NFL Nation: Scott Tolzien

Examining the Green Bay Packers' roster:

Quarterbacks (3)
The Packers have not kept three quarterbacks on their opening-day roster since 2008, but they might be inclined to do so this season in order to avoid a situation like last year, when Rodgers broke his collarbone. Coach Mike McCarthy is high on Tolzien, who made two starts last season, but Flynn has proved he can win as a backup in Green Bay.

Running backs (4)

The return of Harris, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, gives the Packers insurance behind Lacy and Starks. Kuhn is valuable both as a fullback and on special teams. It's possible they'll keep a fourth halfback, but the loss of Johnathan Franklin to a career-ending neck injury has left them without a strong in-house candidate for that spot.

Receivers (6)

The Packers often keep only five receivers, but given that they drafted three -- Adams (second round), Abbrederis (fifth round) and Janis (seventh round) -- there's a good chance they will keep six. Abbrederis and Janis will not only have to show they're better prospects than second-year pros Myles White and Chris Harper, but they also could help themselves if they can return kicks.

Tight ends (4)

McCarthy likes tight ends (he has kept five before), and the wild card is undrafted rookie Colt Lyerla.

Offensive linemen (8)

The Packers typically only activate seven offensive linemen on game day, so they can get away with keeping just eight on the roster. Barclay's ability to play all five positions also allows them some freedom. Lane Taylor could be the ninth lineman if they go that route.

Defensive line (7)

Worthy and Guion have work to do to make the roster, but there's room for them if you count Julius Peppers and Mike Neal among the outside linebackers, which is where they lined up more often in the offseason.

Linebackers (8)

There will be some tough cuts here. Second-year pros Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba both played last year as rookie outside linebackers. It also may be tough for highly touted undrafted rookie Adrian Hubbard to make it.

Cornerbacks (6)

Hayward's return from last season's hamstring injury means he likely will return as the slot cornerback in the nickel package, a role played last year by Micah Hyde (who may primarily play safety this year).

Safeties (4)

The major question here is whether Hyde or Clinton-Dix will be the starter alongside Burnett. Chris Banjo, who played primarily on special teams last season, might be the odd man out.

Specialists (3)

There's no competition at any of these spots.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Richard Rodgers stood in the Green Bay Packers' locker room on Tuesday with his iPad clutched in his left hand.

He was headed to a meeting to watch film of that day's organized team activity with his position coach, Jerry Fontenot, and the rest of the tight ends.

[+] EnlargeRichard Rodgers
Mike Roemer/AP PhotoCoach Mike McCarthy says rookie tight end Richard Rodgers is "off to a very good start" in Packers' organized team activities.
But when that meeting was over, he planned to power on his team-issued tablet and watch more film -- not of anything he has done since the Packers picked him in the third round of last month's draft, but of what the tight end is supposed to look like in the Packers' offense.

To do that, he planned to roll video of plays from last season before tight end Jermichael Finley sustained his season-ending (and possibly career-ending) neck injury.

"He makes plays, catches the ball, makes moves in space and that's really what you want to do as a tight end," Rodgers said of Finley. "You want to get the ball and make plays and break tackles, and that's exactly what he does."

Finley's uncertain future -- he remains available on the free-agent market while teams try to figure out whether it is safe for him to play football game -- casts a shadow over the Packers. His nameplate still sits atop his locker at Lambeau Field, although the locker itself is empty.

For now, Rodgers is among seven tight ends on the roster. Combined, they have four career touchdown catches, or 16 fewer than Finley (who has 13 in his 2 1/2 seasons).

"I'm not really worried about what's going on over there," Rodgers said as he glanced toward Finley's locker. "I just try to focus on what I'm doing and learning my stuff and not making mental errors on the field."

So far, Rodgers has done that perhaps better than any of the rookies in the Packers' draft class. In Tuesday's OTA, he made one of the most memorable plays of OTAs when he snagged a one-handed catch on a deep ball that fluttered, perhaps because it was slightly tipped, from backup quarterback Scott Tolzien.

It was an example of what the Packers saw from the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Rodgers last season at Cal, when he played receiver after the Bears' new coaching staff removed the traditional tight end from the offense.

"I just think he's a natural in space," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I'm excited to see him when we get into the in-line work into training camp, but as far as all of the movement, playing in space, picking up the scheme, I think Richard's off to a very good start."

Much like Finley, there are questions about Rodgers' blocking that he hopes to answer when the pads go on in training camp.

But so far, it appears those who thought the Packers reached for Rodgers at No. 98 overall might have been wrong.

"He's made a lot of plays," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Tuesday's practice. "Matt [Flynn] and I were just talking about it, how when we made the pick some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick, [where] they had him as far as a grade, which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability, especially some of the plays he made today.

“Again, it's helmet and shorts, but you have to be excited about his body type and the hands. He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player.”

Whether it’s Rodgers or another tight end (perhaps Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick or rookie Colt Lyerla) the Packers need more from the position than what they got after Finley's injury.

When asked whether he can give the Packers that, young Rodgers said: "I hope so."
Tolzein/FlynnUSA TODAY SportsScott Tolzien and Matt Flynn give the Green Bay Packers more stability than they had at this time last year at the backup quarterback position.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between them, the Green Bay Packers' backup quarterback combination of Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien has played in 47 NFL games and thrown for 3,192 yards and 18 touchdowns.

That's 43 more games, 3,172 more yards and 18 more touchdowns than what the Packers' backups a year ago at this time had on their professional résumés.

How much better should the Packers feel about their backup quarterback situation with Flynn and Tolzien than they did last year at this time with Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman?

"We know now what Scott and Matt can do," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "And they'll be here all the way through training camp. That will be the big thing."

Last year, the Packers dumped both Harrell and Coleman by the time the regular season opened. They had to rely on three backups – Seneca Wallace, Tolzien and Flynn – who spent last offseason with different teams.


And when Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4, it showed.

Wallace did not make it through his first start, and Tolzien – although he showed signs of a strong arm and above-average athleticism – could not avoid the costly turnovers that may have been due to a lack of experience in the Packers' offense. Flynn, who spent 2008-11 with the Packers before stints in Seattle, Oakland and Buffalo, finally steadied the offense and went 2-2-1 to set up Rodgers' Week 17 return.

"Not only did we have to deal with the backup, there was two we hadn't seen and they were thrown into the fire two months into the season," Nelson said. "That will be the big thing. Scott's learning, still progressing. He'll do a great job. Obviously we know how hard he works. Matt's his normal self. We know what he can do, and he proved it again last year."

The Packers re-signed Flynn to a one-year deal that could be worth up $1.068 million (with incentives) and for now, he’s the No. 2 quarterback.

"You need a quality backup, and it's great having him," Rodgers said. "And Scott's done a really nice job for us as well. He's a really hard worker, a gym rat. He's made some great strides."

Tolzien isn't sleeping on a couch in the Packers’ locker room like he did during his early days with the San Francisco 49ers, but he appears to taking advantage of his first offseason in the Packers' quarterback-friendly program.

"Scott's gotten a lot better," McCarthy said. "I think what you're seeing now with Scott Tolzien is he's comfortable with the language. He's definitely comfortable with the footwork. We've changed some things with his mechanics and fundamentals. He's a tireless worker. I don't know if there's anybody in our program that spends as much time at it as Scott does. He's getting better."

For Tolzien, it's a chance to learn both the fundamentals that McCarthy and his assistants teach their quarterbacks and also to absorb the massive playbook without the pressure of cramming a game plan into his brain in less than a week.

As important as all the offseason work – the film study, the quarterback drills, the OTA and minicamp practices – will be for Tolzien, it might be his experience in real, live NFL games last season that will make the most difference.

"When the bullets are flying and you make good plays in a game atmosphere, you realize you can do it," said Tolzien, who completed 55 of 90 passes for 717 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions in three games last season. "And that's a super powerful thing to have that inner confidence that you've done it before."
Clemens & Mallett & WhitehurstAP PhotosKellen Clemens (L to R), Ryan Mallett and Charlie Whitehurst give their teams a veteran option at the backup quarterback position.
The heavy lifting done, we've reached that point in the NFL offseason when it's acceptable to obsess about backup quarterbacks. And so here we are.

At the moment, two franchises -- the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings -- are refusing to trade backups to teams where they might have a better chance to play. Their approach, while different in the details, has in a larger sense helped illuminate the smartest approach to the position, one that bucks conventional wisdom but aligns with supply and demand.

The career backup, a veteran who has played enough to prove he isn't a starter but is still valued as a fill-in, should be a quaint notion in 2014. Smart teams are using the spot as a developmental rather than caretaker position, understanding how rare it is to find a veteran backup who can maintain a team's performance when the starter is injured.

Recent history suggests success is far more connected to a starter's durability than the experience level of the backup. Over the past three years, 31 of the NFL's 36 playoff teams have had a 15- or 16-game starter at quarterback. Only three of the remaining five got winning performances from their backups, and all of them -- Tim Tebow (2011), Colin Kaepernick (2012) and Nick Foles (2013) -- were decidedly inexperienced at the time of their ascension.

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Not everyone will accept conclusions based on a three-year sample size, but if nothing else, these figures help support an intuitive inference: There aren't enough good quarterbacks to go around and you're fortunate to have one. If he gets hurt, your path to the playoffs will be difficult no matter how experienced your backup is. That's the nature of the talent drop-off at this point in league history. Faced with a choice, why not choose the upside of a promising youngster over the low ceiling of a veteran?

Some teams seem to understand the consequence of those facts better than others. The Patriots often are hailed as a model franchise, much to the chagrin of those who wonder what would have become of them if Tom Brady had been drafted No. 198 overall instead of No. 199, but they have been ahead of the curve on this issue for a while. It has been eight years since the Patriots have employed a veteran backup (Vinny Testaverde, a mid-year acquisition in 2006) and they have since backed Brady up with inexperienced youngsters from Matt Cassel to Brian Hoyer to Ryan Mallett.

A traditionalist would argue that the Patriots, a perennial title contender, are better off with a veteran who could presumably navigate them to the playoffs. A realist would wonder if such a player exists. Is there really a net difference between Mallett's experience in the Patriots' system and, say, the experience of Ryan Fitzpatrick -- who has started 77 NFL games but lost 49 of them?

This is not to say a team should make a haphazard, hands-in-the-air decision at such an important position. A young backup must at least demonstrate proficiency in the offense during practice, and it's fair to assume Mallett has convinced the Patriots he could run their plays in a game setting if Brady were injured. Second-round draft pick Jimmy Garoppolo hasn't had time to do that yet, which to me explains coach Bill Belichick's reluctance to trade Mallett this spring.

That's a big reason the Vikings haven't parted ways with Christian Ponder, who seems unlikely to start ahead of Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater. Their stance might change as Bridgewater moves through the offseason, but for now Ponder -- like Mallett -- represents a more comfortable option to back up their starter than someone signed off the street. As with other positions, smart teams prefer to develop their own backup quarterbacks.

That's what the Green Bay Packers tried to do earlier this decade with Graham Harrell, and the folly of their shift to veteran Seneca Wallace in 2013 was exposed when starter Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone after a 5-2 start. Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn won only two of the eight games Rodgers missed a part of, and the Packers won the NFC North at 8-7-1 only after Rodgers returned for Week 17.

So what does this mean for the league overall? If you've committed to a starter, as roughly 26 of the 32 teams already have for 2014, it makes sense to prioritize development behind him rather than fool yourself into thinking you can prepare more reliably for his absence.

A Baltimore Ravens fan might be nervous with Tyrod Taylor behind starter Joe Flacco. I wouldn't be any more optimistic with, say, Charlie Whitehurst or Jason Campbell in that role. If Flacco is injured, chances are the Ravens are going to have a much more difficult time making the playoffs. Backups such as Taylor have an upside that might be revealed if and when he replaces Flacco. On the other hand, we have a pretty good idea of the lower bar a veteran would bring in that role.

The same could be said elsewhere. Do you really feel better about the San Diego Chargers' playoff chances with Kellen Clemens than you would if they had drafted, say, Zach Mettenberger? And if it doesn't work out for Jake Locker this season with the Tennessee Titans, why not play Mettenberger instead of hoping that Whitehurst can work magic he hasn't demonstrated in eight previous seasons?

Many coaches like the idea of having a "veteran in the room." If it's important enough to them, they should keep three or even four quarterbacks on their roster to accomplish that mission. But if you're committed to your starter, a veteran backup brings false confidence more than anything else. For the most part, Plan B in the NFL means missing the playoffs. You're better off hoping a young player will blossom in that role instead.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's get this out of the way from the top: We know Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson does not draft for need -- or so he says.

But in the months leading up to this week's draft, Thompson and his scouts have spent hundreds of hours not only discussing the prospects who will be available to them but also their current roster and its strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, let's break the 12 position groups that make up the roster into four parts based on the following categories of draft needs.

We will define them this way:

Part 1: Negligible -- positions where there is little or no need.

Part 2: Non-essential -- positions where there is a need but it is not paramount to fill.

Part 3: Secondary -- positions where there is a need but not at the critical level.

Part 4: Pressing -- positions where it is imperative that help be found.

On Monday, we looked at the negligible needs, Nos. 10-12.

Next up are the nonessential needs.

7. Quarterback: It's too early to start thinking about a replacement for Aaron Rodgers, who turned 30 last December and is under contract through 2019, but they need to find the next Matt Flynn -- a long-term backup who can be counted on to win games just in case. Flynn is back under a one-year deal, but coach Mike McCarthy has said he would like to develop a young quarterback. Is that Scott Tolzien? Perhaps, but don't be surprised if they bring in a mid-to-late-round quarterback.

Possible players of interest: AJ McCarron, Alabama; Tom Savage, Pittsburgh; David Fales, San Jose State; Keith Wenning, Ball State; Brock Jensen, North Dakota State.

8. Cornerback: The Packers committed to Sam Shields this offseason with a four-year, $39 million contract just as free agency opened, but veteran Tramon Williams is in the final year of his contract. Casey Hayward is expected to be back from the hamstring injury that ruined his 2013 season, and there's depth with Micah Hyde, Davon House and James Nixon, although Hyde may move to safety. If the right corner fell to the Packers, Thompson might jump at the chance.

Possible players of interest: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State; Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech; Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State; Keith McGill, Utah; Stan Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska.

9. Outside linebacker: Like defensive end, this is another position where there's plenty of talent depending on who lines up where. Beyond Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, there's Julius Peppers (who will play a combination DL-OLB), former first-round pick Nick Perry, former second-round pick Mike Neal and second-year players Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer.

Possible players of interest: Anthony Barr, UCLA; Kyle Van Noy, BYU; Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech; Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Green Bay Packers would like to get back into the business of developing young quarterbacks like they did throughout the 1990s -- when Ty Detmer, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks all came up through their system.

The problem is, this isn't the 1990s.

The rules of the collective bargaining agreement that was put in place following the 2011 lockout greatly reduced the amount of time coaches can work with players in the offseason, a time often set aside for individual and group instruction. For Packers' quarterbacks, that means four weeks have been shaved off coach Mike McCarthy's quarterback school.

Nevertheless, the Packers have come to the NFL scouting combine with one eye on finding a developmental quarterback prospect and hope to take four quarterbacks into training camp this summer.

"I think we definitely need four," McCarthy said at the combine, "So I'm hopeful that we can get a young guy in the draft."

The Packers have only two quarterbacks under contract for 2014 -- starter Aaron Rodgers and Scott Tolzien, who was signed to the practice squad last September and then promoted to the active roster after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4. Tolzien has yet to go through an offseason in McCarthy's training program, having been with the San Francisco 49ers for his first two seasons.

Matt Flynn was re-signed last November and became the fourth quarterback to start for the Packers last season, but his contract was only for the 2013 season.

"I thought Matt Flynn came in and did a number of good things," McCarthy said. "There's a lot of stability he brings to the quarterback room as far as the role that he needs to play and his role to the starting quarterback to help them scout and so forth, so Matt is obviously a good fit for our program. I thought he definitely gave us a shot in the arm when we needed it. Free agency is upon us, we'll see what happens."

Whatever happens, the Packers don't want to be stuck in the position they were in at the end of last summer, when the trio of Vince Young, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman all failed to win the backup job, forcing the Packers to sign veteran Seneca Wallace the week of the season opener.

That general manager Ted Thompson has drafted only one quarterback -- Coleman in the seventh round in 2012 -- since he took Brian Brohm (second round) and Flynn (seventh round) in 2008 would seemingly indicate that it's time to take another one.

"We're always looking," Thompson said. "Coach McCarthy's a quarterback guy. He likes to have a group, so you never stop looking, turning over rocks, that sort of thing."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In 16 regular-season games plus the NFC wild-card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the Green Bay Packers were on the field for 1,185 offensive snaps, according to playing time totals kept by the NFL.

Only one player took them all.

Sitton
Josh Sitton played every snap at his new position, left guard, on the way to the best season of his six-year pro career. Sitton made the switch from right guard and was a second-team All-Pro selection.

A total of 30 players took at least one snap on offense (including a pair of defensive linemen -- Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji). In 2012, the Packers used 29 players on offense.

Six players -- Sitton, right guard T.J. Lang, left tackle David Bakhtiari, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Andrew Quarless -- played on offense in every game.

Here are the total snap counts on offense with playing-time percentages in parenthesis (the defense and special teams breakdowns are coming):

Quarterbacks: Offensive line:
  • Josh Sitton 1,185 (100 percent)
  • David Bakthtiari 1,171 (98.8 percent)
  • T.J. Lang 1,156 (97.6 percent)
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith 1,118 (94.3 percent)
  • Don Barclay 1,027 (86.7 percent)
  • Marshall Newhouse 256 (21.6 percent)
  • Lane Taylor 14 (1.2 percent)
  • Derek Sherrod 6 (0.5 percent)
Receivers: Running backs: Tight ends:

Green Bay Packers season wrap-up

January, 8, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 13
Preseason Power Ranking: 5

Biggest surprise: How many people would have believed the Packers could win the NFC North without the services of Aaron Rodgers for seven-plus games? Maybe it was an indictment on the rest of the division but the fact that the Packers used four different starting quarterbacks this season and went 2-5-1 after Rodgers broke his collarbone on Nov. 4, and they still won the division by beating the Chicago Bears in Week 17, when Rodgers returned, could not have been expected. The saga of when Rodgers would return from his injury dominated the second half of the season.

Biggest disappointment: When general manager Ted Thompson drafted Datone Jones with the 26th overall pick in April, he thought he was getting a defensive lineman who could play on all three downs and would be equally effective against the run and rushing the quarterback. In training camp, Jones looked the part. He stood out in practices, but when it came time to produce, he couldn't deliver. By the end of the season, Jones' playing time was reduced to almost nothing. Fifth-round pick Josh Boyd was playing more snaps than Jones late in the year. Jones finished with 3.5 sacks but two came in one game.

Biggest need: The Packers have many, and they're most on the defensive side of the ball. Their entire starting defensive line -- B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly -- will be unrestricted free agents. Other than A.J. Hawk, they are weak at inside linebacker. And their safety play was atrocious at times. They don't just need contributors; they need playmakers on that side of the ball. Other than outside linebacker Clay Matthews and perhaps cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, they didn't have many big-play players on defense. Their needs are so great that Thompson, the free-agent averse GM, might not be able to rely solely on the draft to fill them all.

Team MVP: Rodgers is clearly the Packers' most important player, but this honor should go to someone who played the majority of the season. In that case, it has to be running back Eddie Lacy. It has to be rare for a rookie to be a team's MVP, but then again the second-round draft pick from Alabama proved to be a rare talent. Despite missing nearly two full games because of a concussion and half of another game because a sprained ankle, Lacy finished eighth in the league in rushing with 1,178 yards (a Packers' rookie record) and had the second-most rushing touchdowns with 11.

 
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Between now and the start of free agency in March, the Green Bay Packers have plenty of decisions to make about their roster.

Some may already have been made, but with 17 unrestricted free agents and two more that fall under the restricted category, there are bound to be both big-money signings and cost-saving departures.

Every one of the key free-agents-to-be who was in the locker on Monday when players packed up and headed home for the offseason expressed uncertainty about their situations.

“I’ve had a lot of fun with the guys playing,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “I hope we can continue it, but at the same time I think everybody understands the business side of the game and we’ll just have to wait and see.”

For some players, like veteran receiver James Jones, this won’t be the first time going through free agency.

“Whatever may happen, happens,” Jones said. “I would love to be back here. I’ve been here for seven years and would love to be back. You know, you’ve got to go into the offseason, they make decisions up top, I’ll go into the offseason and talk with my agent and we’ll go from there.”

Here’s the list of the free-agents-to-be on offense (to be followed later by the defensive list):
  • Seneca Wallace, QB: Aaron Rodgers said he enjoyed having a veteran backup around, but at age 33 and coming off surgery to repair a torn groin muscle, Wallace is not expected to return. He finished the Nov. 4 game against the Bears after Rodgers broke his collarbone but then sustained his injury on the first series of his first start the following week. 2013 base salary: $662,118
  • Flynn
    Flynn
    Matt Flynn, QB: Back in the system where he’s most comfortable, Flynn has shown that he can be a short-term fill-in for Rodgers. After failed attempts to start in Seattle and Oakland, he might be content to come back as a backup. However, the Packers also have Scott Tolzien under contract and would like to continue to develop him. 2013 base salary: $715,000
  • John Kuhn, FB: If ever there was a question about his value, it should have been answered this season, when he made several big plays – including the key block on Rodgers’ game-winning touchdown pass in Week 17 against the Bears. The role of the fullback has diminished, but the position is far from extinct in Green Bay. 2013 base salary: $1.8 million
  • James Starks, RB: Playing the role of complementary back to Eddie Lacy suited the oft-injured Starks. He missed only three games this season and averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 89 regular-season attempts. He might seek a starting chance somewhere else but could return as a backup. 2013 base salary: $630,000
  • Kahlil Bell, RB: Signed on Dec. 3 after rookie Johnathan Franklin’s season-ending neck injury, the veteran backup played primarily on special teams. With Franklin and DuJuan Harris expected to be healthy by next season, Bell may not be re-signed. 201 3 base salary: $715,000
  • Jones
    Jones
    James Jones, WR: Perhaps eager to test the free-agent market after receiving little interest the last time around in the post-lockout signing period of 2011, Jones fought through a knee injury to finish second on the team in receptions (59) and receiving yards (817). It will be interesting to see what the market will be like for a 29-year-old who has been mostly a No. 2 receiver – albeit a productive one. 2013 base salary: $2.95 million
  • Jermichael Finley, TE: This will be as much a medical decision as it is a financial one after he underwent surgery following his season-ending neck injury. Finley wants to keep playing, but he will have to be cleared by doctors first. It would have been a difficult negotiation even without the injury, but that has only complicated matters. 2013 base salary: $4.45 million
  • Quarless
    Andrew Quarless, TE: Replaced Finley in the starting lineup and despite a career-best 32 catches for 312 yards and two touchdowns, he did not show the dynamic playmaking ability that Finley has. It doesn’t mean he won’t be back, but the Packers will probably address this position whether it’s by re-signing Finley or looking elsewhere. 2013 base salary: $1.32 million
  • Evan Dietrich-Smith, C: Played last season on a restricted free-agent tender and started all 16 games for the first time in his career. The Packers would like some continuity at the center position, so perhaps re-signing the dependable Dietrich-Smith will be a priority. 2013 base salary: $1.32 million
  • Marshall Newhouse, T: Reduced to a backup role after starting the previous two seasons at left tackle, Newhouse started two games at right tackle while Don Barclay was out because of a knee injury, but his days as a full-time starter in Green Bay appear to be over. 2013 base salary: $1.23 million
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A week after quarterback Aaron Rodgers and receiver Randall Cobb returned from long injury absences, there was no drama among the Green Bay Packers’ inactives for Sunday’s NFC wild-card playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.

Other than linebacker Clay Matthews, who was ruled out early in the week because of his broken thumb, the Packers had a healthy roster to choose from for their 46-man game-day roster.

Linebacker Brad Jones, who was listed as probable on the injury report, returned a week after missing the regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears because of an ankle injury.

The Packers also decided to dress only two quarterbacks this week, Rodgers and Matt Flynn. Against the Bears, Scott Tolzien was active as the third quarterback in Rodgers' return from his fractured collarbone.

The biggest news among the inactives came from the 49ers, who will be without cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Here’s the Packers full inactive list:

Packers inactives: Cobb good to go

December, 29, 2013
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CHICAGO -- The Green Bay Packers did not add Randall Cobb to the 53-man roster on Saturday so that he could sit on the bench. A day after he came off the temporary injured reserve list, Cobb will play against the Chicago Bears.

It will be his first action since he broke the tibia in his right leg on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.

With the return of Aaron Rodgers from his Nov. 4 broken collarbone, the Packers kept all three quarterbacks – Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien – active.

The only surprise on the inactive list was linebacker Brad Jones. He was listed as probable on the injury report after he returned to practice on Friday, albeit on a limited basis because of an ankle injury. Jamari Lattimore will start in Jones’ place.

At outside linebacker, rookie Andy Mulumba and Mike Neal will be the starters in place of Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nick Perry, who is active.

Defensive end Jerel Worthy is active for only the second time since coming off the physically unable to perform list on Nov. 23.

Here’s the full inactive list:
Aaron RodgersMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesIn his first game back from injury, the Packers have to find a way to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers on his feet.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone has healed to the point where the Green Bay Packers feel comfortable putting their franchise quarterback back on the field.

On Thursday, when he announced Rodgers would start Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Chicago Bears, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said: “It’s time to play football.”

But neither McCarthy nor Rodgers would discuss the medical specifics of what led them to this decision when only a week earlier, it was not time.

Even if team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie was able to assure them that Rodgers was no more susceptible to the injury than he was before -- and even that was not known -- the Packers would rather not find out how much punishment the quarterback’s collarbone can withstand. In order for that to happen, those charged with protecting Rodgers -- his offensive line, tight ends, running backs and even McCarthy with his play calling -- will need to be on high alert in Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

“No question, there’s definitely an added urgency to keeping Aaron clean in the pocket,” said Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, whose players are often charged with picking up blitzing defenders. “There’s no question. I don’t think we need to coach our guys any differently. Their responsibilities or who they have, that’s all game-planned during the week and prepped on their part, but yeah, I’m sure they’re feeling a little more pressure to keep him clean, which is understandable, obviously.”

Despite the rules designed to protect quarterbacks, Rodgers doesn’t play in a bubble. He’s going to get hit. Perhaps the better question is what kind of hits can he take and what kind would be most problematic for his collarbone?

Surprising as it may be, a blindside hit -- like the kind backup quarterback Matt Flynn took from Atlanta Falcons safety William Moore in the Dec. 8 game at Lambeau Field -- might not be the most dangerous. Sure, Flynn had no time to brace himself for Moore because he didn’t see him, but the fact that Moore didn’t drive him into the ground with all of his force made the hit less dangerous.

“The most vulnerable situation is when there’s compression, such as with [Rodgers’] first injury,” said ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell, a physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. “That doesn’t mean he couldn’t absorb that, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

Rodgers broke his left collarbone on Nov. 4 when Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked him and then landed on Rodgers with all of his body weight. According to Bell, the combination of Rodgers landing on the ground with one shoulder and McClellin’s weight on his other likely caused his collarbone to buckle.

Protecting Rodgers in the pocket is one thing, but he also likes to get outside and make improvisational plays. He was rolling out to his right when McClellin hit him.

“He can make plays with his feet, he can make throws that most quarterbacks in this league can’t make,” Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. “Sometimes, you look at some of his throws, you’re like, ‘Where the hell is he throwing the ball?’ And it’s a catch somehow. He’s a special player and we’re happy to have him back.”

The task now is keeping him healthy. Maybe McCarthy will do that by using a variety of quick throws and three-step drops rather than five- and seven-step drops that could leave Rodgers more vulnerable to getting hit.

Rodgers was sacked 18 times in the first seven-plus games of the season. His’ replacements -- Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Flynn -- were sacked 24 times in seven-plus games.

“I’m sure that Aaron’s going to get hit; he’s going to get knocked down at some point,” Van Pelt said. “That’s just the way the football game goes. But those guys I’m sure have a little added urgency to keep him clean.”

At other times while he was recovering from his injury, Rodgers said there are things the equipment and medical staffs can do to add protection to his collarbone area. But on Thursday, he would not say whether he would use any.

Protecting Rodgers from dangerous hits is critical, but it’s also important for Rodgers to take a hit so that he knows his collarbone can withstand it.

“I’m sure that every guy that comes back when they first step onto the field there’s some emotional hurdles that they need to get over,” Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. “But I think that’s everyone, and I think that’s all injuries. But other than that, it’s up to the athlete to get through that.”

Rodgers' return has two-fold impact

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
5:35
PM ET

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- As quarterback Aaron Rodgers' passes zipped around the Don Hutson Center on Thursday, Green Bay Packers' receivers seemed to have an extra inch or two to their vertical jumps and their offensive linemen appeared to hold their blocks for a second or two longer.

OK, maybe not.

But things felt -- and looked -- different at practice on Thursday.

Can Rodgers' return from his Nov. 4 broken collarbone have that big of an impact?

"That's why you pay him so much money because he makes everyone else better," Packers receiver James Jones said. "If he was just a one-man show and only made himself better, he probably wouldn't be a $100 million man, but he makes this team a thousand times better."

From his rocket arm and improvisational skills outside the pocket to his ability to read defenses and make the right adjustments at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers can do things that few other quarterbacks can. Certainly not Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn -- the trio of backups that combined to go 2-5-1 in games Rodgers did not start or finish.

Time and again since Rodgers broke his left collarbone when Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin sacked him in the first quarter of the Week 9 game at Lambeau Field, numerous teammates have referred to Rodgers as not only the best quarterback in the NFL but also as the best player in the league.

When you're a player of that caliber, teammates don't just play with you, they play for you.

"I think one of Aaron's strengths is he brings out the best in those around him in a lot of different ways," Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo said. "And that's a special quality that he has."

As big of an impact as Rodgers has on the X's and O's of football, his influence on his teammates psyche may be just as important, although more difficult to measure.

Not that receivers such as Jones or Jordy Nelson weren't selling out to catch passes from Flynn the past month. Not that offensive linemen David Bakhtiari, Don Barclay, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton weren't pass protecting as well as they could. But players like Rodgers have a way of elevating the play of those around them.

It may not be something they even realize or can measure but deep down in their subconscious, it's there.

That said, the Packers have to be careful not to take on the attitude that Rodgers' return will cure everything. Perhaps that's why when coach Mike McCarthy announced in Thursday's morning's team meeting the Packers are preparing for Rodgers to start Sunday's game against the Bears, there was no cheering or hooting and hollering.

"Aaron even let us know that," Jones said. "Just cause he's back, it don't guarantee nothing. We've got to go out there and play. He's got to play at a high level, we've got to play at a high level, and we've got to win a game."
PHILADELPHIA -- If it’s better to be lucky than good, the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles could win the NFC East title by being a little of both.

They opened the season against Washington, with Robert Griffin III looking very much like a young quarterback who hadn’t taken a preseason snap.

They played Tampa Bay in Mike Glennon's second career start, while the Buccaneers were dealing with fallout from the Josh Freeman mess and a MRSA outbreak.

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Matt RourkeTony Romo passed for 317 yards in Dallas' 17-3 win against Philadelphia on Oct. 20.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone six days before the Eagles played the Packers, and his backup, Seneca Wallace, left with an injury in the first quarter.

When the Eagles were worried about how to cover Calvin Johnson, eight inches of snow covered the Detroit receiver for them.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson injured his foot the week before the Eagles played the Vikings. His backup, Toby Gerhart, also missed that game.

And now Tony Romo will be out for the biggest game of the season, the virtual playoff game between the Eagles and Dallas, according to ESPN reports.

It’s enough to make you wonder if Chip Kelly’s super-secret sports science program includes hexes and voodoo dolls.

While there will be plenty of jokes about the Cowboys being better off without Romo and his 1-6 record in win-or-go-home games, his absence clearly takes some of the luster off of this much anticipated battle for the NFC East title.

Kelly, speaking before the news broke, had little regard for those criticisms of Romo. He cited the game-winning touchdown Romo threw Sunday to beat Washington and force the showdown with the Eagles.

“Fourth [down], game on the line, scrambles, keeps the ball alive, hits the mark to [DeMarco] Murray and they win the game,” Kelly said. “I'm always on what you did last, and what he did last was pretty special -- the way he avoided the rush, kept drives alive, and I think he's as talented a quarterback as there is in this league.

“Any time with that position, sometimes I think you get probably too much credit and too much blame. But he's one of the really, really, really good quarterbacks we've seen, and I said that the first time we played him. If you're a fan of just quarterback play, he's pretty special.”

As the Eagles learned the hard way, a little luck is no guarantee. They went to Minnesota two Sundays ago knowing that Peterson and Gerhart were unlikely to play. And they still were stomped 48-30 by Matt Cassel and the Vikings. A virtually unknown running back named Matt Asiata ran for three touchdowns in that game.

Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton has more of a pedigree than Asiata or -- sticking with his position -- Glennon, Wallace or Scott Tolzien, who played most of the Packers game. Orton has faced the Eagles twice. He beat them in 2008 while with the Bears, and lost to them the following year as a Bronco.

Though the Eagles have had their share of luck this season, they aren’t going to feel too sorry for the Cowboys. Remember, Michael Vick was their starting quarterback when the season began. After he was hurt, Nick Foles took over and played too well to be sent back down the depth chart.

Throughout that process, Kelly repeatedly said that you had to have two good quarterbacks in the NFL. The Packers found out what happens when you don’t. If Orton isn’t able to compete, that’s on the Cowboys for not having another quarterback in development.

The year Orton and the Bears beat them, the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game against Arizona. If Orton can beat them this time, they’re going home.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the portion of Thursday’s practice that was open to reporters was any indication, it appears the Green Bay Packers are preparing to play without quarterback Aaron Rodgers again.

Rodgers once again went through the individual drills, but when the Packers went to their first team (11-on-11) period, Matt Flynn was back under center. Even backup Scott Tolzien took a few snaps, while all Rodgers did was stand off to the side with quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo.

On Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers still had not been fully cleared from his broken collarbone. Nevertheless, Flynn said he and Rodgers split snaps in Wednesday’s practice.

Rodgers is expected to speak to reporters after practice.

The first portion of practice was held inside the Don Hutson Center before heading outside to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lambeau Field.

The same six players that were held out on Wednesday remained sidelined. They were: tight end Brandon Bostick (foot), defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (shoulder), linebacker Brad Jones (ankle), running back Eddie Lacy (ankle), linebacker Mike Neal (abdomen) and linebacker Nick Perry (foot).

The full injury report will be available after practice.

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