NFL Nation: Donald Lee

Super XLV: Where are they now?

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
6:30
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Exactly three years ago -- on Feb. 6, 2011 -- the Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV.

Since then, much has happened to the 53 players who were on the roster for that 31-25 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Arlington, Texas.

Free agency, injuries, retirement and declining performance cause roster turnover.

Still, it’s eye-opening that from the group that suited up for the Packers’ last championship, only 12 players (just 22.6 percent) remain under contract with the team for 2014. Another 11 are still officially members of the Packers, but have contracts that expire next month. There are 13 players with other NFL teams, and 17 are out of football -- perhaps for good.

Here’s a look at the status of every player who was on the active roster three years ago today at Super Bowl XLV:

Under contract for 2014

  • [+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
    Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
    QB Aaron Rodgers: Threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns on the way to winning the Super Bowl XLV MVP, then won the NFL MVP award the next season. Signed a five-year, $110 million contract extension last April.
  • G Josh Sitton: Started Super Bowl XLV at right guard, but moved to left guard in 2013 and was a second-team, All-Pro selection. Signed a five-year contract extension on Sept. 2, 2011 that averages $6.75 million per season.
  • T Bryan Bulaga: Started at right tackle, but moved to left tackle last offseason. A training camp knee injury ended his 2013 season, and he now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
  • G: T.J. Lang: Served as a backup, but became the starting left guard the next season. Signed a four-year contract extension on Aug. 14, 2012 that averages $5.2 million per season. Moved to right guard last season.
  • WR Jordy Nelson: Caught nine passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and went on to post 1,000-yard receiving seasons in two of the next three years. Entering the final year of his contract in 2014.
  • OLB Clay Matthews: Forced a fumble in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl that the Packers recovered and turned into a touchdown to pad the lead. Four-time Pro Bowler signed a five-year, $66 million contract extension last April.
  • LB A.J. Hawk: Started and made seven tackles in the Super Bowl. Was released two months later, only to re-sign a more salary-cap friendly deal. Is under contract through 2015.
  • CB Tramon Williams: Broke up three passes in the Super Bowl, including the one that sealed the game on fourth-and-5 from the Steelers’ 33-yard line in the final minute. Entering the final year of his contract. Scheduled to make $7.5 million in 2014, and could be a candidate to be released or restructured despite a strong finish to last season.
  • K Mason Crosby: Made a 23-yard field goal in the game and signed a five-year, $14.75 million contract on July 29, 2011. Struggled in 2012, but bounced back last year to post his best season.
  • P Tim Masthay: Capped his first season with the Packers by averaging 40.5 yards and allowing the Steelers just 5 yards on punt returns in the game. Signed a four-year, $5.465 million contract extension on July 26, 2012.
  • LS Brett Goode: Has been the long snapper since 2008 and signed a three-year, $2.715 million contract extension on Oct. 13, 2012.
  • CB Jarrett Bush: Special teams player who was pressed into defensive duty in the game after injuries to Sam Shields and Charles Woodson, and intercepted a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the second quarter. Signed a three-year, $5.25 million contract on March 26, 2012.
Headed for free agency next month

  • RB James Starks: Started the Super Bowl and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries. Battled injuries most of his career, and might not be re-signed.
  • WR James Jones: Caught five passes for 50 yards in the game, and signed a three-year, $9.6 million contract on Aug. 2, 2011. Caught 59 passes for a career-high 817 yards in 2013, and could be a re-signed despite his age (will turn 30 next month).
  • DT Ryan Pickett: Started the game, made two tackles and was in on the play in which Matthews forced Rashard Mendehall's fourth-quarter fumble. Played in all 16 games last season with a base salary of $5.4 million, but might be at the age (34) where the Packers let him walk.
  • DT B.J. Raji: Capped a strong 2010 postseason with a pair of tackles in the game. Finished his rookie contract in 2013, and reportedly turned down an $8 million-per-year offer last season.
  • DE C.J. Wilson: Started the game, but played only 14 snaps. Biggest impact came the night before the game, when he kept things loose in the team hotel by playing piano and leading a team sign-along. Finished his rookie contract in 2013.
  • FB John Kuhn: Played on both offense and special teams in the game. Signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract on Aug. 1, 2011.
  • CB Sam Shields: Suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the game. Had his best season in 2013 while playing under the restricted free agent tender of $2.023 million. Will command a big contract either from the Packers or another team in free agency.
  • LB Robert Francois: Went back and forth from the practice squad to the active roster throughout the 2010 season, and played on special teams in the game. Played last season under a one-year, $725,000 deal, but tore his Achilles tendon on Oct. 6.
  • TE Andrew Quarless: Caught one pass for 5 yards in the game. Suffered a major knee injury the next season and missed all of 2012. Returned last season to catch 32 passes for 312 yards (both career highs) in the final year of his rookie deal.
  • QB Matt Flynn: Served as Rodgers’ backup but did not play in the Super Bowl. Left after the 2011 season as a free agent, and after stints with Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, he returned to the Packers last season for a one-year minimum deal and played in five games after Rodgers broke his collarbone.
  • C Evan Dietrich-Smith: Was inactive for the Super Bowl. Became a starter late in 2012 and for all of 2013, when he played under the restricted free agent tender of $1.323 million deal.
With other teams

  • [+] EnlargeMcCarthy
    Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
    WR Greg Jennings: Started and became just the third player in team history to catch multiple touchdowns in a Super Bowl by recording touchdowns of 21 and 8 yards. Signed a five-year, $45 million contract with the Vikings last March.
  • G Daryn Colledge: Started at left guard, but left in free agency a few months later to sign a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Cardinals. Has started every game for the Cardinals since.
  • C Scott Wells: Started at center and remained with the Packers through the 2011 season before signing a four-year, $24 million contract with the Rams. Has missed 13 games over the past two seasons because of injuries.
  • LB Desmond Bishop: Became a starter earlier in 2010 after Nick Barnett's wrist injury and made nine tackles in the Super Bowl. Also recovered the fumble that Matthews forced. Signed a four-year, $19 million contract in 2011, but was released after missing the entire 2012 season because of a hamstring injury. Signed with the Vikings last offseason, but appeared in only four games.
  • OLB Frank Zombo: Started the game and had the Packers’ only sack of Roethlisberger but battled injuries the next two years and was released. Signed with the Chiefs last year and appeared in all 16 games.
  • CB Charles Woodson: Started at cornerback, but broke his collarbone late in the second quarter and missed the remainder of the game. Played two more seasons with the Packers, who released him last year. Returned to his old team, the Raiders, and played in all 16 games last season.
  • DE Cullen Jenkins: Played 36 snaps and had a pair of quarterback pressures. Left in free agency the following year and signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Eagles, who released him after two years. Signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Giants last season.
  • TE Tom Crabtree: Played on both offense and special teams in the Super Bowl, catching one pass. Left last year to sign with the Buccaneers as an unrestricted free agent, but was limited to seven games because of injuries.
  • CB Josh Gordy: Was inactive for the game, and the next season was signed off the practice squad the by the Rams. Spent the past two seasons with the Colts.
  • G Nick McDonald: Was inactive for the game, like he was for every game that season. Was released in training camp the next year, and spent parts of the next two seasons with the Patriots. Did not play in 2013, but was recently signed by the Chargers.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Was inactive after suffering an ankle injury in the NFC Championship Game. Played the next two seasons before signing a four-year, $16 million contract with the Colts last year.
  • DE: Jarius Wynn: Was active but did not play. Played in Green Bay through 2011, and with the Titans and Chargers before landing with the Cowboys last season.
  • FB Quinn Johnson: Inactive for the game. Was traded to the Titans in 2011. Has played in 24 games for the Titans over the past three years.
Out of football

  • T Chad Clifton: Started at left tackle, but his long career with the Packers ended when they released him after he played in only six games in 2011. Was never signed by another team.
  • WR Donald Driver: Started the game and caught two passes for 28 yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Retired after the 2012 season as the team’s all-time leading receiver.
  • S Nick Collins: Started and made a key early play when he returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Suffered a neck injury in Week 2 of 2011 and hasn’t played since.
  • DT Howard Green: Claimed off waivers earlier that season and started the game. His hit on Roethlisberger led to Collins’ interception return for a touchdown. Returned in 2011 and played in all 16 games, but has not played since.
  • WR Brett Swain: Posted a team-high four special teams tackles. Was released the following season and played briefly with the 49ers. Was cut in training camp last season by the Seahawks.
  • S Atari Bigby: Played on special teams. Signed with the Seahawks the following season and played in 15 games. Played in eight games with the Chargers in 2012, but did not play in 2013.
  • CB Pat Lee: Special teams player who saw action on defense after injuries to Woodson and Shields. Played one more season in Green Bay before splitting time in 2012 between the Lions and Raiders. Did not play in 2013.
  • RB Brandon Jackson: Played as the third-down back, but did not have any carries in the game. Caught one pass for 14 yards. Signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract with the Browns in 2011, but missed all of that season and played in only two games in 2012.
  • FB Korey Hall: Caught one pass for 2 yards and made one special teams tackle in the game. He played in 13 games with the Saints in 2011, and retired after going to camp with the Cardinals in 2012.
  • S Charlie Peprah: Led the Packers with 10 tackles (including nine solo stops). Returned as a starter in 2011, when he had five interceptions, but was released shortly before training camp in 2012. Played in five games for the Cowboys in 2012.
  • LB Diyral Briggs: Made one special teams tackle in the game, but never played in another NFL game.
  • LB Matt Wilhelm: Made two special teams tackles, but seven-year career ended after that game.
  • G Jason Spitz: Played on special teams. Left in free agency the next year and signed a three-year, $4.05 million contract with the Jaguars, who released him in training camp last summer. He signed with the Seahawks, but was released on Oct. 12.
  • TE Donald Lee: Played in the game, but did not have a catch and was released two months later. Played in nine games for the Bengals in 2001.
  • QB Graham Harrell: Inactive for the game. Remained with the Packers until he was released in training camp last summer. Also spent time briefly with the Jets before being released.
  • RB Dimitri Nance: Inactive for the game. Was released by the Packers the following summer and never played in another NFL game.
  • CB Brandon Underwood: Inactive for the game. Was released in 2011. Went to camp with the Raiders in 2012 and Cowboys in 2013, but did not make either team.
Here is a potential clue to tracking the Miami Dolphins in free agency: Watch the Green Bay Packers.

Yes, general manager Jeff Ireland is running the show in Miami. But that doesn't mean Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin won't add some influence about the players he's most familiar with.

Green Bay went 15-1 this season. Here are some key pending free agents for the Packers to keep an eye on:
Philbin worked directly with this group day-to-day as Green Bay's offensive coordinator.

It's no secret Philbin likes Flynn, who was Aaron Rodgers' backup for four seasons. Perhaps no coach outside of the Packers’ staff knows Flynn better than Miami’s rookie head coach. I fully expect Miami to be in the Flynn sweepstakes if Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is out of the equation.

Finley and Grant are interesting cases. I doubt Finley is going anywhere. He is one of Rodgers' favorite targets and most likely will get an extension or the franchise tag. Grant might be someone of interest, although Miami has 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Bush and budding rookie Daniel Thomas. Wells is Green Bay's starting center, and Mike Pouncey is Miami's long-term solution there.
Here's your game-day warm-up:

CINCINNATI -- The Steelers are looking to avoid their first 0-3 start in the AFC North when they play the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium today.

Pittsburgh lost its first two division games this year when it got swept by the Ravens. The Steelers have only had one three-game losing streak in the division since the AFC North began in 2002.

A majority of the ESPN NFL experts believe the Steelers will get their first division victory today. Six of the eight prognosticators have Pittsburgh (6-3) beating the Bengals (6-2), who have won five consecutive games (the longest current streak in the AFC).

ESPN's NFL experts also have the Ravens and Browns winning today. The Ravens (6-2) play at Seattle (2-6), and the Browns (3-5) are home against St. Louis (1-7).

Here are some story lines for today's games:
  • BENGALS: The loss of Carlos Dunlap, who is questionable, would hurt the Bengals' pass rush. But the tight end position could be more of a concern. Backup Donald Lee is out and starter Jermaine Gresham is questionable. If Gresham is sidelined today, the Bengals would probably have to promote Chase Coffman from the practice squad since rookie Colin Cochart is the only healthy tight end on the roster.
  • BROWNS: Let's keep on an eye on how the Browns use Josh Cribbs. He hinted on Wednesday that he would spend time in the backfield. A day later, he backed off playing running back or quarterback in the Wildcat. There is one certainty: Cribbs will start at wide receiver with Mohamed Massaquoi out.
  • RAVENS: Statistics say it will be a rough day for Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The Seahawks have given up 29 sacks, the second-most in the NFL. The Ravens have recorded 26 sacks, the second-most in the league.
  • STEELERS: With LaMarr Woodley out, James Harrison has to carry the pass rush again. He had three sacks, six quarterback pressures and a forced fumble last Sunday. Harrison will often line up against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who has allowed 1.5 sacks.

Halftime: Titans 17, Bengals 7

November, 6, 2011
11/06/11
5:35
PM ET
Thoughts at halftime of the Bengals-Titans game in Tennessee:

  • The Bengals, who have the NFL's second-best run defense, have given up 55 yards to the once-struggling Chris Johnson. Cincinnati allows an average of 85.4 yards on the ground per game.
  • Cincinnati scored its only touchdown of the first half on a drive dominated by its tight ends. With starting tight end Jermaine Gresham out, Andy Dalton completed passes of 25 and 22 yards to backup Donald Lee before hitting rookie Colin Cochart for a 1-yard touchdown, which put the Bengals up 7-3.
  • The Titans took the lead into halftime because of a gutsy call and an incredible catch. On fourth-and-3 at the Bengals' 10-yard line, Tennessee decided not to kick the field goal and converted it with a 5-yard pass by Matt Hasselbeck. The drive finished with a 8-yard touchdown pass to Damian Williams, who somehow leapt up for the catch and got both feet in the back of the end zone.
  • Tennessee increased its lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Lavelle Hawkins in the final seconds of the first half. Hasselbeck threw for 166 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

New York Giants cutdown analysis

September, 4, 2011
9/04/11
8:19
AM ET
Click here for a complete list of the New York Giants' roster moves.

Biggest surprise: Four rookie linebackers made the team. And yes, I know some of you were telling me that would happen Friday, but I expected Adrian Tracy to make the team and I was wrong. He was one of three 2010 draft picks -- including fellow linebacker Phillip Dillard and punter Matt Dodge -- among Saturday's cuts. But in part because of the way they played on special teams, rookies Mark Herzlich, Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger all made the team. That's the corps of backup linebackers behind starters Jonathan Goff, Mathias Kiwanuka and Michael Boley.

Running backs D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott made the team while 2009 draft pick Andre Brown was cut. Devin Thomas made the team as a wide receiver over Michael Clayton based on a strong preseason showing. And the Giants basically keep three tight ends -- Travis Beckum, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe with rookie Henry Hynoski slated to be the starting fullback.

No-brainers: Dodge had a very good preseason, has a lot of talent and probably will find work somewhere. But once the Giants brought in Steve Weatherford, who's been one of the best punters in the league the past two years, Dodge's days were numbered. Weatherford will be the punter, and the bad memories of Dodge and DeSean Jackson can begin to fade. Health issues cost Sage Rosenfels the backup quarterback job, which goes back to David Carr.

What's next: I think they need to sort through the Eagles' castoffs. In particular, tight end Donald Lee and nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson make a lot of sense for the Giants, as the former would fill a huge hole and the latter would allow them to keep Antrel Rolle at safety. And personally I always think they need linebacker help, but they disagree and they like their rookies, so I guess we'll see.

Kansas City Chiefs cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
8:15
PM ET
Check here for a complete list of the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster moves.

Surprise move: The Chiefs kept Keary Colbert ahead of fellow receivers Verran Tucker and Jeremy Horne. Colbert signed during the summer. He hasn’t been on an NFL roster since 2008. Yet, Colbert became a favorite of Kansas City coach Todd Haley. Defensive tackle Amon Gordon is another vet enjoying a career resurgence in Kansas City. He has played in just 17 games since entering the league in 2004. The Chiefs like Gordon as a run stuffer.

No-brainers: The big news out of Kansas City on Saturday is that standout tight end Tony Moeaki was put on the injured reserve with a knee injury he suffered at Green Bay on Thursday. Thus, the Chiefs kept both backups Jake O'Connell and Anthony Becht. Both players were considered bubble players but they are needed now.

What's next: It starts at tight end. The Chiefs could use a pass catcher. They could look at Donald Lee, who was cut Saturday, among other players. Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli could also make a run at safety Brandon Meriweather. He was cut by New England. Pioli was part of the team when it drafted Meriweather. The Chiefs also could scour the waiver wire at receiver, offensive line, inside linebacker and on the defensive line. So, yes, the Chiefs could look to upgrade throughout the roster. Also, if an interesting backup quarterback becomes available, the Cheifs could pursue him in favor of current backup Tyler Palko.

Philadelphia Eagles cutdown analysis

September, 3, 2011
9/03/11
6:31
PM ET
Click here for a complete list of the Philadelphia Eagles' roster moves.

Surprise move: It's not a huge surprise that nickel cornerback Joselio Hanson was released, considering how deep the Eagles were at cornerback after their frenzied first week of free agency. But I do think people are surprised that they couldn't get anything for him in a trade before releasing him. It seems no team wanted to compensate the Eagles and also assume Hanson's contract, which had $7.6 million left over the next three years. He was an extremely effective nickel corner last year and surely will end up on someone's roster (Cleveland? Arizona? St. Louis? The Giants?) before long.

It was a bit of a surprise to see the Eagles cut defensive tackles Anthony Hargrove and Derek Landri and keep Cedric Thornton, but ultimately I guess they believed Landri and Hargrove weren't big enough to play the position in Jim Washburn's scheme. Very small but very effective former CFL star Phillip Hunt made the team at defensive end, though. And cutting both Sinorice Moss and Johnnie Lee Higgins leaves the Eagles looking for help in the return game.

No-brainers: Keeping five safeties (Jarrad Page, Kurt Coleman, Nate Allen, Jaiquawn Jarrett and Colt Anderson) and six linebackers (Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Brian Rolle and Keenan Clayton) makes some sense because they have questions at those positions and will hold onto depth until they sort out roles. Tight end Donald Lee probably can help someone, but with all of the options the Eagles have at receiver, there isn't much room in the game plan for many two-tight end sets. Mike McGlynn started 14 games for the Eagles last year, but it was clear from the start of camp that there was no place for him on the new offensive line.

What's next: The Eagles are likely to poke around and look for help at linebacker and kick returner, but they're set at almost every position and extremely deep at most. If I'm their front office, I begin focusing my attention on whatever potential resolution there might be to the DeSean Jackson contract situation.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Call Andy Reid impatient if you want, but like most NFL coaches, the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach is no great fan of the walk-through practices that have taken the place of what used to be the second of his two training camp practices per day.

[+] EnlargeAndy Reid
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireHead coach Andy Reid enters the season with a roster full of Pro Bowlers and high expectations.
"It's like being stopped at a red light with a bunch of cars in front of you," Reid told me after Friday's walk-through. "You want to just hurry up and get where you're going, but there's nothing you can do about it."

The Eagles, you see, have big plans. Reid is in his 13th season as their coach, and although the first 12 have been mostly excellent, each has ended without a Super Bowl ring. The team's urge to change that this season is obvious and inescapable. It's on the ever-shifting roster, which added five Pro Bowlers during a wild first week of free agency that made the Eagles the talk of the league. It's in the eyes of quarterback Michael Vick, who knows last season proved he was good enough to deliver and therefore ratcheted up the pressure to do just that. It's all over the high-energy practices that have featured fights and trash-talking worthy of a Week 16 division matchup. The Eagles know what's at stake and what they must do, and they're eager to get to it.

"This town wants a Super Bowl," linebacker Jamar Chaney told me, referring of course to Philadelphia, not Bethlehem. "The Phillies win. The Flyers win. They want the Eagles to do the same thing. And not just win, like, have a good season. They want you to win a Super Bowl."

The players and coaches hear the fans and would like them to know they feel the same way. Juan Castillo, who's in his first season as defensive coordinator after 13 as the team's offensive line coach, has a cut just above his nose from where he actually head-butted linebacker Keenan Clayton while yelling at Clayton to make a point during practice last week. Yeah, Clayton was still wearing his helmet. Yeah, Castillo wants this pretty badly.

"Coach Reid has been to the playoffs nine out of 12 years," Castillo said. "That's tradition, but it's not good enough. Before we finish here, we want to win the Super Bowl. Because we don't want to be sitting around when we get older, watching ESPN and having them talk about how we were so close and we never got it done."

So yeah. If it's not too much trouble, the Eagles would like to get this thing going as soon as possible.

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeNnamdi Asomugha
Howard Smith/US PresswireThe addition of Nnamdi Asomugha, 24, gives the Eagles three starting-caliber cornerbacks.
1. Can you have too many cornerbacks? When the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha the day after acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and they already had Asante Samuel, the first question everybody asked was whether they'd keep all three excellent cornerbacks. The answer, to this point, seems to be yes. Rodgers-Cromartie has made it clear he doesn't mind sitting behind either of the other two, and Asomugha has made it clear that he's happy to play slot corner when all three are on the field if the other two would prefer to play outside. So although there was some early talk about possibly dealing Samuel (and that remains a possibility if somebody blows them away with a great offer), the odds favor the Eagles' keeping all three and just making triple-sure that all the receivers they play against are covered.

2. Will Vick have his receivers? As exciting as things have been during the early practices, you can't escape that Vick is throwing to second-string and third-string receivers. Sure, Jason Avant has looked like a star. But he's supposed to be the No. 3 wideout behind DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Jackson just showed up Monday after missing the first week-plus in a contract dispute. Maclin has been in camp for a week but has yet to practice as he continues to recover from an illness that neither he nor the team will discuss. If the team can't get Jackson happy and Maclin healthy soon, their top two receivers run the risk of starting the season behind or maybe not on the roster. No matter how many new defensive players they've signed, that would be impossible to overcome.

3. Who are the linebackers? The Eagles have beefed up on the defensive line and in the secondary. They've even added a couple of starters on the offensive line and Pro Bowl backups at quarterback and running back. But they did nothing at linebacker except allow Stewart Bradley to leave via free agency. That means rookie Casey Matthews, the team's fourth-round pick in April's draft, is currently the starting middle linebacker with Chaney and Moise Fokou on the outside. The coaches have been saying very nice things about Matthews, but no pre-draft projection I know of had him as a 2011 starter -- especially on a team that expects to win the Super Bowl. Don't be surprised if the Eagles bring in a veteran to add a little depth and/or experience at the position. Matthews could start Week 1, but it's hard to imagine that the Eagles don't have a backup plan.

D-LINING THEM UP

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
Howard Smith/US PresswireNew defensive line coach Jim Washburn, left, brings an attacking style that end Trent Cole, right, is excited about.
For all the talk about the rotation at cornerback, the Eagles have put together remarkable depth on the defensive line as well. New defensive line coach Jim Washburn has been using Trent Cole and Juqua Parker as his starting defensive ends in early practices, with newcomers Cullen Jenkins and Anthony Hargrove at the defensive tackle spots. But one would have to think that Antonio Dixon, who has been missing practice with a knee injury, would start in Hargrove's place if healthy, which means Hargrove would join newly signed defensive end Jason Babin on the second-team defensive line. Add in Trevor Laws, Darryl Tapp and, if healthy, Mike Patterson, and Washburn has plenty of options on a line that will have a different mission this year than it has in recent seasons. "We used to do a lot of reading, and now we're attacking, getting after the ball a lot," Cole told me. "Go to the ball every time, get the quarterback every time. I think they took a lot of the thinking out of it. Just go play ball."

O-LINING THEM UP

The offensive line also has a new coach in Howard Mudd, and he has changed the way they play line on that side of the ball, too. "It's a whole new thought of blocking your man," guard Todd Herremans told me. "Instead of meeting him at a spot, you're going to get to them before they get to that spot. It's more of an aggressive approach." Herremans said he's working on changing his ways, and left tackle Jason Peters and center Jamaal Jackson must as well. Rookie right guard Danny Watkins and right tackle Ryan Harris are new, and rookie Jason Kelce could wrest the starting center spot from Jackson. So there's a lot going on with the offensive line, and it bears watching, because keeping Vick healthy is probably the key to the entire Eagles season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Assuming Nate Allen's knee is healthy, he'll start at one safety spot, but it'll be interesting to see how the other one shakes out. It looks as though the Eagles would like to give rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett a chance to start, but it's tough to evaluate Jarrett during practices that don't allow hard hitting, because that's his thing. Also in the mix are Kurt Coleman, Marlin Jackson and newly signed veteran Jarrad Page.
  • As many weapons as the Eagles already have on offense, and as good as Brent Celek is, it'd be easy to overlook the signing of tight end Donald Lee. But when I was there, they were lining Lee up one-on-one with defensive ends like Babin and having him block them without help. He did a pretty good job, and if you're wondering how he might be deployed, that could be your answer.
  • Vince Young looks very much like a quarterback with a lot to learn about his new team's offense. So much so, in fact, that you wonder whether Young or Mike Kafka would be the starter if Vick were to suffer an injury early in the season.
  • Fourth-round draft pick Alex Henery has a great big leg. But after all the work they did in free agency and everything that's riding on this season, it does seem a little odd for the Eagles to potentially leave the outcome of a big game in the hands (or on the foot) of a rookie place-kicker.
  • Chaney played middle linebacker last season when Bradley was hurt. And when you ask which he'd prefer, he answers that he'd rather be back there than outside. But the Eagles think that his speed is his greatest asset and that having him on the strong side makes the best use of that. He could be the middle linebacker of the future or a fall-back option if Matthews can't handle it. But right now they appear to prefer him on the outside.
BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Big Saturday morning crowd here at Lehigh, and they were treated to quite a show as the Philadelphia Eagles offered one of the more spirited training camp practices I've seen.

One of the highlights came late in the practice when defensive end Darryl Tapp jumped, deflected a Mike Kafka pass into the air, caught it and ran it back about 70 yards for a touchdown. The play was good enough on its own to be a highlight, but what really made it memorable was the sight of a red-shirted Michael Vick racing off the sideline and chasing Tapp to the end zone.

"I saw him out of the corner of my eye and thought, 'I'd better run'," Tapp said. "He's ... a little bit faster than I am."

[+] EnlargeDanny Watkins and Moise Fokou
AP Photo/Alex BrandonThere were a few scuffles at Eagles practice Saturday, including one involving Danny Watkins and Moise Fokou.
It was that kind of high-energy day for the Eagles. The sun hid behind clouds and kept the heat at bay, so the practice ran long and no one seemed to tire out. There were three fights (all quickly broken up, one by hyperenthusiastic defensive coordinator Juan Castillo), several circus catches, plenty of patented Asante Samuel trash-talking and an especially bouncy performance by newly signed defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove, who practiced as if he'd had four extra cups of coffee before taking the field.

"I don't know what happened out there today," Vick said. "Just something in the air, I think. Just one of those days where, on both sides of the ball, we were like, 'We're going to win every down,' and guys played that way."

A couple of thoughts:

  • Vick was goofing off when he ran after Tapp, obviously, but when he was at quarterback he looked absolutely stellar, threading throws into tight spots, picking up blitzes and staying confidently in the pocket and behind the line of scrimmage rather than taking off for runs. Considering the receivers to whom he's throwing (i.e., not DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin) and who's covering them (i.e. Samuel, Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), Vick's practice performance Saturday was extremely impressive.
  • Asomugha missed the latter part of practice with a calf injury that both he and the team said wasn't serious. Other injury absences included Nate Allen, who missed the practice with a knee injury, Trevor Laws, who has a hip injury, and Marlin Jackson, whose groin is hurt.
  • There were a couple of offensive sets on which the tight end was assigned to block a defensive end one-on-one. Donald Lee held his own against Jason Babin when called upon to do that. Brent Celek did not fare as well in his attempts to handle Babin, who is another of the high-energy fellows.
  • Howard Mudd seems still to be tinkering with the starting lineup on the offensive line. Ryan Harris played right tackle with the first team Saturday, while rookie Jason Kelce more or less split first-team reps with Jamaal Jackson at center. No reason yet to think Kelce is a threat to Jackson's job, but it bears watching. Rookie Danny Watkins is taking reps with the first and second teams at right guard because he's sure to be the starter there and they want to get him up to speed after a spring and summer that featured no OTAs or minicamps.
  • Vince Young is learning, and it appears he has a ways to go before he knows the offense. But Marty Mornhinweg coached Vick to excellence from a backup role, and the Eagles and Young feel it's worth the shot to see if the same can happen for him.
  • Jason Avant, whose one-handed touchdown catch with Asomugha draped all over him was one of the practice's highlights, said he's not worried about the time that Jackson (holdout) and Maclin (undisclosed illness) are missing. "Those guys know the playbook like the back of their hand," Avant said. "As soon as they're back, they'll jump right in without any problem."

I'll have more on the Eagles in the coming days, as my notebook and recorder are loaded. Much of it will appear in the Eagles edition of "Camp Confidental," which is currently scheduled for Monday. It looks as though my next stop will be Giants camp either Sunday or Monday. I'll keep you posted.
Little bit late Friday night with our daily roundup of the free-agency day in the NFC East because, well, it's been a bit of a nutty day overall. But you're not here to read about my day. You're here to ask, of whichever team is your favorite, the following question: So, how was your day?

Dallas Cowboys?

"Infuriating." It seemed as if the Cowboys put their entire offseason plan on hold for a day because Jerry Jones decided he wanted to try and get Nnamdi Asomugha. Then it seemed, for a fleeting second when the Jets dropped out of the running just before dinnertime, as if they might have actually gotten him. Then they found out that they didn't get him. Then they found out that he'd signed in the division, with the Eagles. That's a bad day, folks. And the re-signing of Marcus Spears didn't seem like it was enough to make anybody any happier. The Cowboys still need two starting safeties and another starting defensive end, and there remain several good options on the market at both spots. So now that Asomugha is elsewhere, they can re-focus on filling needs and smoothing over the surely hurt feelings of the cornerbacks on their roster.

New York Giants?

"Punterrific!" OK, no, that's not a word. But while the Giants were busy again, the only thing that really happened for them Friday was that they agreed to terms on a new deal with former Jets punter Steve Weatherford. He will surely replace the embattled Matt Dodge to the delight of Giants fans who refuse to forgive Dodge for that whole DeSean Jackson thing. Brandon Jacobs agreed to restructure his deal to help them re-sign Ahmad Bradshaw, but Bradshaw remains unsigned, along with Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. Plaxico Burress stopped by to visit Tom Coughlin, but then he went on to Pittsburgh and I still wonder if he's just using the Giants for leverage. Oh, and Osi Umenyiora is officially holding out, so that's fun. Any or all of these sticky situations could resolve themselves in the next day or so, but in the meantime, the best thing that happened for the Giants on Friday was the punterrific addition of Weatherford, which will have to do.

Philadelphia Eagles?

"Awesome." They sneaked in at the last minute and signed the best free agent on the market. They did it right when the Cowboys thought they were about to get him. A defense that was their weak spot last season now boasts a three-man cornerback rotation of Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. They also formally announced the addition of Jason Babin to the defensive line and a couple of under-the-radar moves in receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins and tight end Donald Lee. Eventually, they got around to announcing the signing of Vince Young to a one-year deal to serve as Michael Vick's backup. The Phillies were so inspired that they made their own big trade, and it was party time in Philadelphia. If they Eagles can beef up a bit at linebacker and find a backup running back, they'll be just about all set. They'll just need to find a way to make Jackson happy.

Washington Redskins?

"Quiet." Washington was the busiest team in the division all week until Friday, when they didn't make a move of major consequence. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan talked about what he sees as the looming quarterback competition between John Beck and Rex Grossman, which kind of reminded everybody that all the other moves the Redskins have been making could have a hard time helping too much in 2011. Washington still needs a right tackle, and I could see them making a move for Braylon Edwards before that situation resolves itself. But they'd been busy and effective all week, and there was nothing wrong with a quiet day for them.

My day? Well, I was right there with the rest of you, wondering how the Nnamdi thing would shake out and shocked when it took the final turn it took. I was watching Adam Schefter on "SportsCenter" when he got the news on his BlackBerry and broke it on the set, which was humorous. My day isn't over, either, as I have one more Eagles-related item to write before I can think about the pillow. But as always, I have enjoyed the interactions on Twitter and the work I do to try and keep you informed and entertained. I hope you're enjoying it too.

How was your day?
Brandon JacksonAP Photo/Morry GashBrandon Jackson had 19 yards on seven carries as the Packers' offense sputtered against Chicago.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- They're a tough out.

You don't want to see them in the playoffs.

Don't sleep on them.

Those clichés are among the populist hogwash you'll read and hear about the Green Bay Packers this week as they prepare for Sunday's wild-card game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe it's natural to propagate those ideas for any sixth seed, which by definition is an underdog but has played well enough to earn a wild-card berth. But what we saw Sunday at Lambeau Field was enough to give any objective observer pause about hyping the Packers as the next incarnation of a wild-card Super Bowl team.

The Packers eked out a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, a game they didn't seal until safety Nick Collins intercepted a pass at the Packers' 11-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. In what turned out to be a must-win game, the Packers' offense fell into one of the disturbing ruts that has defined its season. They were scoreless until 2 minutes, 39 seconds remained in the third quarter and failed to close out the game during a key fourth-quarter possession.

As the Packers learned in last season's postseason debacle at Arizona, it takes only the temporary collapse of one phase to end a postseason run. And as well as the Packers' defense and special teams performed Sunday, their offensive showing was weak enough to lose a playoff game on the road.

So went my initial thoughts as the final gun sounded Sunday. Part of me wondered if it reflected a harsh and too-literal reading of Sunday's game, but I found more than a few similar thoughts in the Packers' locker room. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for one, noted that "everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief" but was the first to point out that Sunday's production probably won't cut it from this point forward.

"The thing you realize when you play in the playoffs is that it's the best of the best," Rodgers said. "You can't expect [the Packers' defense] to hold every team to three points. We're playing against a guy that had an MVP-type season in Michael Vick. They have a lot of weapons. Good special teams. Very solid defense. We need to carry our burden a little bit better next week and hopefully put some more points up and take some of the pressure off our defense."

[+] EnlargeNick Collins
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesNick Collins' interception sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
Indeed, the Packers' defense suffocated a Bears offense that had scored 78 points in its previous two games. Using another of coordinator Dom Capers' creative blitz packages, the Packers sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler six times and intercepted him twice. (Sunday, Capers blitzed a defensive back 19 times, including 16 in the second half, according to ESPN Stats & Information.)

Capers' group limited six opponents to single-digit point totals during the regular season and finished the season as the NFL's second-best scoring defense (15 points per game). Defense is said to win championships, and it certainly is possible that Capers could shut down a playoff opponent on the road. But you can hardly expect a victory in such a manner, and Rodgers isn't the only Packers player who chimed in with that opinion.

"It will come down to us holding down our end of it," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "Our offense ... we don't expect them to score 10 points. We expect them to score 20 or more. Hopefully they do that next week. For us, we just feel like if they do, that we'll hold up our end of the bargain and we'll win."

In many ways, the Packers' offense has been an all-or-nothing outfit this season. They've scored at least 27 points in nine games this season, winning eight of them. On the other hand, their six losses this season have included these point totals: 3, 13, 17, 17, 20 and 27.

You don't have to look any further than the past two weeks. Last Sunday, the Packers scored 45 points and totaled 515 yards in a rout of the New York Giants. Playing against an admittedly high-caliber defense this Sunday, the Packers were stymied for almost the entire game.

Tramon Williams' 41-yard punt return set up their first score, a 23-yard field goal from Mason Crosby after the offense failed to score on three goal-line plays. Their touchdown, a 1-yard pass from Rodgers to tight end Donald Lee, came after their best play of the afternoon -- a 46-yard pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings down the right sideline.

In what I thought was an honest analysis, Rodgers made little attempt to gloss over what he called the offense's season-long "inconsistency."

He added: "It's been a more frustrating year [than 2009] because we haven't played as well as maybe we did at times last year. ... We played a good Giants team and played excellent on offense and defense. Tonight was a struggle. It's nice to keep that momentum coming, but we can't have the kind of inconsistent performances that we've had this year that have forced us to be a No. 6 seed."

Rodgers expressed particular concern about the Packers' running game, which fell dormant Sunday despite the return of rookie James Starks. Three Packers running backs -- Starks, Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn -- combined for 39 yards on 16 carries -- and Rodgers was the leading individual rusher with 21 yards. It was the fourth game of the season in which Rodgers had earned that distinction.

Rodgers, who suffered calf cramps Sunday, laughed and said: "Unless I'm able to be calf-cramp free and have some sort of 40- or 50-yard run next week, I don't believe that me being the leading rusher for us is going to equate to a win."

Coach Mike McCarthy acknowledged that Sunday was not the offense's "best day" but fairly noted how well the Packers' defense and special teams performed. (In addition to Williams' punt return, they also downed four punts from Tim Masthay inside the Bears' 20-yard line.) And when I asked Williams what opponents should fear most about the Packers, he said "everything" before laughing and qualifying his answer.

"We feel we're one of the teams that can win it and probably one of the teams that's feared in this whole thing," he said. "Hopefully we can go out and perform the way we can or we should. If our offense performs the way that they can, it's going to be a great playoffs."

I wouldn't disagree. But we've seen enough this season, and were reminded on Sunday, why it's wrong to promote the Packers as a lock for that development.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts after the Green Bay Packers held on for a 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears.

What it means: As it turned out, the Packers needed this win in order to qualify for the playoffs. After a nervous afternoon at Lambeau Field, the Packers put together enough of a surge late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to win it. It wasn’t over until safety Nick Collins clinched the game with a red zone interception with 10 seconds remaining. As the No. 6 seed, the Packers will play at the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC’s wild-card round. The day and time will be announced soon.

What I was surprised by: Bears coach Lovie Smith played his starters for the entire game despite having nothing tangible to play for in this game. Before kickoff, the Atlanta Falcons had clinched the NFC’s No. 1 overall playoff seed, leaving the Bears locked in at No. 2 no matter the outcome of this game. Two Bears players left with injuries -- linebacker Nick Roach and safety Major Wright -- but both probably would have been on the field even if Smith had rested his starters. I don’t necessarily disagree with Smith’s decision. As we discussed earlier in the week, there is something to be said about maintaining a winning mindset. But it’s just a matter of fact: The Bears’ good fortune when it comes to health continued Sunday.

Turning point Part I: With the Packers trailing 3-0 more than halfway through the third quarter, Tramon Williams broke off a 41-yard punt return to put the ball at the Bears’ 44-yard line. The play energized the crowd and ultimately led to Mason Crosby's 23-yard field goal.

Turning point Part II: The Bears appeared to have converted a third-and-15 late in the third quarter to put the ball on the Packers’ 40-yard line. But Chester Taylor's 15-yard reception was wiped out because Smith had called a timeout just before the snap, apparently to avoid a delay of game penalty. Ouch.

Turning point Part III: Much like last Sunday against the New York Giants, the Packers’ winning push got a huge boost from a long pass down the right sideline to receiver Greg Jennings. This time, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found Jennings past cornerback Zack Bowman for 46 yards early in the fourth quarter. Safety Danieal Manning was late to help but tackled Jennings at the Bears’ 1-yard line.

Turning point Part IV: Normally first-and-goal isn’t a high-stress play, but the Packers had botched an earlier goal-to-go series after Williams’ punt return. This time, however, Rodgers found tight end Donald Lee for a play-action touchdown pass that looked pretty similar to the one he threw to Lee last week against the Giants.

What's next: The Bears have a first-round bye. The Packers will be in Philadelphia either Saturday or Sunday.

Sunday morning roster highlights

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
12:06
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ATLANTA -- Here are some highlights of the inactive lists in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Seven players and one coach remained on the Minnesota Vikings’ practice field Wednesday after their morning walk-through. Defensive backs coach Joe Woods and six cornerbacks stood in a semi-circle around quarterback Brett Favre, who was conducting a demonstration of receiver alignments, quarterback drops and other motions.

Favre
Rodgers
National headlines will continue to focus this week on the NFL’s investigation into allegations that he sent inappropriate photographs to a former New York Jets sideline reporter. Were it not for that ongoing story, however, we would all be talking about what could be his final game at Lambeau Field. (Don't forget: Favre has said this will be his last NFL season. Wink, wink.) And despite the investigation and the relative cooling of hostilities surrounding his departure, it was clear Wednesday that he was focused on doing whatever he can to defeat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.

Favre said there was "not a lot" of insight he could give the Vikings' defense, but Wednesday’s tutorial appeared intense. Everyone from veteran Antoine Winfield to rookie Chris Cook were riveted for at least 10 minutes after practice. Last season, coach Brad Childress said, Favre actually served as a scout-team quarterback to mimic Rodgers during practice.

"The only thing I could have said or would say is try to put yourself in Donald Driver’s shoes, Greg Jennings, James Jones, Donald Lee," Favre said. "I was obviously with Aaron [Rodgers] for quite a while. … Just try to think like them and maybe conceptually speaking, some of the things that they might do."

Favre and the Vikings defeated the Packers twice last season, by scores of 30-23 and 38-26. Did Favre provide any useful insight? He said Wednesday that he can "sometimes" predict a Packers play based on pre-snap alignments but cautioned his audience about changes that could be inserted to ward off his knowledge.

In one case, Favre said, the Packers changed a play that included all slant routes to be "all slants and go."

He added: "So you have to be cautious. You can almost talk yourself in or out and talk to your guys and say, 'Here's what comes in this play,' and then your guy gets beat. You still have to react to it. … They're going to get their big plays and be productive. [But] I don’t think they need to change anything. They give you some looks that are, I don’t want to say somewhat predictable, but they are still hard to stop."

Hard-core Packers fans might have wretched at Wednesday’s post-practice scene, but Favre made no apologies.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “… The passion for the game, that’s one thing that hasn’t wavered.”

More to come.

Packers sift through the rubble

October, 11, 2010
10/11/10
2:43
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As painful as it might be, let's take a moment to update the Green Bay Packers' astonishing injury report. The bottom line: The Packers will definitely be without tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker Nick Barnett, safety Derrick Martin and tight end Donald Lee for the next several weeks. A number of other players could also fall in that category based on progress (or lack thereof) this week. A rundown:
  • Finley: He will have surgery to repair what the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports is a torn meniscus in his right knee. Coach Mike McCarthy said he would be "surprised" if the injury ended Finley's season. It's more likely he'll miss between three and six weeks.
  • Barnett: There is now "some hope" that a wrist injury will not cost him the rest of the season, McCarthy said. But surgery scheduled for Wednesday likely will cost Barnett at least six weeks.
  • Lee: He has a chest sprain, McCarthy said, that will cost "maybe a couple weeks."
  • Martin: A knee sprain is likely to cost him several weeks.
  • Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: McCarthy said he will miss some practice time "at minimum" this week but wouldn't rule him out of Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins. Still, given the heightened state of awareness on brain issues in the NFL, it wouldn't at all be surprising to see Rodgers miss his first game since becoming the team's starter in 2008.
  • Linebacker Clay Matthews: He missed a month during the preseason because of a hamstring pull, but McCarthy said the latest hamstring injury was "not as severe as the first time." Whether Matthews can make it back in one week, however, is uncertain.
  • Defensive end Ryan Pickett: An ankle sprain has left his status uncertain for this week and beyond.

All told, the Packers could play the Dolphins without seven players who were Week 1 starters. We have a long practice week ahead of us, but this injury report is just incredible. I think we can all agree that it will require a highly effective patchwork effort for the Packers to get where they want to go this season.

Just so you know what the Packers are up against, let's take a look at Weeks 6 through 12 of the Packers' 17-week schedule:

Week 6: Miami Dolphins
Week 7: Minnesota Vikings
Week 8: at New York Jets
Week 9: Dallas Cowboys
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: at Minnesota Vikings
Week 12: at Atlanta Falcons

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