NFC North: Vic So'Oto

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Several times since training camp opened, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy has praised his offensive line.

There was his proclamation on the eve of camp that it has the potential to be the best line in his tenure as head coach. He also had a statement this week that the line has been the consistent position group in practice.

If that's the case, then he also should feel good about his pass rushers because the latest data from the one-on-one pass blocking/pass rushing drill shows the defensive players are more than holding their own.

Last year, offensive linemen won 73 percent of the one-on-one reps. In 2012, their winning percentage was 75 percent. This year, the offense has won just 65 percent of the reps.

Last summer, Mike Daniels had the best mark among the defensive players at 16-16. Through two weeks of practice this year, the defensive tackle is even better at 9-6. Ten defensive players currently have a .500 record or better.

Defensive players occupy eight of the top-10 spots in our "Block Rating" category, a mark (explained below) developed by researcher Luke Stanke, a Green Bay native and graduate student at the University of Minnesota who has aided in statistical analysis of this drill in recent years.

The chart below shows the latest records and ratings.
 

It's interesting to note:
  • The number of reps in this drill already has surpassed the total from all of camp last summer. They have been 180 turns so far. In all of camp last year, there were 140. In 2012, there were just 103. It's clear the coaches like this drill as evaluation tool.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise so far has been second-year outside linebacker Nate Palmer. After going 2-5 in the drill last summer as a rookie, Palmer is 5-2 and ranks third in the block rating.
  • The Packers have had success finding outside linebackers among their rookie free-agent class over the years, and Toledo's Jayrone Elliott could be following in the footsteps of Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto and Andy Mulumba. Elliott is 5-5 with wins over Derek Sherrod (twice), Don Barclay (twice) and Bryan Bulaga.
  • With Barclay lost for the season with a knee injury, it increases guard Lane Taylor's chances of making the team. The Packers are likely to keep at least eight offensive linemen, and Taylor ranks sixth overall among them.
  • JC Tretter has taken every rep as the starting center but in this drill, he is in a virtual tie with rookie backup Corey Linsley.
  • Guard Josh Sitton has not taken a rep in this drill since last Thursday even though he has been a regular participant in practice. He said he wants to ease the wear and tear on his back.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When ESPN's three days of live draft coverage finally goes off the air Saturday evening, 256 players will have been drafted.

But player acquisition will be far from over.

In fact, some NFL personnel executives have said the most stressful part of draft weekend is the process of signing undrafted free agents as soon as the seventh round finishes.

In a matter of a few hours, some teams sign as many as 20 undrafted rookie free agents. It's a process the Green Bay Packers take seriously. It's why they use many of their allotted pre-draft visits on players likely to go undrafted. They consider it part of the recruiting process.

But they aren't the only ones who actively recruit potential rookie free agents. The Seattle Seahawks distributed a 12-page brochure to agents showing them how the team covets and strongly considers undrafted free agents for its roster.

Among the charts in the brochure is one that shows preseason playing time for undrafted free agents and another with the percentage of undrafted free agents who make the 53-man roster.

In terms of playing time, last preseason, the Seahawks led the league in playing time percentage by undrafted rookies at 36.2 percent, according to their research. The Packers were second at 33.6 percent.

On that page, the Seahawks noted: "If your client doesn't get on the field in the preseason, he'll have a tougher time making that team's roster or any roster at all. Last season, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in total offensive and defensive playing time by undrafted rookies."

When it comes to making the roster, the Seahawks said 22 percent of their undrafted free agents since 2010 have spent time on their active roster, which ranks eighth in the NFL, and according to the brochure, “the Seahawks have been selective in the number of UDFAs they sign each year. The team has signed 68 of them, which ranks 17th."

The Packers actually have a higher percentage of undrafted free agents who appeared on their active roster at various points during the season since 2010, according to the chart, at 24 percent, which is tied for fourth in the NFL.

The Packers have had at least three undrafted free agents make their opening-day roster each of the last four years. In that time, 13 undrafted free agents have made the Week 1 roster, which is tied for the third most in that span behind only St. Louis (17) and Cleveland (16), according to the Packers.

Here are the undrafted free agents that have made the Packers' roster coming out of training camp the last four years:

2013: S Chris Banjo, OLB Andy Mulumba, Lane Taylor.

2012: T Don Barclay, WR Jarrett Boykin, OLB Dezman Moses, S Sean Richardson.

2011: S M.D. Jennings, LB Jamari Lattimore, OLB Vic So'oto.

2010: G Nick McDonald, CB Sam Shields, OLB Frank Zombo.

Maybe next week for Greg Jennings

November, 25, 2012
11/25/12
7:06
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings is among the seven inactive players for Sunday's game against the New York Giants. Jennings practiced extensively last week and was listed as questionable on the team's injury report, but his target date for return has always been the Packers' Dec. 2 game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Jennings joins a list of expected deactivations that also includes defensive backs Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, tight end Andrew Quarless, and linebackers Clay Matthews, Terrell Manning and Vic So'oto. Meanwhile, the Giants will have safety Kenny Phillips on the field and in the starting lineup for the first time since Week 4.

I'll spend most of the game in our NFL Countdown Live chat, which you can access here. Let's have some fun!

Domino effect of losing Bryan Bulaga

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
1:23
PM ET
The Green Bay Packers returned from their bye Monday to the harsh reality of assessing their long injury list. First up was right tackle Bryan Bulaga, whom the team confirmed will miss the rest of the season because of a hip injury he suffered Nov. 4 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The decision sets in motion a number of consequences, not the least of which is the departure of arguably the Packers' best offensive lineman this season. The Packers are weaker at two positions as a result because their replacement plan requires left guard T.J. Lang to switch positions and sides to right tackle. Backup Evan Dietrich-Smith would take over at left guard for Lang, and the Packers would be left with two undrafted rookies -- Don Barclay and Greg Van Roten -- as their only depth on the line.

(Veteran Derek Sherrod has been on the physically unable to perform list all season but began practicing Monday.)

Bulaga had a tough game in Week 3 against the Seattle Seahawks but otherwise has been consistent and effective this season. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the NFL's eight-best offensive tackle this season, debiting him for one sack allowed and two quarterback hits.

In addition to Bulaga, the Packers practiced Monday without receiver Greg Jennings (abdomen), cornerback Charles Woodson (collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), according to reporters who covered practice. The Packers used Bulaga's roster spot to re-sign linebacker Vic So'oto, an indication they might not have Matthews for this Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

Meanwhile, receiver Jordy Nelson, cornerback Sam Shields and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy were among a group of recently-injured players who were back at practice.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers had only one injured player to monitor this week, promising more healthy scratches than usual for Sunday's divisional game against the New York Giants. In addition to injured linebacker Robert Francois, here is who the Packers deactivated Sunday afternoon:
One notable starting lineup change: As expected, the Packers will start Brad Jones at the right outside linebacker position that was manned all season by Erik Walden.

NFC North Friday injury report

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
4:20
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Getting inside the Friday injury report:

Chicago Bears: Safety Major Wright (shoulder) was ruled out of Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos. Craig Steltz is expected to start in his place. Other than quarterback Jay Cutler (thumb) and running back Matt Forte (knee), all other players will be available.

Detroit Lions: Safety Louis Delmas (knee) and cornerback Chris Houston (knee) are doubtful and not expected to play Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Linebacker Justin Durant (hamstring), who did not practice Thursday or Friday, is questionable. So is defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot), who did not practice all week. The Lions signed free agent defensive tackle Jovan Haye and waived cornerback Brandon McDonald, presumably for more depth along the defensive line.

Green Bay Packers: Running back James Starks (ankle) and linebacker Desmond Bishop (calf) missed a third day of practice Friday and were declared out for Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders. Tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) and linebacker Vic So'oto (back) were also declared out. But linebacker A.J. Hawk (calf) practiced for the first time since suffering the injury Nov. 24 and is listed as questionable. D.J. Smith is expected to start for Bishop, and Robert Francois would play for Hawk if he isn't able to go Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: Quarterback Christian Ponder (hip) and running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) practiced Friday as limited participants. Neither player is close to 100 percent, and Ponder took only a handful of practice repetitions all week. The Vikings listed both players as questionable for Sunday's game. At 2-10, you wonder if the Vikings will risk further injury to either of their marquee offensive players. Joe Webb would start at quarterback if Ponder can not.

Giants won't have C David Baas

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
3:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Green Bay Packers had no surprises on their pregame list of inactives, but the New York Giants had one: Center David Baas was a late scratch because of headaches. Earlier Sunday, the Giants learned they wouldn't have backup Stacy Andrews, who was hospitalized with blood clots.

The Giants also will be without receiver Mario Manningham. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw is active.

The full list of Packers inactives: Cornerback Davon House, linebacker A.J. Hawk, linebacker Desmond Bishop, linebacker Jamari Lattimore, guard Josh Sitton, tackle Chad Clifton and tight end D.J. Williams.

D.J. Smith and Robert Francois were announced as the replacements for Hawk and Bishop, but we'll see what alignment the Packers actually open the game with.

Thanksgiving Feast: James Starks active

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
11:10
AM ET
DETROIT -- Green Bay Packers running back James Starks credited his bowed legs for preventing more serious knee and ankle injuries in a scary pileup last Sunday. He wasn't joking.

Starks is active and will play Thursday against the Detroit Lions. Ryan Grant will start, as usual.

The Packers also deactivated three linebackers -- Frank Zombo, Jamari Lattimore and Vic So'oto -- leaving them with three active outside linebackers and a possible glimpse into their defensive strategy against the Lions' passing game.

Meanwhile, the Lions announced one interesting change: Running back Kevin Smith will in fact start after accumulating 201 total yards last week against the Carolina Panthers.

Remember, kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Is tonight the night for Vic So'oto?

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
8:13
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- One quick thought to consider before we jump into our Monday Night Live chat.

The Green Bay Packers' deactivation list didn't include rookie linebacker Vic So'oto. There has been an outpouring of fan support in favor of giving So'oto a chance as a pass rusher, especially considering his impressive performance in the preseason.

Will it happen tonight for him? We'll find out in minutes.

BBAO: Bears lose Chris Williams

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
9:45
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

CHICAGO -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was not the only NFC North player revealed Sunday to have a significant injury. Chicago Bears left guard Chris Williams suffered a dislocated wrist that required immediate surgery and will cost him the rest of the season, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

Williams appeared to have been making a successful transition from left tackle, but the injury represents another in a series of season-impacting injuries he's suffered since the Bears made him their top draft pick in 2008. If he doesn't play again this season, Williams will have missed 26 of a possible 64 starts because of back, groin and wrist injuries.

Edwin Williams replaced Chris Williams on Sunday afternoon. He seems to be the first option to play left guard moving forward.

We'll spend Monday morning wrapping up Sunday's action before shifting gears to Monday night's game at Lambeau Field. First, let's take our morning tour around the division:
  • Michael Wilbon of ESPNChicago.com: "When the Chicago Bears are really good, which is to say a serious contender, there's a specific formula that works for this franchise. Punishing defense plus electrifying special teams and a dash of offense equals a potentially special season. The Bears are on the verge of that now, right at the edge of something promising."
  • The Bears were "Baaaad Men" on Sunday, writes Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Bears cornerback Charles Tillman played a great game against Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, according to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "In a matchup with playoff implications, the team trying desperately to project a bad-boy image was just plain bad, while the real postseason contender stood up. The Lions came hoping to intimidate, but instead everybody left raving about the Bears' intimidating defense that created six turnovers. The Lions picked the fight. The Bears finished it."
  • The Lions' six turnovers Sunday came after they led the NFL in turnover margin for their first eight games of the season, notes Philip Zaroo of Mlive.com.
  • Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press on Stafford's game: "The Lions can say it was the wind. They can believe it. But as a fan, you have to hope they are lying. Stafford needs to play well even when it is windy. After all, the Lions finish the season in Green Bay, and if they make the playoffs, they might have to play in Green Bay, Chicago or San Francisco, three of the windiest locales in the NFL. Finger injuries go away. In the NFC North, the wind will be around for a while."
  • Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News: "For the first time all season, the Lions regressed and retreated, not only shaken badly by the Bears, but shaken badly by the moment."
  • John Niyo of the News: "The Lions play hard. They play on the edge. And sometimes they cross the line, as they probably did again a time or two Sunday. "
  • The Bears might be a more formidable divisional opponent for the Green Bay Packers than the Lions, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette suggests it's time for the Packers to give rookie linebacker Vic So'oto a chance to rush the passer. Here's what Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said: "The best thing I can say there is he's still very young at the position, still very green learning the techniques, all those things. You don't want to experiment on the field. You guys hear me say this all the time, and I tell the team, if we're going to call something on Sunday I want to see it work on the practice field. I don't want to just throw it out there and see if it works."
  • The Packers think left tackle Marshall Newhouse is more prepared to block Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen than he was in the teams' first meeting. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com has more.
  • The return of Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield should provide a boost, notes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Dan Wiederer of the Star Tribune looks into why the Vikings seem so committed to cornerback Chris Cook.
  • Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles rookie Vikings safety Mistral Raymond. An excerpt: "As Raymond prepares to become a bigger part of the Vikings' plans, with the team taking a hard look at its rookie safety as early as Monday night at Green Bay, the sixth-round draft choice is relishing the opportunity, but not just for him. Football is not his most important job."

Chargers won't have Mathews or Floyd

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
2:55
PM ET
SAN DIEGO -- A pregame rain shower here at Qualcomm Stadium appears to be over, and now we can tell you officially that the San Diego Chargers won't have running back Ryan Mathews or receiver Malcom Floyd for Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

Mike Tolbert will start for Matthews. The Chargers didn't announce a replacement for Floyd, but it's likely to be Patrick Crayton.

There were no surprises on the Packers' pregame list of deactivations. It includes: cornerback Davon House, linebacker Robert Francois, linebacker Jamari Lattimore, offensive lineman Ray Dominguez, tackle Chad Clifton, defensive end Mike Neal and linebacker Vic So'oto.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Greetings from the Metrodome, where I've been keeping an eye on the two early games in the NFC North while also watching Minnesota Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder start his pregame warm-ups about an hour ahead of most other players.

The Vikings have one surprise on their list of inactive players: Receiver Bernard Berrian won't play for the second time in three games. Berrian didn’t appear on the injury report this week; his previous deactivation was for disciplinary reasons, according to coach Leslie Frazier.

As expected the Vikings will be without four other key players: cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck), cornerback Chris Cook (arrest), center John Sullivan (concussion) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion). Asher Allen will start at cornerback alongside Cedric Griffin.

The Packers had no surprises among their list of inactives. It includes cornerback Sam Shields (concussion). Defensive end Ryan Pickett (concussion) is active, as expected. So is linebacker/fan favorite Vic So'oto.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

In the wake of the stunning news on Detroit Lions running back Jerome Harrison's brain tumor, many of you have asked a simple question: Is it standard for NFL teams to test for such ailments in the routine physical Harrison had after his since-voided trade to the Philadelphia Eagles?

The answer, like many medical questions in the NFL, is highly guarded and probably varies per team. But CSNPhilly.com reports that Harrison informed the Eagles' doctors that he was having headaches, thus prompting the necessary tests.

As of Friday morning, Harrison remained a part of the Lion's active 53-man roster. Coach Jim Schwartz said "it’s a privacy issue" and wouldn't comment.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Graham Couch of the Kalamazoo Gazette offers some personal reflections on Harrison.
  • On the prospects of sitting out the rest of the season, the agent for running back Jahvid Best said: "Right now that's not what anybody is thinking." Chris McCosky of the Detroit News has more.
  • The Lions can't go 16-0, but defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh sees no reason why they can't finish 15-1. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press explains.
  • Fan favorite Vic So'oto should play Sunday for the Green Bay Packers, according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Injuries to linebackers Frank Zombo and Jamari Lattimore have opened the door.
  • Thursday was a rare sight for the Packers: Linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson both practiced in pads. Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette explains.
  • Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers on his approach against rookie Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder for Sunday, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com: "Every game is different. You're talking about a young guy that obviously has good ability or he wouldn't have been picked where he was."
  • Chicago Bears rookies Chris Conte and Stephen Paea got passing grades in their first substantial work of their NFL careers last week, writes Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • A week after being benched and requesting a trade, veteran safety Chris Harris was back working with the first-team defense because of an injury to Major Wright. Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune has more.
  • Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com on the Bears' trip to London: "Much like a trip to Detroit, the Bears' overseas trip will be enjoyed by some, loathed by others. Some guys are like [Lance] Briggs, a bon vivant who wants to roam London and experience some local flavor. Some are like [Brian] Urlacher, a slavish creature of habit who just wants to watch an Adam Sandler movie on the hotel TV and eat a McSomething."
  • Ponder has a "sixth sense" that will serve him well as a rookie starter, writes Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Rather than build a new stadium, the Star Tribune wonders if the state of Minnesota would sell the Metrodome to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf for $1.
  • In the first year of a long-term contract, Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson said he is not frustrated with the team's early struggles, writes Jeremy Fowler of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

NFC North at night

September, 14, 2011
9/14/11
6:15
PM ET
Wednesdays tend to be busy news days in the NFL, so typically I'll try to wrap up loose ends in a post creatively titled "NFC North at night." And if it's not yet nighttime? Well, it is somewhere.

Chicago Bears: Coach Lovie Smith told reporters that he hopes to have linebacker Brian Urlacher available for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Urlacher left the team Tuesday after the death of his mother. ... Running back Marion Barber returned to practice Wednesday, the first time he has been on the field since straining his calf Aug. 27. ... Right guard Lance Louis (ankle) is expected to be replaced by Chris Spencer against the Saints. ... Receiver Roy Williams (groin) and safety Chris Harris (hamstring) didn't practice Wednesday.

Detroit Lions: Receiver Calvin Johnson didn't practice Wednesday because of a sprained ankle but told reporters he would play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. ... Safety Louis Delmas (hip) also missed practice. His status for Sunday's game has not yet been revealed.

Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Vic So'oto (back) returned to practice on a limited basis. We've already covered coach Mike McCarthy's optimism on cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) and his revelation that defensive end Mike Neal had knee surgery Tuesday.

Minnesota Vikings: Defensive end Adrian Awasom (knee) was the only player not to fully participate in practice. Earlier, we circled back on Donovan McNabb's 39-yard debut as the Vikings quarterback.

Kickoff'11: No Mike Neal for Packers

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
7:28
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers won't have the services of oft-injured defensive end Mike Neal, who was declared inactive for Thursday night's season opener against the New Orleans Saints.

Neal practiced on a limited basis this week but obviously didn't do enough to convince the Packers his sprained knee is ready to go in game action.

Jarius Wynn is the scheduled starter for the Packers if the open in their 3-4 base. The good news for the Packers is they will have an extended preparation time for Week 2 and could get Neal back by then.

Other inactives include cornerback Davon House, safety M.D. Jennings, linebacker Frank Zombo, offensive lineman Derek Sherrod, tight end Ryan Taylor and linebacker Vic So'oto.

With Sherrod inactive, the Packers' backup tackle for this game will be Marshall Newhouse. Their backup center/guard is Evan Dietrich-Smith.

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