NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: NFC North

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In the simplest terms, here's what the Green Bay Packers face Thursday at Seattle: Aaron Rodgers will try to run the no-huddle offense in the loudest outdoor stadium in the NFL with a center who has never snapped to him in a game.

[+] EnlargeSeahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers will juggle a noisy outdoor stadium in Seattle with a rookie center playing in his first regular-season game.
And he will have to do so against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who had the NFL's best defense in 2013.

There are many facets to the 2014 NFL opener, but perhaps none is more important than how the Packers' offense operates at CenturyLink Field.

When last we saw the Seahawks on a national stage, they were thoroughly dismantling the Denver Broncos' top-ranked offense on the way to a 43-8 Super Bowl victory.

The Packers aspire to field a fast-paced offense like the one Peyton Manning quarterbacks. But even Manning couldn't do that against the Seahawks.

And Rodgers was there to see it in person at the Super Bowl, watching from a luxury box.

"They got into a rhythm there with their pass rush and with their coverages [and] made some good plays," Rodgers said. "I think it's about film preparation. Watching in person is one thing, but seeing it on film is different. You get to see two angles and miss, you know you get to see some of the plays you missed while you're having chips and salsa or hot dogs or whatever it might be up in the box -- which was nice and warmer than some of the outdoor seats."

Rodgers has seen first-hand how the Seahawks can disrupt an offense. In the 2012 Fail Mary game, they sacked Rodgers eight times -- all in the first half. The Packers shored up the protection in the second half but still couldn't manage much offense, scoring just 12 points that night.

So enter a rookie center, fifth-round pick Corey Linsley, who inherited the starting center job a week ago after JC Tretter sustained a knee injury. Linsley did not stake a single preseason game snap with Rodgers, who sat out the summer finale. And in Linsley's 22 snaps last Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Packers ran just three plays of no-huddle offense.

Maybe the Packers' plan is not to use the no-huddle this week in Seattle, where the noise will make it even tougher on Linsley.

Whatever their plan, the Packers expect him to handle the job.

"You know, Corey's a smart guy," Rodgers said. "He's played a lot of center in his time, and he's going to be expected to play well. So we expect him to be able to keep up. I've said it a lot, but he’s got two incredible guards on both sides of him who are going to help him out with the calls and make sure that he's ready. But Corey's going to study hard. He's very well-coached, and he's going to be ready to go."

For his part, Linsley seems at ease with his responsibilities. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn noticed that from the moment Linsley found out he would be the starter.

"They're like, 'All right, you're the starter,' so he just quietly walked up there and started taking reps," Flynn said. "He's been impressive."

He was the same way with the crowd of reporters who surrounded his locker Sunday after the Packers' first day of regular-season practice. Near the end of a 10-minute session with the media, the topic turned to loud stadiums he played in when he was at Ohio State.

He mentioned Nebraska's Memorial Stadium and Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium.

But what about Michigan Stadium, which holds 109,101 fans?

Like any Ohio State alum would of his archrival, Linsley calmly said: "Michigan is quiet, really quiet. Probably the quietest stadium in the Big Ten."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers started calling him "The Sackmaster" after his three-sack performance against the St. Louis Rams on Aug. 16.

The Green Bay Packers' trainers dubbed him "Shakespeare" because they said all he does is make plays.

And then in Friday night's preseason finale, Randall Cobb and Eddie Lacy dubbed him "LeBron" after he had to come out of the game because he started to cramp up.

By Saturday, you could just call Jayrone Elliott an NFL player, and that would be just fine with him.

[+] EnlargeJayrone Elliott
AP Photo/Scott KaneGreen Bay Packers linebacker Jayrone Elliott finished the preseason with five sacks.
The outside linebacker from Toledo was one of two undrafted rookies to make the Packers’ roster. Defensive tackle Mike Pennel of Colorado State-Pueblo was the other.

When cut-down day came and went without a phone call from anyone in the Packers' personnel department, Elliott reported for the scheduled team meeting at 2 p.m., and it was all business. After three hours of meetings, Elliott had no plans to celebrate his new status as a bona fide NFL player.

"No, I've got a game Thursday, so tomorrow is our Wednesday," Elliott said Saturday evening. "We've got to get ready for Seattle."

Elliott likely solidified his spot on the Packers' roster with his fifth sack of the preseason on Friday against the Kansas City Chiefs. No one in the preseason recorded more sacks than the Packers' 6-foot-3, 255-pound rookie outside linebacker.

If he needed one last push, it came against the Chiefs.

Unlike his previous four sacks which came against backups who got released in the final cuts, Elliott had no trouble making plays against a starter. Working against the Chiefs' top right tackle Donald Stephenson, Elliott used a power move to sack Chase Daniel in the first quarter. One play earlier, Elliott showed his versatility by using a speed move to beat Stephenson to the inside. The third-year pro, who has 14 regular-season starts in his first two seasons, had no choice but to hold Elliott, and he was flagged for it.

There were times when Elliott wondered whether this day would come. He got only six snaps in the preseason opener and eight the next week.

"A couple of times it crossed my mind, because I thought I was doing everything I can to find some reps, and then some days you wouldn't get any reps," Elliott said. "Some days I got down on myself, but there were certain veterans that helped me pick my head up, guys like Jarrett Boykin, Andy Mulumba and Morgan Burnett. So I just had to stay around the vets as much as possible and keep my spirits up."

He tweeted that Saturday was like his draft day and posted a video on Instagram, but then it was back to business after briefly contemplating his journey and thinking back to earlier this offseason, when most veterans around the locker room did not even know his name and called him by his uniform number 91.

So what's next for Elliott?

"The same thing that got me here," he said. "Just go out every day and try to better myself and become a smarter football player. I know it seems like I made it, but you can still be cut at any time. You've still got to attack every day like it's your last, and you've still got to have that same chip."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' roster is set at 53 players for now, although a NFL roster is always in some state of flux. That's important to remember with the Vikings' roster, particularly at a pair of positions where the team's depth suggests more roster moves could eventually be coming.

The Vikings kept just two tight ends on their roster, cutting Allen Reisner and Chase Ford (who'd missed all of training camp with a broken foot). They also purged their safety position after a open audition process for a starting spot opposite Harrison Smith, and now have just four safeties on the roster (Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum) after cutting Kurt Coleman and Chris Crocker and placing Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve.

While the Vikings didn't keep much depth at those positions, they stocked up at others, hang onto five running backs (Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Jerome Felton and Zach Line) and keeping eight linebackers (Chad Greenway, Jasper Brinkley, Anthony Barr, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole, Larry Dean and Brandon Watts). They'll also keep five receivers, though another roster move could come once Jerome Simpson finishes a three-week suspension. The team also retained nine of its 10 picks from this year's draft, only letting go of cornerback Kendall James.

What's important to remember is the Vikings' 53-man roster isn't a finished product. It could change by tomorrow if the team is interested in some of the veterans now on the open market, and will certainly change throughout the 2014 season. For now, though, here's how it looks:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
RUNNING BACKS (5)
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
TIGHT ENDS (2)
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
LINEBACKERS (8)
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
SPECIALISTS (3)
Most significant move: When coach Mike Zimmer brought safety Chris Crocker out of retirement for the third consecutive year and the Minnesota Vikings signed him to a one-year deal during training camp, it seemed likely the 34-year-old would make the roster and could possibly win the starting safety job next to Harrison Smith. Crocker, however, didn't even make the roster out of training camp, as the Vikings slashed a number of veteran safeties from their roster. Crocker was cut, along with free-agent addition Kurt Coleman, and the Vikings put safety Jamarca Sanford on injured reserve after he injured his quadriceps on a special-teams play against Kansas City. That means, after a long audition at safety, the Vikings will head into the season with just four: Smith, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and rookie Antone Exum. Could another veteran pickup be on the way?

Show of faith in Joseph, Stephen: The Vikings' decision to release defensive tackle Fred Evans came as a bit of a surprise, considering the team re-signed Evans to a one-year, $1 million contract in March. But the move to let go of the veteran means the Vikings are confident in two things: that nose tackle Linval Joseph will be healthy for the start of the regular season after being hit in the leg by a stray bullet Aug. 9 in a Minneapolis nightclub and that seventh-round pick Shamar Stephen can handle significant work at defensive tackle. Stephen saw plenty of playing time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions during camp, and defensive line coach Andre Patterson remarked the Vikings got a steal in the draft. The decision to keep him means the Vikings stuck with nine of the 10 players they drafted in May (cornerback Kendall James was the only player cut).

What's next: The Vikings will be able to assemble their 10-man practice squad Sunday; according to league sources, they're hoping to retain a number of the players they cut Saturday, such as wide receiver Kain Colter, tackle Mike Remmers and running back Joe Banyard. They'll begin practicing with their 53-man roster Monday, as they prepare for the regular-season opener against the St. Louis Rams.

Vikings moves: G Jeff Baca, DT Chase Baker, RB Joe Banyard, WR Kain Colter, S Kurt Coleman, S Chris Crocker, DT Fred Evans, DT Isame Faciane, TE Chase Ford, WR Donte Foster, CB Kendall James, LB Justin Jackson, C Zac Kerin, CB Julian Posey, TE Allen Reisner, T Mike Remmers,, T Antonio Richardson (placed on injured reserve), S Jamarca Sanford (placed on injured reserve), DE Justin Trattou, RB Dominique Williams, LB Mike Zimmer
Most significant move: In the end, the Packers' decision to keep both backup quarterbacks -- Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien -- suggests they felt the third quarterback was more important than, say, an extra cornerback, safety or running back. Among the surprise cuts were cornerback Jumal Rolle, safety Chris Banjo and perhaps the fact that they did not keep a fourth halfback. In Flynn, they have a backup who has proven he can win games as a fill-in starter. In Tolzien, they have a possible long-term backup with a higher upside than Flynn, who has lost out in competitions for starting jobs in Seattle and Oakland. The Packers have not said who will be the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, though it's likely Flynn.

Light in the backfield: The Packers have three halfbacks -- Eddie Lacy, James Starks and DuJuan Harris -- they feel good about. In fact, it might be their best halfback trio in a while, which is probably why they went light at this position. They also kept one fullback, John Kuhn, who can handle the ball-carrying duties in short-yardage and emergency situations. The previous three seasons, the Packers have kept at least five backs on their opening-day roster.

Undrafted rookies stick: As usual, the Packers found a couple of players worth keeping in the undrafted free-agent class. They kept two of them -- nose tackle Mike Pennel and outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott. Pennel, of Colorado State-Pueblo, could see some action at nose tackle after the loss of B.J. Raji to a season-ending torn biceps. Elliott, of Toledo, led the NFL in preseason sacks with five. By keeping Pennel and Elliott, the Packers have now had 15 undrafted rookies make their opening-day roster in the past five years.

What's next: The Packers have told many of the players they released Saturday to stay in town while they make decisions on their practice squad. Look for them to sign a practice-squad running back, perhaps rookie LaDarius Perkins, and a couple receivers after going light at both positions on the active roster. They also could still add players to their roster via waivers or free-agent signings. According to ESPN's Josina Anderson, the Packers will work out guard Adam Gettis, who was released by the Redskins. Gettis was a fifth-round pick in 2012.

Packers moves: Four players were placed on injured reserve: T Aaron Adams, LB Nate Palmer, TE Jake Stoneburner and DT Khyri Thornton. Thornton was the highest draft pick (third round) not to end up on the roster. The following players were released: Banjo, Perkins, Rolle WR Kevin Dorsey, LB Jake Doughty, T John Fullington, C Garth Gerhart, WR Alex Gillett, DT Carlos Gray, RB Michael Hill, LB Adrian Hubbard, G Jordan McCray, S Tanner Miller, TE Justin Perillo, DE Luther Robinson, T Jeremy Vujnovich, WR Myles White and CB Ryan White.
Most significant move: After finishing last season on the injured because of a hamstring injury in training camp, veteran cornerback Kelvin Hayden made it through the preseason healthy and appeared to perform well throughout camp and the preseason to make the team. Perhaps Hayden became a victim of the numbers game, as the Chicago Bears decided to go into the regular season without him. The Bears drafted Kyle Fuller in the first round, and he turned heads throughout the preseason which likely gave the club enough confidence to use him opposite Charles Tillman on passing downs, while sliding Tim Jennings inside to the nickel. Hayden has proved to be a capable at both cornerback spots and at nickel. So by cutting Hayden the Bears lose solid veteran depth at corner.

Too little, too late: Eben Britton could be considered somewhat of a surprise cut. Britton played 13 games last season and started in four games, but pulled a hamstring early in camp which limited his availability throughout the preseason. Britton played in only the preseason finale at Cleveland because of the injury, and didn’t perform particularly well when called upon. Receiver Chris Williams entered training camp as one of the favorites to win the job as Chicago’s primary return man. But like Britton, Williams missed too much time because of a hamstring injury suffered Aug. 8 while catching a 73-yard touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles. Britton and Williams should catch on with other teams as both are capable of playing in the NFL. But hamstring injuries limited their opportunities to show what they could do for the Bears, and the team couldn’t give either the benefit of the doubt in making Sunday’s decisions.

Whacked again: Defensive end Austen Lane wrote this great account of what it’s like to get cut last year for The MMQB. At the time, Lane was getting ready to try again with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he’d eventually be cut again. Lane ended up appearing in two games with the Detroit Lions last season, only to be waived 22 days after the club signed him. The Bears signed Lane on Feb. 27, but the veteran failed to nab a roster spot in what seemed to be a logjam at the defensive end position despite performing solidly.

What’s next: With cuts now out of the way, the Bears will establish a 10-man practice squad by the end of the weekend before turning their attention to the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.

Team moves: WR Josh Bellamy, C Taylor Boggs, DT Brandon Dunn, LB Jerry Franklin, OG Ryan Groy, LB DeDe Lattimore, CB Al Louis-Jean, WR Dale Moss, DT Lee Pegues, DT Tracy Robertson, S Marcus Trice, WR Chris Williams, CB C.J. Wilson, OT Eben Britton, CB Kelvin Hayden, DE Austen Lane, S M.D. Jennings.
Sanford
MINNEAPOLIS -- Safety Jamarca Sanford, who missed most of the Minnesota Vikings' offsesason program and preseason with a spate of injuries, will spend the season on injured reserve, according to a league source.

Sanford's latest injury, a quadriceps strain he sustained while playing special teams in the Vikings' third preseason game against Kansas City, didn't seem likely to keep him out for the entire season, but the move allows the Vikings to retain his rights for the 2014 season. Sanford will be a free agent after the season, but the Vikings could re-sign him, instead of letting him leave for another team sometime this season.

The team has also released defensive tackle Fred Evans, according to a league source, which bodes well for both Linval Joseph's health and rookie Shamar Stephen's chances of making the team.

Joseph, who was struck in the left calf by a stray bullet in a nightclub shooting on Aug. 9, said last week he will be ready for the Vikings' regular-season debut on Sept. 7. Vikings coaches had also spoken highly of Stephen, a seventh-round pick from Connecticut who had played both the nose and three-technique tackle positions during the preseason, and it seems unlikely the team would release Evans if it didn't expect Joseph to be ready and Stephen to be ready for significant playing time as a rookie.

The Vikings have to reduce their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers are leaning heavily toward keeping just two quarterbacks, according to a source familiar with their thinking.

Tolzien
Flynn
Flynn
That means general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy will have to decide between Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien as Aaron Rodgers' backup.

Despite much better preseason numbers by Tolzien, the decision is not that clear-cut.

In fact, the Packers could be leaning toward Flynn because he has proven he can win games in the regular season as a backup.

Tolzien was winless in three games last season, including two starts. He was pulled in the Nov. 24 game against the Vikings, and Flynn rallied the Packers from behind to a tie. Flynn then went 2-2 as a fill-in starter before Rodgers returned from his collarbone injury.

However, with a full offseason to develop, Tolzien made huge gains. For the preseason, he completed 38 of 56 passes (67.9 percent) for 477 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, which equates to a passer rating of 112.0. Flynn was 18-of-38 (47.4 percent) for 232 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 82.3.

The Packers need three quarterbacks to run practice so if they keep just two on the 53-man roster, they will need to sign one to the practice squad. Tolzien still has practice-squad eligibility but would have to clear waivers first. It's a chance the Packers might be willing to take.

The Packers have begun making cuts. The following players have been released already, according to their agents, other league sources and media reports (this will be updated throughout the day):
  • T Aaron Adams (to injured reserve, knee).
  • T John Fullington
  • CB Ryan White
  • LB Jake Doughty
  • RB Michael Hill
  • RB LaDarius Perkins
  • S Tanner Miller
  • WR Alex Gillett
  • C/G Jordan McCray
  • S Jumal Rolle
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers fell from atop the ESPN #NFLRank list.

But he's still the highest-ranked quarterback.

The Green Bay Packers star slipped to No. 2 in the second annual offensive player list, flip-flopping spots with Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, but Rodgers remained on top of the quarterback class. He edged out Denver's Peyton Manning (No. 3 overall).

Other quarterbacks in the top 10 were New Orleans' Drew Brees (No. 6) and New England's Tom Brady (No. 7).

According to ESPN Stats & Information, since Rodgers became the Packers' starting QB in 2008, his 3.67 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the NFL. His Total QBR of 74 during that span is second only to Peyton Manning (80).

The Packers finished with nine players in the top 100 combined on offense and defense. Only four teams – San Francisco (15 players), Seattle (13), New England (10) and Denver (10) – placed more players on the lists.

Here are the Packers in the rankings:

Defense
No. 95: CB Sam Shields
No. 81: DT B.J. Raji
No. 50: OLB Julius Peppers
No. 14: Clay Matthews

Offense
No. 77: G Josh Sitton
No. 66: WR Randall Cobb
No. 60: RB Eddie Lacy
No. 34: WR Jordy Nelson
No. 2: QB Aaron Rodgers
Examining the Minnesota Vikings' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
Coach Mike Zimmer said he didn't think the Vikings would only carry two quarterbacks, effectively quashing the idea the Vikings could cut Ponder to free up a spot elsewhere. Ponder received his first significant work of the preseason in the Vikings' final exhibition, and could still have some value in an emergency if the Vikings aren't ready to put Bridgewater on the field and they need someone to fill in for an injured or ineffective Cassel.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Asiata has played well during training camp and is listed ahead of McKinnon for the No. 2 running back spot behind Peterson at the moment. At the very least, both could have distinct roles behind Peterson, with Asiata as a downhill runner and McKinnon as a threat in the passing game.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

General manager Rick Spielman singled out Thielen -- who spent last season on the Vikings' practice squad -- as a player who had improved from last year during the Vikings' minicamp, and the Minnesota State product continued to get better throughout training camp, making contributions on special teams in addition to his work as a receiver. Undrafted free agent Kain Colter received an $8,000 signing bonus from the Vikings, but the 6-foot-5 Smith sneaks in ahead of him to give the group a bigger target; he showed on Saturday night what his size can do for him when he caught the game-winning touchdown from Bridgewater on a fade route.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Even though Chase Ford is making progress in his recovery from a broken foot, he didn't play in a preseason game, and as much as the Vikings seemed to want to keep him, they might have to look elsewhere. If he is still hurt, that could open the door for Reisner, who caught a pair of touchdown passes from Bridgewater in goal-line situations on Saturday.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

The Vikings seem set with their starting five from last season, which means Yankey will have to wait for a chance to push Johnson at left guard; everyone from Zimmer to offensive line coach Jeff Davidson seems to like the continuity the Vikings have enjoyed on the line. The Vikings worked Ducasse at tackle on Thursday night against Tennessee, and his ability to play both the guard and tackle spots might help the Vikings solve their question mark at the swing tackle spot.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This might be the deepest position group on the Vikings' roster, and they could all play in Zimmer's defensive line rotation. Wootton and Crichton give the Vikings a pair of versatile backups who can play inside or outside, and Johnson and Evans figure to be the primary backups at three-technique and nose tackle, respectively. Johnson has also seen time as the three-technique tackle in the Vikings' nickel rush package. If there's one player on the roster who could compel the Vikings to make room somewhere else, it might be Shamar Stephen, the seventh-round pick who has impressed Vikings coaches throughout camp and has seen time at both the three-technique and nose tackle positions.

LINEBACKERS (7)

In Cincinnati, Zimmer had linebacking groups of just six and five players, respectively, after training camp the past two seasons. If the position is similarly staffed this season, it could mean the Vikings will cut seventh-round pick Brandon Watts. There are plenty of questions at the position -- none of the three spots in the base defense is completely solidified -- but in Barr, Hodges, Mauti and Cole, the Vikings have some young talent to work with. Dean keeps his roster spot because of his continued contributions on special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

This position might have been the Vikings' biggest liability last season, and it remains unsettled even after the preseason. Price has been injured after a strong start to the preseason, and a quadriceps injury took Jamarca Sanford out of action again on Thursday, unable to compete for a starting spot at a safety position Zimmer said is still open. Sanford started the past two years for Leslie Frazier, but he has spent so little time on the field for Zimmer, it would take someone in the front office vouching for him in order for the Vikings to keep him at this point. Short of that, the guess here is he gets cut.

SPECIALISTS (3)

The group returns unchanged from what the Vikings had on their roster last season. Locke punted better toward the end of the season, and has already put in some work getting to know the wind patterns at TCF Bank Stadium.

Green Bay Packers' projected roster

August, 29, 2014
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Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (3)

If the Packers keep only two quarterbacks, bet on Tolzien being the backup while Flynn would be left out. But the more likely scenario is they keep both, and the proven winner (Flynn) is the backup this year while Tolzien takes another year to develop. Tolzien has shown too much promise to cut loose at this point.

RUNNING BACKS (4)

Undrafted rookie LaDarius Perkins of Mississippi State made a late push, but there's probably not room for a fifth back.

RECEIVERS (5)

Janis solidified his spot with his second touchdown catch of the preseason on Thursday against the Chiefs. If the Packers keep six receivers, it will come down to Kevin Dorsey or Alex Gillett.

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Veteran Andrew Quarless, who received a $350,000 signing bonus last March as part of a two-year deal, never made any kind of push for a starting job and could find himself on the street. If there's a surprise cut this year, it's him.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)

This is a spot where the Packers could be in the market for help either via trade or off the waiver wire. They could use another backup on the interior of the line and at tackle. As long as Tretter is out, which could be another month because of a knee injury, there's not another true center available behind Linsley.

DEFENSIVE LINE (5)

It would have been a tough call on whether to keep rookie third-round pick Khyri Thornton, who has been a non-factor in the preseason. But the hamstring injury he sustained against the Chiefs may have bought him a year on injured reserve. It's possible the loss of B.J. Raji to a season-ending torn biceps might force the Packers to go looking for another defensive tackle, but the return of Guion this week from a hamstring injury might be enough to fill the void. Pennel should make it as an undrafted rookie.

LINEBACKERS (11)

The knee injury that Nate Palmer sustained against the Chiefs may have given Bradford new life. If Palmer's injury is long-term, they can't keep him on the roster. It would be hard to give up on Bradford, a fourth-round pick, so soon. His move to inside linebacker last week may have saved him. Elliott, an undrafted rookie, showed too much pass-rushing promise to try to sneak through to the practice squad. Some team would claim the NFL's preseason sack leader (five sacks).

CORNERBACKS (5)

Rookie Demetri Goodson is another draft pick who might wind up on injured reserve (concussion). He has not done enough to warrant a roster spot. The Packers can afford to keep only five cornerbacks because safety Micah Hyde will play as a slot cornerback in the dime package. If they keep another one, look at Jumal Rolle, who got a late-season promotion from the practice squad last year.

SAFETIES (5)

This group went from the weak link of the defense last year to potentially having three starting-caliber players in Burnett, Hyde and Clinton-Dix. Plus, Richardson keeps showing playmaking potential, and Banjo has played a big part on special teams.

SPECIALISTS (3)

All three returning specialists are safe and secure.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Things will be much different next week in Seattle. For starters, there will be 68,000-plus trying to break the sound barrier at CenturyLink Field.

And in the middle of it all, rookie Corey Linsley will be trying to snap the ball to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- something he has never done in a game.

If two series in the preseason finale were any sign -- and it might not be -- then the Packers believe Linsley will handle it without complications. In his first action since starting center JC Tretter sustained a knee injury that will keep him out for up to six weeks, Linsley played 22 snaps of near mistake-free football alongside a collection of second-stringers in Thursday's preseason finale against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Linsley made all of the line adjustments that the Packers center normally would make -- "He had the controls of it, and he was making all the calls," said left guard Lane Taylor, who started next to Linsley -- and by his count had only one missed assignment, a wrong step on an outside zone run.

"He did a really nice job," said quarterback Matt Flynn, who took both series with Linsley. "We weren't getting a lot of exotic looks or anything but he did a nice job of setting the huddle, getting to the line of scrimmage, making a quick declaration and getting us in the right spot. He's been impressive to me since I've been kind of working with him since the beginning of OTAs. I've been with him first-hand, and he's done a nice job."

But things will be different next week on the road against the Seahawks. Coach Mike McCarthy likely will want to run more of the no-huddle offense, a task that will be more difficult in the crowd noise. Against the Chiefs, they used it for just three of Linsley's 22 snaps.

Linsley was the only presumed Week 1 starting offensive lineman that suited up against the Chiefs, so the upcoming week of practice will be critical for him to fine-tune things with Rodgers and his fellow linemen. But there were no red flags that would cause the Packers to look for other options between now and the opener.

"I actually felt mentally and in terms of the intangible aspect of the game, I actually felt the most comfortable out there," said Linsley, a fifth-round pick from Ohio State. "They've been telling me to get the line and make the call quicker, and I felt that I did that better today than I ever have before, so I feel like I got better there."

The Packers gave Linsley some help. Several times, he and Taylor used combination blocks to secure Chiefs defensive linemen. However, on one play -- a 10-yard rush by DuJuan Harris on the second series -- Linsley got to the second-level and blocked linebacker James-Michael Johnson.

"I watched Corey and Lane early," McCarthy said. "I thought they did some really good things. I thought they were really composed, just managed the huddle. From what I did see I thought they played well."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A fan asked Matthew Stafford a question Wednesday. It was almost a silly question six years into the quarterback’s NFL career -- especially since throughout his whole career, he has known one receiver more than anyone.

 To paraphrase the question: Was there any awkwardness for him, as a Georgia player, to throw to a receiver who went to rival Georgia Tech?

It took Stafford essentially one day to get over that. When a player is as gifted as Calvin Johnson, it’s easy to forget about college loyalties.

For Stafford, this connection has been extra special and extra important, and he knows it. Johnson is a special player. He is the best receiver in the NFL and perhaps one of the top pass-catchers of all time. Stafford is the second-fastest quarterback ever to throw for 10,000 yards, and a lot of that has to do with the man at the other end of so many of his passes.

All of those skills are why Johnson was named the top offensive player in the NFL by our 90 panelists here at ESPN. This may be a quarterback-driven league, but Johnson is one of the few players any quarterback in the league would want to make him look even better.

In seven years in the NFL, Johnson has amassed 572 catches for 9,328 yards and 66 touchdowns. He holds the single-season receiving yards record with 1,964 yards, and the combination of all of his physical gifts make him torturous to cover for opposing defensive backs, who nearly all admit to needing help to do it.

“When I first came into the league, Randy Moss was kind of that big, long receiver who could stretch the field, run by you, separate from any corner he played against,” cornerback Quentin Jammer told ESPN.com last year. “[Johnson] is a bigger version of that, [he can] out-muscle you and run by you.”

Then there’s how Johnson acts on and off the field. In a wide receiver world in which so many skill players like to talk and draw attention to themselves, Johnson does none of that. He’s almost universally liked, even by the players who have to cover him.

Johnson
 He is fairly quiet. He rarely boasts and often appears uncomfortable talking about his own ability and feats. He is a superstar in skill and in game, but he's a regular guy when it comes to how he acts.

“When you talk about going against a guy, you look at off-the-field presence, who he is as a player, and he’s just a hardworking, stand-up, nice guy off the field, very humble,” Miami cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “So it’s hard to try and p--- him off, you know. It’s just one of those things.

“But you just want to compete with him because you understand in order to become better and be on to his level, you have to play good every snap because he’s going to bring it every snap. It’s one of those things that you know every single play can be that game-changing play.”

Not many players in the NFL are like that -- and Johnson is one of the most dangerous and best at accomplishing it.

ESPN NFL Nation Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – We'll see if Mike McCarthy feels the same way in a week, but after Thursday night's preseason finale – a 34-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Lambeau Field – the Green Bay Packers coach made a bold statement to his team that he later repeated to the media.

"I don't know if I've felt this good coming out of the preseason as I do tonight," McCarthy said.

With the regular-season opener next Thursday at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, McCarthy wasn't willing to look any further than where his team stood coming out of the preseason.

"I don't jump out and make statements, but our goal is simply the same every year: We're here to win championships," McCarthy said. "That's what we're working for. That will never change. That's a part of being a Green Bay Packer, but with that, we're not ignorant to the fact that you play 16 games, and we've got a game coming up here next Thursday."

If McCarthy was giddy about his team's preseason, which included a 3-1 record, it's probably because he felt just the opposite coming out of camp the past two summers.

"I haven't felt that way in," McCarthy said, "it's been awhile."

Rookie center Corey Linsley does not know the recent history of training camps past, but McCarthy's statement still resonated with him.

"I feel that when a head coach like Coach McCarthy says something like that, it's for real," Linsley said.
 

MINNEAPOLIS -- Despite not having Adrian Peterson on the field for the entire preseason, the Minnesota Vikings have found success running the ball, thanks in part to an offensive line that has done an impressive job executing offensive coordinator Norv Turner's power running game.

That success continued in a 19-3 win over the Tennessee Titans to wrap up the exhibition season on Thursday night. Joe Banyard, who's fighting for a roster spot at running back, carried 18 times for 111 yards. Dominique Williams followed with another 15 carries for 58 yards, and Jerick McKinnon gained 23 yards on three carries.

All told, the Vikings ran for 598 yards in four preseason games, averaging 4.75 yards per carry and effectively salting away leads in their final two preseason games. As much as their line has struggled with consistent pass protection in the preseason, the group has been as good as usual opening holes for the run, and should be even better once Peterson is unveiled for the start of the regular season on Sept. 7.

Turner's offense will involve a healthy dose of downfield passes, but the power running element of the scheme is an important facet of the offense, too, and the Vikings should end the preseason encouraged about their ability to create balance on offense.

Here are some other thoughts on the Vikings' final preseason game of the year:
  • The Vikings continued -- or concluded -- their audition at safety, playing Robert Blanton and Kurt Coleman for most of the first half. Andrew Sendejo got a healthy share of playing time in the second half, while injuries again kept Jamarca Sanford out. With the two-year starter missing most of the preseason, it remains to be seen if he'll be able to hang onto a roster spot among a crowded group of safeties.
  • Christian Ponder got his most extensive action of the preseason, hitting 12 of his 15 throws for 121 yards. Ponder, who didn't play in the Vikings' previous two preseason games, figures to make the roster as a third quarterback, but his playing time on Thursday night might have been his final significant action before he hits the open market as a free agent next March.
  • Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who made a nice catch in tight coverage for the Vikings' lone touchdown of the game, left in the second quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Fullback Zach Line --who might have been in need of a good showing to make the roster -- departed in the second half with an ankle injury.
  • The Vikings' swing tackle spot is still in some doubt, and they used much of Thursday's game to take a look at three different players -- Antonio Richardson, Mike Remmers and Austin Wentworth, who rotated at the tackle positions throughout the game. The absence of several linebackers due to injury also gave the Vikings a chance to look at both Jasper Brinkley and Audie Cole, the middle linebacking candidates who played next to one another in nickel coverage.
  • Kicker Blair Walsh, who had missed a pair of field goals from more than 50 yards, ended the preseason on a good note, hitting all four of his field goals with a long kick of 45 yards. Jeff Locke also drilled a pair of punts that traveled 50 and 52 yards.

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