NFL Nation: Chris Bryan

Bucs take chance on LeGarrette Blount

September, 6, 2010
9/06/10
5:30
PM ET
Just when it looked like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had made it through a preseason without anything crazy (like firing a coordinator) happening, we’ve got some developments out of One Buccaneer Place that are a little out of the ordinary.

It’s not quite as chaotic as the firing of offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski just before last season. But, still, the Bucs just unloaded the punter they drafted (Brent Bowden) and released receiver Reggie Brown, who they once thought enough of to make a trade for him with five years left on his contract.

To replace Bowden, the Bucs signed Chris Bryan. He’s the guy who spent four years playing in the Australian Football League before going to Green Bay this offseason. Although Bryan averaged 42 yards a punt in the preseason, the Packers let him go.

The release of Brown was a bit more surprising. Although the Bucs were carrying seven receivers and it was obvious someone had to go, I didn’t think it would be Brown. As recently as a few weeks ago, team officials were talking about him being a possible starter opposite Mike Williams. That job now could go to Arrelious Benn or Sammie Stroughter.

To fill Brown’s roster spot, the Bucs signed running back LeGarrette Blount. You might recognize the name. He’s the former Oregon running back who gained notoriety after punching an opponent and confronting fans at the end of a 2009 game against Boise State. Blount was suspended for the rest of the season. The suspension was later reduced and he played in a December game against Oregon State and in the Rose Bowl.

The Bucs have been pretty vocal about character recently, and they’ve prided themselves on having a controversy-free preseason. Well, preseason is over and, even though Blount served his suspension and made apologies, his mere presence is going to create a media stir for at least a few days.

Blount wasn’t drafted and spent this preseason with the Titans before being released.

The Bucs also announced they’ve added receiver Dezmon Briscoe, tackle Will Barker and tackle Derek Hardman to the practice squad.

Green Bay Packers cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
8:10
PM ET
Check here for a full list of Green Bay's roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Spencer Havner was the Packers' No. 3 tight end last year and this summer, but his versatility seemed to make him a valuable part of the roster. He's a competent receiver, a good blocker, decent on special teams and also can play linebacker. Perhaps he wasn't good enough in any of those roles to justify a roster spot for. I don't know for sure. Regardless, the Packers chose veteran Donald Lee, rookie Andrew Quarless and also Tom Crabtree ahead of him. Meanwhile, we discussed the possibility that defensive back/kick returner Will Blackmon might get squeezed out. But it appears the Packers believe he isn't close to recovering fully from an October knee injury. They officially placed him on injured reserve, but he'll eventually be waived in accordance with an injury settlement.

No-brainers: The Packers parted ways with offensive lineman Allen Barbre, who had a disastrous seven-game stint at right tackle last season. It was about time. Like Blackmon, Barbre was placed on injured reserve, but eventually will be waived. On the other side of the equation, the Packers couldn't do anything but keep rookie cornerback Sam Shields. I'm not sure how much he'll play immediately, but he showed too much potential this summer to risk exposing to waivers.

What's next: Waiving Chris Bryan should mean that Tim Masthay will be the Packers' Week 1 punter, but we'll wait to get confirmation from the Packers on that. After parting ways with Blackmon and Jason Chery, it's not clear who will be the Packers' kickoff or punt returners. Likely candidates are running back Brandon Jackson and receiver Jordy Nelson. As of now, the Packers have more fullbacks on their roster (three) than running backs (two). I wonder if that will change in the coming days.
As we enter the final week of the preseason, position battles and depth chart competition should be nearing their conclusion. No clear answers generally means trouble. So with that timing in mind, let's take a look at the key summer issues in each NFC North locale:

Chicago Bears
Unsettled positions:
Both safeties and strongside linebacker
Comment: The safety issue will come down to how quickly rookie Major Wright can return from a fractured finger. If it's soon, he could be the free safety with Chris Harris at strong. If not, the Bears might have to patch the position together with Harris at free safety and Danieal Manning or Craig Steltz on the strong side. Meanwhile, Nick Roach seemed to have the linebacker job won before having knee surgery. Can Pisa Tinoisamoa hold him off?

Detroit Lions
Unsettled positions:
No. 2 cornerback, strong safety
Comment: Jonathan Wade held down the cornerback job in camp until a finger injury knocked him from the lineup. Eric King or Dre' Bly could be his short- and/or long-term replacement. C.C. Brown was the first-team strong safety for most of camp, but his hand was in a cast last week. Randy Phillips has been the primary replacement, but fellow rookie Amari Spievey was moved from cornerback to safety last week.

Green Bay Packers
Unsettled positions:
Left guard and punter
Comment: Daryn Colledge won the left guard job by default after a hip flexor slowed rookie Bryan Bulaga. Tim Masthay appears to have an edge on Chris Bryan in the punting battle, but the Packers will take the competition through the end of the week.

Minnesota Vikings
Unsettled positions:
No. 2 cornerback, strong safety, center, third-down back
Comment: Rookie Chris Cook appears on the brink of beating out Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen for the right cornerback job. Tyrell Johnson is trying to hold off Jamarca Sanford at safety. That battle is too close to call. The Vikings are worried that center John Sullivan's calf injury has put him too far behind to be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener at New Orleans, leaving them to decide whether to play backup Jon Cooper or move over right guard Anthony Herrera. The Vikings have rotated Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart and Albert Young in the third-down role and might use a combination when the season begins.
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 6

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The battalion of satellite trucks was long gone when the Green Bay Packers reported to training camp this summer, having vacated the premises shortly after quarterback Brett Favre was traded in August 2008.

Every player was signed and accounted for, making a distant memory of holdouts that have disrupted training camp in each of the past two seasons.

All that remained was the type of tranquility that allows a team to come of age. Many of us believe the Packers have the makings of a special group, one that is already off to a good start with a productive and --- more importantly -- quiet training camp.

"We determine our path that we're going to take," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Maybe we have less obstacles going into the year than we've had in the past for people to evaluate. If they think that and like us more this year, that's fine. But in reality, if you don't come here and put in the time and put in that foundation, it doesn't matter. These are our foundation days, and I like the work our guys have been putting in."

Quiet and determined, the Packers have been busy implementing some second-year wrinkles into defensive coordinator Dom Capers' scheme. They're facilitating the continued growth of tight end Jermichael Finley and are literally working overtime to rectify their special teams and kicking problems from a year ago.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Christian Petersen/Getty ImageAaron Rodgers and the Packers faithful are thinking big.
These Packers are thinking big -- as big as it gets. So are their fans. I spotted more than a few "Super Bowl or bust" signs in the training camp bleachers last week. Those expectations are deserved and embraced in Green Bay.

"We have the right pedigree," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "... I like the way we're practicing. But a lot of things have to happen between now and the end of the season. You have to have a couple things go your way, you have to be able to stay healthy, and you have to execute down the stretch and win some games in the end."

Make no mistake, however. The building blocks are in place.

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Have the Packers done enough to address the pass defense that let them down in losses to Pittsburgh and Arizona last season? Three focal points jumped out during my visit to camp.

First, McCarthy has instituted mandatory tackling drills every day, an effort to limit yards after catch. You might not think that tackling is directly related to pass defense, but the Packers determined their problems stemmed as much from broken tackles after modest catches as they did from a lack of pass rush or poor coverage. So it's been back to the most basic of fundamentals this summer.

"If you're a high schooler," McCarthy said, "this is the practice you want to learn from."

Second, the Packers are committed to leaving second-year defensive lineman B.J. Raji at nose tackle rather than shifting him between tackle and end in their base scheme. Raji was unstoppable in an inside role at Boston College, and while the Packers' 3-4 scheme is not entirely comparable, this arrangement represents the Packers' best opportunity for collapsing the pocket.

Finally, there were some encouraging signs from two young cornerbacks the Packers are counting on for improved depth. Pat Lee grabbed an athletic interception by jumping over receiver James Jones during one practice, and second-year player Brandon Underwood has caught everyone's eye. Most recently, he returned an interception for a touchdown during a live period of Saturday's Family Night scrimmage. Rodgers and McCarthy went out of their way to mention Underwood during recent interviews.

"He's had a great camp," Rodgers said. McCarthy added: "Brandon is clearly a much more mature player. He has all the skills. ... The thing about him, he's a tough, smart guy, too. He's got a chance to be a really good player."

2. Can Finley continue his path to stardom? Rodgers picked up the phone shortly after the Pro Bowl, where he worked with tight ends Vernon Davis and Jason Witten, and called Finley. "I firmly believe Jermichael Finley is in their class," Rodgers said. "He is a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end. And that's what I told him. I said, 'You've got a lot of work in front of you, but you've got the talent and ability to be recognized as a Pro Bowl tight end every year.'"

As I noted during the offseason, Rodgers threw more toward Finley than any other Packers player during the second half of last season. He changed the way opponents approached the Green Bay offense, and he spent much of the offseason working to upgrade his blocking skills to give the Packers more of a run-pass option when he is in the game. After dabbling in boxing and mixed martial arts to improve his hand quickness, Finley said: "I'm still a work in progress with my blocking and stuff. I just need to maintain and stay consistent. If I get that straight, the sky is the limit for me."

3. Can the Packers straighten out their special teams? Rankings for combined coverage and return performance in the NFL are elusive, but Football Outsiders provides a reliable independent analysis. FO gave the Packers the worst special-teams rating in the league last season, and McCarthy has reacted with a number of measures that suggest the analysis is spot on.

The Packers are now devoting an extra 10 minutes to special teams per practice, a significant number considering how regimented modern-day NFL practices have become. They are holding an open competition to replace punter Jeremy Kapinos, for now pitting former Australian rules player Chris Bryan against Tim Masthay, and they welcomed a newly conditioned place-kicker Mason Crosby this summer.

Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum is using the extra time to run coverage drills that emphasize controlled engagement with opponents. As for the punting competition, I couldn't say there was much separation between Bryan and Masthay. "Those guys are kicking it high and kicking it long," Slocum said.

As for Crosby, who struggled during the second half of last season, Slocum said: "Physically, I think he's at his best since I've been with him. He really put in some work in the summer and spring to increase his core strength. I think you're going to see that in his kickoff distance and from a field goal standpoint." Crosby missed five of his first 11 training camp kicks, but Slocum acknowledged that rotating Masthay and Bryan as holders probably played a role.

"We're working right now to build the cohesiveness of the hold, the snap and the kick," he said. "We missed a couple field goals, but I think his mentality is right where it needs to be, and we're working to get that together."

As if on cue, Crosby was lights-out during Saturday's Family Night scrimmage, drilling seven of eight attempts -- including shots from 47, 51 and 53 yards.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

I would never have guessed receiver Donald Driver would have a contract extension by the end of the first week of camp. From the outside, you could have put two and two together and wondered if he wasn't entering his final season with the team. After all, Driver has already set the franchise record for career receptions. He turned 35 in the offseason, was entering the final year of his existing deal and would need to hold off a hard-charging young receiver in Jordy Nelson. But it didn't take the Packers long to realize Driver is rejuvenated after having both knees cleaned out this spring. "I feel so much better," he said.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

[+] EnlargeDonald Driver
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireThe Packers gave wide receiver Donald Driver an extension one week into camp.
To this point, the Packers have been unable to find a spot for veteran linebacker Brady Poppinga in their scheme. During a midweek shakeup of the linebacker depth chart, Poppinga found himself behind Brandon Chillar, Clay Matthews and Brad Jones. He was later sidelined by a concussion. Poppinga is a good player who might be better suited as a 4-3 linebacker -- or, if he bulked up, a 4-3 defensive end.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Although there is a long way to go, it appears incumbent Daryn Colledge is holding off Jason Spitz for the starting left guard spot. Spitz has also been working behind center Scott Wells and would seem to be an ideal multi-position backup. The rest of the offensive line appears healthy and set: Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher at tackles, with Colledge and Josh Sitton at guards.
  • Although the Packers dramatically cut down their sack totals during the second half of last season, pass protection remains a point of emphasis. "We've got to do a better job of cutting down sacks and negative yardage plays," Rodgers said. He added that Finley's presence "opens up the field" for the offense and, in turn, makes it more difficult for defenses to mount a pass rush. I thought it was an interesting, if not direct, correlation and will take a closer look at that in the coming weeks.
  • From the outside, cornerback Al Harris appears to be in phenomenal condition as he completes his rehabilitation from a serious knee injury. McCarthy said Harris is "champing at the bit" to begin practicing, but he simply hasn't been cleared medically. Still, the Packers are much more optimistic about Harris' future than they were a few months ago. McCarthy said Harris was "a big question mark" at the end of spring practice but said there is "no reason to think" Harris won't return to the field in 2010. "I just don't want him to do too much too fast," McCarthy said. "I don't want him to have a setback."
  • The Packers made a number of experimental adjustments to their base linebacker group, most notably moving Matthews to the left side and inserting Chillar on the right side. The move was prompted by a minor injury that caused Brad Jones to miss several days of practice, and the switchback has yet to occur. "Brandon is sort of a multi-purpose guy for us last year and we've liked what we've seen from him," Capers said. One way or the other, Chillar is going to play a lot this season.
  • Safety Atari Bigby will miss about a month of practice because of ankle surgery, and it's quite possible the Packers will open the season with rookie Morgan Burnett in the starting lineup. While the Packers are excited about Burnett's future, it's always a tough task to get rookies ready to start in Week 1. Understandably, Burnett is swimming in the playbook right now. "By the end of training camp," he said, "I'll have everything that I need down."
  • McCarthy has installed a sign on the office wall of each coordinator. It reads: "Less volume, more creativity." McCarthy said it applies mostly to his own offensive play-calling, but it's also appropriate to keep in mind as the Packers enter their second year in Capers' scheme.
  • The early-camp understanding has been that Will Blackmon will resume his role as the primary kickoff and possible punt returner, but Blackmon's surgically-repaired knee has been sore and cost him a number of practices during the first week. He didn't participate in the Family Night scrimmage, but McCarthy attributed his absence to normal post-surgery soreness.

More young punters in Green Bay

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
3:53
PM ET
ORLANDO, Fla. -- At about this time last year, Green Bay officials were noting how excited they were about the pair of young punters on their roster. The ensuing competition put their 2009 punting duties on the foot of Jeremy Kapinos, whose performance left coach Mike McCarthy speaking Monday about how excited he is with the two new punters on the Packers roster.

So should we expect anything better from a looming 2010 battle between Tim Masthay and Chris Bryan?

McCarthy spoke with both realism and confidence about the ongoing attempt to replace Jon Ryan, whom the Packers surprisingly released before the 2009 season.

"A young punter in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is a challenge," McCarthy said. "We'll get that on the record. I get that part. But we've been the youngest team in the league for four years. So I think we've accepted the challenge and I don't see this any differently.

"I like the two guys that we have in camp. ... I think these guys are as talented as Jon Ryan. I think they're definitely that caliber as far as pure ability to punt the football."

There are no guarantees that Masthay and Bryan will be the two punters the Packers bring to training camp. Masthay spent a brief time with Indianapolis last summer but was waived before the Colts' first preseason game. Bryan spent the past five years playing Australian rules football.

But the Packers' philosophical aversion to signing veteran free agents dictates they find a punter either through those means or via the draft. The situation remains fluid, but it appears the Packers will spend at least part of the spring evaluating their newest pair of young punters.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Roster Advisor