NFC North: Joe Whitt Jr.
But that’s old news, at least to the Packers, who have two preseason games and just three more practices remaining before final roster cuts are due Aug. 31.
Here are five things to watch for from the Packers’ perspective:
1. Playing time for the starters: Coach Mike McCarthy has typically used the third preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener, playing his starters at least the full first half and resting them in the exhibition finale. This year could be different. McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson still have a long list of young players they want to see in extended game action to get a better evaluation. To do so, they might have to cut back on playing time for some of the starters. “I talked to Ted about some things, so once again we’re trying to get as much information as we can,” McCarthy said. “We want to play very well, we want to win the game, but we’ve got guys who have been injured the whole camp. We have guys who have been injured from the spring all the way through camp that are finally maybe playing.”
2. Young receivers: Among the players McCarthy was referring to are rookie receivers Kevin Dorsey and Charles Johnson. Both missed most of training camp and the offseason program. Dorsey returned last week from a hamstring injury but did not play in Saturday’s game at St. Louis. Johnson returned this week from a knee injury. The seventh-round draft picks were expected to challenge for the Nos. 4 and 5 receiver spots but have fallen way behind. “I think they have a good grasp of our offense, our concepts, what we do,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said this week. “But unfortunately, a big part of what we do is taking it from the classroom and going out on the practice field and working our fundamentals to improve, and that’s the area that, unfortunately due to injury, they haven’t been able to take full advantage of. Will they get some opportunities in these next two preseason games? We’ll see.”
3. Cornerback carousel: Casey Hayward was arguably the biggest playmaker for the Packers defense last season. As a rookie, he intercepted six passes while playing the slot position in the nickel package. He missed the first month of training camp because of a pulled hamstring he sustained while working out over the summer. During his absence, rookie Micah Hyde has played well in the slot position. Sam Shields and Davon House have manned the outside spots while Tramon Williams remains out with a knee injury. Hayward returned to practice this week and could see some action against the Seahawks. “You have Sam and House outside, Micah is right there, so [Hayward] is fourth right now,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “So until Casey moves either him or House out of the way, he’s not going to get as many reps. You have to be deserving of your reps, and really what you did last year is last year.”
4. Harris’ return: Despite the emergence of rookie Eddie Lacy, McCarthy insists that DuJuan Harris remains his starting running back. Harris might get one chance to prove that. He will make his preseason debut after finally returning from a knee injury he sustained in the offseason. Harris, who was signed to the practice squad in October and wasn’t promoted to the roster until Dec. 1, finished last season as the starter and averaged 4.6 yards per carry over the final four regular-season games. “He did great things for us, I thought, down the stretch in the last part of the season,” running backs coach Alex Van Pelt said. “Unfortunately, he had the injury there in OTAs that kept him out of the first part of training camp, but all that being said, he did his job when he was asked to do it last year and he’s going to continue to get the first chances to do it now that he’s back.”
5. Crosby … again: It wouldn’t be a Packers preseason game if there wasn’t some drama surrounding the kickers. Just when Mason Crosby looked like his struggles were behind him after he made all three of his kicks against the Rams, he had a horrible practice Wednesday. He missed three straight field goals before finally knocking a fourth through the uprights. Crosby was scheduled to kick only one or two balls, but special-teams coach Shawn Slocum made him keep kicking until he finally made one. Just one day earlier, Slocum had praised Crosby. “I thought Mason kicked the ball well all week, and he did it in the game and did it again yesterday,” Slocum said Tuesday. All eyes will be on Crosby to see if he falters again and re-opens the door for challenger Giorgio Tavecchio to beat him out.
We noted that the Oakland Raiders wanted to interview secondary coach/cornerbacks Joe Whitt Jr. for their defensive coordinator position. It's not clear if the Packers granted permission, but ultimately the Raiders hired former Stanford assistant Jason Tarver for the position.
Tight ends coach Ben McAdoo has been pursued for several jobs, according to Jason La Canfora of NFL.com, but the Packers have blocked him from two interviews. La Canfora reports that both the Miami Dolphins (coached by former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wanted to speak with him about their offensive coordinator jobs.
There had been some speculation that the Packers would promote McAdoo to offensive coordinator, but that job has gone to quarterbacks coach Tom Clements. The Packers haven't announced yet whether Clements will double as the quarterbacks coach as well. Regardless, you can add McAdoo to the list of Packers assistants who have built positive reputations around the league.
By my count, seven Packers assistants were either interviewed or pursued for promotions elsewhere this offseason. To this point, Philbin has been the only coach to depart.
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt is reportedly a candidate for the Oakland Raiders' defensive coordinator job, bringing the total to at least five Packers assistants who have been sought after for at least seven different jobs in the past three weeks. New Raiders coach Dennis Allen had been pursuing Greg Manusky for the job, but as my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson points out, Manusky is expected to join the Indianapolis Colts instead.
Whitt, 33, is one of two defensive assistants who survived the Packers' staff overhaul after the 2008 season. Packers coach Mike McCarthy promoted him from quality control coach to his current role, where he has received credit for his work with young cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
His presumed connection to the Raiders is general manager Reggie McKenzie, a longtime Packers executive.
Despite the attention, the only Packers assistant to depart thus far is offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, who is now the Miami Dolphins' head coach.
Via the Star Tribune, Childress said the “process is not over yet” and that the Vikings are “working vigorously to try to address [the issue].” That suggests Harvin is still having some lingering effects but feels well enough to resume practicing.
Migraines have afflicted Harvin since he was a child, but they have occurred with exceptional frequency and intensity during his first NFL season. By nature, the onset and duration of the episodes are largely unpredictable.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Minnesota owner Zygi Wilf met privately with Gov. Tim Pawlenty to discuss the team’s stadium issue. Here is the Associated Press account via the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel profiles Green Bay cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr., the team’s youngest assistant at 31.
- Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette: “Ted Thompson, the general manager of the Green Bay Packers, needs to open the team's vault, pull out the corporate checkbook, grab his favorite gold-plated ballpoint pen, find the place where it says ‘Pay to the order of’ and fill in the name of safety Nick Collins.”
- Packers linebacker Brad Jones has an economics degree but is a few credits short of a degree in astrophysics. That and more in this edition of Tuesdays with Wilde at ESPN Milwaukee.
- Virginia McCaskey, 86, still has her hands in the operations of the Chicago Bears, writes Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Bears tailback Adrian Peterson doesn’t expect to play in Chicago next season, writes Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press suggests the Lions should trade receiver Calvin Johnson.
- The Lions are trying to win their last three games of the season, not use them for evaluating players, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press.
- The Lions sent out 400 to 500 complimentary tickets to former season-ticket holders for Sunday’s game against Arizona, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
Interesting move in Green Bay, where new defensive coordinator Dom Capers reportedly will hire one of his former players to coach outside linebackers in the Packers' new 3-4 scheme.
Kevin Greene, a two-time NFL sack leader, has agreed to join the coaching staff, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. The move will shift assistant head coach Winston Moss to inside linebackers coach, according to the report. Moss previously had responsibility for all linebackers.
Greene was a highly successful player and is a believer in Capers' system. He has almost no experience as an NFL assistant, but Greene's presence will help Capers instill his vision of how a 3-4 outside linebacker should play.
Based on media reports and announcements, here is the way the Packers' new defensive coaching staff appears to be shaping up:
- Coordinator: Dom Capers
- Defensive line: Mike Trgovac
- Asst. head coach/inside linebackers: Winston Moss
- Outside linebackers: Kevin Greene
- Defensive backs: Joe Whitt Jr.
Continuing our early offseason look at the NFC North ...
Green Bay Packers offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 6-10
- Coaching changes: Fired defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and all but two members of his staff. Hired Dom Capers as new coordinator and Mike Trgovac as defensive line coach. Joe Whitt Jr. likely will serve as defensive backs coach. Special teams coordinator Mike Stock retired. Replaced by assistant Shawn Slocum.
- Salary Cap: $19.09 million before adjustments and credits.
- Key exclusive rights free agent: Cornerback Tramon Williams.
- Restricted free agents: Safety Atari Bigby, safety Jarrett Bush, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Jason Hunter, fullback John Kuhn, receiver Ruvell Martin.
- Unrestricted free agents: Defensive tackle Colin Cole, defensive end Michael Montgomery, offensive lineman Mark Tauscher.
- Free agency comment: The Packers have a lot of decisions to make. Except in cases of injury, Tauscher has been their right tackle since 2000. He is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a complicating twist. Should the Packers wait on Tauscher or identify a replacement? Bigby, meanwhile, would have been on track for a long-term extension but injuries scuttled his 2008 season. He'll likely receive a one-year tender and have the opportunity to shop his value elsewhere. (The Packers could match any offer he gets.)
- Three biggest needs: (1) Personnel to match Capers' 3-4 scheme, including a run-stopping end and a pass-rushing outside linebacker; (2) Fortification of the offensive line, depending on Tauscher's status; (3) More depth at tailback to either back up or challenge Ryan Grant.
Mike Nolan, the former San Francisco head coach who is also a four-time defensive coordinator, is the "clear front-runner" to be Green Bay's new defensive coordinator, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy served as Nolan's offensive coordinator with the 49ers in 2005 and the two have maintained a close relationship. Nolan would replace Bob Sanders, who was fired over the weekend.
One of the more intriguing aspects of Nolan's candidacy is that he has, at times, run a 3-4 defense. He began his tenure in San Francisco using a 4-3 but gradually made the transition to a 3-4. Although his personal relationship with McCarthy is important, you have to assume there would be some level of 3-4 discussion in Green Bay if Nolan is in fact the next coordinator.
Meanwhile, Tom Silverstein and Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that former defensive quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr. is likely to become the Packers' next secondary coach.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Packers president Mark Murphy speaks to the Journal Sentinel about the Packers' coaching overhaul: "The way I viewed it, it's a pretty strong message that we want to win here. That's the priority."
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports the Bears have not yet made a formal offer to former Detroit coach Rod Marinelli.
- Former Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry is actively campaigning to join the Bears' coaching staff, possibly as the replacement for fired linebackers coach Lloyd Lee. "If I had an opportunity to work for Lovie Smith, I would cherish it," Barry told Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune.
- Although it was originally reported that Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett took his name out of the running for Detroit's head coaching job, the Lions have in fact interviewed him. Adam Schefter of NFL.com reports.
- Miami assistant head coach Todd Bowles is scheduled to interview Wednesday with Lions officials, according to Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com.
- Minnesota backup quarterback Gus Frerotte wants some clarity before agreeing to return to the Vikings next season, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The unwillingness of Minnesota coach Brad Childress to admit mistakes is reminiscent of former coach Dennis Green, writes Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.
Six coaches are out in Green Bay, including the defensive coordinator. The Chicago Bears have paraded a long-time coaching friend through their facility. The Lions are looking for someone to lift them from the NFL's defensive dungeon. Minnesota will be searching for its eighth new coordinator in 11 years if their current defensive leader moves on.
It's clear that we Black and Bluers are in for a defensive overhaul in 2009. The Packers and Lions will each have new defensive coordinators, and possibly new schemes as well. The Bears desperately want former Lions coach Rod Marinelli to join their defensive staff as a trusted advisor, possibly as their new coordinator. And the Vikings could lose defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, who will interview for at least two head coaching jobs this week.
Altering the makeup of a coaching staff is an annual rite of the NFL offseason, but this year's intensity is unusual for one division -- especially when only one team has fired its head coach. But 2008 was an especially dreary year for three of your NFC North defenses, and so it's not surprising to learn that no one is standing pat.
Yikes. The National Football Post, a Web site that has multiple connections inside the Green Bay organization, is reporting Monday morning that the Packers have fired every defensive coach with the exception of assistant head coach/linebackers Winston Moss.
The Post reported Sunday that defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was fired, news that has since been confirmed by the Wisconsin State Journal. But Monday's report means that defensive ends coach Carl Hairston, defensive tackles coach Robert Nunn, secondary coach Kurt Schottenheimer, cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington and defensive quality control coach Joe Whitt Jr. are all out as well.
UPDATE (1:48 p.m. ET): Whitt was not among the six coaches the Packers named in a press release confirming the news.
Moss is a well-regarded assistant and has interviewed for the St. Louis Rams' open head coach position.
The Packers announced the retirement of special teams coordinator Mike Stock last week.
If these moves all come to fruition, McCarthy would have effected tremendous staff turnover following a 6-10 season. It also means that the candidates he has in mind as Sanders' replacement -- Mike Nolan and Jim Haslett are among those being mentioned -- are veteran coordinators who would want their own staff of defensive assistants. It's also possible that Moss will get the job but will not have to perform the dirty work of firing former colleagues.
Finally, McCarthy seems poised to enter 2009 with an entirely new set of coordinators in comparison to the group he hired three years ago. His original offensive coordinator, Jeff Jagodzinski, left after the 2006 season to take the head coaching job at Boston College.