from the get-go. Last season, Boyd was inactive for the first five games and seven of the first nine before he found a role.
  • The same could be said for fourth-round pick Carl Bradford. The outside linebacker from Arizona State has struggled to make many impact plays.
  • Last year, safety Chris Banjo was signed a few days into training camp and made the team. Receiver Gerrard Sheppard has a chance to do something similar. He was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens five days after camp opened and has made some impressive catches.
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.
Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Packers have not kept three quarterbacks on their opening-day roster since 2008, but they might be inclined to do so this season in order to avoid a situation like last year, when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Coach Mike McCarthy is high on Tolzien, who made two starts last season, but Flynn has proved he can win as a backup in Green Bay.

Running backs (4)

The return of Harris, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, gives the Packers insurance behind Lacy and Starks. Kuhn is valuable both as a fullback and on special teams. It's possible they'll keep a fourth halfback, but the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury has left them without a strong in-house candidate for that spot.

Receivers (6)

The Packers often keep only five receivers, but given that they drafted three -- Adams (second round), Abbrederis (fifth round) and Janis (seventh round) -- there's a good chance they will keep six. Abbrederis and Janis will not only have to show they're better prospects than second-year pros Myles White and Chris Harper, but they also could help themselves if they can return kicks.

Tight ends (4)

McCarthy likes tight ends (he has kept five before), and the wild card is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla.

Offensive linemen (8)

The Packers typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day, so they can get away with keeping just eight on the roster. Barclay's ability to play all five positions also allows them some freedom. Lane Taylor could be the ninth lineman if they go that route.

Defensive line (7)

Worthy and Guion have work to do to make the roster, but there's room for them if you count Julius Peppers and Mike Neal among the outside linebackers, which is where they lined up more often in the offseason.

Linebackers (8)

There will be some tough cuts here. Second-year pros Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba both played last year as rookie outside linebackers. It also may be tough for highly touted undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard to make it.

Cornerbacks (6)

Hayward's return from last season's hamstring injury means he likely will return as the slot cornerback in the nickel package, a role played last year by Micah Hyde (who may primarily play safety this year).

Safeties (4)

The major question here is whether Hyde or Clinton-Dix will be the starter alongside Burnett. Chris Banjo, who played primarily on special teams last season, might be the odd man out.

Specialists (3)

There's no competition at any of these spots.

Camp preview: Green Bay Packers

July, 17, 2014
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NFL Nation's Rob Demovsky examines the three biggest issues facing the Green Bay Packers heading into training camp:

Replacing Finley: The longer tight end Jermichael Finley remains unsigned, the more likely it appears his time in Green Bay -- and perhaps in the NFL -- is over, despite his desire to continue to play. The team's reluctance to clear Finley after last season's neck injury falls in line with its philosophy on similar injuries. Just last month, it cut ties with another player who suffered a neck injury last season, running back Johnathan Franklin. The Packers re-signed Andrew Quarless to a two-year, $3 million contract in March, but that's hardly starter's money. The door is open for rookie third-round draft pick Richard Rodgers, who performed well enough during the organized team activities and minicamp practices (which Quarless missed because of injury) to move into the starting spot. Rodgers has the kind of dynamic athletic ability that Finley brought to the position. The wild card there is Colt Lyerla, the undrafted but talented rookie from Oregon. Had Lyerla not left the Ducks' program and run into trouble subsequently last year, he might have been a high draft pick. The Packers also will have to assess whether Brandon Bostick can make a bigger impact than he did last season.

The safeties: We know the Packers used their first-round pick on safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Now what? It's time to see whether the former Alabama standout can make an immediate impact. One thing was clear based on the offseason practices: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is not going to hand the rookie a starting job. Unlike Morgan Burnett, who lined up as a starting safety from his first practice as a rookie in 2010, Clinton-Dix played mostly with the second-string defense in OTAs and minicamp. At some point, perhaps even when training camp opens, Capers will insert Clinton-Dix with the starters, and he may never relinquish that role. But the Packers believe they have options in case Clinton-Dix is not ready to start from the outset. Converted cornerback Micah Hyde took almost all of the reps alongside Burnett with the No. 1 defense this offseason, and coach Mike McCarthy would like to get Hyde on the field more often than just sub packages. Using him at safety, at the very least in the base defense, would be one way to accomplish that. The Packers also like third-year pro Sean Richardson, who has shown some playmaking ability.

Capers on the hot seat: With so much of the offseason focus on improving the defense -- from tweaks to the scheme, to changes on the coaching staff, to the addition of high-priced free-agent pass-rusher Julius Peppers, to another first-round pick on that side of the ball -- it's worth wondering what might happen if none of that equates to significant improvement on Capers' side of the ball. McCarthy spent more time than usual this offseason working with Capers on changes to the scheme. At the very least, that was an indication McCarthy was not happy with the direction the defense was headed, although it was not problematic enough for McCarthy to make a change at the position. He trusts Capers and his scheme, but clearly there were issues that troubled him. The Packers slipped from 11th overall in yards allowed in 2012 to 25th last season. Injuries hit Capers' unit hard last season, but McCarthy is not willing to use that as an excuse. Rather, he charged Capers with adjusting his scheme so that it will be more adaptable to plugging in players if injuries strike again.

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