NFC North: Chastin West

BBAO: Consequences for Mike Martz

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
7:10
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

There is undoubtedly a part of Mike Martz that will be tempted. The Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator will see the Green Bay Packers' difficulty defending the pass and will feel an urge to start calling passes all over Soldier Field on Sunday. And if he does, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, the Bears should fire him -- immediately.
Haugh: "If I were general manager Jerry Angelo or [coach Lovie] Smith, I would make clear if Martz goes rogue once more, as he did when the offense inexplicably had a 3-to-1 pass-to-run ratio in the third quarter of a close game, the Bears will move on. One more game plan recklessly putting [Jay] Cutler in harm's way, the way calling 52 passes to 11 runs did, and I either would fire Martz or strip him of play-calling duties on the spot."

That's a strong sentiment, to be sure. The Bears have some talented assistants on their staff, but unless I'm mistaken, none of them have experience as an offensive playcaller. But the point isn't so much that calling too many passes, as Martz did last Sunday against the New Orleans, should be a fireable offense. It's that the Bears already addressed the issue with Martz last year, making Sunday's game a suspicious case of at least passive insubordination.

I highly doubt the Bears would fire Martz during the season, but it's clear the Bears need to raise the urgency of the message Martz is hearing.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Quick hits: Mike Neal, Cobb practice

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
3:50
PM ET
Let's account for a few Sunday afternoon newsbits in quick-hitting fashion ...

Item: The Green Bay Packers are back at practice Sunday in preparation for Thursday's season opener (!) against the New Orleans Saints.
Comment: According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a number of injured players have returned. That list includes tight end Jermichael Finley, receiver Randall Cobb and defensive end Mike Neal. I'll have more on the start of Week 1 in a bit.

Item: The Packers slipped several valued players through waivers and signed them to their practice squad.
Comment: Receivers Tori Gurley and Chastin West, along with quarterback Graham Harrell, were all part of the practice squad Sunday. It was particularly important to keep Harrell in the program with No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn's contract set to expire after this season.

Item: The Detroit Lions waived running back Aaron Brown and center Chris Morris. They reportedly claimed offensive lineman Jacques McClendon from the Indianapolis Colts. At the moment, the second roster spot is unfilled.
Comment:
Veteran running back Chester Taylor signed with the Arizona Cardinals, eliminating that possibility for the Lions. It's not clear if Brown's departure means another running back is on the way in, or if he was simply the least-valued player remaining on the Lions' 53-man roster. We'll keep you updated.

Item: The Minnesota Vikings claimed linebacker Xavier Adibi from the Houston Texans.
Comment: The Vikings are a 4-3 team and Adibi [Updated] probably lost his job because the Texans switched to a 3-4. Depth was a critical issue here. Only five linebackers were on the original 53-man roster, and Adibi provides credible insurance should a starter be injured.

Green Bay Packers cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
7:11
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Green Bay Packers' roster moves.

Surprise move: Packers coach Mike McCarthy made clear early in camp that he hoped to find a way to keep Graham Harrell on the final roster. It's no secret that No. 2 quarterback Matt Flynn is a pending free agent, and McCarthy thought now wouldn't be a good time to part ways with another quarterback who has spent time developing in the Packers' system. Harrell rebounded from a shaky start to camp, but I guess the Packers couldn’t find a place for him on a roster that includes five tight ends and a whopping 10 linebackers. I would expect him to return on the practice squad, assuming he clears waivers.

No-brainers: It's hard not to connect Jermichael Finley's pending free agency with the high number of tight ends the Packers kept. The list included two rookies, D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, along with veterans Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree. When you have a big-time starter entering a contract year, it makes sense to ensure your future bases are covered. Meanwhile, I don't fault the Packers for limiting themselves to five receivers, and in the process cutting loose Chastin West and Tori Gurley, among others. Both could return via the practice squad, and the veteran depth they have at the position would have made it difficult for a No. 6 receiver to be active on game day. Finally, the Packers chose to keep veteran tailback Ryan Grant and release the younger Dimitri Nance. Smart move.

What's next: The Packers have already found two trade partners for their players, sending fullback Quinn Johnson to the Tennessee Titans for an undisclosed draft pick and guard Caleb Schlauderaff to the New York Jets for an undisclosed draft pick. There aren't any obvious holes on their current 53-man grouping, so the Packers' primary goal Sunday will be to get as many of their just-released players through waivers and onto the practice squad as possible.
One of the Green Bay Packers' top preseason storylines has centered around whether they could find an extra roster spot for a deep group of wide receivers. This week, we discussed the relative merits of rookie Tori Gurley, an intriguing 6-foot-4 prospect who displayed a natural ability to block punts during training camp.

It appears we have an answer, based on reports from Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Gurley has been advised he will be released, according to their reports, joining Chastin West and Kerry Taylor on that list.

Barring a change of plans, those decisions will leave the Packers with five receivers: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and rookie Randall Cobb. It could also create a roster spot for an extra tight end, another deep group.

I would imagine that Gurley, especially, is a candidate for the practice squad. More in a bit.

Previewing NFC North preseason Week 4

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
4:10
PM ET
Welcome to preseason Week 4, where most players you know and love will take up residence on the sideline. All four NFC North teams are in action Thursday night. I've tossed out a few talking points below and will have some postgame thoughts either late tonight or, more likely, first thing Friday morning.

Chicago Bears
Opponent:
Cleveland Browns
Location: Soldier Field
Key issues: Backup quarterback Caleb Hanie has a 55.9 passer rating this preseason, having thrown two interceptions and no touchdowns in 53 attempts. His job isn't threatened, but the Bears would like to see him finish summer on a higher note. ... Do the Bears have any pass-rushing depth other than tackle/end Amobi Okoye? This game should provide give us some definitive answers.

Detroit Lions
Opponent:
Buffalo Bills
Location: Ralph Wilson Stadium
Key issues: The Lions have built significant momentum this summer and, frankly, escaping unscathed Thursday night should be their only goal. They should take a long look at their running back depth, determine a winner in their punting derby between Nick Harris and Ryan Donahue, and get back to Detroit.

Green Bay Packers
Opponent:
Kansas City Chiefs
Location: Lambeau Field
Key issues: The Packers need to decide how many receivers and tight ends they'll keep and then make decisions accordingly. Will receiver Chastin West make the team? How about receiver/punt blocker Tori Gurley? Also, third-string quarterback Graham Harrell should get a long opportunity to lock down a roster spot.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent:
Houston Texans
Location: Metrodome
Key issues: Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will start. Will he earn the No. 2 job behind Donovan McNabb? Or will it be Joe Webb? We'll also get a look at the Vikings' depth, or lack thereof, behind tailback Adrian Peterson. It's interesting to note they tried to claim former Lions fullback/running back Jerome Felton. Meanwhile, second-year defensive end Everson Griffen will get a look at linebacker as the team looks for depth behind its starters.
While many of us have spent the summer watching the rise of undrafted free-agent receiver Dane Sanzenbacher with the Chicago Bears, another interesting dynamic among wide receivers has played out with the Green Bay Packers.

[+] EnlargeGreg Hardy and Matt Dodge
AP Photo/Bill KostrounOnly 12 out of 2,467 punts were blocked during the 2010 regular season.
The Packers have a deep group with five jobs seemingly locked up. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb all presumably have made the team. There are a number of promising young players competing for a sixth spot, if there is one, and Tuesday's SportsNation chat brought to light what I thought was an interesting question.

Namely: Would you make a spot on your 53-man roster based on a player's potential to block a punt?

That's the biggest advantage that rookie Tori Gurley has over Chastin West and others. Gurley is 6-foot-4, and as Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel pointed out, had by far the longest wingspan (83.5 inches) of any receiver who tested this past winter at the NFL scouting combine. He has blocked five punts during training camp practices this summer, nearly got his hands on one in last Friday's preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts and people are actually referring to him as a Pterodactyl.

There has to be a special reason for any team to keep a sixth receiver, even for the Packers -- who make relatively liberal use of four- and five-receiver sets. Special teams is a crucial factor, but is the potential for a blocked punt enough of an enticement?

I can see it from both angles. Last season, NFL teams combined for 2,467 punts. Out of that total, 12 were blocked. That's one block for every 205 punts. The Packers last blocked a punt in 2003. No matter how skilled Gurley might be, a blocked punt is one of the lowest-percentage plays in the NFL.

On the other hand, blocked punts are often game-changing plays. If the 53rd man on your roster makes a substantive contribution to just one victory, he's probably paid his way.

Gurley is an intriguing prospect on a number of levels. He has shown flashes as a receiver during the preseason and, as a wise man I know told me, you can't teach 6-foot-4. But the punt-blocking potential is a new one for me. I don't know if I've ever seen it at the top of a player's résumé. Stay tuned.
All NFL teams must cut their roster from 90 to 80 players by Tuesday, and the Green Bay Packers got started Sunday morning before hitting the practice field.

Among those released were a pair of recognizable names, tight end Spencer Havner and receiver Brett Swain, whose early departures speak to the depth and fierce competition at their respective positions.

All five tight ends remaining on the Packers roster, including rookies D.J. Williams and Ryan Taylor, have legitimate chances to make the final roster. The Packers also have 11 receivers left and are judging strong summer performances from youngsters Chastin West and Tori Gurley, among others.

The moves leave the Packers with a total of 83 players. Teams will be allowed to carry 80 players until Sept. 3, when the final cutdown to 53 is required.
Reviewing Friday's action at Lucas Oil Stadium:

Green Bay Packers 24, Indianapolis Colts 21

Preseason record: (2-1)

Of interest: The Packers offense opened with a three-and-out and then shifted to its increasingly intriguing no-huddle offense. It led to a total of 10 points for the starters in the first half, including Aaron Rodgers' 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jermichael Finley. Rodgers finished with 204 passing yards in the first half. But the Packers walked away with plenty to work on. Rodgers continued to take more hits than you would like. Left tackle Chad Clifton struggled with defensive end Dwight Freeney, contributing to a pair of sacks and also producing a holding penalty that wiped out a 20-yard touchdown pass to Chastin West. Right guard Josh Sitton gave up a sack for the second consecutive week, this time to former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris. ... Tailback Ryan Grant managed 16 yards on six carries, an effort that will keep his competition with James Starks in play. Starks got only one carry but caught five passes for 38 yards. ... The first-team defense blitzed Colts quarterback Curtis Painter extensively but eventually gave up a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter. One came on a busted coverage by safety Morgan Burnett, while the other came with the always-shaky Jarrett Bush in man coverage. ... Coach Mike McCarthy worked hard to ensure this victory, however, ordering a 2-point conversion after Ryan Taylor's 11-yard touchdown reception with 35 seconds remaining. After a successful onside kick, place-kicker Mason Crosby atoned for an earlier miss with a 50-yard game-winner. ... Quarterback Graham Harrell's late-game heroics could go a long way toward making the team.

Local coverage: McCarthy said he never considered kicking an extra point after Taylor's touchdown to leave with a 1-point loss, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. McCarthy: "I understand the mindset of kicking the extra point and going home a little healthier. That's a terrible message to send to your team, in my opinion. ... I thought it was a tremendous boost for our football team. I think anytime you win a game in that fashion, it's healthy." ... The Packers starters should have scored more points, Demovsky quotes right tackle Bryan Bulaga as saying. ... Players seemed tired at times as a result of the no huddle, but Clifton (via Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) said: "There's no excuse for it. I need to play better. Our job is to perform and perform at a high level. I didn't do that tonight. I know it wasn't one of my finest performances. I'll just have to learn from it." ... Burnett admitted he was at fault in the busted coverage that led to Reggie Wayne's 57-yard touchdown. Via Tyler Dunne of the Journal Sentinel: "That was on me all the way. I should have stayed deep in my half. It's just a routine play. I need to really work on that. I can't put too much thought in it. Just need to bounce back." ... Rodgers on his touchdown pass to Finley, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "It was two guys on the same page. It was nice to be able to have that non-verbal acknowledgement of what we're trying to do there."

Up next: Thursday against Kansas City Chiefs
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Rookie receiver/kick returner Randall Cobb has been the talk of Green Bay Packers training camp. But will he disappear from the public spotlight during the walk-up to the regular season? An unusual injury has called his immediate availability into question, notes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Cobb apparently suffered contusions on both knees during a kickoff return during last weekend's preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals. He has not practiced since, is walking somewhat gingerly and can't say for sure that he will play in the Sept. 8 season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

These types of injuries are why teams build depth, and the Packers at this point are more than prepared to absorb it. Rookie Alex Green could return kickoffs while Jordy Nelson and Chastin West are candidates to return punts. And if anything, they have a surplus of receivers to use on offense at this point.

Obviously everyone wants to see a dynamic playmaker on the field right away. But it's not yet clear if that will happen for Cobb.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • The Packers had an unusual fight Tuesday in practice, notes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Two offensive linemen, Marshall Newhouse and Nick McDonald, had to be separated by teammates and coaches at the end of a team drill.
  • The Packers' young offensive linemen need more time to develop, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune is starting to wonder if Chicago Bears receiver Roy Williams is going to make the impact the team has hoped for. Pompei: "Williams has pedigree, having been the seventh pick of the 2004 draft. He has history with [offensive coordinator Mike] Martz on the Lions and with receivers coach Darryl Drake at Texas. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he has the size that causes matchup problems. What he does not have is evidence, at 29, that he is a dynamic receiver."
  • Williams isn't in good enough shape, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • The Bears should be happy about the way their offensive line played Monday night against the New York Giants, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Detroit Lions sold out Saturday's preseason game against the New England Patriots, notes the Detroit News.
  • The Lions have been practicing this week with a number of important veterans on the sideline, including defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) and running back Jahvid Best (concussion). Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com has the complete list.
  • Maurice Stovall is trying to make the Lions' roster as a receiver/special-teams ace, notes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
  • It will be good for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to get a hit a few times this weekend by the Patriots, writes Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has brought stability to the franchise, writes Judd Zulgad, who is now with 1500ESPN.com.
  • Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on that topic: "Apparently, there is something to be said for tranquility."
  • Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion is turning some heads in Vikings training camp, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
Reviewing Friday's action at Lambeau Field:

Green Bay Packers 28, Arizona Cardinals 20

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: The first-team offense went three-and-out in its first series, punted after two first downs on its next possession but looked sharp in its third, which ended on Aaron Rodgers' 20-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings. Not coincidentally, the Packers took a pre-planned no-huddle approach in that third series. Rodgers completed all five of his passes on the drive, including three consecutive to tight end Jermichael Finley. ... Overall, Finley was targeted on five passes in his preseason debut, catching four for 33 yards. ... Rodgers took three significant hits that I saw, one after Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell ran right past rookie left guard Derek Sherrod. Cardinals lineman Darnell Dockett also split a double team against right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga for a hit. ... I thought the defense created some havoc for Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, limiting the Cardinals offense to a pair of field goals before coordinator Dom Capers began substituting. ... The defense's new (occasional) look of Ryan Pickett at nose tackle and B.J. Raji at end is interesting and worth further discussion next week. ... Safety Morgan Burnett continues to look aggressive in his return and made a nice play to break up a late Kolb pass to receiver Larry Fitzgerald. ... Fitzgerald later made one of the most incredible one-handed catches you'll ever see as he fell to the ground, setting up a field goal. ... The first look at running back/kick returner Alex Green was positive, most notably on a 25-yard screen reception. ... I don't know if Chastin West's 97-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline will help him make the team, but it sure was fun to watch. Perfect throw from quarterback Matt Flynn. ... Two injuries to keep an eye on: Receiver Randall Cobb (bruised knee) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (possible concussion).

Local coverage: Finley wanted to continue playing with the second-team offense, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. Finley: "I felt like the old '88.' I started getting revved up and heated and I was really close to telling them to keep me in. I'd have played the whole game. I'd have played with Flynn if I had to. It was just one of those things I had to get past me, and I got it past me." Tailback Ryan Grant doesn't appear to have lost a step, writes Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Packers.com has posted video of West's touchdown reception. It's also in the video that will accompany this post for a few days. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Green's night: "If Green shows he can pass protect, he could be a valuable weapon as a third-down back. He's a better receiver than Brandon Jackson, who had the job last season. But if he can't pass protect -- he gave up a quarterback hit by linebacker O'Brien Schofield on Matt Flynn in the third quarter -- then he won't win that job." Sherrod probably lost any chance he has of beating out T.J. Lang for the starting job, notes Tom Silverstein of the Journal Sentinel.

Up next: Friday at Indianapolis Colts

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