NFC North: Ruvell Martin
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Check here for a full list of Green Bay’s player moves.
Biggest surprise: Brian Brohm was the 56th player taken in the 2008 draft, the third quarterback overall. For that reason alone it’s a shock the Packers have given up on him so quickly, despite another shaky preseason in which he finished with a passer rating of 54.5. He made some incremental progress this summer, and it’s possible the Packers will re-sign him to their practice squad Sunday. But it’s clear they were willing to risk losing him altogether. It’s a stunning fall for a player the Packers originally thought was polished and ready to immediately step in as the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.
Second-biggest surprise: The Packers kept all three of their fullbacks while leaving their tailback depth pretty thin, at least for now. Fullbacks Korey Hall and John Kuhn are good special teams players, but doesn’t one make the other expendable? The Packers obviously don’t agree. They kept both players -- along with rookie fullback Quinn Johnson -- while waiving tailbacks Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin. The decisions leave DeShawn Wynn as the only healthy backup behind starter Ryan Grant. (Brandon Jackson is recovering from an ankle injury.)
Third-biggest surprise: Veteran receiver Ruvell Martin was released in favor of first-year receiver Brett Swain. I’m guessing this was a special teams decision, as Swain was having some success on coverage teams this summer. But Martin has been a productive reserve over the past three seasons, and I didn’t hear too much about his roster spot being in jeopardy.
Fourth-biggest surprise: Safety Anthony Smith, signed to a free agent contract this offseason, was released. There have been suggestions he was pushing starter Atari Bigby. Not anymore. Neither of general manager Ted Thompson's veteran free agent pickups, Smith and center Duke Preston, made the final roster.
No-brainer: Placing defensive lineman Justin Harrell (back) on injured reserve was dramatic but needed to be done. The Packers have carried him on their 53-man roster for the past two years even though he has missed more games (19) than he has played in (13) because of various injuries. He wouldn’t have made it to training camp this year if he weren’t a first-round draft pick. It was time for the Packers to cut their losses.
What’s next: One way or the other, the Packers will have to address their quarterback depth. It might simply mean adding Brohm or a waiver claim to the practice squad. But it’s also possible the Packers will look elsewhere for depth behind Rodgers. In news reports, they have been linked to Tampa Bay’s Luke McCown; but it will likely take a draft pick to pry him away from the Buccaneers. Backup Matt Flynn has been limited by a shoulder injury, so from the outside it would seem risky to enter the season with Rodgers and Flynn as the only active quarterbacks.
Good gracious. If there wasn't a buzz about Green Bay before Friday night's preseason showcase at Arizona, there is now.
The Packers led the defending NFC champions 38-10 at halftime, having rolled up nearly 350 yards of offense. The game got close in garbage time, but the Packers held on for a 44-37 victory. The Packers have been as sharp as any NFL team this summer. There are no rewards for winning the preseason, but so far they're doing it.
Here are three observations based on online video, followed by links to local coverage:
- This is no secret, and we've mentioned it before, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers is locked in this summer. His 14-for-19 performance, good for 258 yards and three touchdowns, brought his preseason rating to 151.1. Rodgers also reeled off a 34-yard scramble to set up one score, and continued his downfield assault in the passing game -- including a 76-yard score to Jordy Nelson and a 55-yard pass to Donald Driver. Most of it happened without receiver Greg Jennings, who suffered a concussion on his only reception. Get this: In three preseason games this summer, the Packers' first-team offense hasn't punted yet.
- The defense gave up some yards, but in the first half at least, it followed through on its pledge to cause havoc. Cornerback Charles Woodson set up two scores with forced fumbles, one after stripping receiver Jerheme Urban and another after sacking quarterback Kurt Warner. Linebacker Aaron Kampman grabbed the ball on the latter play and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown. Safety Anthony Smith, meanwhile, made a nice interception over the middle to set up a touchdown. I wonder if that will be enough for him to unseat starter Atari Bigby. In any event, that's how a Dom Capers defense is supposed to operate.
- About the only nitpick I could find was place-kicker Mason Crosby, who converted from 27 yards but also missed from 29 and 48 yards. But even then, the Packers had a reasonable excuse. Holder Matt Flynn (shoulder) was sidelined, so receiver Ruvell Martin served in that role Friday night. The holder-kicker relationship takes time to develop.
We'll spend part of Wednesday sifting through the various forms of free agency as the market sets to open late Thursday night (at least in the central time zone).
My NFC West colleague, Mike Sando, offers a nice primer on restricted free agency (RFA), a system for players with three years of accrued experience. By offering one of four tenders, a team can ensure a player's return for 2009 by matching any offer he might receive on the market. There is also an opportunity for compensation if the original team decides against matching.
First, let's look at the four tenders for 2009:
The deadline for offering tenders is Thursday. In the NFC North, Green Bay has the most decisions to make -- not surprising, considering the Packers were the NFL's youngest team in 2008. Here is the full list of NFC North restricted free agents by team, based on information distributed by the NFL Players Association:
- Chicago: None
- Detroit: None
- Green Bay: Safety Atari Bigby, receiver Shaun Bodiford, safety Jarrett Bush, tight end Tory Humphrey, defensive end Jason Hunter, fullback John Kuhn, receiver Ruvell Martin.
- Minnesota: Defensive tackle Fred Evans, defensive end Otis Grigsby, defensive end Jayme Mitchell, fullback Naufahu Tahi.
If a player signs his tender, that relinquishes his rights to negotiate with another team.
To me, the Black and Blue's most interesting RFA is Bigby, who seemed on his way to big things after the 2007 season. Injuries limited him to seven largely ineffective games in 2008, and his value isn't totally clear. The Packers would like to rely on him as a starter in 2009, but the reality is that Bigby has missed 12 of a possible 40 games because of injury during his career.
At the same time, it's possible another team would make him an offer if the Packers apply the low $1.01 million tender. UPDATED/CORRECTION: Bigby was undrafted, so he would require no compensation at the low tender. I agree with Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. If their goal is to discourage another team's interest, the Packers probably will have to offer the second-round tender of $1.545 million.
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.
In classic football-coach mentality, Minnesota coach Brad Childress made clear that defensive end Jared Allen's availability for Sunday's game against Green Bay will be based on his pain tolerance.
Allen sprained the AC joint in his right shoulder during Sunday's 28-21 victory over Houston. He finished the game with the aid of a pain-killing shot, according to Yahoo.com, and on Monday, Childress told Minnesota reporters:
"Pain tolerance is usually what [determines] whether or not you are physically able to go. Some people are able to take it and some people are able not to take it. I'd say it has to do with that."
No one has ever mistaken Allen for a sissy, but such a direct comment from the coach in essence submarines him before he tests out the injury in practice. Allen had his arm in a sling during a television appearance Sunday night, and the Vikings won't let him play if he can't defend himself. But if it's truly a matter of pain tolerance and toughness, then Childress hasn't given Allen any leeway when it comes to determining his availability for the Packers.
Continuing a Tuesday morning jaunt around the division:
- Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press notes Childress hasn't defeated the Packers in five attempts during his tenure in Minnesota.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that quarterback Kyle Orton's recovery period from an ankle injury will be shorter than the initial four-week projection.
- Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune suggests Orton could return in time for the Nov. 30 game against at Minnesota.
- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy pointed out execution failures on a number of offensive plays in Sunday's 19-16 loss at Tennessee. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, those plays included two drops by receiver Donald Driver, a poor release by tight end Jermichael Finley and poor routes by receivers Greg Jennings and Ruvell Martin.
- Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin wasn't happy with Finley's comments about a fourth-down pass he failed to catch in the first quarter, according to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. "I could try to act smart and say there's some super special technique we had for that, but I mean, jeez, go get the ball," Philbin said. "If you're in the backyard, that's what you'd do. ... You have to go make the play." Finley said quarterback Aaron Rodgers needed to put more air under the ball.
- New Detroit quarterback Daunte Culpepper arrived at the Lions' practice facility late Monday afternoon, giving him about 150 hours to prepare for what is expected to be a start Sunday at Jacksonville. John Niyo of the Detroit News has details.
Is it time for the Green Bay Packers to take the shackles off tailback Ryan Grant?
Grant has been dealing with a sore hamstring for about six weeks and has been limited to 40 carries in the first three games of the season. But the Packers removed him from their injury report this week amid indications he is over the proverbial hump in his recovery.
Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin told Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"It's a good sign that he's practicing well. We'll see how he responds when the game rolls around. He's had a good week of preparation so far."
According to the Journal Sentinel, the Packers have been not only limiting Grant's playing time -- his 40 carries have come in about 80 snaps from scrimmage -- but also have urged him not to stress the hamstring by running full speed in the open field.
That request has to be awfully difficult for any running back, and it's one Grant is eager to put behind him.
"It is the situation right now. I hope it changes. But I just have to do what I have to do. I'm doing more, feeling good, I made it through practice so far, feeling the best I have. So I'm looking [for them] to move me forward."
Elsewhere in the NFC North:
- Packers rookie Jordy Nelson is in effect the team's third receiver because of injuries to James Jones (knee) and Ruvell Martin (hand), Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports.
- We appreciate the loyalty and honesty of new Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew. This was probably the best answer he could give when asked if he is a "Matt Millen guy": "I'm 100 percent a Millen guy. But that doesn't mean that Matt and I think the same way about everything."
- The Lions' new management team made clear Thursday it has not given up on the season. Chief operating officer Tom Lewand: "[W]e're two games out of first place, three games into the season, with 13 games to play. That's an awful lot of football."
- Chicago receiver/kick returner Devin Hester acknowledged his rib area is "still sore" but was able to participate in a portion of practice, according to Vaughn McClure of the Chicago Tribune. Hester said it sometimes takes "weeks" to recover from his injury and other times "two months." That doesn't sound like someone who is playing Sunday against Philadelphia.
- Chicago receiver Brandon Lloyd on his checkered NFL past, according to the Chicago Sun-Times: "I don't regret anything because there wasn't anything bad. There's a lot of bad stuff going around the NFL, a lot of bad stuff individuals are doing in getting suspended for different things. I was never that."
- Minnesota safety Madieu Williams, who returned to practice Thursday after sitting out most of two months with a neck injury, said he never lost faith that he would play at some point this season. "I wasn't worried at all because I knew what had happened. The trainers and coaches knew what happened. I knew exactly what needed to be done. I had to shut it down for a little bit. I knew that I was going to be back at some point during the season."
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.
We've spent plenty of time discussing the impact of injuries on the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, but the team's receiving corps has also limped through a painful preseason. Starter Greg Jennings missed the first two preseason games because of knee injury, and now No. 3 receiver James Jones is considered "week-to-week" because of a sprained knee suffered Friday night in Denver.
Jennings, Jones and Donald Driver make up one of the better receiving trios in the NFL. It's not out of the question that Jones could be ready in time for the Sept. 8 season opener against Minnesota. But if he misses that game, the Packers will need a significant step-up from one of two reserves: Ruvell Martin or Jordy Nelson.
Martin was pretty impressive during the 11 days we spent in Green Bay during training camp. At 6-foot-4, he is the Packers' biggest receiver and an excellent target in the red zone.
Nelson, meanwhile, is the Packers' top draft choice and has been working extensively as a punt returner during the preseason. He isn't quite as big as Martin but is a solid 6-3 and certainly wouldn't embarrass the Packers if they needed to play him in the open week.
All things considered, it's a good bet Martin would replace Jones as the No. 3 receiver if needed against the Vikings. But Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been known to use four-receiver sets, so it's fair to assume Nelson would get on the field in some capacity in that situation as well.
Through no fault of his own, the Green Bay Packers' top draft choice is having a hard time finding room for himself on a crowded playing field.
Jordy Nelson has proved an intriguing prospect on the practice field, combining a tight end's body with a receiver's speed. But the No. 36 overall pick of the draft is stuck behind at least three veterans -- Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones -- while fighting Ruvell Martin for the No. 4 job.
The Packers use plenty of multi-receiver sets, and their No. 4 receiver gets on the field quite a bit. But Martin has had a good training camp as well and at 6-foot-4 is a big target in the red zone.
Nelson had two receptions in the Packers' preseason opener, while also returning four punts for 31 yards; he'll get another opportunity to impress the coaching staff in Saturday night's game at San Francisco. Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel examines the obstacles Nelson is facing to get on the field.
With three NFC North teams scheduled for preseason action Saturday night, here is a tour around the division:
- Nelson isn't the only rookie buried on the Packers' depth chart, writes Tom Pelissero of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Fourth-round offensive lineman Josh Sitton is the only rookie with a legitimate chance to start.
- The Press-Gazette offers five things to watch for during tonight's game, most notably whether Matt Flynn can overtake Brian Brohm for the No. 2 quarterback job.
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times and David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune offer previews of the Bears' game Saturday night at Seattle. Topic No. 1 in Chicagoland: Whether Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton can separate themselves in the team's quarterback derby. Coach Lovie Smith has said the competition will go down to the wire, but it would still be nice to see one of the contestants take charge before then.
- After spending the offseason trying to improve their pass defense, the Minnesota Vikings gave up four touchdown passes in last week's preseason opener against Seattle. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune points out the Vikings used only 15 of the 50 coverages in their playbook. At the same time, the team wants to have a better showing Saturday night at Baltimore.
- Linebacker Buster Davis, whose aggressiveness nearly incited a fight with Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna last week, will be battling for a roster spot Sunday night at Cincinnati, writes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
As you might recall, we moved from Bourbonnais, Ill., to Green Bay, Wis., on Day 4 of our training camp tour. Days 5-16 (by my count) were spent in Green Bay. (Good people, good times.)
Continuing with the Camp Wrap series:
What we learned about the Packers this summer:
1. Brett Favre won't be the quarterback this season.
1a. Ha! Just thought we'd hit you over the head with that one more time. Seriously, we did learn that if nothing else, Favre's successor has a good head on his shoulders. We're not yet sure of his acumen on the field (see below), but Rodgers certainly has the right mindset to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. His laid-back personality served him well during the summer media circus, and from everything we gathered, Rodgers remained confident throughout a period when thousands of people were suggesting he get demoted.
2. The Packers have a deeper group of skill position players than people around the country might realize. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones are as good of a receiving trio as there is in the NFL. Behind them, Ruvell Martin and Jordy Nelson are also competing for playing time. There are perhaps five running backs on the roster who have made a case for playing time: Ryan Grant, Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn, Vernand Morency and Noah Herron. And the Packers have at least three intriguing tight ends behind starter Donald Lee: Tory Humphrey, Jermichael Finley and Evan Moore.
3. Say what you want about Rodgers, but to us the Packers' biggest risk is entering the season with two rookies behind him. Neither Brian Brohm nor Matt Flynn have been awful this summer, but they are what they are: rookies. Brohm is known as a quick study, but he's not a savant. If either Brohm or Flynn has to play early in the season, the Packers will have a tough time.
What we still need to find out:
1. Can Rodgers play? It's a simple question, but one that's impossible to answer about someone who has never started an NFL game. After watching more than a week of practice, we can conclude Rodgers has a strong-enough arm and that he appears to know the Packers' offense well. But his accuracy left something to be desired at times, and it's difficult to know how he'll react to unexpected blitzes once the regular season begins.
2. Entering the Packers' second preseason game (Saturday night at San Francisco), it's far from clear who will emerge victorious from the competition at both guard positions. Chris Jenkins of the Associated Press broke down the issue recently. To sum it up: Third-year player Jason Spitz figures to win one of the jobs, but which one depends on whether Daryn Colledge, Allen Barbre or Josh Sitton ends up as the other starter.
3. The Packers' plans to improve their pass rush were no secret during the offseason; their exact intentions, however, weren't totally clear during camp. Will they blitz more? Use different personnel in passing situations? Those questions are still in the experimental phase.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- While ostensibly serving duty on Favre Watch this week, we've also taken in all six Packers practices to date. (What? Could an actual football post be forthcoming)? You'll find that we're not big believers in drawing conclusions from practice observations, but nonetheless, a few things have caught our eye.
- By our count, the Packers had a half-dozen false start or offside penalties during team drills on the first day of practice. Since then, we've heard at least one Packers player or coach mention the term "pre-snap penalties" every day. All teams emphasize the elimination of those mistakes, but it is a particular point of emphasis for the Packers' offense as it transitions to quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It might sound simple, but lineman, receivers and backs are getting used to a new way of calling plays as well as a new cadence. That's what training camp is for.
- Rodgers is still establishing timing with his receivers and has thrown his share of off-target passes. But one thing is clear: Three years as an apprentice has left him with an exceptional understanding of the offense. Over six practices, it would be hard to pick out more than three or four plays where Rodgers seemed unsure where to throw the ball. For a young quarterback, knowing where the open receiver will be is more than half the battle.
- Rodgers throws the ball with an easy touch. Friday morning, he lofted a perfect goal-line fade pass to receiver Ruvell Martin. Martin made a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone.
- Coach Mike McCarthy and others have offered layers of praise for second-year running back Brandon Jackson, who is working with the first team while Ryan Grant holds out. Some of that is probably designed to push Grant into camp, but at least part of it is genuine. Jackson added eight pounds of muscle in the offseason and still has a good burst at the line of scrimmage. He might eventually be a perfect third-down back, but for now the Packers could do a lot worse with him as the starter.
- Admittedly, we've watched much more offense than defense. But we haven't seen a ton of evidence to support the commonly-held view that the Packers would blitz more this season. Of course, they probably wouldn't show too much of that during an open practice. We did notice linebacker Brady Poppinga working a bit Friday as a pass-rushing defensive end, as promised.
- People always like to know about sleepers, so one player that has caught our eye is third-year tight end Tory Humphrey, who spent last season on injured reserve. Humphrey has pretty soft hands and seems to know how to get open. The Packers' starter figures to be Donald Lee, and the team also used a third-round draft pick this spring on Jermichael Finley, but Humphrey would seem to be a strong candidate for a roster spot.