Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Building The 53 - McMillian out, Bell in

We knew that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson added veteran running back Kahlil Bell to The 53 almost 24 hours ago thanks to Twitter.  At 5'11 and 216 lbs, Bell is a versatile running back that amassed 148 carries for 633 rushing yards and 22 receptions for 150 receiving yards over four seasons in the NFL mostly for the Chicago Bears.  For those that don't remember, Bell gashed the Packers for 159 total yards as a member of the Bears on Christmas Day 2011 thanks to 23 carries for 121 yards and four catches for 38 yards.  Bell previously served as a kickoff returner for the New York Jets, which is a plus since rookie cornerback Micah Hyde's success returning punts has not translated to kickoff returns. Since news of Bell's addition to The 53 broke after NFL business hours, the question turned to what player was going to make way for Bell?

Starting center Even Dietrich-Smith injured his knee on Thanksgiving against the Lions so with only four games left in the season there was a chance the Packers would put EDS on injured reserve.  Apparently EDS might be healthy enough to practice this week so that meant that the Packers were going to have to cut a healthy player to add Bell to The 53.  The strongest candidates to get cut from The 53 were the following pick-six (in alphabetical order):
- Victor Aiyewa (LB): the most recent addition to The 53 made his roster spot tenuous.
- Chris Harper (WR): a healthy scratch the last five games.
- Jeron McMillian (S): can't get on the field lately despite serious needs at safety.
- Marshall Newhouse (OT): arguably the worst offensive player currently on The 53.
- Nate Palmer (LB): healthy scratch the last two weeks.
- Jake Stoneburner (TE): rookie undrafted free agent that has seen very little of the field on offense or special teams despite all the injuries the Packers suffered at tight end this season.

As it turns out, McMillian made way for Bell.  When Thompson used a 4th round draft pick to draft McMillian, some scouts thought McMillian would have a hard time adjusting to the NFL since he played college football at Maine against second-tier NCAA players. After watching McMillian as a rookie, I actually thought he could be Atari Bigby 2.0 given how physical he played as a rookie.

Thanks to a productive rookie campaign, McMillian entered training camp this season as the starter opposite Morgan Burnett at safety but struggled throughout training camp.  Despite McMillian's struggles, he actually started the first two games this season due mostly to lack of better options since Burnett was injured.  After playing 184 snaps on defense in the first five games this season, McMillian played just seven defensive snaps in the last seven games.  Thus the longer McMillian was on The 53 during his sophomore season, the less he saw the field.  Even worse, McMillian was only a part-time player on special teams so that was probably the biggest indicator that McMillian's roster spot was tenuous. Ultimately McMillian played 28 games for the Packers including the aforementioned two starts by default.  As it turns out I was wrong about McMillian's upside because he is more of a homeless man's Bigby than Bigby 2.0.

With the change to The 53 out of the way, let's turn to the most notable thing we learned from Packer head coach Mike McCarthy's press conference earlier today.  McCarthy revealed that quarterback Aaron Rodgers is still not cleared to play but did not rule him out for Sunday when the Packers host the underwhelming Atlanta Falcons.  Hopefully the Packers will have Rodgers under center against the Falcons because without his services they've gone 0-4-1 since Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone against the Bears.  Given that the Packers trail the Detroit Lions by 1.5 games for first place in the NFC North with four games to play, the Packers face a do or die stretch to finish the season.

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