Monday, August 24, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 Preseason Week 2 - Packers/Steelers Review

The biggest talking point following the Green Bay Packers/Pittsburgh Steelers preseason game will be on the fact that the Packers lost Jordy Nelson for the season to a torn ACL on a non-contact play.  There is no question that the way that Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy approach the preseason will be altered based the fact that the Packers lost Nelson for the season in a meaningless game.  Here are a few other thoughts on how the Packers/Steelers preseason game impacted The 53:

Player that hurt his stock most - Tim Masthay: The Packers signed former Alabama punter Cody Mandell in the off-season to give Masthay some competition.  Reports are that Mandell was a pain on and off the field given that he was NOT able to establish a rapport with Crosby as a holder and apparently is quite cocky.  Even though Mandell is no longer with the Packers, Masthay's performance against the Steelers is the personification of how he is still too inconsistent to just give him the starting punter job to open the season.  Masthay averaged 43.3 yards per punt with a long 56 yard punt against the Steelers.  That all sounds good but remember that Masthay had a 29 yard punt too, which is unacceptable in the NFL.  Masthay is veering into A.J. Hawk territory where I honestly wonder if he has incriminating pictures of Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy, Thompson, or McCarthy.   Odds are that Masthay will be the punter for the Packers in 2015 because of his familiarity as a holder for Crosby but if Masthay continues to struggle through the rest of the preseason and a quality punter gets cut during final roster cut-downs, I hope Thompson considers adding that punter in place of Masthay.

Player that helped his stock most - Aaron Ripkowski: Given that fullback John Kuhn went to college at Shippensburg University and was on the practice squad for the Steelers to finish the 2005 NFL season, it is only fitting that we discuss the heir apparent to fullback/core special teamer John Kuhn when the Packers are in Pittsburgh.  Ripkowski had two special teams tackles against the Steelers, which will go a long way to convincing Thompson to keep two fullbacks, which seems borderline crazy in 2015.  Sure the fullback position seems to be going the way of the dodo but let's not forget that the Packers actually had three fullbacks on The 53 when they won Super Bowl XLV (Korey Hall, Kuhn, and Quinn Johnson).  Given that Kuhn is 33 years old while Ripkowski is just 22 years old and signed to a cap-friendly rookie contract, I actually think Ripkowski is more of a lock for The 53 than Kuhn to open the 2015 NFL season.

Position to watch - Wide Receiver: There is no question that Nelson has been highly productive the last two seasons so his presence will be sorely missed in 2015.  For those that don't remember the exact numbers, Nelson caught 85 passes for 1,314 yards and eight touchdowns in 2013.  Somehow Nelson bested those marks across the board in 2014 with 98 catches, 1,519 yards, and 13 touchdowns.  That is a ton of production to replace but the Packers look stacked with young potential at wide receiver given that if everyone is healthy the Packers have six legitimate candidates for five or six spots on The 53: Randall Cobb (25 years old, 5'10", 192 lbs), Davante Adams (22 years old, 6'1", 215 lbs), Ty Montgomery (22 years old, 6'0", 216 lbs), Jeff Janis (24 years old, 6'3", 219 lbs), Myles White (25 years old, 6'0", 190 lbs), and Jared Abbrederis (24 years old, 6'1" and 195 lbs).  I get it that Nelson is the bell-cow of the wide receiver group but if Janis can fulfill all the promise that the Packers saw in him before the 2014 NFL Draft, I see him as a poor man's Nelson for 2015 and Janis is 4th on the depth chart.  There is talk that former Packer wide receivers James Jones (New York Giants) and Jarrett Boykin (Carolina Panthers) will NOT make The 53 for their respective teams so the Packers also have the option to bring back one of those guys too if they are NOT confident enough in the six-pack of Cobb, Adams, Montgomery, Janis, White, and Abbrederis.

Final Note: The Nelson injury might be the tipping point for the Packers.  Usually the 3rd NFL preseason game is when the starters play the most but I would be shocked to see quarterback Aaron Rodgers take even one snap in that game.  Nelson was NOT the only injury of note from the game, unfortunately the Packers suffered a number of other injuries to players that will be on The 53 in 2015.  Rodgers looked to have tweaked his wrist, rookie cornerback Damarious Randall battled dehydration, and both right guard T.J. Lang and quarterback Scott Tolzien suffered concussions.  The Steelers looked to have lost starting center Maurkice Pouncey for an extended period of time too with an ankle injury.  Injuries are a part of the game but everyone hates to see that happen in preseason games.  I am NOT sure the answer is to sit all the starters for the next two games though because I fear that would mean the starters would go into the regular season opener on the road against the Chicago Bears too rusty.  I am fine with sitting guys like Rodgers and running back Eddie Lacy but given all the question marks on defense, I hope the Packers give their starters on defense at least some reps in the next two games.

Unless the Packers make any significant roster moves before their next preseason game at home next Saturday against the Philadelphia Eagles, check back next Sunday for my review of how the Packers/Eagles preseason game impacts Building The 53.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Building The 53 - 2015 Preseason Week 1 - Packers/Patriots Review

Going into the 2015 NFL preseason almost everything on offense is settled given that the Packers project to return every starter while almost everything on defense is equally unsettled given that the Packers need to replace at least one starter at both linebacker and cornerback.  Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson will keep a close eye on everything throughout training camp but I am sure there will be an extra focus on the defensive side of the ball given all the personnel changes.  With that in mind, here are a few of my thoughts on how the Packers/Patriots preseason game impacted The 53:

Player that hurt his stock most - Don Barclay: Going into the training camp, I thought Barclay was a borderline lock to make The 53 so I made him one of the nine Most Likelies*.  Barclay is still rehabbing a knee injury that cost him the entire 2014 NFL season and he looked rusty in his first preseason action.  Assuming that all the offensive lineman are healthy, the starters left to right project as follows: David Bakhtiari (LT), Josh Sitton (LG), Corey Linsley (C), T.J. Lang (RG), and Bryan Bulaga (RT).  For the first time in a long time, the Packers actually have some quality depth along the offensive line in Matt Rotheram (G), JC Tretter (C/G), Lane Taylor (G), Jeremy Vujnovich (T), and Josh Walker (G).  It seems crazy to say this but assuming that every offensive lineman is healthy and Thompson keeps eight offensive lineman on The 53 to open the season, Barclay's spot on The 53 could be in jeopardy given the emergence of all the other young pups.

Player that helped his stock most - LaDarius Gunter:  There is no doubt that Gunter turned some heads in practice given the he is the only defensive back with multiple interceptions of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in training camp and he continued his impressive play in his first preseason game action when he picked off backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the 3rd quarter. Despite the fact that Thompson used his first two picks in the 2015 NFL Draft on defensive backs when he drafted Damarious Randall (Arizona State) and Quinten Rollins (Miami University), it still looks like Gunter is going to make The 53 as an undrafted free agent.  Randall sat out against the Patriots with a groin injury but assuming all cornerbacks are healthy and the Packers leave Micah Hyde at safety, here is how the cornerback depth chart currently looks: Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Rollins, Randall, Gunter, and Demetri Goodson.

Position to watch - Defensive Line: Letroy Guion and Mike Daniels, two of the three presumptive starters along the defensive line sat out the Patriots game due to injury.  That gave a number of backups the chance to show they belong.  Here is a breakdown of the snap counts for each of the defensive lineman against the Patriots: Datone Jones (30), Mike Pennel (30), Bruce Gaston (26), Khyri Thornton (20), Josh Boyd (12), B.J. Raji (11), Christian Ringo (10), and Lavon Hooks (6).  The fact that Pennel and Gaston got more snaps than Thornton is NOT a good sign for Thornton given that this training camp seems to be make-or-break for the former 3rd round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft after he spent the entire 2014 NFL season on injured reserve since there was little chance he would have made The 53 to open the 2014 NFL season.  Given that Jones (suspended for Week 1) and Guion (suspended through Week 3 pending his appeal) will (most likely) be suspended to start the 2015 NFL season, there look to be five spots available along the defensive line for other guys.  If I had to handicap the guys for those five spots, here is how I would hand them out as of today: Daniels, Boyd, Raji, Pennel, and Gaston.  That leaves Thornton and Ringo on the outside looking in at this point but thankfully they have the rest of training camp and three more preseason games to change Thompson's mind.

Final Note: I can't tell you how sick I am of hearing about Deflategate.  If Tom Brady was more forthright, the NFL would have turned the page.  Since that didn't happened, we've been forced to endure one of the most mind-numbing NFL stories in a long time.  If you are a Patriots fan then you think the NFL is out to get you and that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is out to retroactively re-punish the Patriots more for Spygate since many think Goodell let the Patriots off easy given how close he is with Patriots owner Robert Kraft.  If you are a fan of the other 31 NFL teams, you see a dysfunctional commissioner in Goodell that somehow botched what seemed to be a fairly straight forward process.  Ultimately I assume that Brady will NOT miss any games but the fact is that no one wins given how horribly this process has been handled by everyone.

Unless the Packers make any significant roster moves before their next preseason game on the road next Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, check back next Monday for my review of how the Packers/Steelers preseason game impacts Building The 53.