NFC North: Cullen Jenkins

Rashad Jennings practices for first time this week

December, 5, 2014
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Rashad Jennings made it onto the New York Giants practice field on Friday for the first time this week, so he is on the final injury report of the week as questionable rather than out for Sunday's game in Tennessee against the Titans.

"I feel I showed that I want to play," the running back said. "I think that message is clear to everybody."

He wants to play, even though he knows that the ankle he sprained last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars still hasn't completely healed. He wants to play, even though the Giants are 3-9 and can no longer even pretend that they have a shot at the playoffs.

[+] EnlargeRashad Jennings
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackRashad Jennings wants to play on Sunday but probably will be a game-time decision.
"This is the time of year when you need to put your best foot forward," Jennings said. "You can't let the scoreboard or the record dictate your motivation. I've got a lot to prove. I need to prove I can play hurt."

First, he needs to prove to coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants' medical staff that he can play at all.

Coughlin wouldn't commit on Friday, saying the next two days will determine whether Jennings plays against the Titans. Coughlin said he's not just concerned with whether Jennings is healthy enough to start the game, but also whether there's a confidence he can be healthy enough to finish it.

"He's got to be able to play in the game, to some semblance of where he's normally at," Coughlin said. "The big thing is, when you issue a suit to someone, you'd like to think they can play and finish the game. What really hurts, because you've only got 46 [active players], is when you dress a guy and then he's out of the game.

"Every guy, and not just Rashad, has to pass the test of whether we think -- and we're not always right -- that he can play the majority of the game."

With all of their injuries, the Giants have had plenty of experience making those calls this season. Friday, they declared linebacker Jacquian Williams and tackle James Brewer out of Sunday's game, both with concussions. This will be the fourth consecutive game Williams has missed, and Coughlin admitted that the Giants might need to make a decision next week on whether he can return this season.

Linebacker Mark Herzlich, who also had a concussion, was limited in practice on Friday and was listed as questionable.

Jennings was also officially listed as limited in practice Friday, but still felt able to do enough to say he believed he can play. Then again, Jennings always believes he can play.

"If I was the coach, I definitely wouldn't let me make the decision," he said.

If Jennings can't go, rookie Andre Williams would get the start, just as he did in the four games Jennings missed earlier in the season with a knee injury. Williams didn't do well in those four games, averaging just 2.7 yards a carry. The Giants lost all four games, starting them on the seven-game losing streak that continued after Jennings returned.

Jennings, who has tried to help Williams learn the NFL game, believes his protégé is better prepared to step in now.

"I can start to see the trust and patience," Jennings said. "How to use hesitation, how to run behind your blockers, where the hidden yardage is and how to get it. He's an explosive runner, a powerful runner, and it's always been for him just fine-tuning the little things."

This week would be a fine time to show it. The Titans give up 141.5 yards rushing a game, the most in the NFL (the Giants are 31st, at 140.6).

But that's not why Jennings so badly wants to play this week. He badly wants to play every week.

"Look, I'm the player," he said. "I want to play."

He's not there yet, but at least he got through Friday.

Jenkins probable: Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, who has missed the last three games (and four of the last five) with a calf injury, practiced all week and is listed as probable for Sunday. "

He's been limited, but he's taken all his reps," Coughlin said.

A new goal: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who twice during the losing streak has declared that the Giants could run the table, lowered his sights a little this week.

"Win the game," he said. "At least win one game. We had a great week of practice, like we always do. We have to execute our plays, and play four quarters. We haven't been a team that finishes the fourth quarter.

"Now it's time to finish out, play all four quarters and play as hard as we can."

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
Scott Tolzien and Mathias KiwanukaGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNew Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien will face Mathias Kiwanuka and an improved Giants pass rush.
The New York Giants will be looking for their fourth win in a row following an 0-6 start. The Green Bay Packers will be trying to snap their first two-game losing streak since 2010. The two teams square off Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Giants reporter Dan Graziano and ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson (filling in for Packers reporter Rob Demovsky) break down the matchup for you.

Dan Graziano: Hey, Matt. Thanks for filling in while Rob’s on the inactive list this week. The big question the Giants have this week is: Who is Scott Tolzien and what can we expect to see from him? So let’s start with that one.

Matt Williamson: Well, Dan, that's a good question! I don’t think we really know the answer, but he did move the team well and was generally a smart distributor of the football. And we know Green Bay has weapons to get the ball to. We obviously don’t have a lot of tape to evaluate, but I think the Packers are better off with Tolzien over Seneca Wallace.

While we are talking quarterbacks, what on Earth is going on with Eli Manning? Despite this winning streak, he really has not played well at all.

Graziano: Matt, my theory on Eli is that the protection issues at the beginning of the season were so egregious that he just fell into this zone of discomfort from which he's been unable to extricate himself. He just doesn't look right back there, and while the protection issues have improved some, they're still present. They've had no blocking help from the tight-end position at all. They're very vulnerable in the middle of the line, and I'm not sold on either tackle, to be honest. They haven't had reliable blitz pickup help from the running backs. Downfield, Hakeem Nicks isn't playing wide receiver the way he used to play it. A lot has gone on around Manning to make him far less comfortable with his surroundings, and I'm not sure what it's going to take before he starts playing with that old Eli confidence again. Great quarterbacks make the best of bad situations, and Manning has not done that this year. As the Giants' situation improves, they will need him to play much better if they're really going to make this miracle run they still believe they can make.

Now, they get another break this week with Aaron Rodgers out and Tolzien in, but they are already talking about that improved Packers running game. What do you see from Eddie Lacy & Co. and how do you think they'll attack the Giants, who have generally been pretty good against opposing running backs this season?

Williamson: This Packers’ running game is terrific and should continue to excel even with less of a passing threat with Rodgers sidelined. The left side of the Packers’ offensive line is playing great, but -- as with the rest of the team -- isn’t healthy on the right side and has had to do a lot of shuffling of personnel there. Still, Green Bay’s rushing attack isn’t easy to prepare for as they can run a wide variety of plays out of a wide variety of personnel groupings and formations. Lacy is quick to get downhill and is a punishing runner who can wear a defense down, and he also excels at reading his blocks and showing patience with the ball in his hands -- rare traits for a rookie running back. The Packers’ ability to run the ball will probably be the most crucial component of this football game.

Along those lines, I feel like the Giants might actually have a respectable rushing attack of their own now with Andre Brown carrying the rock. Do you agree?

Graziano: Yeah, the 30 carries and 115 yards for Brown on Sunday in his first game back off a twice-broken leg were eye-opening. I think the workload they gave him showed that the Giants knew just how much they were missing this season at running back. David Wilson never got going and then got hurt, and they patched it together with Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis. But watching Brown run with vision and power and gain yards after contact Sunday, it was obvious that he's the Giants' best option going forward and the best they've had all season. The injury risk has to be considered, given Brown's history, but at this point the Giants need to win pretty much every game, and they're going to have to lean hard on Brown to do it. Even if he can't be as productive every week as he was against the Raiders, the legitimate threat he poses on film should open up the play-action passing game as a way for Manning to combat those protection issues.

So the Giants feel they can offer a balanced offensive attack against a Packers defense that couldn't get the ball back from the Eagles in the final 9:32 of Sunday's game. Was that a LeSean McCoy issue, or are the Packers really struggling on defense right now?

Williamson: The Packers are struggling on defense and allowing too many big plays. I expected last week’s return from injury by Clay Matthews to pay off much more than it did. However, we know that Matthews is a truly great player, and maybe he just needed a week to get back into the swing of things. I still expect Matthews to torment the Giants’ tackles this week. On the inside of their defensive line, the Packers have a lot of sheer mass and power with guys like B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett. I also expect the Giants' interior offensive line to have a difficult time moving this group in the running game. This could be a bounce-back week for Green Bay on this side of the ball.

The Packers’ run defense had a very difficult time when the Eagles stacked both of their offensive tackles on the same side of the formation. While I expect the Giants could use some personnel groupings with six offensive linemen, I don’t see them duplicating what Philadelphia did to make room for McCoy.

Watching the Giants game from last week, I noticed they had a difficult time getting the Raiders’ Pat Sims blocked. Sims is a big-bodied and powerful defensive tackle in much the same mold as the Packers’ group. I think that bodes well for Green Bay this week.

And expect the Giants to have a difficult time blocking little-known Mike Daniels in the passing game. Daniels has taken over the Cullen Jenkins role in this defense -- a spot Green Bay drafted Datone Jones for in the first round -- as an interior pass-rusher, and he has excelled in that role.

The Giants' defense is based entirely on great defensive line play. This is a deep group with a ton of important resources tied up in it, but it hasn’t been an elite group. It is improving, however. Where do you see this unit right now and this week against the Packers?

Graziano: Well, the sack numbers have come up. The Giants had only six sacks in their first seven games, but then got eight in their past two games. So they’ve moved from last in the league in sacks, where they spent most of the season, to a tie for 30th in that category. Odd thing is, of the eight sacks in their past two games, only four have come from defensive linemen. Safety Antrel Rolle has as many sacks (two) in the Giants’ past two games as defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has in their past 16. Pierre-Paul did get one against the Raiders, and he says he’s on the verge of a breakout. And the line has been very good, as I mentioned, against the run this year. But over the first seven games of the season, opposing quarterbacks did a good job of unloading the ball before the Giants’ pass-rushers could stop them from doing so. Not sure they get the full test this week against Tolzien, but at some point we’re going to find out whether the front four really has improved, or whether it’s just been feasting on lesser competition.

Thanks again, Matt. Catch you online in one of our game chats soon, I’m sure.


Will cast limit Matthews' impact?

October, 30, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Clay Matthews’ hands are an integral part of his repertoire as a pass rusher.

For that matter, they’re important to his ability to get his jersey off, something he struggled with after Wednesday’s team picture at Lambeau Field.

So it’s worth wondering how effective he will be when he returns from his broken right thumb given the fact that he said on Wednesday he will need to wear a protective club-like cast. He has been wearing smaller cast since he had surgery on Oct. 7 to repair what was diagnosed as a Bennett’s fracture.

“At this position, too, it’s difficult with one hand,” Matthews said. “I’ll deal with that when I’m able to club it up and come back, but for the time being we’re praying for the best and hoping my body heals up on time and get back out there and help this team out.”

Matthews wouldn’t be the first Packers’ defensive player to play with a club. Safety Morgan Burnett did so for part of the 2011 season, and former Packers defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins did it for part of 2010.

Matthews will have a better idea when he can make his return after he has the pins removed from his thumb on Monday.

At the earliest, Matthews could return for the Nov. 10 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Matthews had the pins surgically inserted one day after he was injured while sacking Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the third quarter of the Packers’ 22-9 victory on Oct. 6.

“I thought I was coming back in during the fourth quarter of the Detroit game,” Matthews said. “But once we got the X-rays, we learned it was a unique fracture, dislocation.”

Matthews said there was no way around playing without surgery.

“These doctors were telling me [what] the possible risks were as well as future life after football as far as my hand and what could happen,” Matthews said. “I definitely would like to push through it. I feel like I could, and I’d be able to. Pain is not an issue for me. It’s more about being smart, and at times I’m not the smartest.”

The Packers haven’t seen a significant drop off in the pass rush without Matthews, who led them with 13 sacks last season. They have 11 sacks in the three games that Matthews has missed.

“They’ve been doing a fantastic job, specifically speaking on defense, getting pressure on the quarterback,” Matthews said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One of the most popular questions surrounding the Green Bay Packers over the last several days was this: Why can’t outside linebacker Clay Matthews play with a cast over his broken right thumb?

After all, other players have been outfitted with those oversized casts that cover the entire hand and look like a giant club. Safety Morgan Burnett did it when he broke a bone in his hand in 2011 and did not miss a game. Former Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins did the same thing in 2010.

“Every one of those injuries are different as far as the procedure, when you can play with a cast,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “It’ll be at least a couple weeks.”

That fits with the timeline in’s initial report, which said Matthews is expected to miss at least a month.

Bypassing surgery was not a realistic option because of the severity of his injury, known as a Bennett's fracture (which is a break at the base of the thumb).

“I think if Clay Matthews had his preference, he’d be playing in this week’s game,” McCarthy said. “But, like I said, every injury is different, and this is clearly a medical decision as far as the path that he has to go on and what occurred in the surgery.”

Even when he returns, Matthews likely will have to play with a cast.

“It’s a medical decision to hold him this long,” McCarthy said. “I think any time you’re dealing with the wrist and the thumb area, every injury is specific to that particular injury, and his is no different.”

Preparing for Clay Matthews' absence

October, 7, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews missed a month last season because of a hamstring injury, not surprisingly, their pass rush suffered.

In four games without their defensive star, the Packers totaled just seven sacks and 23 quarterback hits. Five of those sacks and 10 of the hits came in one game: the first one Matthews missed against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 18. In one of those games, against Minnesota on Dec. 2, they failed to record a single sack.

With Matthews expected to miss the next month because of the broken right thumb he sustained in Sunday’s win over the Lions, the Packers must find a way to maintain their pass rush in his absence.

Matthews, who had 13˝ sacks in 12 games last season, broke his thumb on his third-quarter sack of Matthew Stafford on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNick Perry
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsNick Perry, who had two sacks on Sunday, is one of the Packers linebackers expected to pick up the slack for injured star Clay Matthews.
“Clay’s one of those guys who’s going to make two or three plays a game,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Monday. “You’ve seen every game this year, there’s been two of three plays that he makes.”

Matthews, who also missed half of the Week 3 game at Cincinnati because of a hamstring injury, has a team-high three sacks this season.

This time around, the Packers might be in better position to absorb Matthews’ absence for two reasons: Mike Neal and Nick Perry.

When Matthews went down last season, Perry already had been lost for the season to a wrist injury, and the idea of moving Neal from defensive end to outside linebacker had not been hatched. The week after Matthews’ injury, the Packers’ starting outside linebackers were Dezman Moses and Erik Walden -- neither of whom are with the Packers anymore.

Neal’s adaptation to his new position happened so fast that he started ahead of Perry on Sunday against the Lions and played the best game of his four-year career, with six tackles and a sack. Perry, the Packers’ first-round pick in 2012, responded to his demotion with the first two-sack game of his young career.

“The one encouraging thing to me is, I think Mike Neal has made really good strides,” Capers said. “I think you saw him play his best game yesterday. I think you saw Nick Perry play his best game yesterday. And that’s the nature of this business.”

Behind Neal (who played 45 snaps against the Lions) and Perry (39 snaps), the Packers’ only other outside linebackers are Andy Mulumba, an undrafted rookie who played 17 snaps against the Lions, and Nate Palmer, a sixth-round pick who was inactive.

When Matthews returned from his hamstring injury last season, the Packers’ pass rush returned, posting 12 sacks over the final three regular-season games. Matthews had four of those.

This time around, it’s worth wondering how effective Matthews will be upon his return, because he might have to wear a large protective club-like cast. Packers safety Morgan Burnett played with one for part of the 2011 season to protect his fractured right hand but didn’t miss a game. Former Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins also used one for part of the 2010 season. Neither had surgery.

“What position do they play, that definitely factors in,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said when asked how effective a player can be with a club cast. “Can they play a club? At what point in the rehab or the injury can you play with the club?”

The Packers also lost backup inside linebacker Robert Francois for the season to a torn Achilles tendon against the Lions. Francois had replaced starter Brad Jones, who left the game with a hamstring injury. But the Packers must feel good about Jones’ situation because they signed a cornerback, practice squad player James Nixon, to replace Francois on the active roster on Monday.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

We've passed the midpoint of the NFL's three-day negotiating window for free agency, and we don't know much more than we did when it started. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the "league-wide expectation" is that the Miami Dolphins will wind up with receiver Mike Wallace, but otherwise it has been quiet.

So as you await Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET start to actual free agency, go ahead and take a moment to read this revealing profile of new Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman from Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. The piece is centered around Trestman's candid analysis of why he didn't get a head-coaching job during his days as a hot assistant. Some bad timing was involved, but Trestman also acknowledged a "standoffish personality" that overlooked the human element of coaching.

Trestman said he has learned that he is coaching people, not pieces of a puzzle, and Pompei speaks to a number of people from Trestman's football past to check out that theory. Whether you're a fan of the Bears or just good writing, the story is worth your time.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It appears we are getting close to a resolution on one of the biggest offseason questions in the NFC North: Brian Urlacher's status with the Chicago Bears.

Multiple reports suggest Urlacher's agents submitted a contract proposal Thursday morning and are awaiting a response. That fact alone adds more grist to our working theory since the NFL scouting combine. The Bears haven't shut the door on Urlacher's return and seem to have interest in bringing him back in 2013 under the right scenario.

The Bears' response to the Urlacher contract offer will be telling. They could bid him farewell in a passive-aggressive way by countering with a number low enough that they know Urlacher will reject it and move to free agency. Or they could negotiate in a way that will bring about an agreement by the time free agency opens early next week.

We'll keep you updated.

Continuing around the NFC North:

BBAO: Tom Brady impact in NFC North

February, 26, 2013
We're Black and Blue All Over:

So the New England Patriots signed quarterback Tom Brady to a far-below market value contract extension Monday, a three-year deal worth $27 million. That annual average of $9 million is less than half what the New Orleans Saints gave Drew Brees in a five-year, $100 million deal last year.

So how will Brady's deal impact negotiations for the three NFC North quarterbacks who will get new deals in the next year or so? My amateur guess: Not much.

Brady's deal is such an outlier, and the motivations are so clear -- a well-paid Hall of Fame quarterback wants to leave salary-cap space available for a final run to the Super Bowl as he approaches his 40th birthday -- that it would be difficult for a team to argue he brought the market down. It's not like the Brees deal vanished as a result. Like it or not, agents will continue to consider it the benchmark for future elite deals.

The guess is that the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford will be the first NFC North quarterback to complete his new contract, given the salary-cap implications. Stafford probably won't reach Brees money, but it won't be because of the Brady deal. Unless proven otherwise, I'll assume the Brady contract will stand on its own in terms of market direction.

Continuing around the NFC North:
During a Twitter conversation Monday, I noted that injuries were an issue for defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins when he played for the Green Bay Packers but that he started 32 consecutive games after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011. The statement prompted this response from @Mr_JoshEarly:
"[T]hat's because GB constantly has players getting injured, but never seem to address the underlying issue."

For the record, I have no idea yet if the Packers would consider bringing back Jenkins, who turned 32 last month. They have spent the past two years looking for his replacement, and the likeliest candidate -- 2012 second-round draft pick Jerel Worthy -- might not be ready for training camp because of a late-season knee injury. So I suppose we shouldn't rule it out.

From a larger perspective, though, @Mr_JoshEarly's response provides an avenue to pass along that the Packers are in fact attempting to address their rash of injuries over the past few seasons. Coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine that "we have spent a lot of time talking about it" and that more conversations are forthcoming.

"I can just tell you this," McCarthy said. "We're looking at everything. It involves every facet of our program, as far as how they're being treated, how they're being trained, who they are, the categories of injuries, how many injuries in each category. Every injury that we have, the video tape is looked at, the history of the individual. We're definitely looking at it."

I know many of you want more action than internal discussions and studies. Perhaps we'll see that in the coming months. But for now, it seems clear the Packers aren't willing to write off their injury trends as a fluke.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

And, just like that, the 2012 season is over in the NFC North. Three of our teams finished with double-digit victories. Two qualified for the playoffs. Now, after Saturday night's events at Candlestick Park, everyone is home for the winter.

The blog? We'll keep rolling on, as always. We have the Chicago Bears' coaching search to keep us busy. I have some "Rewind'12" items I would like to get to, and I also want to renew our "Big Decision" series to preview what is in store over the next few months. And, crazy as it might sound, draft season is right around the corner. The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 20 in Indianapolis.

While we have a quiet moment (even after a late start), let's take a mid-morning stroll around the NFC North:
  • Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings sounds like a player who knows he will be elsewhere in 2013. Speaking Sunday, via Sarah Barshop of, Jennings said: "But at the end of the day, you know the Packers are going to do what's best for the Packers. And that's not going to change whether you're No. 4 [Brett Favre], No. 80 [Donald Driver], No. 85 [Jennings], No. 77 [Cullen Jenkins]. That's going to be the case. They're going to do what's best for the Packers and the organization. And as the other half of the businessman sitting down at that table, I have to do what's best for myself and my family."
  • The Packers have some tough decisions coming on defense, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have to decide whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers "has lost his touch and no longer has the ability to keep up with the NFL's increasingly diverse offensive attacks" or whether the Packers' defensive issues are personnel related, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • All but one of the Bears' known 13 coaching candidates are available for second interviews this week, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears' interview with Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was "brief," according to Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is in play for the New York Jets' open position, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
  • The Detroit Lions "have their usual array of serious personnel issues," writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Lions will add former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Bobby Johnson to their staff, according to
  • Minnesotans shouldn't be quick to assume that the Packers' run of supremacy in the NFC North is over, writes Patrick Reusse for
Expanding on our initial observations from Packers minicamp:

During the Green Bay Packers' run to the Super Bowl two years ago, we noted the extraordinary stamina of defensive tackle B.J. Raji. That season, according to Pro Football Focus, Raji played 1,092 defensive snaps -- more than 85 percent of the Packers' total plays and the third-highest mark among NFL defensive tackles.

Those numbers dropped only slightly in 2011, and Raji's 937 snaps corresponded to a 79 percent of play participation. My visit to the Packers' minicamp this week suggested the Packers have connected those two years of wear and tear to Raji's drop in production last season (three sacks and 22 tackles), and they are taking active steps to bring his work in 2012 to a more manageable level for a 340-pound man.

"He's played a lot of football for us," coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's a big man. It was definitely a challenge for him. I think he can handle it, but I don't think we can go six years at that pace, or even five years at that pace. So it's something we talked about. ... We really need to get back to quality over quantity there."

I'm sure some of you will look at Raji, note he will be 26 when the season begins and wonder why he would be worn down by playing eight of every 10 plays. After all, Vince Wilfork of the New England Patriots played 86 percent of his team's snaps last season. The Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata played 77.3 percent of the time.

But everyone and every scheme is different, and what Wilfork and Ngata did isn't necessarily a fair comparison for Raji. I suspect his downturn in 2011 had at least something to do with increased attention from opponents, especially after the free-agent departure of Cullen Jenkins. Regardless, an extra series or two of rest per game might be necessary if he consistently faces that kind of attention.

The Packers' thin depth chart last season didn't make that a reasonable possibility, but the volume of newcomers in 2012 suggests the Packers will have some credible options to use in Raji's place. Rookies Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, along with veterans Anthony Hargrove (post-suspension), Mike Neal (post-suspension) and Daniel Muir could all be factors.

"That's an opportunity we can only benefit from," McCarthy said. "There should be some improvement there [in the defensive line's play]."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

It's safe to say the Chicago Bears are interested in upgrading their depth at linebacker after a whirlwind of veteran free-agent visits this week. According to, the list includes Rocky McIntosh, Bryan Kehl and Zac Diles.

The Bears were thin at the position last year behind starters Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Nick Roach. But anyone they sign at this point should be viewed as a backup who could potentially compete with Roach to start during training camp.

The bigger issue the Bears face is finding eventual replacements for Urlacher, who turns 34 next month and Briggs, who turns 32 in November. That work will have to be done during the draft.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We've reached the end of the third week in NFL free agency, a time when teams typically shift their gaze toward role players who project as limited contributors for the upcoming season. I think the Green Bay Packers' acquisition of defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove has the potential to exceed those parameters.

Hargrove's skill set meshes well with the two most common alignments used by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers: the base 3-4 and the nickel with two down linemen. He is big enough to play end in the base and quick enough to be a inside pass-rusher in the nickel; although he's listed at 272 pounds, Hargrove said he played last season between 285-290 pounds while with the Seattle Seahawks. His intensity, meanwhile, will add an element of attitude that might have been missing from recent Packers defenses. Don't forget that he covered kickoffs for the New Orleans Saints as recently as 2010.

"Hopefully I can be a guy that could add a bit of speed to the defensive line," Hargrove said, "and an extra dimension there. I want to be an explosive playmaker and get after the passer, at the right time. When it's time to play the run, you play run with proper technique. But I want to get after it when we convert from run to pass."

Without knowing the results of the Packers' draft, you would have to consider Hargrove a leading candidate to start at defensive end in the base defense. Mike Neal will serve a four-game suspension to open the season, and the Packers never found a successful replacement last season for the departed Cullen Jenkins.

The Packers pursued Hargrove with uncommon zeal, at least for them, bringing him in for a visit a few days after hosting free-agent center Jeff Saturday. They have been reported to have interest in a number of free-agent defensive ends and linebackers, but I think it's pretty clear the Packers viewed Hargrove as the best fit for their scheme and needs.

There is no doubt that Hargrove has a complicated past, one that we've coincidentally covered a number of times here on the NFC North blog. He served a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy in 2008, and in January 2010 we chronicled his drug use and rehabilitation. It's a fact that he's one positive drug test away from an indefinite suspension, but that also tells you he's passed every NFL drug test since returning to the league in 2009.

We also crossed paths with Hargrove earlier this month, when he released an extensive statement about his presence on the 2009 Saints team that has been implicated in an NFL investigation into cash bounties. Hargrove received a personal foul for a hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, but in his statement Hargrove denied he was either motivated by a bounty or received a payment for the hit.

I won't try to predict what's in store for the Packers and Hargrove, but most March 29 signings don't have the kind of potential that this one brings. Let's see where this goes.
ThompsonAP Photo/Mike RoemerPackers GM Ted Thompson appears to be relying more on the free-agent market this offseason.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In recent years, I would arrive at the NFL owners meetings in late March to annual questions on the Green Bay Packers' apparent abdication of the free-agent market. What are the Packers up to? That's what officials from other teams wanted to know. My answer was always the same: This isn't Packers season. That starts at the end of April.

This year? Not so much. Last week, center Jeff Saturday became the first unrestricted free agent to sign with the Packers in three years. The team also hosted defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove on a visit, and reports suggest defensive end Dave Tollefson and offensive tackle Demetrius Bell could also visit in the next week or so.

Already, it's the most active stretch of free agency for general manager Ted Thompson since 2006, when he signed defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and cornerback Charles Woodson. Indeed, as of Tuesday, Pickett, Woodson and Saturday remain the only players on the Packers' roster to have been acquired as unrestricted free agents.

What has gotten into Thompson? Did the Packers' early exit from the 2011 playoffs spur a change of philosophy? Did somebody sprinkle the Lambeau Field coffee with extra caffeine?

Not if you ask Thompson, as a few of us did this week here at the NFL owners meetings. Thompson smiled and said: "I know you guys don't believe me. But we're always active in free agency."

Right. And I hit the treadmill every day.

Thompson added: "There have been years, a couple years in a row when we haven't actually signed anybody. It doesn't mean that we weren't active, pursuing leads, trying to understand the market, doing all of that. … Sometimes the market runs away from you, and you keep your hands in your pocket."

[+] EnlargeJeff Saturday
AP Photo/AJ Mast, FileCenter Jeff Saturday agreed to a two-year contract with Green Bay.
In all seriousness, it's not as if the Packers have stayed pat as a rule over the years. In 2009, for example, they expressed interest in defensive lineman Chris Canty but wouldn't make him an offer before he visited Green Bay, as he demanded.

Still, it's hard to look at what's happened so far in 2012 and write it off as random. Given his druthers, I think we know that Thompson would prefer to remain in the background in March. So I see at least a couple of issues at play here.

First, and most important, the Packers have encountered what I could call "Ted Thompson's Imperfect Storm." The Packers have specific needs at important positions where depth is thin, and the draft provides an untenable risk. That was certainly the case at center, a position that might rank second to quarterback in order of importance in the Packers' offense and had no obvious heir on the roster.

Thompson acknowledged that teams have found immediate starters at center in the draft, but that player almost certainly couldn't shoulder the play-calling responsibilities of a Packers center even if he was physically ready to compete with NFL-caliber defensive linemen.

In his typical understated way, Thompson said: "I think it's an important position. The whole makeup on our offense. We asked [former center Scott Wells] to do a lot. We'll ask Jeff to do a lot. … I do think in free agency you're able to target more specific things as opposed to the draft, when we try to take the best player."

The same could be said of the Packers' clear focus on pass-rushers. The Packers have a clear need for a right end and an outside linebacker to play opposite Clay Matthews. But in the current pass-happy era of the NFL, you'd better believe that the other 31 teams are deeply in need of pass-rushers as well. Now more than ever, the Packers would be foolish to close the door on every possible avenue for upgrades.

Second, I wonder whether the Packers weren't at least cautioned by their experience with former defensive end Cullen Jenkins last year. Their anticipated succession plan, 2010 second-round draft pick Mike Neal, suffered a training camp knee injury and made little impact. It's difficult to project injuries, even for a player like Neal, who has endured more than his share. But the Packers' diminished pass rush made a huge impact on their defensive struggles, thus highlighting the risk in counting on unestablished players at key positions.

Every team would love to follow the Packers' style from recent years, relying almost entirely on drafted players to win the Super Bowl. But you wonder whether they were the exception to the rule. Even the best teams need help from the outside at least occasionally, and credit Thompson for acting on that -- even if he did it with his nose pinched and his eyes closed tightly.

Yes, Thompson admitted that he wasn't at Lambeau Field when Saturday arrived last week for his recruiting visit. He was at Iowa's pro day instead. He called Saturday to make sure there would be no hard feelings about his absence and said it was more critical for coach Mike McCarthy to handle the visit. To quote one of my favorite movies: Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.