NFC North: Jerron McMillian

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- General manager Ted Thompson was probably fortunate to find anyone willing take defensive end Jerel Worthy off the Green Bay Packers' hands.

That the New England Patriots on Tuesday were only willing to give up a late-round pick, likely a seventh-rounder, that is conditional on Worthy making their opening-day roster, should serve as condemnation of Thompson's 2012 draft class.

Most believe it takes three years to evaluate a draft class but less than two-and-a-half years later, that class is almost all gone.

In his 10 years as GM, Thompson has relied on the draft to build a perennial NFC contender but his 2012 class has not helped much. He picked eight players that year and only three of them remain on his roster. Just one of them, defensive end Mike Daniels, is penciled in as a starter.

To pick Worthy at No. 51 overall, Thompson traded up, giving a fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to move up eight spots.

Thompson will speak to the media on Wednesday during his regularly-scheduled training camp press conference, and the decision to trade Worthy and what it says about that draft class will be discussed.

But before that, here's a player-by-player look at how that class turned out:

OLB Nick Perry (first round, No. 28 overall): Tired of waiting for him to be healthy, Thompson brought in veteran pass-rusher Julius Peppers this offseason to play in the spot where Perry started at times in his first two seasons. Multiple injuries limited Perry to just 17 of a possible 32 games in his first two seasons. He has worked as a backup in training camp.

DE Jerel Worthy (second round, No. 51 overall): Played 467 snaps in a part-time role as a rookie before he tore his ACL in the regular-season finale. Then played just 13 snaps last season after coming off the physically unable to perform list in November. He sustained a back injury lifting weights this offseason, which required surgery in April, and never made it back to practice before Tuesday's trade.

CB Casey Hayward (second round, No. 62 overall): Led all rookies with six interceptions in 2012, but played in only three games last season because of a recurring hamstring injury. Likely will return to his role as the slot cornerback in the nickel package this season.

DE Mike Daniels (fourth round, No. 132 overall): An emerging star and leader on the defense, Daniels posted 6.5 sacks last season (second on the team to Clay Matthews) as a backup and figures to have a greater impact as a starter this season. So far, he's been the star of this draft class.

S Jerron McMillian (fourth round, No. 133 overall): Began the 2013 season as the starting strong safety but was released on Dec. 3 after being phased out of the defense because of poor play. He is in camp with the Kansas City Chiefs.

LB Terrell Manning (fifth round, No. 163 overall): Played only sparingly, mostly on special teams, as a rookie and then was released in the final cuts at the end of training camp last year. Since then, he has been with three different teams and is currently in camp with the New York Giants.

T Andrew Datko (seventh round, No. 241 overall): Released in the final cuts at the end of training camp last year. Spent his rookie season on the practice squad and was never on the active roster. He's currently out of the NFL.

QB B.J. Coleman (seventh round, No. 243 overall): Spent his rookie season on the practice squad and then was released before the start of last season. He's currently out of the NFL.

Packers offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple months away, we assess the Green Bay Packers' offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDespite the Packers' defense ranking in the bottom third of the league at the end of the 2013 season, the team has decided to keep coordinator Dom Capers.
Best move: Sometimes, the best moves are ones that do not get made. In this case, not firing defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose defense collapsed late last season, could prove to be the best thing the Packers did this offseason. Instead, he and coach Mike McCarthy spent several months examining every aspect of the Packers' scheme and personnel and made some changes that could turn out to be successful. They made a commitment to becoming more multiple rather than just playing base on first down, nickel on second down and dime on third down as they did so often last season. McCarthy said he and Capers have installed safeguards that will allow them to vary their defensive packages even if injuries hit as they did last season. That's a far better plan than junking everything Capers built over the past five years and starting over.

Riskiest move: Again, this is something the Packers did not do -- upgrade their inside linebackers. To be fair, the two players in the draft best suited to do that -- Ohio State's Ryan Shazier and Alabama's C.J. Mosley -- were gone by the time the Packers picked at No. 21 in the first round. Last year, the Packers stood pat at the safety position and hoped that they'd find a player among the returning group of M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian and Sean Richardson. It never happened, and the defense suffered because of it. Unless Jamari Lattimore or Sam Barrington made a big jump, it looks as though the Packers are going to stick with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones on the inside.

Most surprising move: You can count on two things from general manager Ted Thompson -- he does not sign flashy, expensive free agents and he will always wheel and deal on draft weekend, usually to acquire more picks. Not anymore. Two months after Thompson wrote a check for a $7.5 million signing bonus to bring in pass-rusher Julius Peppers, he stood pat and used all nine of his original selections during the draft.

Most underrated move: For a team beset by injuries three of the past four seasons, perhaps the most important thing the Packers did this offseason was enter into an agreement with the tech firm Catapult Sports, which helps teams to compile data on athletic exertion as it relates to fatigue/preventable injuries. More than a dozen NFL teams are using Catapult or a similar GPS-based system to monitor players during practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The addition of the 34-year-old Julius Peppers might be a short-term fix for the Green Bay Packers' defense.

But when it comes to next month's NFL draft, the Packers' most significant free-agent signing since Charles Woodson in 2006 allows general manager Ted Thompson more flexibility with his early-round selections.

So says ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

"I think it does," Kiper said. "It gives them that hole filler and that pass-rusher that you need."

Even if Peppers is only a one- or two-year player, it gives the Packers the ability to address other areas of need, especially on defense.

"I think safety, tight end, inside linebacker are positions they could address and could end up falling their way and could fill those major needs," Kiper said.

Let's start with safety, a position the Packers have largely ignored over the past year. They're looking for a playmaker to fill a crater-sized hole at free safety. Two players who started at safety last season, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, aren't even on the roster anymore. The Packers let Jennings walk as a restricted free agent and cut McMillian before last season ended.

Kiper believes one of the consensus top-two safeties in the draft could be available to Thompson when the Packers pick at No. 21.

"You look at Calvin Pryor from Louisville; I don't think [Alabama’s Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix will be there, but Calvin Pryor could and he's a heck of a football player," Kiper said.

While Kiper said he doesn't think the top tight end, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, will be there when the Packers pick, it's possible the top inside linebacker, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, will be there.

"You can make an argument he'll go a little earlier," Kiper said of Mosley. "If Mosley and Pryor are there, those would be two guys that fill areas of need and are good football players."

Countdown to combine: Packers' needs

February, 17, 2014
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As we head toward the NFL scouting combine, which starts Wednesday in Indianapolis, it’s a good time to look at the Green Bay Packers’ greatest needs this offseason and which prospects general manager Ted Thompson might be taking a closer look at during workouts and interviews this week.

Which position is the greatest need could be debated, but there’s no arguing that it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Before things get underway at Lucas Oil Stadium, we’ll look at three areas on defense where the Packers need help.

First up is safety.

Why the Packers need help: The Packers made a $24.75 million investment in strong safety Morgan Burnett last offseason, when they gave him a four-year extension that included an $8.25 million signing bonus. If Burnett is to live up to the rest of that contract, he will need to make far more impact plays than he did in 2013, when he failed to come up with a single interception for the first time in his four-year NFL career.

In fact, Packers safeties didn’t pick off a pass the entire season, the first time that’s happened in Green Bay in more than 50 years.

Here’s how bad their safety play was: Jerron McMillian, who opened the season as one of the starters while Burnett was sidelined with a hamstring injury, was released in early December and hasn’t been picked up by another team. Third-year pro M.D. Jennings, a former undrafted free agent, started every game at free safety but at different points in the season was splitting time with Chris Banjo and Sean Richardson, a pair of undrafted players. Jennings is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next month.

Thompson has drafted only one safety (McMillian in the fourth round in 2012) since he picked Burnett in the third round in 2010. He still has not adequately replaced three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, whose Packers career ended in Week 2 of the 2011 season because of a neck injury.

There may be only two or three safeties with first-round grades, but the Packers should be in position to take one of them at No. 21.

Safeties the Packers should be watching:

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: An underclassmen who is known for his strong instincts and cover skills, he will likely be the first safety taken and could be gone before the Packers are on the clock. He looks like a free safety prospect, although he can come down and play in the box against the run. If Thompson likes him enough, perhaps he might be willing to trade up to get him.

Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Another underclassman who looks like he has the speed to cover ground and find the ball in the deep part of the field. Could push Clinton-Dix and overtake him as the top safety in the draft. It’s unlikely both will be gone by the time the Packers are on the clock.

Jimmy Ward, Northern Illinois: At 5-foot-11, he’s shorter than Pryor (6-2) and Clinton-Dix (6-1) and might be better suited for strong safety. However, he has shown the ability to cover with range and match up against bigger tight ends and receivers. Had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl last month to boost his stock.

Green Bay Packers season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 13
Preseason Power Ranking: 5

Biggest surprise: How many people would have believed the Packers could win the NFC North without the services of Aaron Rodgers for seven-plus games? Maybe it was an indictment on the rest of the division but the fact that the Packers used four different starting quarterbacks this season and went 2-5-1 after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4, and they still won the division by beating the Chicago Bears in Week 17, when Rodgers returned, could not have been expected. The saga of when Rodgers would return from his injury dominated the second half of the season.

Biggest disappointment: When general manager Ted Thompson drafted Datone Jones with the 26th overall pick in April, he thought he was getting a defensive lineman who could play on all three downs and would be equally effective against the run and rushing the quarterback. In training camp, Jones looked the part. He stood out in practices, but when it came time to produce, he couldn't deliver. By the end of the season, Jones' playing time was reduced to almost nothing. Fifth-round pick Josh Boyd was playing more snaps than Jones late in the year. Jones finished with 3.5 sacks but two came in one game.

Biggest need: The Packers have many, and they're most on the defensive side of the ball. Their entire starting defensive line -- B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly -- will be unrestricted free agents. Other than A.J. Hawk, they are weak at inside linebacker. And their safety play was atrocious at times. They don't just need contributors; they need playmakers on that side of the ball. Other than outside linebacker Clay Matthews and perhaps cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, they didn't have many big-play players on defense. Their needs are so great that Thompson, the free-agent averse GM, might not be able to rely solely on the draft to fill them all.

Team MVP: Rodgers is clearly the Packers' most important player, but this honor should go to someone who played the majority of the season. In that case, it has to be running back Eddie Lacy. It has to be rare for a rookie to be a team's MVP, but then again the second-round draft pick from Alabama proved to be a rare talent. Despite missing nearly two full games because of a concussion and half of another game because a sprained ankle, Lacy finished eighth in the league in rushing with 1,178 yards (a Packers' rookie record) and had the second-most rushing touchdowns with 11.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- First there was 579, and then there was 412.

The first number -- the total yards the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick-led offense piled up last January, much of it on the ground, on the way to their 45-31 playoff rout of the Green Bay Packers -- haunted those around Lambeau Field for an entire offseason.

The second -- Kaepernick’s passing yards in the 49ers’ 34-28 victory over the Packers in Week 1 of this season -- showed those in Green Bay that all the work they did in the offseason, all the time they spent devising ways to stop the 49ers’ read-option offense, didn’t help because Kaepernick can throw the ball, too.

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsPackers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has made his mark by adapting his calls to each opponent.
What happens in Sunday’s wild-card playoff rematch at Lambeau Field could define Dom Capers’ tenure as the Packers’ defensive coordinator.

“Dom Capers is a competitor,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday. “It’s a very important game to all of us. This isn’t a contest to see who this game’s more important [to]. We’re a football team. We know that one area needs to play to the other and so forth.

"But the defense needs to play its best game of the year. We need to improve off of how we’ve performed here in the past. Offense, we need to get better, too. There’s improvement coming off of our last performance that we can be better, and definitely on special teams.”

The 2012 season was bookended by losses to the 49ers, in Week 1 at Lambeau Field and then in the divisional playoff game in San Francisco. This season began the same way with the loss at Candlestick Park.

In those three games, the Packers allowed 1,450 yards combined, and were doomed by their inability to shut down certain players.

In last year’s playoff game, the 49ers rushed for 323 yards, including 181 by Kaepernick (the most rushing yards ever in a game by an NFL quarterback). That prompted Capers and his staff to launch an exhaustive offseason study of the read-option offense only to see Kaepernick turn into a pass-first quarterback in the opener, when 208 of his 412 yards passing went to veteran receiver Anquan Boldin.

“We go back and look at all of it,” Capers said. “So we’ll put together what’s worked well against them and what hasn’t worked well. You evaluate it and then you take the guys you’re going to have out there playing and decide what you think they can do the best.”

The Packers go into the playoffs with a defense that looks more like the 2011 unit that ranked last in the NFL in yards and passing yards allowed than the group that rebounded to finish 11th in both categories last season. Capers’ unit finished this regular season ranked 25th in yards allowed, 25th in rushing yards allowed and 24th in passing yards allowed. At different points during the season, the Packers ranked as high as 11th, third and 20th in those three key statistical categories.

No one has defended Capers more vigorously than veteran linebacker A.J. Hawk, who regularly insists that whatever defensive shortcomings they have are the result of player execution and not Capers’ scheme or play calling.

But Hawk hears the criticism of the 63-year-old Capers, whose unit has allowed 45 and 37 points in each of the Packers' last two playoff losses -- to the 49ers last year and to the New York Giants the previous year. And the eighth-year linebacker understands the importance of Sunday’s game, especially to those on defense.

“He’s even-keeled and tries to stay positive and coach us up so I’m sure in his mind, yeah, it’s a huge game,” Hawk said. “[It’s a] big game for everybody, though.”

Capers will have to manage without four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, whose second thumb injury of the season has him sidelined indefinitely.

Yet listen to McCarthy talk about that oft-criticized unit, and he exudes confidence in his players and his veteran coordinator.

“I love our defense,” he said. “I love our football team. Throw the stats out the window. We could sit here and roll around in that stuff all you want. You can throw the bad ones at me and I’ll throw the good ones back at you. We’re a playoff football team. Our identity has changed. It’s kind of gone different directions of how we have to go play to win a game. This team’s embraced it, and we know it’s going to take the full game to get it done, and that’s the way we play.”
The Chicago Bears on Tuesday announced they waived safety Sean Cattouse. And, according to an NFL source, the club worked out safeties Sherrod Martin and Jerron McMillian, in addition to offensive tackle Michael Ola.

Cattouse appeared in one game for the Bears, on Dec. 1 at Minnesota after the club elevated him from the practice squad. Cattouse spent eight weeks on the practice squad before the Bears elevated him to the active roster.

A former second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2009, Martin worked out for the Bears in November. He spent four seasons with the Panthers, but finished last season on injured reserve due to torn right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Martin posted 199 tackles, seven interceptions and 20 passes defended as a Panther.

McMillian was a fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2012, and played most of his rookie season in the sub packages before the club released him on Dec. 3.

Ola has spent the last two seasons in the Canadian Football League playing for the Montreal Alouettes, where current Chicago coach Marc Trestman worked prior to joining the Bears.

Cutting McMillian not a major shakeup

December, 3, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. – As far as major shakeups go, cutting a second-year safety who had been phased out of the defense probably doesn’t qualify.

But that’s about as far as the struggling Green Bay Packers went upon returning Tuesday from their extended time off following last Thursday’s 40-10 loss at the Detroit Lions. They cut Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, to make room for veteran running back Kahlil Bell, who agreed to a one-year deal a day earlier.

[+] EnlargeJerron McMillian
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonJerron McMillian fell out of the Packers' defensive plans.
McMillian lost a training-camp battle with M.D. Jennings for the starting free safety job but then started the first two games at strong safety while Morgan Burnett was out because of a hamstring injury. However, McMillian lost that starting spot even before Burnett returned. Rookie Chris Banjo started in Week 3, and McMillian was reduced to a part-time role as the dime (sixth) defensive back.

By the Packers’ sixth game, McMillian was out of the defensive plans all together. After playing 184 snaps on defense in the first five games, McMillian played just seven defensive snaps in the last seven games. Even McMillian’s role on special teams was reduced. He played just six of 27 special-teams plays against the Lions.

“Any time you have a young player you bring into your program, you obviously have expectations,” coach Mike McCarthy said Tuesday. “But this is something that we felt we needed to do from a roster standpoint. I think our roster distribution reflects that, and as far as his individual performance, it just wasn’t quite what it needed to be this year.”

McCarthy wouldn’t commit to any other changes for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, a virtual must-win game if the Packers want to stay in the playoff hunt. He said the newly signed Bell might factor in on special teams right away but wouldn't say if that would be in a kick-return capacity.

McCarthy said the film review of the Lions game did not produce many positive grades. The offense, he said, had none. The defense, other than the four takeaways, also was all negative. He said they had 20 missed tackles on defense and special teams combined.

“We’re staying true to who we are,” McCarthy said. “We study the film. We correct the things that we’ve done [and] maybe get some people healthier. Coming back, there’ll be more competition for playing time in certain packages. So some of that’s going to change, but I’m not going to get into specifics on that.”

While the Packers don’t have to file an official injury report until Wednesday, McCarthy indicated that the knee injury that center Evan Dietrich-Smith sustained in the second quarter against the Lions was not serious. Dietrich-Smith, who did not return to the game, may be able to practice on Wednesday. He also said receiver Randall Cobb, who is eligible to come off the injured reserve/designed to return list next week, has not been cleared to return from his leg injury.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 44-31 win against the Minnesota Vikings:

Rodgers' responsibility: Every time quarterback Aaron Rodgers loses one of his key playmakers, his job gets harder. Consider that within a span of eight days, he lost two of his top three receivers (Randall Cobb and James Jones on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens) and his top tight end (Jermichael Finley on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns). Yet in the past two games, Rodgers has played some of his finest football. In his past two games, Rodgers has attempted 65 passes and completed 49, or 75.4 percent. He has thrown five touchdowns without an interception in the past two games. That followed a stretch in which Rodgers -- with all of those weapons -- went three straight games without throwing more than one touchdown. “I think this is really shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday night. “Aaron’s had a lot of challenges Monday through Saturday that don’t show up on a stat sheet, just the change, just trying to get on the same page with younger players, trusting the game plan.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Jim MoneThough the talent around him has been depleted by injuries, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is thriving.
Special teams breakdown: The rash of injuries that has hit the Packers this season has impacted them most on special teams. They had six rookies or first-year players -- including two (receiver Chris Harper and tight end Jake Stoneburner) who weren’t on the Week 1 roster -- on their kickoff coverage team who allowed Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. The Packers had several chances to stop Patterson deep in Vikings territory. Jerron McMillian and Sam Barrington both had shots inside the 20-yard line, and Micah Hyde missed a diving attempt at the 23. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum also pulled punter Tim Masthay off of kickoffs after Patterson’s return. Field goal kicker Mason Crosby handled kickoffs the rest of the game, making it a light night for Masthay, because the Packers never had to punt.

An opportunity for Sherrod: As good as Don Barclay is in the running game, where he regularly finishes blocks with an aggressiveness about him, the second-year right tackle has had his struggles in pass protection. Barclay had his hands full with Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. Although Robison did not record a sack, he regularly beat Barclay and forced Rodgers to have to escape the pocket to avoid him. The Packers might have to consider giving Derek Sherrod a chance at right tackle -- if he’s ready, that is. Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2011, returned to practice two weeks ago and can be activated off the physically unable to perform list. The Packers have to decide by the beginning of next week whether to put Sherrod on the 53-man roster. He appears to be fully healed from the broken leg he suffered on Dec. 18, 2011. He has not played in a game since he suffered the injury late in his rookie season.

No new injuries: It’s always possible an injury or two could pop up in the next couple of days, but perhaps the best thing to come out of Sunday’s game was the fact that the Packers did not suffer any more injuries. For a team that has been hit hard by the injury bug, that’s no small matter. All but one of the seven inactive players on Sunday was injury-related. What’s more, linebackers Nick Perry (foot) and Brad Jones (hamstring), along with James Jones (knee), might be able to return for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears. And linebacker Clay Matthews, who told on Sunday night that he will have the pins removed from his broken right thumb Nov. 4, could return as soon as the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2011, when they led the NFL with 31 interceptions, the Green Bay Packers have picked off more passes than all but one other NFL team

With 52 interceptions since the start of the 2011 season, the Packers trail only the Chicago Bears (52) in that category.

However, that total includes only three interceptions in six games this season. Only two teams -- the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers -- have picked off fewer passes this season.

Perhaps the return of cornerback Casey Hayward, who led the Packers and all NFL rookies last season with six interceptions, can help turn that around. Hayward is expected to make his season debut on Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings after missing the first six games because of a hamstring injury.

[+] EnlargeCasey Hayward
Brett Davis/US PresswireCasey Hayward will try to help the Packers increase their interception output when he makes his season debut on Sunday.
“I hope I can grab a couple,” Hayward said. “I don’t think it’s that we don’t have any ballhawks. I think the ball hasn’t come in our lap sometimes. Sometimes, it’s best to be lucky. We haven’t had many tipped balls. I look around the league and sometimes the ball just falls in some people’s lap. Hopefully we can get some this week.”

It remains to be seen how the Packers will integrate Hayward back into the defense. The cornerback spot is perhaps the deepest position on the team. Tramon Williams and Sam Shields have manned the outside spots in the base defense. In the nickel package, Williams has moved inside to cover the slot receiver, and Davon House replaced him. Rookie Micah Hyde also has played some in the nickel and last week replaced Jerron McMillian as the dime defensive back.

“It just gives us another option,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “The more options you have and the more players you have is always good. It’s good to have him back and have him available.”

Further complicating matters is that Sunday’s game against the Vikings likely will see defensive coordinator Dom Capers play more of his base 3-4 defense in order to stop running back Adrian Peterson. That means fewer snaps for third and fourth cornerbacks.

Emptying out the notebook from the week:

Boykin’s impact: Jarrett Boykin had played 65 snaps in the first five games of the season combined. With Randall Cobb and James Jones out last week, the second-year pro made his first NFL start and more than doubled his season snap count. In 69 snaps, he caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.

“Going into the game, that’s how I felt the game was going to go,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “He was going to get a lot of opportunities, and he did.”

Perhaps Boykin’s emergence can take some of the defensive attention away from Nelson, who last week against the Browns was shadowed by top cornerback Joe Haden. Nelson was limited to five catches for 42 yards and one touchdown.

But if not?

“Then I’ll let the rest of the guys beat ’em,” Nelson said.

Finley’s future: At some point, the Packers will have to make a decision on the future of tight end Jermichael Finley, who sustained a spinal contusion in Sunday’s game against the Browns that left him temporarily unable to move. He spent four nights in the hospital, including one in intensive care.

The Packers have a long history of not clearing players to return from neck injuries. The most recent came after Nick Collins sustained a herniated disc in 2011. At the time, Collins had two more years remaining on a three-year, $23.4 million contract extension, so the Packers had to release him when they decided not to clear him medically.

Finley’s situation is different because the two-year, $14 million contract he signed in 2012 will expire in March. If Finley doesn’t play the rest of the season, it’s possible the Packers would never have to make a medical decision. They could let his contract expire and allow him to leave in free agency, leaving it up to other teams to decide whether or not to clear him.

Hall of Fame closing: One of the most popular attractions at Lambeau Field, the Packers Hall of Fame, will temporarily close on Nov. 18 while the next phase of the stadium renovation takes place. The Hall of Fame will move to the first and second floors of the Lambeau Field Atrium and is scheduled to reopen in April 2015.

A new team merchandise store and stadium restaurant will be added.

It is part of a $140.4 million Atrium project, which is the final component of renovations that began in 2011 and included 7,000 new seats that opened this season in the south end zone, a new sound system, new video boards and two new stadium entrances.

Funding for the project came via private financing ($85.5 million) and a loan from the NFL G4 program ($55 million), according to the Packers. Including the south end zone and the Atrium, the total cost of the renovations will be $286.5 million. None of the funding will be from public tax money, the team said.

Injury report: James Jones doubtful

October, 25, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A week after he was listed as questionable and did not play, Green Bay Packers receiver James Jones has even less of a chance to play this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

Jones did not practice for the second straight week after sustaining a sprained left knee on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens. He was listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report.

That means Jarrett Boykin is expected to make his second career start. In his first start last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Boykin caught eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.

The Packers’ defense might get an unexpected early return for Sunday’s game at another position weakened by injury. Outside linebacker Nick Perry returned to practice on Friday less than two weeks after he sustained a foot injury against the Ravens. Last week, coach Mike McCarthy said Perry would likely miss “a couple of weeks.”

Perry was a limited participant in Friday’s practice and was listed as questionable.

“Didn’t want to overdo it, so we’ll see how feels and hopefully get ready for Sunday night,” McCarthy said Friday.

Cornerback Casey Hayward appears set to make his season debut after missing the first six games because of a hamstring injury. Hayward, who led all NFL rookies with six interceptions last season, was listed as probable.

Here’s the full injury report:

Probable – CB Jarrett Bush (hamstring, full participation in practice), CB Casey Hayward (hamstring, full participation), S Jerron McMillian (not injury related, did not practice), RB James Starks (knee, full participation).

Questionable – LB Brad Jones (hamstring, limited participation), OLB Nick Perry (foot, limited participation).

Doubtful – WR James Jones (knee, did not practice).

Out – TE Jermichael Finley (neck), OLB Clay Matthews (thumb), TE Ryan Taylor (knee).
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Less than two weeks after he suffered a foot injury against the Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers linebacker Nick Perry returned to practice on Friday.

It was a surprise considering that on Oct. 16, three days after Perry’s injury, coach Mike McCarthy said he expected to Perry to miss “a couple of weeks.”

Perry was ruled out of last week’s game against the Cleveland Browns. This week, he did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but was not immediately ruled out.

If Perry can suit up, even if only for emergency purposes, it would give the Packers four available outside linebackers for Sunday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Last week, they dressed only three -- Mike Neal plus rookies Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

Receiver James Jones (knee) was unable to return to practice and appears unlikely to play against the Vikings.

There was one other surprise at practice. Safety Jerron McMillian was not in attendance. The reason wasn’t immediately known.

The others who did not practice were: linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb), tight end Ryan Taylor (knee) and tight end Jermichael Finley (neck).

The full injury report will be released after practice.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 31-13 win against the Cleveland Browns.

Come out firing: It was probably no coincidence that the Green Bay Packers threw passes on their first seven plays from scrimmage. Surely, coach Mike McCarthy wanted to prove that their offense does not have to -- and will not -- change just because receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones were out with injuries. Aaron Rodgers completed five of his first seven passes, including a 26-yard completion to tight end Jermichael Finley to set up Finley’s touchdown catch on the first series, and a 15-yard completion to fill-in starter Jarrett Boykin on the second series before finally settling into a more balanced plan of runs and passes. McCarthy did not shy away from using his preferred three-receiver set package just because two of those three receivers were out. Boykin and rookie Myles White joined Jordy Nelson in that set. White played 47 of 71 snaps, Boykin played 69, and Nelson 66. So before asking how the Packers' offense might change if Finley can't come back anytime soon from the neck injury he suffered in the fourth quarter, think about how the Packers opened the game.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaAaron Rodgers and the Packers have shown they're not afraid to throw the ball no matter who is in their lineup catching passes.
Timely audible: Last week, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Rodgers was nearly perfect on his decision-making when checking out of plays at the line of scrimmage. It looked like Rodgers hit on another audible in the first quarter. On third-and-5 from the Browns’ 22, the Packers were spread out in a three-receiver set and in the shotgun. Rodgers appeared to change to a running play, and Eddie Lacy found a huge hole for a 13-yard gain for a first down that set up a touchdown. When asked whether he changed the play at the line, Rodgers said: “Possibly, yes. Can’t give away all the secrets, but possibly, yes, that was.”

Pass-rush prowess: The loss of outside linebacker Clay Matthews has not significantly slowed down the pass rush. With three sacks and eight quarterback hits on Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, the Packers have combined for eight sacks and 14 quarterback hits since Matthews had surgery on his broken thumb two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have had to dial up more blitzes, but so far he has been able to keep the pressure coming. And it has come from a variety of sources. A week after linebacker A.J. Hawk had three sacks, linebacker Jamari Lattimore recorded his first career sack. Part of it might have had to do with Weeden’s penchant for holding the ball too long, but the Packers also deserve credit for disrupting him.

House call: A week earlier, Davon House broke up three passes in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, but then saw his playing time as the third cornerback in the nickel package reduced to almost nil. On one of those breakups, he dropped what should have been an easy interception. Given another chance against the Browns, House delivered three more pass breakups, but this time he came up with his interception -- the first of his career -- and played 57 of 71 snaps. House continued to make a push for increased playing time even when nickel cornerback Casey Hayward returns from his preseason hamstring injury. The Packers’ depth in the secondary is impressive. A week after safety Jerron McMillian struggled in coverage against the Ravens, the Packers replaced him in the dime package with Hyde, who played 22 snaps on defense.

Locker Room Buzz: Green Bay Packers

October, 20, 2013
Observed in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 31-13 win over the Cleveland Browns n Sunday:

Still shaken: Tight end Andrew Quarless and receiver Jordy Nelson have the lockers immediately to the right and left of tight end Jermichael Finley. So it was not surprising that both were still visibly shaken after the game about the neck injury that forced Finley to be taken off on a stretcher. “I ain’t going to lie, man; I ain’t cried in a long time, but I definitely shed a tear for him,” Quarless said. Finley did not move for several minutes after he got hit by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, but the Packers said he had movement and feeling in all of his extremities. “That’s honestly the first time (an injury) ever got me,” Nelson said. “I didn’t like what I saw.”

Lacy’s leap: Rookie running back Eddie Lacy's 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter gave him his first opportunity to do the Lambeau Leap. He was a little embarrassed about it afterward. “I just know the next time I’ve got to jump a lot higher,” Lacy said.

Throwback success: Count quarterback Aaron Rodgers among those who wouldn’t mind if the Packers wore their throwback jerseys that they donned on Sunday more often. “I think there’s definitely some sentiment in the locker room that the pants associated with the throwback jerseys and the throwback jerseys are pretty good luck for us,” Rodgers said. “So maybe a couple more times wearing those might not be a bad idea, Packers people.”

Early exit: Safety Jerron McMillian was one of the first ones out of the locker room after he played a reduced role. McMillian lost his spot as the dime defensive back a week after he misplayed two passes against the Baltimore Ravens. Rookie Micah Hyde played in McMillian’s place on defense, and McMillian played only on special teams. “I just play it by ear whenever they need me,” McMillian said. “If they don’t need me, I’ve just got to be ready for whatever the situation calls.”