NFL Nation: Dom Capers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You could see it in Al Harris' eyes that day back in January 2008. It was the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers' Pro Bowl cornerback was amped up for the challenge of covering receiver Plaxico Burress.

Too amped up as it turned out.

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioCalvin Johnson has put up his best numbers against Green Bay, but the Packers' Sam Shields is up to the challenge.
Burress used Harris' overly aggressive, physical style against him and burned the Packers for 11 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown in the Giants' upset win at Lambeau Field.

That was a full year before defensive coordinator Dom Capers and most of his current staff came to Green Bay, but it's a lesson that might be worth reminding their cornerbacks this week when they prepare for a mega-sized challenge in the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.

"It's important for our guys, particularly our corners, to play with their technique and play with their leverage and just play football," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said this week. "Anytime you go up against a top-notch player like Calvin, you can't let players like that take you out of your technique."

Surely, that message has been conveyed to Sam Shields, Tramon Williams and the rest of the Packers' secondary this week. Shields is most likely to draw Johnson the most, although Capers has said repeatedly that you can't cover him with the same defensive back all the time. The Packers say they aren't worried about a guy like Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract this offseason, trying to go out and justify his contract by trying to shut down Johnson.

If anything, Shields should be confident in knowing that he has done it in the recent past. Shields covered Johnson for most of last year's Thanksgiving game at Ford Field. Although the Lions won in a 40-10 blowout, Shields held Megatron to just three catches for 46 yards in seven targets when he was in coverage, although Johnson still managed six catches for 101 yards overall for the day.

"At the end of the day, it's all competition, and he's a big challenge," Shields said. "You know a guy like that, you want that. In the NFL, all eyes on you, everybody wants to see what you're going to do against Calvin Johnson. So you know, like I said, do the right things, do my keys, my techniques right, everything will be good."

The same goes for Williams, who has had success -- and seen others have success -- against Johnson. In 2012, Williams' primary job was to cover Johnson and held him to four catches for 54 yards without a touchdown in a game at Lambeau Field. However, Williams did not have him the entire time, and Johnson still managed a 100-yard game. And he saw Charles Woodson hold Johnson, in his worst game against the Packers, to two catches for 10 yards for an entire game in 2009.

However, those were not the norms for Johnson, who in 12 career games against the Packers has 71 catches for 1,163 yards and 12 touchdowns -- the most catches, yards and touchdowns he has against any one opponent.

Williams remembers the Harris-Burress situation and, for one, doesn't think Harris played as poorly as most thought.

"I went back and looked at that game, he was in some good positions, and at the end of the day, you battle a guy like that and he's just making plays for his team, you can live with that," Williams said.

But he and others also do not think the same circumstances apply to a player they know as well as Johnson, their divisional foe.

"We play him twice a year, so it's not anything new," Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. "It's not like we’re on a team that might see him once every two or three years, we see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge."

Debating Clay Matthews' new role

September, 16, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – It was third-and-4 from the Green Bay Packers' 29-yard line in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the New York Jets, and Clay Matthews lined up in the middle of the defense, nearly 4 yards from the football.

He blitzed up the middle and hit Geno Smith in 2.4 seconds just as the Jets quarterback released the ball, which would turn into a touchdown pass to Eric Decker.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
AP Photo/Bill KostrounClay Matthews hasn't rushed as much through two games in 2014 as he has in the past.
It was a prime example of one way defensive coordinator Dom Capers is using Matthews in his new 4-3 front.

But it's not the only way.

Through the first two games this season, Matthews has dropped into coverage far more often than he did last season, when he lined up primarily as an edge rusher in Capers' 3-4 scheme. Capers still does some of that with the four-time Pro Bowler but not anywhere near as much as he used to.

Last season, Matthews dropped into coverage on just 52 opponent dropbacks and rushed 284 times, according to ProFootballFocus. That's a rush rate of 84.5 percent.

So far this season, Matthews has rushed on just 72.5 percent of opponent passing plays for which he was on the field (50 rushes, 19 drops), according to PFF. That would be the second-lowest rate of his career. His 2012 number (84.4 percent) was an almost exact match to last season. Prior to that, his rush percentages were 77.5 percent (2011), 78.5 percent (2010) and 70.1 percent (2009), according to PFF.

Against the Jets, he was on the field for 34 passing plays. He rushed 22 times and dropped into coverage 12 times (a rush rate of just 64.7 percent). Given that Matthews has lined up away from the line of scrimmage more than ever, it makes sense that his rush rates have dropped.

But is moving Matthews farther from the quarterback the best use of his talents?

"I think he's equally as good in terms of rushing and dropping out of there," Capers said. "I think it just gives us more versatility in terms of what we can do with him."

Coach Mike McCarthy wholeheartedly endorsed the way Capers has used Matthews so far.

"When you have an exceptional football player, when you line him up in the same place every single time, you help the offense," McCarthy said. "If you want to chip him, if you want to slide to him, if you're able to practice it all week, Clay Matthews is over there or Clay Matthews is over there, it's an easier training process for the opponent. It's just really having Clay do the same things he's always done and just move him around."

Matthews registered his first sack of the season on Sunday against the Jets. It came when he was lined up at his traditional outside linebacker position.

After the game, Matthews was not seen in the locker room by the time it opened to the media. That same was true on Monday. But during OTAs, when the changes in Matthews' role were just becoming apparent, he did not think his pass-rush numbers would decline.

"I doubt I'm going to have to sacrifice statistics because I always feel like I can make my plays, but at the same time there will be some opportunities to present some mismatches," Matthews said at the time. "So it may not be your traditional line up here, line up there. There might be a little more difficulty for the offense, narrowing in on certain players, especially with the personnel that we brought in, myself included moving around a little bit more and just having fun with it."

But at least one former Packers linebacker thinks Capers and McCarthy have erred with Matthews' new role. Brady Poppinga, who played for the Packers from 2005-2010, responded to a tweet posted Monday about something McCarthy said about Matthews' new role.



Poppinga then offered his advice about how to use Matthews and Julius Peppers.



It's safe to say Capers disagrees.

"I think for him, when you look at the big picture, if he's lined up on the end and he's got a 330 pound tackle blocking him all day, I just think over the long run this is going to be better for him, too," Capers said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers have lost one of their core special-teams players, backup linebacker Andy Mulumba, to a knee injury, but starting safety Micah Hyde appears to have avoided a major injury.

Both were injured in Sunday's win over the New York Jets.

Hyde, who was injured at the end of a second-quarter punt return, said Monday that he has some swelling in his left knee but believes it was just a bruise.

"I just took a little shot on the knee cap, nothing serious," he said. "Nothing major. Just a little soreness."

However, Mulumba was not as fortunate. He was injured while covering a punt in the fourth quarter and sustained what coach Mike McCarthy called a "significant" injury. That's usually code for a torn ACL, although McCarthy declined to give specifics.

"It didn't look good during the game, and it doesn't sound very good," McCarthy said.

The most puzzling injury situation, however, was to cornerback Casey Hayward. He did not play at all on defense after playing 36 of 70 snaps in Week 1.

Against the Jets, the Packers used Davon House as their No. 3 cornerback, which was in the plans all along. However, Hayward also did not play in the dime (Jarrett Bush got that call) and defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Hayward may have been dealing with a hamstring injury -- the same injury that limited him to three games last season. Yet Hayward still managed to play 11 special-teams snaps.

McCarthy said Hayward was checked out by the team’s medical staff on Monday but did not have any update. The team does not have to file an injury report for this week's game at the Detroit Lions until Wednesday.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers might have erred last week when they decided to play linebacker Brad Jones, who was nursing a hamstring injury.

Jones
It sounds like that decision will be much easier to make this week. Jones did not practice again on Thursday, making it unlikely he will play Sunday against the New York Jets. Jones had one of his worst games in last week's loss to Seattle, tying for the team lead with three missed tackles.

It opens the door for Jamari Lattimore to move into Jones' spot in the starting lineup but also likely means more snaps for fellow starter A.J. Hawk.

Jones played all 70 snaps against the Seahawks and served as the signal caller on defense. Hawk did not play in the dime package but likely will take over that role this week rather than putting too much on Lattimore, although it's possible the Packers could use Sam Barrington as the dime linebacker.

"The game this week's going to be a game where they switch personnel groups almost every down and they use every one in the books, I think experience is the one of the key factors there," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You want your signal caller to be a confident guy, so experience factors into that as opposed to putting a guy out there that really hasn't done a lot of it against a team that's going to give you multiple personnel groups and a fast-paced tempo."

That would seem to indicate Hawk will take on that role.

Jones was the only player who did not practice on Thursday.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga practiced in pads on Thursday on a limited basis, but the Packers weren't ready to pronounce him ready to start against the Jets after he left the opener with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Bulaga appeared to move better than he did on Wednesday, when his gait seemed off.

"The biggest thing is just the movement," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Thursday's practice. "I'm not really looking for him to take the whole team drills or anything like that, because he's not ready for that. How he feels tomorrow and if he can go on Saturday will be the final test."

Details on the Jets' injury situation, including an update on cornerback Dee Milliner, can be found here.

Here is the Packers' full injury report:
  • TE Brandon Bostick (fibula, limited participation)
  • RT Bryan Bulaga (knee, limited participation)
  • CB Demetri Goodson (concussion, full participation)
  • LB Brad Jones (quadriceps, did not practice)
  • RB Eddie Lacy (concussion, full participation)
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Clay Matthews has a better showing this Sunday against the New York Jets than he did in last Thursday's season-opening loss to the Seattle Seahawks, here's why: The Green Bay Packers linebacker now knows his twice-surgically repaired right thumb will withstand playing 66 snaps in a regular-season game.

If there's one positive to take away from the opener, it's that Matthews has some piece of mind.

Matthews
"That is one thing where I can put a little smile on knowing I got a little personal victory [Thursday] in regards to going out and doing everything I wanted to do with no setbacks," Matthews said. "I think that was huge for my psyche. I'm happy about that."

Matthews was on the field for all but four defensive plays in the opener. Playing part of the game in a new position in Dom Capers' 4-3 defense, Matthews lined up off the line of scrimmage and next to inside linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk, while outside linebackers Julius Peppers and Mike Neal essentially played defensive ends.

It was Matthews' first regular-season action since he broke his right thumb in Week 16 last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also broke the same thumb in Week 5 against the Detroit Lions. Both times he needed surgery.

After wearing a cast and then later a smaller brace when he returned from the first injury last season, Matthews played the opener with nothing more than a tape job underneath the gloves he usually wears.

Matthews would have shared a sack with Peppers near the end of the second quarter, but it was wiped out by a penalty. He was credited with three quarterback hurries in 28 rushes, according to ProFootballFocus.com. He dropped into coverage seven times and allowed two receptions for 22 yards. The rest of the time he played in run support. He was credited with four tackles.
Eddie Lacy Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesOnce again, Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers were held up by the NFC West's best, as Green Bay has lost six games a row to the Seahawks and 49ers since 2012.


SEATTLE -- It's a good thing the Green Bay Packers don't play in the NFC West.

If they did, they might not even be a playoff team.

As it is, the Packers might keep winning the NFC North year after year after year -- like they've done in 2011, 2012 and 2013 -- and yet still can't be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender until they show they can handle the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers.

They had their chance in one of the biggest regular-season showcases -- the 2014 opening night game against the defending Super Bowl champions -- and it was just like the 2012 game at CenturyLink Field. (Well maybe not quite like that.) And it was just like their previous four games against the 49ers since 2012.

Thursday night's 36-16 loss to the Seahawks was the worst of their six straight losses to the two teams that own the NFC West and that met in last season's NFC title game.

"You're talking about two good football teams," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We've got to worry about the Green Bay Packers."

And McCarthy has plenty to worry about.

All the changes on defense that McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers made in the offseason -- including the unveiling of a 4-3 scheme they used part of the game -- still left the Packers vulnerable against the run. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 110 yards on just 20 carries, two of which were touchdowns. Multi-dimensional receiver Percy Harvin ran for 41 yards on just four carries and caught all seven passes thrown his way. The Seahawks had 400 yards total and 210 rushing until losing a yard each on three straight kneel-downs to end the game.

Julius Peppers, the Packers' high-profile free-agent signing, never put much pressure on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. And when he did -- he and Clay Matthews had an apparent shared sack in the second quarter -- it was wiped out by a penalty.

"We just didn't put it together when we needed to," Matthews said. "In preseason, leading up to it, we felt real confident about this group of guys that we have, but it didn't translate over for some reason."

Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, the most outspoken about the Packers' need to improve on defense, was just as frank about his own play in the opener.

"I want to spit on the way I played," said Daniels, who had six tackles but never got near Wilson. "And I can only speak for myself. It was a pitiful performance. I know I can do way better than that."

It did not go much better on offense, and rookie center Corey Linsley was the least of their problems. Eddie Lacy ran for 6 and 15 yards on his first two carries, and then was shut down. He finished with just 34 yards on 12 attempts before leaving with a concussion in the fourth quarter. Both he and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who re-injured the left knee that kept him out all of last season, left the game early and did not return. If Bulaga tore his ACL again, the Packers will have another major problem.

Despite completing 23 of 33 passes, Aaron Rodgers totaled only 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception on a ball that went off Jordy Nelson's hands.

Trailing by only a touchdown at halftime, the Packers' first three possessions of the second half ended with an interception, a fourth-down sack and a strip-sack for a safety.

"Fortunately, it was just one game out of 16," Matthews said. "But if we want to get to where we want to go, we're going to have to beat good teams like this. Shoot, we may even end up being back here."

And that might not be a good thing.
SEATTLE -- You could tell Dom Capers was uncomfortable with the subject.

It was three days before the Green Bay Packers' season opener against the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, and the team's defensive coordinator was holding his weekly session with reporters at Lambeau Field.

And he knows we know.

He knows we have seen it.

[+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson
Elaine Thompson/AP ImagesSeahawks QB Russell Wilson is expecting the unexpected from Dom Capers' defense in Week 1.
He knows, as is the team's right per an agreement between the NFL and the Pro Football Writers of America, that we have been asked to keep any major scheme-specific changes out of our reports from practice.

The most Capers will admit to is there are unscouted looks in every NFL game in Week 1, when coaches finally unveil what they spend all offseason concocting in their offices but refuse to put on film for others to see in the preseason.

But anyone who has spent time around the Packers since they started workouts in April knows this one might be the granddaddy of all unscouted looks.

"Well, I don't think it will be any different from any opening game,” Capers insisted this week. "There’s always a few unscouted looks in opening games. That's just kind of the nature of our business, so I don't think it will be any different from other openers, really."

Really?

Let's talk about that after everyone sees what he throws at the Seahawks.

Maybe Capers will just send out his base 3-4 defense on first down followed by the nickel package (a 2-4-5 alignment) on second down and the dime on third down (a 2-3-6 look) like he did so often last season. But the Packers have no desire to field the 25th-ranked defense in the league again, so that's unlikely.

The Seahawks surely know something new will be coming their way, even if they're not exactly sure what.

"Well, you just have to trust your eyes, you have to trust what you see," Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said this week. "I think that obviously Coach Capers, the defensive coordinator for them, is a great defensive coordinator and he knows so many different things and you just study and be prepared. I've played a lot of football games and seen a lot of a lot of different things and so you just try to trust what you see and let rip and be on time, be consistent with your eyes and be consistent with what you're trying to do."

That the Packers now have Julius Peppers, a rare high-priced veteran free-agent signing by general manager Ted Thompson, gives them flexibility on defense. Including Peppers, who will play outside linebacker rather than his old defensive end spot in the Bears' 4-3 scheme, the Packers have 11 linebackers and just five defensive linemen on their roster.

Clearly, there's a reason for so many linebackers and so few linemen.

"It'll be fun to see," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said this week. "I know, as I've seen over the years and as Dom has shown, we keep a multitude of defenses and schemes and formations and this is a team that presents the very same problems, so we'll look to unleash it in Week 1 and hopefully it works in our favor."

Age question follows Julius Peppers

August, 25, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- You might think Julius Peppers would bristle at the question by now.

After all, he has heard it more than once since he signed with the Green Bay Packers in March.

Still, the veteran pass-rusher appears to take it in stride every time he is asked how much he could possibly have left in the tank after 12 NFL seasons.

"There's not a lot of 34-year-old defensive ends playing in the league," Peppers said recently. "So I guess it's a fair question. But I don't really put too much into it."

For one thing, the Packers aren't asking Peppers to play defensive end. Instead, they view him as a perfect outside linebacker in Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme.

Rather than playing with his hand in the dirt like he did during his Pro Bowl years in Carolina and Chicago, the Packers want the 6-foot-7, 287-pounder standing up in a two-point stance. But that's a technicality. They want him to do what he has always done -- rush the quarterback.

"Just look at him and you see physically with his height, his long arms, his athletic ability, you can see the basketball in his background," Capers said. "He's a really smart guy. He's picked things up mentally really better than I anticipated he would."

Although the Packers gave him a three-year contract that included a $7.5 million signing bonus, it's essentially a one-year trial because that's the only guaranteed money in the deal.

Peppers is coming off what most consider a disappointing season by his standards, which is why he fell to No. 50 in the second annual ESPN #NFLRank list from 15th in last year's poll.

Last year, the eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection recorded just 7.5 sacks despite playing in every game. However, even if he were only able to replicate that sack production, it would be the highest total by a Packers player not named Clay Matthews since Aaron Kampman had 9.5 in 2008, the year before Capers took over the defense.

"It's not really about maximizing my individual statistics or anything like that," Peppers said. "It’s about maximizing my abilities to try and fit into this defense and try to help this defense be more productive. It's about me coming here, trying to come here and help this defense and help this team win."

The Packers believe the addition of Peppers could free up Matthews for more one-on-one pass-rushing opportunities.

It's the first time in Matthews' five-year career that he has played with another legitimate pass-rushing threat.

"You look around the league and you look at the tandems of pass-rushers who have one on the left and one on the right, they definitely help increase their numbers as well as the effectiveness of that defense," Matthews said. "We're hoping that this year's no different. There's a reason we brought him in here; it's to help create pressure on the quarterback along with myself and the guys in the middle. You look at a lot of defenses that are pretty good in this league, they have pass-rushers that can get after the quarterback and get them off their spot, and I think that was clearly evident in the Super Bowl last year."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The immediate reaction when a player gets hurt is to bring back an aged veteran to replace him, but the Green Bay Packers should -- and likely will -- resist that temptation.

Raji
General manager Ted Thompson would have a couple of those options to replace starting nose tackle B.J. Raji, who has a torn right biceps and learned on Saturday that he will miss the entire season.

But don't look for the Packers to bring back Ryan Pickett, who teamed with Raji on the defensive line the past five seasons. The same is likely the case for Johnny Jolly, who was the third member of the starting defensive line in Green Bay last year.

Both Pickett and Jolly are out of work and available, but neither fits what the Packers want to do on defense this season. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers aspires to be quicker across the front line, which means they have to get younger. Pickett will turn 35 in October, while Jolly turned 31 in February. Also, Jolly is coming off a neck injury that required fusion surgery.

A year after the Packers started a three-man defensive line that combined to weigh 1,000 pounds -- with Raji at 337, Pickett at 338 and Jolly at 325 -- this season they planned to pair Raji with Mike Daniels (305) and Datone Jones (285).

The Packers signed former Minnesota Vikings backup Letroy Guion to play behind Raji, but Guion has yet to practice because of a hamstring injury.

That leaves former fifth-round pick Josh Boyd, who replaced Raji after his injury on Friday against the Oakland Raiders, as the most likely replacement. It would mean the starting defensive front would feature a pair of second-year players (Boyd and Jones) and a third-year pro (Daniels). The Packers also are high on undrafted rookie Mike Pennel, who likely would have made the team even before Raji’s injury.

While the Packers lose a starter in Raji, he's not a full-time player. Last season, Capers used his base 3-4 defense on just 252 of 1,015 snaps (24.8 percent). Raji was slated to see some playing time in the nickel package, but Daniels and Jones are the primary duo in that package. Raji would not have played at all in the dime defense.

For Raji, the injury comes at the worst possible time. The 28-year-old former first-round pick signed just a one-year, $4 million contract this offseason with the hope that he could improve his stock with a strong season and parlay that into a bigger deal next offseason.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julius Peppers' new coaches say they have seen more than enough on the practice field and in their meeting rooms to believe the 34-year-old former All-Pro pass-rusher will be the major contributor that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson banked on when he signed him as a $26 million free agent in March.

Even if his first foray didn't show it.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsThe Packers have been impressed with how Julius Peppers has picked up their defense.
Peppers admitted he "didn't get much done" in his Packers debut last Saturday against the Tennessee Titans. But for a player with 186 regular-season games with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears to his credit, 10 unproductive snaps in his first preseason game with the Packers have not left defensive coordinator Dom Capers and linebackers coach Winston Moss fretting.

"I think he's been outstanding," Moss said this week. "It doesn't show in the Tennessee game, but he's come in and he's adapted to the scheme. He's a very smart, experienced player. He picks up and understands concepts. He's played long enough, and he's played in enough different schemes to where he understands everything."

One thing no one can deny is that Peppers, at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, still strikes an impressive pose on the field. He has not missed a practice even if it sometimes looks like he's on cruise control. However, in his only rep this week during the one-on-one pass-rushing drill, he turned it on and schooled starting left tackle David Bakhtiari with a speed move to the inside.

"You can tell when he makes a play on tape, you watch in the meeting room and those guys are all well aware when he makes a play," Capers said.

For most of his first 13 NFL seasons, Peppers played with his hand on the ground in a 4-3 scheme with the Panthers and Bears, but the Packers believe he can transition to rushing out of a two-point stance as an outside linebacker in Capers' 3-4 scheme.

"He's picked things up mentally really better than I anticipated he would," Capers said. "And the good thing about him is he's been able to stay on the practice field and work. He's been very professional in his approach, which you always look for that because when a guy's played as long as he's played, had the success that he's had, but he's come in and fit in.

"He can do probably whatever we ask him to do."

Coming off a down year -- relative to the rest of his career -- with just 7.5 sacks, Peppers knows there are those who wonder whether he can be an impact player anymore. But he has no interested in offering a defense.

"We'll see about that," he said. "I'm not really going to get into too much discussing what I can and can't do. I'm going to let the film speak for it."

And the Packers think that film will start showing more than it did against the Titans.

"I think that you have to look at the Tennessee game more as getting his feet wet," Moss said. "Once he gets some more reps in the preseason, I think he's going to take off."

Packers Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Green Bay Packers training camp:
  • Before practice on Wednesday, general manager Ted Thompson held his weekly news conference but would not discuss Tuesday's trade of defensive end Jerel Worthy to the New England Patriots. At the time, the trade had not yet been completed because Worthy still needed to pass his physical. Worthy had not practiced at all during camp with the Packers because of a lower back injury, but the trade went through later in the day after the Patriots gave him medical clearance. The Packers will only receive compensation -- believed to be a seventh-round pick -- if Worthy makes the Patriots' 53-man roster.
  • For a team that had only 11 interceptions last season, it had to be encouraging to defensive coordinator Dom Capers that his secondary came up with two during Wednesday's practice. Cornerback Tramon Williams, who had a team-high three interceptions last season, picked off fourth-string quarterback Chase Rettig at the goal line in a red-zone period. Safety Sean Richardson then picked off Scott Tolzien. It was Richardson's team-high third interception of camp during 11-on-11 drills. Also, rookie outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard picked off a Tolzien pass while playing on the scout defensive team.
  • Another day, another remarkable catch by rookie receiver Jeff Janis. This time, the seventh-round pick, who already has a one-handed catch and several other difficult grabs on his camp resume, made a diving catch on a ball slightly overthrown by Tolzien.
  • Coach Mike McCarthy and special teams coach Shawn Slocum don't appear to be shying away from the idea of using a starter on punt returns. Receiver Randall Cobb, safety Micah Hyde and Williams all caught punts with the first unit. Janis took a few with the scout team.
  • Mason Crosby had missed only two kicks in all of training camp. He missed that many on Wednesday. After converting 34-of-36 to start, Crosby missed wide right from 42 and 53 yards to go 4-for-6, dropping his camp conversion rate to 90.5 percent (38-of-42).
  • Rookie receiver Davante Adams returned to practice after missing two days because of a right wrist injury. The only new injury was linebacker Brad Jones, who sat out after having a dental procedure.
  • The Packers will not hold another open practice before Saturday's preseason game at the St. Louis Rams. Players will participate in meetings and walk-through sessions on Thursday.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers did not mention anyone by name, but it's entirely possible that he was referring to the Green Bay Packers' 2011 and 2012 draft classes when he made a rather cryptic comment on Wednesday.

The Packers quarterback was asked about this year's rookie class.

And his answer was both a compliment to this group and a shot at ones that came before it.

"I think you're seeing it with this draft class, the maturity about them, the lack of the entitlement that maybe we've seen in some other draft classes," Rodgers said. "They've come in and worked really hard. It's going to be a tough cut down."

Only hours after Rodgers' comments, another disappointing member of the 2012 draft class saw his Packers' career end. Second-round pick Jerel Worthy, the 51st overall selection that year, was traded to the New England Patriots for a conditional draft pick. The Packers will only get something in return, believed to be a seventh-round pick, if Worthy makes Bill Belichick’s opening-day roster.

He's the fifth player out of the eight selected by Packers general manager Ted Thompson in 2012 that did not pan out in Green Bay. A year earlier, Thompson picked 10 players, and only only one -- receiver Randall Cobb (second round) -- is a starter. Just four of the 10 are still on the roster.

Of the 18 players Thompson selected in those two drafts, only seven still remain on his roster. The 38.9 percent retention rate is the lowest in the NFL from the those two drafts (see accompanying chart below).

However, Thompson did well with undrafted rookies in both years. The Packers still have offensive lineman Don Barclay (although he is injured), receiver Jarrett Boykin, safety Sean Richardson and tight end Brandon Bostick from the 2012 rookie free agent class and linebacker Jamari Lattimore from the 2011 group.

Also, it's worth noting that the previous two seasons, Thompson drafted 15 players and nine are still on his roster.

"You stumble and fall from time to time," Thompson said. "You do what you think is the right thing for the team and sometimes it doesn't work out."

In the 2012 class, Thompson went heavy on defense, using six of the eight selections to try to bolster that side of the ball. But not all of them were natural fits for Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme. First-round pick Nick Perry played defensive end at USC but was converted to an outside linebacker in Green Bay, while Worthy was viewed as a 4-3 defensive end prospect coming out of Michigan State.

"In terms of the scheme and things, sure, that's an ongoing thing unless you're able to see somebody play in a particular position," Thompson said. "Oftentimes they play in a different position in college. We have a number of players on our team that fit that mode that have done fine."

Thompson, a former player himself, is loath to criticize players. Instead, he takes the blame, even though he said, "I think you get far too much credit and far too much blame for the first-round things."

Of the three remaining 2012 draft picks -- Perry (first round), cornerback Casey Hayward (second round) and defensive end Mike Daniels (fourth round) -- only Daniels is slated to be a starter this season. There are high hopes that Hayward can return to the form he displayed as a rookie, when he intercepted six passes, before he was limited to only three games last season because of a recurring hamstring injury.

As for Perry, the 28th overall pick that season, the Packers grew tired of waiting for him to get healthy and handed his starting spot to free-agent acquisition Julius Peppers.

Which takes us back to Rodgers. Thompson did not dispute the fact that some rookies enter the NFL with the sense of entitlement that Rodgers mentioned.

"But normally that goes away when you get around the veterans for any length of time," Thompson said.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're taking water breaks and serving snacks during training camp practices. They're using a GPS system to monitor players' movements.

They changed their practice plan, flip-flopping their Friday-Saturday in-season schedule, and even within those individual practices they moved drills that used to be at the beginning to the end, and vice versa.

All for one reason: To reduce the injuries that have befallen the Green Bay Packers in recent years.

And what good has it done?

They already have lost two players -- rookie receiver Jared Abbrederis and offensive lineman Don Barclay -- who almost certainly would have been on the opening day roster. Both suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments within the first two weeks of practice.

Some injuries -- no matter what the training staff does to keep players energized for practice and regardless of how coach Mike McCarthy designs his schedule -- just have to be chalked up to bad luck.

"Watch either one of those things as it happened, it wouldn't give any sort of indication that it was going to be a bad deal," Packers general manger Ted Thompson said. "It's just the way it turned out."

But so far in camp, the number of missed practices due to muscle or fatigue-related injuries has been low. A year after hamstring pulls were the order of camp, the only serious muscle pull in the first two weeks was an oblique strain suffered by starting strong safety Morgan Burnett.

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsA rejuvenated Aaron Rodgers is showing no aftereffects -- so far -- of last season's broken collarbone.
1. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers turned 30 in December and is coming off the worst injury of his career (a broken collarbone), but you would never know it by watching him now. He has been humming along in training camp as well as he ever has. His command of the offense is so great that McCarthy has been able to cut several practices short because they have not been forced to repeat plays ruined by mental errors. Rodgers reported to camp about 11 pounds lighter than he was last season, thanks to a combination of workouts (which included yoga) and diet.

2. If there's such a thing as a distraction-free training camp, this has been it. They addressed their No. 1 contract concern by signing receiver Jordy Nelson to a four-year, $39 million extension on the morning camp opened. A few days later, they locked up Thompson with a multiyear extension and said McCarthy would be next. And perhaps they have finally put any bad vibes from Brett Favre behind them when they announced last week that their former quarterback will have his number retired next summer, when he also will be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. All of that has allowed the team to focus on its preparation without anything getting in the way.

3. The biggest area of concern last year, the safety position, now may be one their strengths. Micah Hyde's switch from cornerback has gone better than expected, and first-round draft pick Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks game-ready. Then there's third-year safety Sean Richardson, who has made perhaps more big plays in practice than anyone on defense. If Burnett comes back soon from his oblique strain -- and finally starts to perform like the Pro Bowl-caliber player they thought he was when they gave him a four-year, $24.75 million extension last summer -- then there should not be any concerns.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Packers still do not know -- and may not know for a while -- whether JC Tretter can handle the starting center job. After a rough start to training camp, the second-year pro seemed to settle into the position and was solid in the preseason opener. But given the opener is at the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in perhaps the loudest stadium in the league, there's probably nothing that can prepare Tretter for what he will have to deal with in Week 1.

2. As good as the Packers feel about Nelson, receiver Randall Cobb and running back Eddie Lacy, they don't have many other proven weapons for Rodgers. No one from the tight end group has emerged as the favorite to replace Jermichael Finley, although Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and rookie Richard Rodgers have had their moments (both good and bad). And among the receivers, Jarrett Boykin has been no better than average in his quest to replace James Jones as the No. 3 receiver. Every time it looks like rookie Davante Adams may take that job from Boykin, he drops a ball.

3. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews participated in every practice during the first two weeks but still is not ready to proclaim his twice-broken right thumb 100 percent. Perhaps it's more of a mental hurdle for Matthews, but he needs to be able to use his hand without restrictions in order to return to his Pro Bowl level. It's hard to tell if Matthews is babying the injury, but in the first two weeks of practice, he took only two reps in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill and lost both. He played a few snaps early in the preseason opener against the Titans and did not seem to have any issues.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Morry GashB.J. Raji, back at nose tackle after spending last season at defensive end, has had an impressive camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • B.J. Raji looks re-energized after moving back to nose tackle. He signed just a one-year contract (worth $4 million) after the free-agent market proved soft, and might be motivated by another chance to test free agency next offseason.
  • Defensive coordinator Dom Capers is preparing second-year pro Datone Jones for a big role. Last year as a rookie, the first-round pick played almost exclusively in the sub packages and hardly ever played in the base 3-4 defense. Now, Jones has been penciled in as a starting defensive end while also playing as an inside rusher in the nickel and dime defenses.
  • If there's a high draft pick who might struggle to get on the field early in the season, it's perhaps third-round defensive tackle Khyri Thornton. Much like defensive end Josh Boyd last season, Thornton might not be ready for playing time from the get-go. Last season, Boyd was inactive for the first five games and seven of the first nine before he found a role.
  • The same could be said for fourth-round pick Carl Bradford. The outside linebacker from Arizona State has struggled to make many impact plays.
  • Last year, safety Chris Banjo was signed a few days into training camp and made the team. Receiver Gerrard Sheppard has a chance to do something similar. He was claimed off waivers from the Baltimore Ravens five days after camp opened and has made some impressive catches.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The last time Tom Clements was on the sideline for an NFL game, the temperature at kickoff was 5 degrees with a wind-chill of minus-10.

No wonder the Green Bay Packers' offensive coordinator has decided to move from the sideline to the coaches' box for games this season.

"I didn't want to get cold in the winter," the 61-year-old Clements said Thursday, referring to the Packers' playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers last January at Lambeau Field.

The change, which will make its debut in Saturday's preseason opener at the Tennessee Titans, comes on the heels of some shuffling of duties on coach Mike McCarthy's staff. New quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt will coach from the sideline on game days even though his predecessor, Ben McAdoo, the New York Giants' new offensive coordinator, coached last year from upstairs.

Clements last worked from the box in 2006, the first of his six seasons as Packers' quarterbacks coach. He moved down to the field the next season and remained there even when was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2012 after Joe Philbin left to become the Miami Dolphins coach. Philbin, incidentally, worked from the press box when he was the offensive coordinator.

"I just thought I'd have a better viewpoint up there and be more helpful," Clements said.

Rodgers
Rodgers
It will be the first time since quarterback Aaron Rodgers became a starter in 2008 that he won't have Clements at his side on game day.

"Tom has been a great supporter, a great ally, a great teacher for so many years," Rodgers said. "It will be a different role. But I'm sure that Alex and I and the quarterbacks would kind of look at the pictures together, talk about them and kind of make the adjustments."

It means Clements will not be able to go over the still-frame pictures that quarterbacks view between series.

"It's a change for Aaron, so we'll take the preseason to evaluate it, but Tom has great eyes," said Van Pelt, who also worked from the field last year when he was running backs coach. "Obviously, [Clements has] great knowledge of the system. He'll be a great source up in the box, you know seeing it from up top. You know I've always been on the sideline with the players, quarterbacks, running backs, so obviously it's nothing that will be different for me."

The Packers will have seven coaches in the box on game days: Clements, defensive coordinator Dom Capers, offensive assistant Luke Getsy, assistant offensive line coach Steve Marshall, defensive assistant John Rushing, defensive/special teams assistant Jason Simmons and cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.

There will be something new for the coaches on the sideline this season. They will be able to use electronic tablets during games to view still-shots of plays in addition to traditional paper photos. Although they will not be able to play video through the tablets, they can use them to zoom in on certain players.

"The Hall of Fame game, I saw them using those," Van Pelt said. "Just reading some blurbs, I thought [Bills] Coach [Doug] Marrone [said] his didn't work at first or something, but then he really liked it once it started working. So I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays. Rain games, how is that going to affect it, sunny days, is that going to affect the screen? So there’s some bugs in the preseason."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Julius Peppers, all 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds of him, strikes an impressive pose on the practice field.

He stands – literally in some cases – a head above his new Green Bay Packers teammates.

That was unmistakable even in shorts and helmets during the offseason practices.

Put the pads on, like the Packers Monday did for the first time in training camp, and the full-frame image of Peppers was even more impressive.

He looks the part of a pass-rusher worth the $7.5 million signing bonus the Packers forked over as part of the three-year, $26 million free-agent contract he signed in March. He split four reps in his first go-around in the one-on-one pass-rushing drill on Monday, registering two victories.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Morry GashJulius Peppers is excited about his role with the Packers.
But it looks like the Packers are going to ask him to do more than just rush the quarterback.

And that's fine with him.

He's an outside linebacker now in a 3-4 base scheme after playing the last four years as a defensive end in the Chicago Bears' 4-3 system and before that in Carolina for eight seasons.

There he was on Monday, dropping into coverage against tight end Jake Stoneburner on a crossing route.

Although Peppers would not concede that he needed a change to revitalize his career, which he does not believe needs revitalization, there's reason to think the 34-year-old who is entering his 13th NFL season has a renewed sense of purpose on the field.

"It's fun. It's fun," he repeated. "I'm actually having a lot of fun. I'm enjoying it. It's a little different than what I've been used to in the past. I actually think it fits my skill set better than just being down every play. I'm having fun doing it. I'm just enjoying it."

All that might be fun for Peppers and a way for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to disguise him, but the Packers signed Peppers for one overriding reason: his 119 career sacks, which rank third on the active list.

"He's here to go towards the quarterback; we all understand that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "But when he does drop, he has great ability and range. And you look at his ball skills, we do a lot of ball skills with the whole team by design, I want everybody to handle the football. He handles the football like an offensive player."

Peppers had only 7.5 sacks last season -- his lowest output since 2007 -- and he chuckled at those who use the word "only."

"You look at my last year, was it one of my better years?" Peppers said. "Probably not, you know, statistically. But if you compare it to a lot of the guys who played last year, it was better than a lot of guys. So I don't really think I need to revitalize anything, just improve upon what I did last year. That's not going to be easy to do. I should be able to do it."

Even if Peppers was only able to replicate his sack total from last season, it would be better than any Packers player not named Clay Matthews since Aaron Kampman had 9.5 in 2008.

"It’s not about really proving anybody wrong," Peppers said. "It's about accomplishing some personal goals, one of which being is winning a world championship. That's the main thing. That's the main motivation. All that other stuff, it's there, but it's not as big as coming in here and helping this team hoist that trophy at the end."

If there's pressure on Peppers to improve the Packers' defense from its 25th overall ranking last season, it might not be even close to what the Bears placed on him last season before they cut him because they felt he wasn't worth the $18 million salary-cap charge.

"You look at our defense right now, there's a lot of high expectations for those guys," Packers guard T.J. Lang said. "The talent that they have, all across our D-line, the linebackers, the defensive backs. It's a group that you look out at, it's impressive to look at 'em. Just the physical stature that Julius has. I mean that alone is intimidating enough for an offense. We've played him eight or nine, 10 times since I've been here. Every time you look at the guy, you're just as equally impressed as the first time you've seen him. He's just a freak. And then you go to Clay out there, who's also proven to be one of the best pass-rushers in the game. It's just an impressive group to look at."

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