NFL Nation: Korey Hall
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
- 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.[+] EnlargeWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThree years after being named MVP of Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers is still leading the Packers.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.[+] EnlargeMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCoach Mike McCarthy and the Packers have seen a lot of roster turnover since winning Super Bowl XLV.
- 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.
- 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.
The New Orleans Saints activated Smith onto their regular roster Saturday afternoon. The Saints also released receiver Adrian Arrington and fullback Korey Hall and placed offensive tackle Marcel Jones on injured reserve.
An appeals panel overturned Smith’s suspension on Friday and he likely will be used as New Orleans’ top pass rusher against Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III on Sunday. Smith, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and two former New Orleans players were supposed to be suspended as part of what the NFL said was a bounty program by the Saints. But the appeals panel said commissioner Roger Goodell went outside his jurisdiction and has asked the league to re-think the disciplinary actions.
The Saints did not activate Vilma. Instead, they have used a roster exemption for the veteran linebacker. Vilma had been working to recover from a knee injury before his suspension started. His physical status is unclear, but it’s likely Vilma isn’t healthy enough to play.
Running back Mark Ingram, who had missed two games with an injury, is active and likely will be used in a rotation with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. With Robinson out, Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer will start at cornerback and the Saints likely will use Leigh Torrence as the nickelback.
Ivory and Robinson join linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), who already had been declared out on Sunday’s inactive list. Also inactive for the Saints are fullback Korey Hall, tackle Ray Willis, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive end Turk McBride.
The other inactives for the Saints are running back Mark Ingram, cornerback Johnny Patrick, fullback Korey Hall, tackle Ray Willis, receiver Adrian Arrington and defensive end Jeff Charleston.
I'll be back with Tampa Bay's inactives in just a few minutes.
Walden (ankle) was among eight game-day deactivations the Packers just announced. Rookie Frank Zombo, who has missed most of the past two months because of a knee injury, will reclaim his starting job.
There was one mild surprise on the Packers' inactive list: Fullback Quinn Johnson, who has been part of the Packers' jumbo wishbone formation on the goal line, won't play. Johnson has been the Packers' primary fullback for a while, but I imagine fullback Korey Hall would take his place if necessary. Here is the rest of the list:
It will be interesting to see if Williams' injury compels the Green Bay Packers to use their five-receiver set. They used it 14 times in the teams' Week 12 meeting.
Meanwhile, the Packers deactivated safety Atari Bigby (groin) and fullback Korey Hall (knee). Both had been listed as questionable on the injury report.
Atlanta. Cornerback Brian Williams (knee) is doubtful and did not practice all week. That means Christopher Owens likely will work as the nickel back. Atlanta has six other guys on the injury report and they all are listed as questionable. They are defensive end John Abraham (groin), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder), safety Thomas DeCoud (ankle), linebacker Curtis Lofton (knee), center Todd McClure (ankle) and receiver Roddy White (knee). But I think you’ll see all six of those guys playing Saturday. They all went through the full practice Friday after being limited on Wednesday and Thursday.
Green Bay. The Packers are listing safety Atari Bigby (groin), fullback Korey Hall and offensive lineman Jason Spitz (calf) as questionable, and have declared linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) as out. They have eight other guys on the injury report, but all of those are listed as probable.
Green Bay Packers: Linebacker Frank Zombo has been declared out. Safety Atari Bigby (groin) is questionable but has a good chance to be available. Offensive lineman Jason Spitz would have returned to practice Friday if the Packers had held one, and for that reason he is listed as questionable. Fullback Korey Hall (knee) is questionable, but seems to have a decent chance of being available. All other members of the 53-man roster should be available.
Atlanta Falcons: Cornerback Brian Williams (knee) is doubtful. The Falcons listed six players as questionable, but all of them participated in Friday's practice and appear on track to be available Saturday.
But barring a setback over the next 48 hours, it appears Jenkins is going to be ready for at least a limited role Sunday. Despite playing in only 11 games this season, he led Packers defensive linemen with seven sacks during the regular season.
"I'm hopeful that he'll go," coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. "... Everything has been very positive, and if he's ready to go, he will go on Sunday."
The Packers did rule three players out for Sunday: linebacker Frank Zombo (knee), safety Atari Bigby (groin) and fullback Korey Hall (knee). Everyone else on the Packers' 53-man roster should be available to play.
- Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin (hip) is active and will start against the Miami Dolphins. Cornerbacks Cedric Griffin (knee) and Chris Cook (knee) are inactive, also not a surprise. For the second consecutive week, the Vikings will have only three healthy cornerbacks on their game-day roster. Rookie tailback Toby Gerhart (knee) is active and will make his NFL debut.
- During ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” Adam Schefter reported the Vikings appear to be the leading candidate to acquire San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson if he is traded. Another team could always emerge before a Wednesday deadline that will extend Jackson’s NFL suspension to a total of six weeks.
- In Green Bay, left guard Daryn Colledge (illness) is active and will play. Fullback Korey Hall is inactive, meaning Quinn Johnson will get the start.
- ESPN's Chris Mortensen believes Packers general manager Ted Thompson will be "reluctant" to acquire Buffalo Bills tailback Marshawn Lynch.
- Of the 53 players on the Bears' roster, only 23 of them were drafted by the team over the past seven years. Seven drafts should form the foundation of any team, but for the Bears it represents only 43 percent of the roster. (Source: Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune)
- The Bears did bring back 2009 draft pick Juaquin Iglesias to the practice squad. The same could not be said for defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert.
- The Green Bay Packers have more fullbacks (three) than tailbacks (two) on their roster. I can only assume that John Kuhn, Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson will participate heavily in special teams. The Packers had hoped to bring back Kregg Lumpkin on their practice squad to serve as a quasi-No. 3 runner, but Lumpkin was claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- By reaching an injury settlement with Will Blackmon and releasing Jason Chery, the Packers left themselves with no obvious kick returners. If that's their biggest problem, I'm not too worried about it. But in the short term, it looks like Jordy Nelson or possibly Brandon Jackson could fill the role. *Update: Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Tramon Williams and Greg Jennings are options at punt returner.
- The Detroit Lions have turned over their entire secondary with the exception of safety Louis Delmas. Every other defensive back is new to the team this year. (Source: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.)
- To put a bow on a couple of trades: The Minnesota Vikings received a 2011 fifth-round pick and a conditional 2012 seventh-round draft pick from the New York Giants in return for quarterback Sage Rosenfels and kick returner Darius Reynaud. Meanwhile, the Lions and Denver Broncos exchanged undisclosed draft 2011 picks to complete the Alphonso Smith-Dan Gronkowski trade.
- In announcing their waiver claim of former Green Bay tight end/linebacker Spencer Havner, the Lions listed him as a linebacker. That makes perfect sense considering the Lions' strong depth at tight end and thin situation at linebacker.
- The Lions currently have five players listed as cornerbacks on their roster: Smith, Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade, Aaron Berry and Amari Spievey. But Spievey has been working at safety the past few weeks, and Berry is a rookie who missed much of training camp because of a hamstring pull. Your guess is as good as mine right now about who will fill the nickel and dime roles.
- The Vikings are in a similar situation. They have three cornerbacks on their active roster, and even if they bring someone in over the next day or so, it's hard to imagine him participating Thursday night at New Orleans. You figure Antoine Winfield, Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen will make up the nickel package. But who will the Vikings play if they need a sixth defensive back? At this point, it will have to be one of their backup safeties.
Somebody call 911.
[Random player] is on fire.
But for whatever reason, those sentences keep running through my head after watching the first half of the Green Bay Packers' preseason game against Indianapolis Colts. So here goes:
Somebody call 911.
AARON RODGERS IS ON FIRE AND THERE ARE FLAMES COMING OUT OF HIS ARM AND OH MY GOD IT CAN'T BE STOPPED!
OK, that's out of my system now.
If anyone has any doubts about what Rodgers and the Packers could do this season, I hope you at least watched the first half of Thursday night's 59-24 romp over the Colts. Rodgers overcame some early inaccuracy to lead a surgical two-minute drill just before halftime, a 78-yard procession over 1 minute and 22 seconds that reinforced his near-elite status in this league.
I know it was only a preseason game, but if you were watching, you saw the Colts' first-team defense getting in his face and knocking him down multiple times. But Rodgers completed all seven of his passes on the drive, including three ropes to tight end Jermichael Finley that covered 40 yards and a 3-yard flip to receiver James Jones for a touchdown.
After missing on eight of his first 22 passes, Rodgers finished 21 of 29 for 195 yards. The effort actually lowered his preseason passer rating to a still-sick 142.3. In just over four quarters of play this preseason, Rodgers has completed 41 of 53 passes for 470 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Packers led the Colts 28-17 at halftime, after which both teams began sitting their starters. All in all, it was a pretty impressive night for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. You can see a winning formula developing before your eyes: An offense that averages 56 points per game and a defense that gives up some yards but also makes some big plays.
(Joking on the 56 points. For the most part.)
Let's hit five random observations before calling it a night. You have to read until the end to find out the last time the Packers scored so many points in a preseason game.
Thereafter, however, the defense settled down as coordinator Dom Capers appeared to go exclusively with nickel and dime packages. The Colts' next three possessions ended in two punts and an interception by Burnett, who surprised Manning with a veteran decision to jump a short route. I don't see how Burnett is not the Packers' Week 1 starter at strong safety.
Playing without linebackers Clay Matthews, Brad Jones and defensive end Cullen Jenkins, I considered it an acceptable preseason performance by the Packers defense. You?
2. I've picked on Raji a bit lately, but he did make a nice play to tackle receiver Reggie Wayne on a screen for a 4-yard loss. Because of Capers' scheme choices, Raji spent almost the entire night as a defensive tackle rather than playing on the nose. That alignment also led to extensive first-team playing time for rookie defensive lineman Michael Neal, who started in Jenkins' place.
3. Running back Brandon Jackson ran hard after replacing Ryan Grant in the second quarter, but Jackson's red-zone fumble in the second quarter isn't going to motivate coaches to give him similar opportunities during the regular season. Grant was removed after eight carries but no injury was reported.
4. When evaluating Rodgers' night, keep in mind that receiver Greg Jennings was deactivated as precautionary measure because of back spasms. In his place, Donald Driver caught five passes, including a touchdown. Jones, meanwhile, had four receptions and the touchdown.
5a. The Packers scored two special teams touchdowns. Consider it a confidence booster, if nothing else, for a group that had spent the summer trying to get its footing. Korey Hall recovered a muffed punt return in the end zone during the second quarter, and Jason Chery returned a punt 75 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.
5. Trivia answer: The 59 points were the Packers' highest preseason total since defeating your Cedar Rapids Crush 75-0 in 1938.
That’s the highlight of the Packers’ pregame personnel shuffle. Their inactive list also includes fullback John Kuhn and dime back Brandon Underwood (hip). Korey Hall will open at fullback.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Check here for a full list of Green Bay’s player moves.
Biggest surprise: Brian Brohm was the 56th player taken in the 2008 draft, the third quarterback overall. For that reason alone it’s a shock the Packers have given up on him so quickly, despite another shaky preseason in which he finished with a passer rating of 54.5. He made some incremental progress this summer, and it’s possible the Packers will re-sign him to their practice squad Sunday. But it’s clear they were willing to risk losing him altogether. It’s a stunning fall for a player the Packers originally thought was polished and ready to immediately step in as the No. 2 quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers.
Second-biggest surprise: The Packers kept all three of their fullbacks while leaving their tailback depth pretty thin, at least for now. Fullbacks Korey Hall and John Kuhn are good special teams players, but doesn’t one make the other expendable? The Packers obviously don’t agree. They kept both players -- along with rookie fullback Quinn Johnson -- while waiving tailbacks Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin. The decisions leave DeShawn Wynn as the only healthy backup behind starter Ryan Grant. (Brandon Jackson is recovering from an ankle injury.)
Third-biggest surprise: Veteran receiver Ruvell Martin was released in favor of first-year receiver Brett Swain. I’m guessing this was a special teams decision, as Swain was having some success on coverage teams this summer. But Martin has been a productive reserve over the past three seasons, and I didn’t hear too much about his roster spot being in jeopardy.
Fourth-biggest surprise: Safety Anthony Smith, signed to a free agent contract this offseason, was released. There have been suggestions he was pushing starter Atari Bigby. Not anymore. Neither of general manager Ted Thompson's veteran free agent pickups, Smith and center Duke Preston, made the final roster.
No-brainer: Placing defensive lineman Justin Harrell (back) on injured reserve was dramatic but needed to be done. The Packers have carried him on their 53-man roster for the past two years even though he has missed more games (19) than he has played in (13) because of various injuries. He wouldn’t have made it to training camp this year if he weren’t a first-round draft pick. It was time for the Packers to cut their losses.
What’s next: One way or the other, the Packers will have to address their quarterback depth. It might simply mean adding Brohm or a waiver claim to the practice squad. But it’s also possible the Packers will look elsewhere for depth behind Rodgers. In news reports, they have been linked to Tampa Bay’s Luke McCown; but it will likely take a draft pick to pry him away from the Buccaneers. Backup Matt Flynn has been limited by a shoulder injury, so from the outside it would seem risky to enter the season with Rodgers and Flynn as the only active quarterbacks.
|Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images|
|Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is experiencing the changes on the Packers' defense first hand.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Someone is bearing down every time Aaron Rodgers throws a training camp pass. One play it's cornerback Charles Woodson. Then it's safety Nick Collins. Sometimes outside linebackers Jeremy Thompson and Aaron Kampman crash the pocket together. Then it's Thompson and inside linebacker Brandon Chillar.
"It's tougher to go against," Rodgers said. "It really is tougher. Going against our old scheme, there was just a lot of man coverage. You kind of knew you were going to get 'one-high' man or 'two-high' man or a very rare Cover 2. But what you saw in practice, they were bringing guys off both edges. Corner blitz. Safety blitz. Then they play Cover 2, Cover 3 or Cover 0. They mix up the coverages and the blitzes so often... It makes it a lot more difficult to try to get a read on it. They force you to make a quick decision."
There is little doubt Green Bay's new defense will be different and take more chances in 2009. But no one believes the scheme alone will turn around a team that finished 6-10 last season. The Packers are still testing their players' aptitude for the 3-4 and adjusting it accordingly. They've also initiated a significant overhaul of their offensive line, are transitioning the tight end position with a greater emphasis on second-year player Jermichael Finley and are holding a wide-open competition for a new punter.
"Certainly the whole idea behind this defensive scheme is to be more unpredictable and to hand more question marks to the offense," general manager Ted Thompson said. "But like everything else, it still gets down to football players making plays and defeating the guy across the line of scrimmage."
1. Do the Packers have the right players for a traditional 3-4 defense?
Initially posed in January, that question remains relevant 10 days into camp. I saw Kampman and Jeremy Thompson, both defensive ends last season, valiantly chasing receivers downfield during team drills. No matter how quickly those players make the schematic adjustment, that seems to be a mismatch.
But defensive coordinator Dom Capers insisted he has no coverage that gives an outside linebacker sole coverage responsibility on a receiver. In those instances, Thompson and Kampman are responsible for underneath routes and have safety help downfield. That's an example of the short-term adjustments Capers will have to make for the scheme to work in 2009.
We're also still waiting to see how many of the Packers' 4-3 defensive tackles and ends can hold up as a 3-4 end in this scheme. Cullen Jenkins appears to be a natural, but Johnny Jolly has missed significant time with an ankle injury and former first-round pick Justin Harrell has been on a snap count. Which brings us to ...
|Mike Roemer/AP Photo|
|Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji's contract situation is costing him valuable conditioning time.|
2. How much immediate help will the Packers get from their pair of first-round draft choices?
Defensive lineman B.J. Raji remains unsigned as of Sunday morning, meaning he has missed nine practices and at least temporarily delayed the Packers' plans to transition him into the starting left end. Linebacker Clay Matthews, meanwhile, was beginning to challenge Thompson for a starting job on the outside when he tweaked a hamstring injury that slowed him for much of the spring.
Thompson has displayed superior athletic skills, but when healthy it appears Matthews is the more polished player. Matthews seems destined to start when the regular season opens -- if he can stay on the field.
You want to say the same about Raji, but he remains in a market logjam that is keeping five other players out of NFL camps. Raji was probably the best overall defensive lineman in the draft and he'll make quick progress once he
arrives. But his absence has been long enough to affect his conditioning. And no one should underestimate the challenge and significance of Raji's move to defensive end. Every snap he has missed is one less opportunity to grow comfortable before the season starts.
3. Can the Packers achieve stability on the offensive line?
One of coach Mike McCarthy's primary goals is to end the revolving door of line play caused by changing the positions of multiple players. Daryn Colledge is now locked down at left guard, and it appears the Packers are giving Jason Spitz (center) and Josh Sitton (right guard) every opportunity to be the long-term answers at their respective positions.
That still leaves both tackle positions as mild question marks. But left tackle Chad Clifton appears healthy enough after having four offseason surgeries: arthroscopic procedures on both shoulders and both knees. The Packers are still limiting his snaps in hopes of squeezing one more year out of his 33-year-old body. Nothing I saw suggested Clifton is done, but it's very early.
On the right side, Allen Barbre has worked exclusively with the first team while youngsters T.J. Lang and Breno Giacomini rotated behind him. I don't get the feeling the Packers consider Barbre a long-term solution but to this point, his hold on the starting job does not appear threatened.
Ted Thompson said that linebacker Nick Barnett is "on pace" to be activated soon from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. It could happen sometime this week, but Barnett will find several new challenges when he returns to the field for the first time since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last November.
The most obvious is pushing through the usual soreness and uncertainty that goes with ACL injuries. Players are rarely at full speed when they first return to the field. As well, Barnett will have to get an on-field crash course in the new scheme. No matter how many meetings he has attended or practices he has watched, there is no substitute for practice reps.
And finally, Barnett's replacement has actually proved adept in the new scheme. Linebacker Brandon Chillar played in a similar blitz scheme earlier in his career in St. Louis and will have a significant role this season no matter what happens with Barnett. "This really fits Brandon's talents as far as all the sub packages we have," McCarthy said. "And he's a good blitzer. He gets good pressure."
This is not to suggest the Packers will move on without Barnett. But his football world has changed significantly since we last saw him on the field.
|AP Photo/Morry Gash|
|Green Bay's Quinn Johnson is an intimidating presence at fullback.|
Newcomer to watch
We've already discussed the absence of Raji and Matthews. On the other hand, one rookie who has opened some eyes is fullback Quinn Johnson. The Packers list him at 250 pounds, but Johnson would pass for a defensive tackle if he didn't have a number on his jersey.
Needless to say, Johnson is a load as a lead blocker. He also displayed some intriguing quickness on the rare occasions I saw him carry the ball. The Packers don't give the ball to their fullbacks much -- they combined for eight rushes and 10 receptions in 2008 -- but I doubt too many defenders would be eager to tackle him.
At the urging of veterans Donald Driver and Greg Jennings, Rodgers is openly expanding his leadership role within the locker room. "I think it's the opportunity that presents itself," Rodgers said, "and the vibe that I'm getting from the guys [is that they] are looking to me for leadership. In certain situations, they are expecting me to speak up." Rodgers also said he is getting "more freedom" from McCarthy to influence scheme and game plans. ... During individual drills one night last week, Rodgers drilled three passes into a small square from more than 40 yards away. ... The intense vibe of this camp is like night and day from last year's distraction-filled affair. I have no idea why the Packers would consider risking that relative tranquility by signing Michael Vick. Multiple reports suggest they have been doing their due diligence on the former Atlanta quarterback. ... You wonder whether this is the end of the line for veteran center Scott Wells, who is battling Spitz for the starting job. If Spitz wins, as expected, it's not clear if the Packers would keep Wells as a backup. ... With Spitz and Sitton in the starting lineup, the Packers should have a bigger offensive line this season. "Were some teams stronger up front than us last year? Yeah, probably so," McCarthy said. "We'll see what happens this year." ... The Packers are pitting Jeremy Kapinos and Durant Brooks in a punting duel, but neither has been impressive and it's possible the Packers will have to look elsewhere once teams starting making roster cuts. ... Linebacker Brady Poppinga is behind Thompson, Matthews and Kampman on the depth chart but believes this scheme was made for his skills. "I feel like I'm in a defense that really fits who I am," Poppinga said. ... No idea where he fits in, but first-year receiver Jake Allen caught my eyes during the early portion of practice. Allen is 6-foot-4, has long arms and made a number of acrobatic catches during red zone work. Allen spent last season on the Packers' practice squad.
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