NFC North: J.J. Jansen
Some quick hitters on a Wednesday evening:
Detroit is considering every avenue to improve its receiving corps. The Lions signed Bryant Johnson early in free agency and on Monday claimed Will Franklin off waivers from Kansas City. Wednesday, according to Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com, the Lions hosted free agent Ronald Curry on a visit. No indication as of yet if the Lions plan to sign him, but we're getting close to that point where teams and players start holding off decisions until after the draft. Earlier this week, the Lions hosted free agent fullback Terrelle Smith, who spent the previous nine seasons with Arizona, Cleveland and New Orleans.
When news surfaced about Duke basketball player Greg Paulus working out for Green Bay last week, it wasn't immediately clear what position the Packers were evaluating him at. Paulus was a high school quarterback in Syracuse, N.Y., but it seemed unlikely that anyone would consider him a candidate to jump into the NFL at that position. Well, the football coach at Duke agrees. David Cutcliffe said Wednesday he had offered Paulus a chance to try out as a slot receiver but there was "no way" he could handle the transition to quarterback at a Division I level.
Detroit's Jim Schwartz is a rookie head coach, but he's a veteran at spewing total mumbo jumbo about the draft. Speaking to Detroit reporters Wednesday, Schwartz claimed the Lions haven't finished stacking their board and said: "You don't start at the top, you go by positions usually. Generally what you do is you start by positions. You'll go through there and then once all the positions are done, then you'll start going line by line. You guys ever hear the horizontal and vertical nature? Right now, we're still vertical. We haven't started going horizontal across positions yet." Whatever. (Seriously, I think the "horizontal" reference refers to teams ranking players who receive the same or very similar grades.)
Closing the book on the blockbuster trade that sent Green Bay long snapper J.J. Jansen to Carolina, ESPN's John Clayton reports the Packers will receive a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2011 draft. And before you ask, I have no idea whom the Packers might be targeting with that pick.
It doesn't get much bigger than this: On Monday, Green Bay traded the guy who almost was its long snapper in 2008.
J.J. Jansen, who spent the season on injured reserve after suffering a late-summer knee injury, was shipped to Carolina for a conditional draft pick. The pick almost certainly won't arrive in time for the 2009 draft, considering nothing "conditional" can happen between now and then. In all likelihood, the Packers will get a seventh-round pick in 2010 if Jansen makes the Panthers' 2009 roster. (Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette speculates similarly.)
Put it this way: Anything more than a seventh-round pick would be a steal. Long-snappers are important, but traditionally you shouldn't have to invest much in the way of draft picks to find one.
At this point, the Packers figure to stay with the long-snapper they signed to replace Jansen last summer, Brett Goode.
Those covering the Green Bay Packers practice Monday were surprised to see Derrick Frost handling the punting duties. Incumbent Jon Ryan, whose job was not believed to be in jeopardy, was not on the field.
Well, the Packers just confirmed the news: Ryan was released Monday to make room for Frost. Also, the Packers signed long snapper Brett Goode to replace the injured J.J. Jansen. Linebacker Abdul Hodge was released to make room for Goode.
The departure of Ryan was not expected. He ranked sixth in the NFC last season with a 37.6-yard net average and he had decent averages during the preseason (48.0 gross, 37.7 net.) Frost's preseason numbers this summer with the Washington Redskins (45.5 gross, 32.3 net) didn't compare, but I'm sure the Packers had other reasons.
General Manager Ted Thompson is expected to address reporters later Monday afternoon.
UPDATE (5:30 p.m. ET): Discussing the decision to release Ryan, Thompson said: "I think we were just looking for a little bit more consistency." He described Frost as a mechanically sound punter.
UPDATE II (6:10 p.m. ET): Here is a link to a canada.com story in which Ryan said the move "came out of nowhere."
You can view the Packers' list of roster moves here.
Biggest surprise: You knew some good running backs would get released given the Packers' depth at the position, but you just didn't know who. As it turned out, the Packers released two veterans -- Vernand Morency and Noah Herron -- in favor of rookie Kregg Lumpkin. (The Packers had already waived DeShawn Wynn.) Lumpkin was one of the surprises of training camp and impressed coaches with his tenacity as well as his skills. Of course, the majority of the Packers' carries this season will go to Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson.
No-brainers: The receiver position was another area of depth for the Packers, so it wasn't surprising to see them release four wideouts Saturday. Most notable was seventh-round pick Brett Swain. But few rookies were going to crack a group that includes Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, James Jones and Ruvell Martin. (Second-round draft choice Jordy Nelson was the only one.)
What's next: Although his injury was not believed to be season-ending, the Packers placed long-snapper J.J. Jansen on injured reserve because of a sprained lateral collateral ligament. The means they will have to find a new long snapper this week. Thomas Gafford, waived by the Bears on Saturday, could be a possibility. The Packers could also bring in several players for tryouts before deciding what direction they're going. Meanwhile, although quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Brian Brohm both made the roster, there are no guarantees the Packers won't seek a veteran backup for Aaron Rodgers this week.
Saturday is the NFL's official roster cutdown day. But the best story might be that of Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who revealed Friday that his personal absences from training camp this summer were due to the serious heart condition of his six-month-old daughter, Tiana.
As David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes, Tiana Tillman was rushed to a Chicago-area hospital May 20 because of an enlarged heart. She was kept alive with a device known as a Berlin Heart -- an external pump that maintains blood flow in cases of a damaged heart -- until finally receiving a heart transplant July 31.
Tiana must remain on medication for the rest of her life, but Tillman said: "She'll be a normal kid. She can ride a bike, play little league soccer if she wants to. I'm optimistic. This has made us stronger as a family."
At a news conference Friday, Tillman urged citizens to register as an organ donor. Sounds like a noble cause to us.
Moving back on the field in the NFC North:
- In addition to the players listed on Friday's post, the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have told long-snapper Thomas Gafford he will be released.
- Gafford could return to the Green Bay Packers, whose current long-snapper, J.J. Jansen, was diagnosed Friday with a sprained lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The injury isn't serious, but it's not clear whether Jansen can recover in time to play in the Sept. 8 season opener against Minnesota.
- Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offers a position-by-position analysis of the Packers. It includes this highlight: "Matt Flynn clearly was the second-best passer in camp." Flynn and Brian Brohm were competing for the No. 2 quarterback job behind starter Aaron Rodgers.
- In addition to the players listed on Friday's post, the Star Tribune reports the Vikings will also release linebacker Rufus Alexander and David Herron.
- Six of the Detroit Lions' eight draft picks are expected to make the team, according to the Detroit Free Press.
- Running back Artose Pinner hopes his performance Thursday night -- 78 yards on 23 carries at Buffalo -- convinces the Lions he is worth keeping on the roster for insurance purposes.
The good news? The Chicago Bears avoided a winless preseason Thursday night, slipping past the Cleveland Browns 16-10.
The rest of the news? Legitimate concern has surfaced about the Bears defense, which gave up two scoring drives to a watered-down Browns offense despite having the majority of its own starters on the field. Defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek sat out along with safety Mike Brown, but the rest of the Bears' starters allowed 123 yards on 21 plays to the Browns, who were without quarterback Derek Anderson, running back Jamal Lewis and receiver Braylon Edwards.
There weren't a lot of "Oh, it's just preseason" quotes afterward. Cornerback Charles Tillman called the situation "a mess" and said: "If I had an answer I'd tell you right now."
Coach Lovie Smith acknowledged his disappointment and wouldn't use the typically generic defensive schemes of preseason as an excuse:
''We've been vanilla the entire preseason. We are not going to use that as a reason for not playing as well as we need to. We're not going to go down that road. Yeah, we'll have a lot more stuff in [when we play the Indianapolis Colts], but that's the base stuff we do and you need to be sound fundamentally with your base stuff.''
The Bears' No. 1 defense gave up a score on seven of its final nine drives of the preseason. One of the two non-scoring drives ended in a blocked field goal. They haven't panicked yet, but changes already were under way Thursday night. Kevin Payne has leapfrogged Brandon McGowan as the starting strong safety, and defensive coordinator Bob Babich called the game from the sideline rather than his usual perch in the press box.
Chicago plays the Colts a week from Sunday. You think Peyton Manning has incentive to hurry back onto the field?
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- Bears third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie completed 12 of 17 passes for 115 yards and one interception, but it's not clear whether the Bears will keep him on their 53-man roster or attempt to sneak him onto their practice squad.
- Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress was livid after his team's sloppy 16-10 loss at Dallas. To be fair, his entire starting lineup, as well as backup quarterback Gus Frerotte, sat out. But, Childress said: "I hate to lose and I like putting my best foot forward. So when we pick the 53 guys on the team, we're going to pick 53 winners. That's what we're going to do."
- Some of Childress' anger was directed at quarterbacks John David Booty and Brooks Bollinger. Booty threw an interception on his first pass, while Bollinger completed only six of 18 passes. Both are competing for the Vikings' No. 3 job. "They were both average," Childress said. "Average is about the worst thing you can say about somebody. Average."
- Green Bay Packers running back Ryan Grant finished the preseason without a carry. He played only one down Thursday night in his preseason debut; the Packers starting offense scored on its first and only play. "We just felt like the risk-reward wasn't worth it," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Neither of the Packers' backup quarterbacks, Brian Brohm and Matt Flynn, had a good night Thursday against Tennessee. It leaves the team in a predicament with final cuts coming this weekend. There will certainly be a veteran quarterback or two available.
- Packers long-snapper J.J. Jansen suffered what might be a serious left knee injury.
- The Detroit Lions were the only team to finish the preseason 4-0. What does it mean? "Nothing," coach Rod Marinelli said.
- Lions safety Daniel Bullocks got his first game action after recovering from a knee injury suffered last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Were it not for this little quarterback situation, on top of the unfortunate running back issue, the Green Bay Packers were actually headed for a training camp light on drama. If you take a look at their roster, the Packers' most obvious competition is at long-snapper.
That's right. The retirement of Rob Davis has left this job in question for the first time since 1997, as the Green Bay Press-Gazette pointed out. Davis now works in the team's front office. Rookie J.J. Jansen and first-year player Thomas Gafford are competing for the job.
Anytime you have a chance to enter camp with long snapper as your biggest drama, you're doing pretty well. That was the scenario the Packers were facing on June 19, their final day of minicamp before players were dismissed for summer.
The next day, retired quarterback Brett Favre called coach Mike McCarthy and told him he was considering a comeback. (You know how that one's worked out). And as the summer moved along, precious little progress was reported in the contract negotiations of tailback Ryan Grant.
As the Packers open camp Monday with an 8:45 a.m. CT practice, they still are trying to figure out how to deal with Favre's request. And Grant is nowhere near Green Bay, holding out after receiving what his agent termed an "insulting" offer from the Packers late last week.
We're on site and will bring you updates as the day progresses. For now, here's a quick swing through the rest of the NFC North.
- So far, Paris Lenon is holding off rookie Jordon Dizon for the Detroit Lions' middle linebacker job, reports the Detroit Free Press. "...For a rookie to come in and be the starting middle linebacker in this package, it's hard," defensive coordinator Joe Barry said.
- Lions vice-chairman Bill Ford Jr. says players are buying into coach Rod Marinelli's message. "I believe that gives me real faith in this season," Ford told reporters in Detroit. "We haven't had that in the past."
- Who says they're cheap? After signing kick returner/receiver Devin Hester to a four-year contract extension, the Chicago Bears have now signed 10 players to multi-year contracts totaling $185.39 million since February, calculates Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. That total includes about $59 million in guaranteed money.
- The Bears have taken care of everyone on their roster that deserves it, writes Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times.
- Defensive end Jared Allen and left tackle Bryant McKinnie are pounding away on each other at Minnesota Vikings training camp.
The Green Bay Packers have a little issue at quarterback. (You might have read a word or two about it here.) Otherwise, their lineup consists mostly of returning starters. Here are a few interesting depth situations where movement could occur:
Backup running back: Brandon Jackson vs. Noah Herron vs. Vernand Morency
Ryan Grant emerged from this group as the unquestioned starter last season, and that's how the Packers will begin training camp -- if Grant signs a contract extension by that time. Whether he is signed or holds out, however, the Packers want to establish a pecking order behind him rather than using the committee style they opened last season with.
Jackson is the clear favorite to secure that role and would be the likely starter if Grant's absence is prolonged. A second-round draft choice last season, Jackson is built low to the ground and would have success in the Packers' west-coast scheme. He has worked this offseason on improving his pass catching so that he can compete for a third-down role as well.
Intensity index: Hot
Long snapper: J.J. Jansen vs. Thomas Gafford
Yes, you read that right. The Packers have competition at long-snapper following the retirement of Rob Davis. True story: During a trip to Packers mini-camp this summer, committed members of the Wisconsin media were charting each practice snap.
The competition is wide open, at least as of now. The Packers are going to have to make some roster moves in order to fit their full draft class under the NFL's 80-man cap. But as of Thursday morning both Jansen and Gafford were still on the Packers' roster. Not many teams have the luxury of taking two long snappers to camp with them, but it clearly represents a priority for the Packers.
Intensity index: Hot. (Is there any other way to describe a long-snapping competition?)