Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Observations of a Railbird I

Tuesday, July 30, 2013
by Ted Verges

               It is with considerable anticipation that this railbird drives to Green Bay today to attend Packer practice. It is the first practice I could attend this year.  It seems that there are many potential stories that can come out of training camp. Among them are the offensive line, the second string quarterback, who will be the running backs, the safety position, who will replace Jennings, and who will be the kicker.  I hope to bring you information on these matters as training camps proceeds.

               I will start with the offensive line as that group draws most of my attention.  Some of the news is good; some isn’t. Bulaga and Sitton look very good in all phases of their work. Lang is OK, but the rest of the guys have issues. The Packers are working Barclay hard at multiple positions.  They have Barclay working on his center snaps while the rest of the team is doing stretching at the start of practice.  He is working on snaps with Rodgers under center and the shotgun snap.  There are issues with both. He also has a bad day doing the one-on-one pass blocking drill. But he isn’t the only one!  Bakhtiari has problems with his fundamentals. He is dropping his head, loses his balance, bends at the waist, not his knees, and doesn’t have much of a punch. He has a long way to go to be a professional pass blocker. His run blocking looks good, as it is way ahead of his pass blocking. Barclay looks slow as he is beat regularly both at center and tackle. Guys are consistently getting the edge on him.  Meanwhile Datko has worked at both tackles and at guard. He has the same problem that plagued him last year in camp . . . he can be bull-rushed. He plays too high. EDS also has his share of problems. Guys are blowing past him.  Also, Newhouse is inconsistent. He has some real good reps as well as some that should bother him.  One of the best pass blockers is a guy by the name of Gerhart from Arizona State. He is fundamentally very sound.

               The running back situation is very interesting. For some reason, maybe it’s the competition, but Starks looks very good. He almost looks like a different runner.  In previous years he was a rather upright runner with a long stride. Today he lowers his shoulder on guys and, using short choppy steps, makes some real nice cuts. It looks like he’s playing for a job! Also, I like Lacy. I wasn’t thrilled with him as a draft choice because I thought he should have gotten decent yards running behind that Alabama line, and the fact that many teams passed on him twice! But the guy can play!  He looks a tad heavy in the butt and thighs, but he runs tough. I am surprised at how well he catches the ball. He is physical. He moves the pile in red zone running plays. Yes, you read me correctly! We actually ran the ball in the red zone! There is a neat drill where Lacy shows toughness. The backs and ends have to catch a flat pass and then turn up field and go down the sideline where offensive linemen try to knock them out of bounds with handbags. Lacy and Finley are very physical, take on those bags, and stay in bounds.  Franklin is quick but small.  Green practices today. I think it is his first practice in a long time.  He looks to be both physical and quick.  Harris isn’t on the field because of injury issues. It will be interesting to see how the running back situation plays out in camp.

               Quarterbacks . . . Rodgers doesn’t have his best day in 7 on 7 and in scrimmage work. It seems he is throwing the ball high too often. He still makes some plays that take your breath away. One is a TD pass down the middle to Cobb. Rodgers throws that one under great pressure, and he threads a tight window.  It would be nice to see Harrell and Coleman throw a tight spiral once in awhile. Maybe they’re doing a nice job with the huddle and plays and all that, but how about a tight spiral completion every so often!

               Among the receivers, Cobb and Finley stand out. Cobb is so quick in and out of his cuts. He looks small, but I don’t think people get solid hits on him very often.  He gets some work in today as a running back.  He does a good job on some draw plays. Finley looks like a different player. He is much more physical and aggressive than in the past. He catches everything with his hands and attacks the tacklers.  His commitment level may be up. For instance while the team is working on kick-off stuff, Finley is working on pass catching drills with a ball boy.  He could have taken a knee and watched with the other guys; instead, he was working on his skills.  He also takes some of his catches the distance of the field much like Grant used to do. One might think Finley is playing for a contract! Bostick makes a nice physical run after a catch over the middle. After he catches the ball, it seems he goes hunting for tacklers! Also, right now, I’m thinking Boykin makes the team. While he may lack top end speed, he is very quick. He looks like a slot receiver.

               The defense also practices today! I wanted to check out Nick Perry.  He does have something on his wrist, but his movement is very good. He looks so much better than last year at this time.  Meanwhile Datone Jones looks good out there. He can move, and he is a tough guy. On a zone blitz, he drops back and knocks down a pass. Jones also looks good while the defense is working against option plays.  And, Johnny Jolly can still play. He makes a great pass rush with a spin move that has the offensive lineman grabbing at air. B.J. Raji also executes that move for a sack. Tramon Williams is not in pads, and House replaces him at left corner. He does a good job. Micah Hyde later replaces House with no fall off.

               The highlights for this railbird today are the aggressive confident play of Finley, the skills of Eddie Lacy, and the general physical tone evident on the field. There’s an old saying among coaches that if you never ask for it you’ll never get it. Last year McCarthy asked for better tackling and improved special teams play, and he got it. This year he wants a more physical team, and I think he’s getting it.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

“Observations of an Owner”

by Ted Verges

As a publicly owned corporation, the Green Bay Packers are required to disclose their yearly financial condition.  They did so at the “Annual Meeting of Shareholders “ held at Lambeau Field on July 24, 2013. As an owner, I decided to attend. The following are my observations of that meeting.
            The meeting was held in Lambeau Field with approximately 12,000 people in attendance.  It was a beautiful, comfortable day. The first thing one noticed upon entering the bowl was the field did not have yard stripes painted on it!  My brother and I arrived at 10:00, an hour before the start of the meeting, and roughly 2/3 of the people were already there!  A film of the 2012 season was playing on the new, impressive video boards while the stockholders waited for the meeting to start.  The meeting lasted 1-½ hours with a little more than half the time devoted to football and the rest of the time involved various financial reports.  Ted Thompson and Mark Murphy addressed the football matters and that is where I will focus most of my report.
            Ted Thompson reviewed the 2012 season, a year in which the Packers went 11 and 5 and won the North Division.  He shared a few statistics that most might have not realized: the Packers are one of just two teams that have won 10 + games in each of the last four seasons, the Packers have been in the playoffs for 15 of the last 20 years, and the Packers have won 20 of the last 21 games at Lambeau Field. Thompson had considerable praise for Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff. Despite some front office personnel loses, that coaching staff remains intact from last year.  Thompson expects the Packers to be even better this year and those results will come from improvement of young players who were on the team last year and veteran leadership.  Thompson, and most of the other speakers, focused his comments on three themes; the long, proud history of the Packers, the disappointment in how last season ended, and the high hopes for the coming season.
            Mark Murphy then gave an extensive Presidents report. He identified the Packers mission as to win championships and keep the team in Green Bay.  One of their goals is to improve the stadium experience, which is already rated as the best in the NFL.  Additionally, Forbes magazine rated the Packers as the 8th most valuable franchise in the world! With the additional seats added to the south side of the field, Lambeau Field is now the third largest stadium in the NFL.
            Murphy briefly commented on some Packer personnel. He was very pleased to have the team sign Rodgers and Matthews to long-term contracts and praised Thompson and Russ Ball for their efforts in getting that accomplished. Murphy almost got a little emotional when praising Donald Driver and the wonderful retirement ceremony that was held for him.  Dave Robinson was recognized, and received a standing ovation, for his upcoming induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.  With his induction the Packers will now have 22 members in the Hall of Fame. That is second only to the Bears.
            Murphy then addressed the stadium improvements.  He spoke about the new north entrance. They decided to put a clock there and set the time at “Lombardi Time” which is five minutes ahead of Central Standard Time.  He thought he would get complaints from people that the clock wasn’t correct but, to this day, no one has complained about the time on that clock!  Improvements on the south side include nearly 8,000 seats, most of which are theatre type seats with backs on them, a roof over many of those seats, a standing area, and a wonderful new, video screen. He then identified future plans for the atrium. They will triple the size of the Pro Shop, add a new restaurant, and build a new, much larger Hall of Fame.
            Murphy concluded by addressing some league issues. The health and safety of the players has become a priority, as has dealing with some lawsuits from former players.  Players now will be required to wear knee and thigh pads. The league wants to keep ticket prices at a reasonable amount and, at the same time, improve the stadium game day experience. Murphy ended his remarks by saying he is very optimistic for the Packers future because of all the good people that work there, not of the least of which is the best quarterback in the NFL!
            I thought Murphy represented himself very well. He is very personable with a good, natural sense of humor.  He appears to be without ego and is quick to credit others.
            Various members of the Board of Directors presented financial reports. Probably the highlight was the fact that the organization set a profit record in 2012 with an operating profit of 51.4 million.  They did so primarily by keeping their expenses down. They also increased the Corporate Reserve by 5 % to 251 million.  That is money designed to insure the future existence of the Green Bay Packer organization.  The Packer Foundation, which addresses charitable requests up to $7,000, distributed a record $525,000 to area charities last year. The Community Relations Department made donations to 11,000 different groups last year as well as arranging 700 player appearances.

            So that’s this year’s stockholder meeting. I suspect that many readers are “owners” and I hope you enjoyed this report of your meeting.  There was lots of optimism at this meeting and, as many speakers concluded, “GO PACKERS!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Packers Training Camp Position by Position Preview

By: Matt Bove
Packers training camp is finally here! The Packers will hold their first practice today at Ray Nitschke Field today as their pursuit for their fifth Lombardi Trophy begins. Here is a position by position preview of the 2013 Packers and what to look for in camp this summer.

Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Graham Harrell, B.J. Coleman

The Packers will enter training camp with only three quarterbacks in camp after the release of Matt Brown. Obviously, there is not much intrigue with the starter as Rodgers has established himself as perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL. You know you are great when you complete throw for 4,295 yards and 39 touchdowns while completing 68.1% of your passes and people are calling it a "down" year.

The real intrigue is with Harrell and Coleman. Harrell has not proven in preseason games that he can be a capable starter if Rodgers were to get injured. He looked incapable of making some of the throws that you have to make in the NFL due to limitations in arm strength. In his defense, Harrell was playing behind a brutal second string offensive line most of the time and he was outstanding in the preseason finale against the Browns. It will be another big training camp for Harrell to show that he has made improvements.

Coleman probably has more pure talent than Harrell, but he is extremely raw and looked like it last training camp. He will have to show a lot to overtake Harrell as the backup quarterback, as Harrell is not eligible for the practice squad and Coleman is. The Packers usually like to keep two quarterbacks on the active roster and put a third one on the practice squad.

Running/Full Backs: John Kuhn, Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Franklin, DuJuan Harris, Alex Green, James Starks, Angelo Pease

The running back position is the most interesting position on the Packers to watch this camp in my view.  The Packers usually keep four running backs and full backs, although with the depth they have this year they could keep five. Kuhn's roster spot could be in jeopardy due to his age, decline last season and salary. Franklin was an excellent pass protector at UCLA and could take Kuhn's job as the third down back.

Franklin and Lacy are both guaranteed to be on the roster if healthy and they should battle DuJuan Harris for the starting role. I would bet on Lacy becoming the starter on opening day, as the Packers have maybe never had a running back with his kind of skills.He is a bull running through tackles and some defenders may be reluctant to want to take him on in the frigid temperatures at Lambeau Field late in the season. Lacy should be able to solve many of the 3rd-and-short woes that plagued the Packers last season.  He ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns for Alabama last year.

Franklin could spell Lacy and be the third down back. He should be very dangerous catching balls out of the backfield and turning up the sidelines. That is another element that the Packers offense has been missing recently.

Harris will be out to prove that last year was not a fluke when he ran for 157 yards over the last four regular season games. He looked great in those games, but the Packers kind of revealed what they thought of him when they drafted Lacy and Franklin.

Green and Starks will just be battling to stay on the roster. Green will be out to prove that it was his knee that made him so unproductive last year and that he is now fully healthy. Starks is unlikely to make the roster, as he has just not been able to stay on the field. Pease impressed Mike McCarthy in mini camp practices, so he will be another player to watch as well.

Wide Receivers: Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross Charles Johnson, Kevin Dorsey, Alex Gillett, Terrell Sinkfield, Tyrone Walker, Myles White

The Packers lack their normal depth that they had at wide receiver in recent years, so that will give an opportunity to some unproven guys this camp. Cobb, Nelson and Jones are the clear top three, but after them it is wide open for anybody.

Cobb, Nelson and Jones still form one of the best wide receiver trios in the NFL.  Cobb is one his way to being one of the best receivers in the NFL, and that started last year when he caught 80 passes for 954 yards and eight touchdowns. He is such an electric player, and the Packers can use him in so many different ways. Cobb's speed and agility are off the charts.

Nelson struggled with injuries last year, but still had some very productive games when healthy. He will be looking to return to his 2011 form when he caught 15 touchdowns and had 1,263 yards. Jones had a stellar year last year catching 14 touchdowns. While he is unlikely to catch that many again, he is still a great red zone threat, great at using his body to shield off defenders with the ball in the air, and has solved his drop issues.

Boykin is the favorite to win the number four wide receiver job after impressing last training camp and making the roster. Despite his huge fumbled punt in the NFC Divisional Round playoff game at San Francisco, Ross showed some electric ability at returning kicks and will rely on that to make the roster.

The other two interesting guys in this group are the seventh-round picks this year Johnson and Dorsey. Johnson was considered by many NFL Draft experts as a guy who has the physical tools to make an impact in the NFL and could be a steal. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at his pro-day at Grand Valley State and jumped 39 1/2 inches in the vertical leap. Dorsey had awful quarterback play in college at Maryland so he never really got an opportunity to show what he can do.

Tight Ends: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Matthew Mulligan, D.J. Williams Ryan Taylor, Jake Stoneburner, Brandon Bostick

Mike McCarthy has always loved tight ends and this year he is stocked with a deep group yet again.

Finley will be the unquestioned starter going into the final year of his contract. This very well could be his final year in Green Bay, as he may either price himself out, or he could under perform again, and the Packers could just be tired of him.

Despite breaking the Packers record for catches in a season with 61, Finley still had a very up and down 2012. However, he gained momentum at the end of the year, as he caught 29 passes for 330 yards over the final six regular season games. With Jennings gone, Finley will have every opportunity to finally live up to his potential over a full season and he still has the size, speed and strength to do it. 

Quarless is back with the Packers after missing all of last season due to a knee injury he suffered against the Giants in 2011. McCarthy recently called Quarless his most versatile tight end, and said that he can play every tight end position in the playbook. If Finley departs next year Quarless may have to fill his role, so it will be interesting to watch his development this year.

Mulligan was brought in via free agency to replace Tom Crabtree's blocking. Williams and Taylor have both never been huge parts of their offense so far in their careers. However, Taylor has been great on special teams, which will help his chances of making the team. Stoneburner is one of most highly thought of undrafted free agents that the Packers signed this year. 

Offensive Line: Bryan Bulaga, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Marshall Newhouse, Don Barclay, Derrick Sherrod Greg Van Rotten David Bakhtiari, Andrew Datko, Garth Gerhart, Kevin Hughes, Patrick Lewis, Lane Taylor

The major stories with the offensive line is the battle for the starting right tackle job and the reshuffling of almost the entire offensive line. Bulaga and Sitton will go from the right side of the line to the left and Lang and Newhouse (if he starts) will go from the left side to the right. Training camp will be very important to these guys to get used to their new positions, and they may have to play longer than usual in preseason games to get more reps.

Newhouse and Barclay will battle it out for the starting right tackle position. Newhouse had a very up and down season last year at left tackle. He was inconsistent in his pass blocking, with some really good and some really bad games. Newhouse's run blocking was consistently bad and that will need to improve at right tackle. Barclay's strength last year was run blocking when he filled in at right tackle out of necessity. He did not kill them in pass protection either, despite his short arms. Barclay did a nice job for an undrafted rookie free agent last year and it will be interesting to see how he develops this camp.

Van Rotten, Bakhatiari, Datko and Sherrod are other guys to watch at camp. Van Rotten will have to step up because the Packers are weak in depth at guard. Bakhtrari was a fourth round pick this year, so it will be interesting to watch his development, and he can play inside or outside. Datko spent a year on the practice squad last year, but if he is completely over his shoulder injury he may be ready to improve, as he has always had solid talent. Nobody quite knows what to expect out of Sherrod coming off his broken leg, but as a former first round pick the Packers would obviously love to get something out of him.

Defensive Line: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Jerel Worthy, Josh Boyd, Gilbert Pena 

The defensive line has been a point of emphasis lately for the Packers, as they have drafted Jones, Boyd, Worthy and Daniels in their last two drafts.

They have been looking for players to improve their inside pass rush and they hope Jones can be the answer. He will be asked to contribute right away, as he is likely to be rush inside in Nickel and maybe play end in base. Jones is a physical freak, who will only help in pass rush, but will be able to use his speed to help defend the read option that gave the Packers so much trouble last year.

Raji is entering a contract year and the Packers are going to make him earn his deal, as they will not be giving him an extension during the season. Raji had a solid season last year and improved from his down 2011 season, but he was still not the dominant player that we saw in 2010. As the anchor of the defense at nose tackle, Raji is one of the most important players on the defense and must continue to take on double teams.

His effort comes and goes, which is probably a big reason why the Packers have been unwilling to give him a big contract yet, but the talent is certainly still there for him I think a highly motivated Raji will have a huge year for the Packers this season.

Pickett is still a very important and productive player at age 33. He is a very important player against the run, as his massive body eats up blockers. This will likely be his final year in Green Bay. Neal was solid in rushing the passer last year, as he recorded 4.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and 17 hurries in only 10 games last year according to Pro Football Focus. The Packers would love to get that kind of production out of him over a full season.

Wilson is a solid player against the run but really is nothing special. Jolly is one of the most interesting stories in camp, as he is making his return to the Packers after his codeine suspension. Jolly has not played since 2009, so it will be an uphill battle for him to make the team, although he was a very good player for the Packers back in 2009. Daniels showed a few flashes last year, but is still very undersized for the position and Worthy is likely to start the year on the PUP after tearing his ACL in Week 17.

Linebackers: Clay Matthews, Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Nick Perry, Dezman Moses, Jamari Lattimore, Terrell Manning, Sam Barrington, Nate Palmer, Robert Francois, Andy Mulumba, Jarvis Reed, Donte Savage

Matthews is the leader of this group and is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, as he had a stellar season yet again last year with 13 sacks. The most amazing about Matthews is how he does it without a big pass rushing threat on the other side of him.

With that being said, having Perry turn into a force opposite Matthews would change the entire Packers defense. Even though he only played in six games last year hopefully having a year in the 3-4 system will help Perry be more comfortable in the defense this year. Perry is a little big for the position and needs to develop more speed and counter pass rushing moves. 

Inside linebacker is one of the biggest concerns for the Packers. Jones is great in coverage, but struggles with his size against the run. Hawk is what he is at this point and just does not make enough impact plays.

Depth at linebacker is also a concern because all the backups are unproven. Mozes showed some good pass rushing potential as a rookie last year, but he is really the only backup who saw the field last year. An illness suffered in training camp last year ruined Manning's rookie year but the Packers still believe in his talent. Lattimore and Francois have been mostly special teams players. Barrington and Palmer are intriguing players as rookies.

Cornerbacks: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Heyward, Davon House, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Loyce Means, James Nixon, Brandon Smith

The Packers are extremely deep at cornerback and it is one of their strongest positions on the team.

While Williams has not been an elite corner since 2010, his demise has been a little bit overstated and he is still solid. Shields really came on int he second half of last season, including a huge interception of Colin Kaepernick in the Divisional Playoff game on the first series of the game. He has all the tools to be a great corner and will be playing for a new contract.

Heyward had an outstanding rookie year with six interceptions. His instincts and ball skills in the slot were terrific and he should replace Charles Woodson seemingly. House was projected to be a starter last year until a shoulder injury in the preseason opener at San Diego derailed his season. He will be looking to come backs strong.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, M.D. Jennings, Sean Richardson, David Fulton, Ryan McMahon, Chaz Powell 

Every safety is a question mark other than Burnett. Burnett, who received a new contract extension with the Packers this offseason, will try to make a big leap into a Pro Bowl safety in his fourth year just like Nick Collins did.

In my opinion, McMillian has more potential than Jennings, so I would like to see him win the other starting safety job. Jennings never did much to impress me last year and McMillian at least showed he is not afraid to get physical.

Specialists: Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode, Giorgio Travecchio 

The Packers finally brought in some competition for Crosby in Travecchio and they will compete in camp. Crosby made only 63.2% of his kicks last year so he needs to be better. Masthay is still one of the better punters in the NFL.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2013: Looking Around The Division: Special Teams

This is the final installment of the "Looking Around The Division" series.  Looking at special teams in order to figure out the final points tally.

4. Detroit Lions
  • K-#2 David Akers (38, 5'10" 200 lbs)
  • K-#3 Havard Rugland (28, 6'2" 245 lbs)
  • P-#6 Sam Martin (23, 6'1" 205 lbs)
  • P-#8 Blake Clingan (24, 6'3" 229 lbs)
  • KR-#19 Mike Thomas (26, 5'8" 198 lbs)
  • KR-#11 Devin Thomas (26, 6'2" 221 lbs)
  • LS-#48 Don Muhlbach (31, 6'4" 198 lbs)
The Lions have had some rough special teams the past few years.  Things will continue to be the same this season, as they have lost their most consistent player in Jason Hanson.  Akers was a rough kicker last year, only making 69% of his field goal kicks.  If it doesn't seem like he can make it, then Rugland, the Youtube sensation from Norway, will be the primary field goal kicker for the Lions, which is a pretty big joke.  Their two options at punter are a 5th round draft pick (Martin) and an UDFA (Clingan).  Mike Thomas hasn't been a main return man since his rookie season in 2009.  Muhlbach is a long snapper, and he's been there for 9 prior seasons, so they must be doing something right.

3.  Minnesota Vikings
  • K-#3 Blair Walsh (23, 5'9" 187 lbs)
  • P-#12 Jeff Locke (23, 6'0" 209 lbs)
  • KR-#35 Marcus Sherels (25, 5'10" 175 lbs)
  • LS-#46 Cullen Loeffler (32, 6'5" 241 lbs)
Walsh clearly leads this list.  He had 53 touchbacks last year.  He was 9-9 on field goals 50+ yards.  Sherels will be the new full time return man, instead of Percy Harvin being the main man for returning.  Locke is a 5th round rookie to get rid of Kluwe.  Loeffler is entering his 10th season for the Vikings as their long snapper.  Walsh is impressive but Locke & Sherels are not exactly the cream of the crop for specialists.

2.  Green Bay Packers
  • K-#2 Mason Crosby (28, 6'1" 207 lbs)
  • K-#7 Giorgio Tavecchio (23, 5'10" 178 lbs)
  • P-#8 Tim Masthay (26, 6'1" 200 lbs)
  • KR-#18 Randall Cobb (22, 5'10" 192 lbs)
  • LS-#61 Brett Goode (28, 6'1" 255 lbs)
Crosby & Tavecchio are definitely in a competition for who will make the team.  At least that will be the case if Crosby struggles during training camp and preseason.  Crosby kicked 63.6% last year, the worst rate of everyone in the league.  Take out the ones that are over 50 yards and the percentage goes up to 79%, but those are the kicks that the elite field goal kickers consistently make.  Tavecchio came over from Cal, but I don't think that he is major competition, he just would take over if Crosby struggles.  Masthay has been strong for us, with a maximum of 5 touchbacks per season since 2010.  We are all just happy that Masthay is so much better than anyone that we have had for the longest time.  Cobb is a stud, with a total of 3 return touchdowns in his two seasons in the NFL.  Goode has been going strong since 2008, when we signed him as an injury replacement for Jansen.

1.  Chicago Bears
  • K-#9 Robbie Gould (31, 6'0" 185 lbs)
  • K-#2 Austin Signor (26, 6'4" 230 lbs)
  • P-#8 Adam Podlesh (29, 5'11" 200 lbs)
  • P-#1 Tress Way (23, 6'1" 215 lbs)
  • KR-#23 Devin Hester (30, 5'11" 190 lbs)
  • LS-#65 Patrick Mannelly (38, 6'5" 265 lbs)
Gould has consistently been around an 85% field goal kicker.  He was at 84% last year, just keeps doing his thing.  Signor was a Senior at Eastern Illinois in 2009, he went 14-22 last year.  Podlesh has been on the Bears for the past 2 years, but Way has a bigger leg and could end up beating him out for the punting spot on the roster this year.  Hester is one of the best kick returners in the game.  17 return touchdowns is amazing.  This will be Mannelly's 11th year as the long snapper of the Bears.

1.  Green Bay Packers-25
2.  Detroit Lions-23
3.  Chicago Bears-21
4.  Minnesota Vikings-19

These are the final standings after a thorough review of each position in the division.  One thing for certain is that it is almost football season and I for one couldn't be much more ready than I am right now.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Looking Around The Division: Secondary

This is near the completion of this series.  I have finished the offense, this will finish the defense, then we will have one final post on special teams.  Then we get to training camp, then the preseason, and then we start our contest against the 49ers on 9/8/13.  So let's start with the team with the worst secondary in the division.
4. Detroit Lions
  1. Chris Houston #23 (28, 5'10" 178 lbs)
  2. Louis Delmas #26 (26, 5'11" 202 lbs)
  3. Glover Quin #27 (27, 6'0" 209 lbs)
  4. Ron Bartell #31 (31, 6'1" 208 lbs)
  5. Bill Bentley #28 (24, 5'10" 182 lbs)
  6. Don Carey #32 (26, 5'11" 192 lbs)
  7. Amari Spievey #42 (25, 5'11" 195 lbs)
  8. Darius Slay #30 (22, 6'1" 190 lbs)
  9. Ricardo Silva #39 (25, 6'3" 225 lbs)
  10. John Wendling #29 (30, 6'1" 222 lbs)
  11. Chris Greenwood #33 (24, 6'2" 189 lbs)
  12. Chris Hope #43 (32, 6'0" 204 lbs)
  13. Martavious Neloms #47 (21, 6'0" 189 lbs)
  14. Tyrell Johnson #24 (28, 6'0" 207 lbs)
The Lions have been sorely lacking in the secondary for so many years now.  It's not even really that funny, especially since the Packers have been so efficient in throwing the ball against them.  Get used to seeing a lot of Chris Houston though, he has a new 5 year deal with the Lions, and will remain their #1 CB.  Delmas had a knee injury last year, and as recently as last month said he was not 100% yet. Quin is a new addition to our division, coming over from the Texans last year.  He should be an upgrade for them, but it all depends on how they work as a unit,  Quin also is on a 5 year contract.  This is where we have a big fallout among the secondary.  Bartell was CUT by the Raiders last year.  Yes, the Raiders.  Bentley was a 3rd round pick from last season, but was hurt in their 4th game last year.  Carey was signed midway through last season after injuries piled up.  Spievey missed a majority of last year with a concussion.  Slay is the Lions 2nd round pick, probably has a chance to start over Bartell, but missed OTA's with a knee scope, and it's tough for a rookie to come in and miss getting used to the scheme through OTA's before training camp.  Silva got benched down the stretch.  Wendling got benched as a safety last year and become solely a special teams player.  Greenwood was a rookie last year but never got on the field with an abdominal injury.  Hope was on the Falcons last year and didn't really play much so he's no longer on the team.  Neloms was a rookie out of Kentucky, and he only ran a 4.52 40 yard dash at the pro day.  Johnson originally was a 2nd round pick for the Vikings back in 2008, but he was signed last year for emergency depth because of all the Lions injuries last season.  So, you can tell that there is so much that they need to be able to do to improve their secondary.

3.  Minnesota Vikings
  1. Chris Cook #20 (26, 6"2" 212 lbs)
  2. Harrison Smith #22 (24, 6'2" 213 lbs)
  3. Jamarca Sanford #33 (27, 5'10" 200 lbs)
  4. Josh Robinson #21 (22, 5'10" 199 lbs)
  5. Xavier Rhodes #29 (23, 6'1" 210 lbs)
  6. Robert Blanton #36 (23, 6'1" 208 lbs)
  7. Mistral Raymond #41 (25, 6'1" 202 lbs)
  8. A.J. Jefferson #24 (25, 6'1" 190 lbs)
  9. Jacob Lacey #26 (26, 5'10" 177 lbs)
  10. Andrew Sendejo (25, 6'1" 225 lbs)
  11. Brandon Bishop (22, 6'2" 205 lbs)
  12. Darius Eubanks (22, 6'1" 215 lbs)
The biggest difference here is that there is nobody listed named Antoine Winfield.  Winfield has been in Minnesota since 2004, but is now 36 years old, and is going to be playing the nickel corner spot on the Seahawks, as if they needed more depth at corner.  Cook has been in the league 3 years and has been unable to make it through a single season.  Harrison Smith was a rookie last year, but he was very impressive, I specifically remember the interception he had near the goal line against us last year, where the rest of the team fell for a trick play, and then Smith picked us off.  Watch it here.  Just ignore the kid talking in the background.  Sanford does not have good ball skills, but he did start last season.  Rhodes and Robinson are in a battle for the final starting CB spot.  Rhodes should have it long term as their 25th overall pick this past season.  Robinson has previously stated that he is uncomfortable playing the slot though, so that should be interesting (please put Robinson on Cobb).  Blanton barely played any last year.  Raymond started the year at safety last year instead of Sanford, but was injured his ankle early in the year.  Jefferson had some concussion issues last year.  Lacey is new to the team, but then had thumb surgery last year.  Sendejo is a special teamer.  Bishop had 4.59 40 yard dash, which seems really slow for a safety.   Eubanks was a little bit faster at 4.48.  Both are rookies this year.

Now we have to take a major step foward from the Vikings & Lions, to the Packers and Bears.  They might be two of the best secondary units in all of football.  You could probably argue either side of this with the players that they have, but I am going to go with the Packers over the Bears simply because of the depth at that position, but they are both high level groups.

2.  Chicago Bears
  1. Charles Tillman #33 (32, 6'2" 198 lbs)
  2. Chris Conte #47 (24, 6'2" 203 lbs)
  3. Major Wright #21 (25, 5'11" 204 lbs)
  4. Tim Jennings #26 (29, 5'8" 185 lbs)
  5. Kelvin Hayden #24 (29, 6'0" 195 lbs)
  6. Anthony Walters #37 (24, 6'1" 207 lbs)
  7. Tom Zbikowski #36 (28, 5'11" 200 lbs)
  8. Zackary Bowman #38 (28, 6'1" 196 lbs)
  9. Brandon Hardin #35 (23, 6'2" 219 lbs)
  10. Craig Steltz #20 (27, 6'1" 207 lbs)
  11. Sherrick McManis #27 (25, 6'1" 193 lbs)
  12. Cyhl Quarles #44 (24, 6'3" 210 lbs)
  13. Tom Nelson #46 (26, 5'11" 200 lbs)
This will be Tillman's 11th season with the Bears.  He's been around for a long time, definitely isn't a shutdown corner, but is good at picking his spots for interceptions, and forcing fumbles.  He usually has about 80-95 tackles a year.  Conte has 2 seasons, with 3 career INT as the Bears starting FS.  Major Wright is a quality safety, has 7 INT through 3 years, high for tackles in a season is 71 last year.  Tim Jennings previous high for INT in a season was 2 before last season, where he had a career high of 9.  Heyden was resigned after an up and down year last year, when he came on the field infrequently as their nickel corner, and after Heyden is where their is an issue of depth.  Walters has 16 career tackles in 2 seasons.  Zbikowski is coming over from the Colts, where he had mainly been a special teams specialist.  Bowman is mainly a special teams guy as well.  Hardin was out all of last year with a neck injury.  Steltz is a special teams guy.  McManis came over from the Texans last season in a trade before the season started.  Quarles was on the practice squad for the Patriots last year, but he definitely has some good size.  Nelson is another special teams guy.  Just not a lot of depth at the position, an injury to a starting corner or safety is going to expose quite a few weaknesses.

1.  Green Bay Packers
  1. Tramon Williams #38 (30, 5'11" 191 lbs)
  2. M.D. Jennings #43 (24, 6'0" 200 lbs)
  3. Morgan Burnett #42 (24, 6'1" 209 lbs)
  4. Casey Hayward #29 (23, 5'11" 192 lbs)
  5. Sam Shields #37 (25, 5'11" 184 lbs)
  6. Davon House #31 (24, 6'0" 195 lbs)
  7. Jerron McMillian #22 (24, 5'11" 191 lbs)
  8. Sean Richardson #28 (23, 6'2" 213 lbs)
  9. Chaz Powell #41 (25, 6'1" 207 lbs)
  10. Jarrett Bush #24 (29, 6'0" 200 lbs)
  11. James Nixon #25 (25, 6'1" 190 lbs)
  12. David Fulton #40 (23, 6'0" 196 lbs)
The biggest difference this season is that we don't have Charles Woodson back in our secondary.  He had been our "big name" as far as that part of the defense had been concerned.  Tramon Williams now faces the challenge of being the experienced veteran in our secondary, and whether or not he will be able to be the leader.  One of the tough aspects here is that you can basically take the top 7 players here and they could all be an impact player.  I don't think anyone could say for certain that Williams will be the #1 CB or if he will be a starter.  Williams has 22 career INT for the Packers in his 6 seasons here, last year he only had 2 but it had been 4 or more the last 4 seasons.  Jennings and McMillian are in a position battle throughout camp and probably preseason for the starting Free Safety job.  Jennings has added another 13 pounds this offseason.  He came into the NFL at 187.  Burnett of course has a new contract.  Burnett has over 100 tackles the last 2 seasons, 5 sacks, and 5 INT.  He is consistent, and he is the new focus of our secondary, for now.  Hayward was in the running for rookie of the year, and he probably should have been higher than 3rd on the list, but that award almost always goes to a linebacker or a defensive lineman.  He definitely was the best rookie cornerback last year, with 6 INT, and 21 pass deflections.  Hayward is the player who has the best ball skills in the secondary, probably could be a Nick Collins type player but from the cornerback position.  Shields was the man who had some key interceptions on our 2010 Super Bowl run, he had 2 INT in the NFC Championship game.  Shields seems explosive when he is on the field, but seems to be on and off of the field quite a bit, I'm not exactly sure why.  House hurt himself before the season, and wasn't able to perform quite as high as we would have liked, but he's a little bit bigger than Hayward, and some people thought he could have been even better than Hayward last season if healthy.  McMillian could be the starting safety, but he didn't play much last year as a rookie, so he has a ways to go to step up to that challenge.  Richardson has size, but didn't play much and then got a neck injury last year, not fully cleared that I'm aware.  Powell got signed to our practice squad late last year.  Bush had 2 INT last year, wow, but is clearly a special teams player, not a major coverage guy.  Nixon has a 4.31 40 yard dash and he was on our practice squad last season.  Fulton is one of our UDFA this season, we signed him right before OTA's.  A little bit more depth than the Bears, and so that is why I put the Packers as the class of the NFC North.  Here are the overall rankings with just special teams to go.

1.  Green Bay Packers-22
1.  Detroit Lions-22
3.  Minnesota Vikings-18
4.  Chicago Bears-17

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Memories of a Railbird

By Ted Verges

What, you might ask, is a “railbird”?  As the good people of Green Bay would tell you, a railbird is someone who watches the Packers practice football.  I have been a “railbird” for a couple of decades. I will be watching the Packers practice again this August and will be posting my observations on Packer Addicts.  I hope you enjoy them.

Since it is a slow news time for Packer information, I thought I would share with you some of my railbird memories of Packer practices from years past.  This will give you an example of what you might expect should you choose to see what the “railbird” has to say from this year’s practices.

Let’s start with Donald Driver. As we all know Driver just retired after a long and productive career. Let me take you back to Driver’s rookie season. He was a low, perhaps 7th round, draft choice.  I vividly remember some railbird conversations where various guys didn’t think Driver had a chance to make the team.  The reason was he dropped an awful lot of passes. Some railbirds, me included, thought Driver had a chance to make the team, despite his drops, because A) he was getting open and B) the quarterbacks were throwing him the ball. Another Driver memory has to do with his willingness to help out other players.   Remember a defensive back by the name of Chris Johnson? He came to the Packers advertised as the “fastest player in the draft.”  Johnson was as advertised, but he was having lots of difficulties covering receivers in camp. He could run with them but had problems covering as the ball was coming down to the receiver. One day Driver stayed after practice, in the terribly hot temperatures, to work with Johnson. Driver was teaching the kid to watch the receivers face and when the receiver looked back for the ball that’s when Johnson should look for the ball. Driver was also teaching him to try to split the receivers hands.  It was really hot and a long practice was over, but there was Driver out there helping out a young defensive back.

I wonder if many of you remember a halfback by the name of Tony Fischer. Fischer hung around the Packers and the league for a number of years even though he was, at best, a very ordinary running back.  Fischer, however, had one excellent skill that was desired by many teams. He was an outstanding pass blocker and, therefore, was a good third down back.  I remember Fischer stoning inside and outside linebackers on the blitz drill time after time. I have no doubt that somewhere in the training films of the Packers is a pass blocking film that stars Tony Fischer.

I was a high school football coach who specialized in offensive line play. When I went to Packer practices as a railbird I usually headed for the area where Coach Larry Bechtel was working his offensive line. Bechtel started his practice 15 minutes before the rest of the team in an area on the south side of the practice field. The action was close enough to the fence, so I could hear what was going on.  And, boy, did I get an earful!  While Bechtel was an excellent coach, he could be very profane!  He usually worked his crew on a step drill where the line had to take just the first couple steps on the play he called.  Heaven help the player who took some incorrect steps! Another thing I remember from those days was how helpful Mike Wahle was to the rookies. Mike was always helping the rookie linemen.

Speaking of offensive linemen, for a number of years they had an unofficial tradition among themselves.  Starting with Frankie Winters, he always sprinted hard to be the first lineman to the next spot when they changed drills. Mike Flanagan continued the tradition when he took over the center position, but the tradition of having the center lead the line to the next spot ended with Flanagan.  Another interesting offensive lineman was Mark Tauscher.  Tauscher had a violent pass blocking technique on the one-on-one drill.  He would get real low and real wide as he dropped back from his stance and then rise up with his head and hands and deliver a punch to the chest and a helmet to the chin. It was a forceful blow.  Tauscher seldom lost those one-on-ones (they do keep track) and the defensive linemen looked like they’d rather not go against Tauscher.

Over the years, once in a while I’d get lucky and make a correct prediction based on my railbird observations. One such prediction involved Justin Harrell.  Even though he was a first round pick, it became obvious to me that he wasn’t going to make it and it wasn’t because of injuries.  Harrell didn’t want it.  I don’t think he really wanted to be there because he was a complete loner. He very seldom socialized with the guys.  Before practice a bunch of the guys would usually gather together on the practice field and laugh and joke around.  Harrell was never in that group. He would be off by himself, not talking to anyone.  He would stay off the practice field, sit in the shade, and not even go out and watch the defensive line drills.  I very early predicted he would never make it.  Another successful prediction involved a punter by the name of B.J. Sanders.  While the rest of the team would be involved in things, the punters had to go off on their own and play catch by punting the ball back and fort from sideline to sideline.  The distance from sideline to sideline is 53 and 1/3  yards. Sanders couldn’t kick the ball from one sideline to the other, often to the disgust of the other punter.  How that man got drafted is still a mystery to me!  Finally, another successful prediction involved Aaron Kampman. Remember when the Packers were going to the 3-4 defense and they were going to make an OLB out of Kampman?  I remember the day that the Packers decided that experiment wasn’t going to work. They set up a drill for OLB’s to drop back into the flat and then come up on a halfback who was running a swing pass.  The OLB was to make a two handed touch on the halfback. Kampman just couldn’t do it. The halfbacks were juking him out every time. He was a great defensive end and a credit to the team, but he couldn’t pass cover as on outside linebacker.

Sometimes the Packers have to find out if their rookies can handle the physical part of football.  One such time involved the rookie Nick Barnett. Barnett was a little bit undersized for an inside linebacker. The Packers set up a drill to check Barnett out.  It was a drill where the inside linebacker had to scrape off the tackle hole and take on the fullback on a lead play.  About the third repetition it just so happened that it was Barnett’s turn to go, and he would be taking on William Henderson, our starting fullback and a physical blocker.  Well, Barnett totally stoned Henderson in a collision that was heard all over the place. The Packers were satisfied that the kid could play! Last year the same sort of thing happened with Nick Perry who got matched up in a blocking drill against Jermichael Finley.  The drill involved a tight end and an outside linebacker who was lined up with an outside shade on the tight end. The tight end was to either hook the linebacker or drive him to the outside.  To his credit Finley gave good effort against Perry, but the drill ended in a standoff. I think the Packers felt better about both players.

This article could go on for many more stories, but I want to conclude with a positive observation about someone who, I think, is a really good coach . . . Kevin Greene.  One day Greene came over to the bleachers near where I was sitting. He asked the people if they would save some room for his wife and children.  Some folks seated near the railing said they would.  When Greene’s wife and family walked in the people called them over to the saved seats. Greene saw this happen and came over to the crowd. He lifted a young boy from the family onto the field. He gave the child a ball and told the boy to follow him. Greene ran interference for the boy into the end zone and then showed him how to spike a ball. Greene then carried the boy back to his family and posed for pictures with them. Pretty nice, huh?  One thing I’ve noticed and really like about Greene is that he uses a positive style of coaching where he puts his emphasis on the things guys do right rather than what they do wrong. I’ve often said that if you can’t play for Kevin Greene, you can’t play.

Packer practice starts next week. I’ll be there for some of them and will share my observations with you.  I hope you join me and will enjoy my stories.  And, let’s hope that it’s all good news and the Packers go on to have a great season.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Potential Breakout Packers

By: Matt Bove

With training camp quickly approaching, here is my list of Packers who have the potential to have a breakout season this year.

1. Nick Perry OLB- Perry was the Packers' first round pick in 2012 with the anticipation that he would finally give them a legitimate pass rushing threat opposite Clay Matthews.

Perry had a tough time transitioning from a 4-3 defensive end at USC to a 3-4 outside linebacker with the Packers last season. Perry played in six games and recorded two sacks before being put on injured reserve due to a wrist injury.

At 6-foot-3 and 265 pounds, Perry is a little big for the position and needs to develop more speed and counter pass rushing moves. He has a very good bull rush, but you can only over power big and strong NFL offensive linemen for so long. Perry set a good edge against the run, but struggled with his big frame going into coverage and that is something that he was never really asked to do at USC.            

The Packers drafted Perry based on his great combine numbers and his pure athleticism. After essentially red-shirting his rookie year, Perry should have a better grasp of the defense so that those physical skills can shine through. He has the potential and tools to be a worthy sidekick to Matthews, and the Packers need him to get it done this year, since he is one player that they will have this year that can be an improvement over what they had last year.

2. Jermichael Finley TE- The Packers and their fans have been waiting for a breakout season from  Finley for a long time now.

He has shown flashes in the second half of the 2009 season, the 2009 Wildcard playoff game at Arizona, the first five games of 2010 and the second half of 2012, but he has yet to put it together over a full season. If Finley ever is going to put it together over a full season it should be this season.

Despite breaking the Packers record for catches in a season with 61, Finley still had a very up and down 2012. After Finley caught a huge 40-yard pass that put the Packers in position to complete a comeback at Detroit his season seemed to turn around. Since that point, he caught 29 passes for 330 yards the rest of the regular season. He dropped very few balls and started to meet with Aaron Rodgers every Saturday night to go over the game plan. That kind of focus has always eluded Finley, so maybe a light finally went off for him.

With Greg Jennings and Donald Driver gone, the fourth and fifth wide receivers for the Packers are an uncertainty. This should mean more opportunities for Finley than he had last year. He is in a contract year and will be looking to take advantage of that. While his he has not looked like the same athlete he did before his ACL injury in 2010, he still has plenty of speed, size and strength to be a great tight end. Maybe this is finally the year he does it.

3. Jerron McMillian S- The Packers chose not to address the safety position in the draft or free agency, so they are putting their faith that either McMillian or M.D. Jennings will grab hold of the spot opposite Morgan Burnett.

McMillian flashed some potential in his rookie season in 2012, but was inconsistent overall. With McMillian coming out of a small college like Maine that was not a surprise. He finished the 2012 season with 31 tackles, one interception and 13 pass breakups.                                                              
McMillian did not start a game, last year but spent a lot of time on the field in sub packages. His greatest attribute was his physicality, which the defense is certainly in need of. He got lost at times in coverage, but showed the ability to be a solid in the box player. That would allow Burnett the opportunity to play more in center field. The opportunity will be there for McMillian to start and be a key contributor to the defense this season.

4. Mike Neal DE- Neal had a breakout season of sorts last year over 10 games, but now he will have to do it over 16 games.

In those 10 games, Neal recorded 4.5 sacks, four quarterback hits, and 17 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. He received a 7.2 pass rushing grade from PFF last season.

In the OTA's this offseason, the Packers tried him out at outside linebacker in addition to his customary spots at DE in base and inside in nickel. At 6-foot-3 and 294 pounds, Neal seems very big to play outside linebacker, but the Packers would not be wasting valuable practice time on it if they were not seriously consider giving him playing time there in the regular season.                      
The Packers feel as though Neal is athletic enough for it work, but I would just let him focus on rushing inside from the nickel, where he excelled last season. The addition of first round pick Datone Jones might have something to do with Neal getting time at outside linebacker, as Jones will receive a lot of playing time rushing next to B.J. Raji in the nickel.

Neal's inside pass rush could be very valuable to the Packers next season. He has always flashed potential when playing and healthy. He is a physical freak who can flourish if he finally stays on the field for 16 games.

5. Davon House CB- House was the leader in the clubhouse to start at corner last season in training camp before a left shoulder injury suffered in the first preseason game forced him to miss action and wear a harness for the whole season.                              
House will have plenty of competition for snaps at cornerback with Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and Casey Heyward. All three players have played at an elite level at times, so House will have his work cut out for him. However, the coaches have said that the four players will have an open competition, so House will have a fair shot at a starting job. Even if House is just the dime cornerback  he will see plenty of time, since the Packers led the NFL in plays out of their nickel and dime packages last season.

House has an ideal body for the position at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds. He is the Packers' most physical corner and excels in press and bump-and-run coverage. It will be very interesting to see House at full strength again.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

2013: Looking Around The Division: DL & LB

So far, this blog has posted several different times about different offensive positions regarding the rankings of the different teams in the division.  Now, that we have wrapped up the offensive side of the football, it is time to see how we stack up on the other side of the ball.  I'll start with the defensive line, then move on to the linebackers and the secondary.  The final post to wrap this up before training camp is going to be on special teams.  Training camp starts July 26th, so let's get going.

4.  Green Bay Packers
  1. B.J. Raji #90 (26, 6'2" 337 lbs)
  2. Datone Jones #95 (22, 6'4" 283 lbs)
  3. Ryan Pickett #79 (33, 6'2" 340 lbs)
  4. Mike Daniels #76 (24, 6'1" 291 lbs)
  5. C.J. Wilson #98 (26, 6'3" 290 lbs)
  6. Josh Boyd #93 (23, 6'3" 310 lbs)
  7. Mike Neal #96 (26, 6'3" 294 lbs)
  8. Jordan Miller #91 (25, 6'2" 315 lbs)
  9. Gilbert Pena #63 (26, 6'2" 330 lbs)
  10. Jerel Worthy #99 (23, 6'3" 308 lbs)
The Packers are getting stronger on the defensive line then we were last year, but we also had many injuries on the line last year.  It's just tough when Raji, who is the front-runner for our best defensive lineman, didn't even get a single sack last year.  Jones and Boyd are both rookies.  Pickett hasn't had any sacks since 2010, and he only had 51 tackles last year.  Daniels is probably a little undersized for what we would like to do on our defensive line.  Wilson was in the rotation and is a good rotation lineman, he had a tackle in all but one game last year that he played in, and that was against Detroit before Thanksgiving.  Neal had 4.5 sacks last year, and has been taking snaps at OLB during our most recent minicamps, plus he's had injury issues before.  Miller was on our Practice Squad last year, Pena is an older rookie, and Worthy has a torn ACL from week 17 against the Vikings, so who knows if he'll hit the field this year.  Hopefully we can improve this year, last year our defensive line was just awful.  If we can get pressure up the middle of the defense, then our linebackers will look better, and so will our secondary.  I'm excited to see what Jones will do for our defense as well.

3.  Chicago Bears
  1. Julius Peppers #90 (33, 6'7" 287 lbs)
  2. Henry Melton #69 (26, 6'3" 295 lbs)
  3. Corey Wootton #98 (26, 6'6" 270 lbs)
  4. Stephen Paea #92 (25, 6'1" 300 lbs)
  5. Shea McClellin #99 (23, 6'3" 260 lbs)
  6. Nate Collins #93 (25, 6'2" 296 lbs)
  7. Cornelius Washington #78 (23, 6'4" 265 lbs)
  8. Sedrick Ellis #91 (27, 6'1" 305 lbs)
  9. Turk McBride #94 (28, 6'2" 278 lbs)
  10. Corvey Irvin #79 (28, 6'3" 302 lbs)
Let's start with what has been happening for so long.  Julius Peppers has been around for quite some time, and he has 8 seasons with 10 or more sacks.  He has 11.5 sacks for the last 2 seasons, he is quite strong and has been doing so far quite some time.  Melton is an up and coming DT.  Wootton has 7 sacks in the rotation last year.  He is going to take the spot for Israel Idonije at LE.  Stephen Paea is a space filler at DT.  McClellin is a decent DE, didn't play as much last year as he will this year.  He's probably a little bit undersized for DE, and right now he's battling Plantar Fasciitis in his right foot.  Collins has rarely played.  Washington is a rookie.  Ellis and McBride are both coming over from little playing time in New Orleans, and Irvin has been a rarely used journeyman.  The starting 4 are pretty decent, and Peppers is great, but there simply isn't enough for me to put them higher on the list.

2.  Minnesota Vikings
  1. Jared Allen #69 (31, 6'6" 270 lbs)
  2. Kevin Williams #93 (32, 6'5" 311 lbs)
  3. Fred Evans #90 (29, 6'4" 305 lbs)
  4. Brian Robison #96 (30, 6'3" 259 lbs)
  5. Everson Griffen #97 (25, 6'3" 273 lbs)
  6. Sharrif Floyd #95 (21, 6'3" 297 lbs)
  7. Lawrence Jackson #94 (27, 6'4" 271 lbs)
  8. Letroy Guion #98 (26, 6'4" 303 lbs)
  9. D'Aundre Reed #91 (25, 6'4" 260 lbs)
  10. Christian Ballard #99 (24, 6'4" 283 lbs)
The first thing I noticed with this team is that they have one of the oldest groups of defensive starters across the line.  But they are all very experienced.  It will be interesting to see what they choose to do after this season, with Allen, Williams, Robison, and Griffen all in contract years.  Allen has had 10 or more sacks each season he has been in Minnesota, and that's pretty impressive, clearly they got the better end of the deal when they sent Kansas City their first round pick.  Kevin has been in Minnesota for 10 seasons now, with a large majority of those being in the "Williams wall."  His quality has been down lately though.  Less than 30 tackles for the last 4 seasons.  Evans is probably going to be the new starter instead of Guion, seems to be impressing the coaches.  Robison has 8 sacks each of the last two years.  Griffen has been rotating in, and he had 8 sacks last season, including 3 in Game 17 against the Packers last year.  Floyd was a first round pick for the Vikings this year, and is likely to be the long term solution for Kevin Williams.  Jackson is a rotational end that they are bringing over from Detroit.  Guion only has 4 career sacks in 5 years, and averaged out to 2 tackles a game last year.  Reed never made a tackle last year, and Ballard is at the end of the rotation, probably losing his spot to Jackson this season.

1.  Detroit Lions
  1. Ndamakong Suh #90 (26, 6'4" 307 lbs)
  2. Nick Fairley #98 (25, 6'4" 298 lbs)
  3. Jason Jones #91 (27, 6'5" 276 lbs)
  4. Ezekiel Ansah #94 (24, 6'5" 271 lbs)
  5. Israel Idonije #NA (32, 6'6" 275 lbs)
  6. C.J. Mosley #96 (29, 6'3" 305 lbs)
  7. Willie Young #79 (27, 6'4" 251 lbs)
  8. Ogemdi Nwagbuo #95 (27, 6'4" 312 lbs)
  9. Devin Taylor #92 (23, 6'7" 266 lbs)
  10. Jimmy Saddler-McQueen #63 (25, 6'3" 298 lbs)
Suh has had a couple of down years since his amazing rookie season.  He has 22 career sacks in 3 seasons as a DT though, and that is very impressive.  He didn't get to Rodgers last season with any sacks, but he always brings pressure up the middle.  Because of our focus last year on Suh, Fairley had 3 sacks on us this past year.  Fairley needs to try to stay healthy if he wants to go to the next level as a high defensive lineman.  Jones is listed as a 3 down lineman, and he is new to the division, after spending last year on the seahawks, and 4 years before with the Titans before that.  Ansah is a top 5 pick.  Suh and Cunningham are both pleased with how he is progressing with picking up the defense, which could be bad for us since Ansah was considered raw to be drafted that early.  Idonije is coming over from the Bears, where he had 51 "quarterback disruptions," just 3 less than JPP.  It looks like the Bears will probably use him as a run stopping end instead of a pass rusher.  Mosley was doing well on the Jaguars last season, but Gus Bradley doesn't see him as a fit in their new system.  Had a career high with 45 tackles.  Young is probably in the zone for a rotation of defensive ends, but with Idonije there, he probably won't get a lot of playing time.  Nwagbuo signed on after Fairley was hurt last year, but with no results.  Taylor is a 4th rounder.  Should be able to make the roster, but someone in front of him is going to have to falter.  Saddler-McQueen played in the final game of the year last year, but also with no stats.  Now that the defensive line is done, let's move forward to the linebacker portion of this drill.

4. Minnesota Vikings
  1. Erin Henderson #50 (27, 6'3" 244 lbs)
  2. Desmond Bishop #59 (28, 6'2" 238 lbs)
  3. Chad Greenway #52 (30, 6'2" 242 lbs)
  4. Tyrone McKenzie #58 (27, 6'2" 245 lbs)
  5. Audie Cole #57 (24, 6'4" 246 lbs)
  6. Michael Mauti #56 (23, 6'2" 243 lbs)
  7. Marvin Mitchell #55 (28, 6'3" 249 lbs)
  8. Gerald Hodges #54 (22, 6'1" 243 lbs)
  9. Nathan Williams #59 (23, 6'3" 249 lbs)
  10. Larry Dean #51 (24, 6'0" 226 lbs)
Henderson, Bishop, and Greenway are the all injury starters.  Bishop missed all of 2012 for our Green Bay Packers, and I'm assuming they didn't see the best from him in OTA's.  Henderson has never played a whole season, and Greenway just got finished with knee surgery on his torn meniscus.  Bishop and Greenway are both good tacklers, when healthy getting 100 tackles a season easily.  McKenzie has barely any tackles.  Cole has 0 tackles in his career.  Mauti has 2 left ACL tears in the last 2 years.  Mitchell is a special teamer who has a chance to see the field, and even has been getting some first team reps at OTA's.  Hodges is Mauti's rookie teammate from Penn State.  Williams only has 40 tackles in 10 games last year at Ohio State.  Dean ran a 4.5 40 yard dash at his pro day with 22 bench reps.  It's just a group of talent but questions about longevity during the season for health, and then no experience and a lot of questions after the starters.

3.  Detroit Lions
  1. DeAndre Levy #54 (26, 6'2" 238 lbs)
  2. Stephen Tulloch #55 (28, 5'11" 240 lbs)
  3. Ashlee Palmer #58 (27, 6'1" 236 lbs)
  4. Cory Greenwood #53 (28, 6'2" 235 lbs)
  5. Alex Elkins #53 (22, 6'3" 230 lbs)
  6. Carmen Messina #47 (24, 6'2" 236 lbs)
  7. Tahir Whitehead #59 (23, 6'1" 233 lbs)
  8. Jon Morgan #49 (23, 6'1" 233 lbs)
  9. Brandon Hepburn #57 (23, 6'2" 240 lbs)
  10. Travis Lewis #50 (25, 6'1" 246 lbs)
Levy is probably not their best linebacker, but he did get 81 tackles last year while playing through a hamstring injury, but only 1 Sack.  Tulloch came over from the Titans, where he would have played for Jim Schwartz for many years.  Tulloch, like any MLB should be in a 4-3, is their primary tackler, with over 100 the last two seasons.  The Lions have listed Palmer as the frontrunner for the 3rd linebacker spot, but he has primarily been a special teamer.  Greenwood was recently cut by the Chiefs, with only 11 tackles last season.  Elkins had 75 tackles for Oklahoma State last year, leading the team, but hadn't played football before he was at a JUCO.  Messina was on the practice squad last season.  Whitehead has hardly any playing experience as well.  Morgan is from the University of Albany, with 265 career tackles there.  Hepburn had 86 tackles at FAMU last year.  Lewis might start at OLB for the Lions, but he ran only a 4.88 40 yard dash at the combine, and has a lack of speed for linebacker in the NFL.  The best news for the Packers this season is that Justin Durant has left the Lions and is now on the Cowboys.  Durant was their clear #2 linebacker and they have lost some talent there this year.

2.  Chicago Bears
  1. Lance Briggs #55 (32, 6'1" 244 lbs)
  2. D.J. Williams #58 (30, 6'1" 242 lbs)
  3. James Anderson #50 (29, 6'2" 235 lbs)
  4. Khassem Greene #60 (24, 6'1" 241 lbs)
  5. Patrick Trahan #59 (26, 6'2" 236 lbs)
  6. Jon Bostic #57 (22, 6'1" 245 lbs)
  7. J.T. Thomas #97 (24, 6'1" 236 lbs)
  8. Lawrence Wilson #49 (25, 6'1" 229 lbs)
  9. Blake Costanzo #52 (29, 6'1" 235 lbs)
  10. Jerry Franklin #53 (25, 6'1" 245 lbs)
Lance Briggs is clearly the best linebacker on the team, in the 10 seasons he has been on the Bears, he has had less than 100 tackles only twice, with one of them coming during his rookie season.  Williams and Anderson are new to the division this season.  Williams has spent many years on the Broncos, and was seldom used last year.  Anderson is coming over after being let go by the Panthers.  Both have had over 100 tackles in a season before, so they should continue to tackle well.  Greene is a 4th round draft pick from Rutgers.  Trahan is a former practice squad guy.  Bostic is in a position battle with Williams, and was a 2nd round draft pick from Florida.  Bostic is their highest linebacker drafted since they had taken Urlacher in 2000.  Thomas's name reminds me of the kid from Home Improvement.  Thomas barely played last year though.  Wilson has never played in a game.  Costanzo is another special team guy.  Franklin had been on the Cowboys practice squad last season.  Because of experience playing at each position, I had to put the Bears ahead of both the Vikings and Lions.  But, the Packers have much more depth.

1.  Green Bay Packers
  1. Clay Matthews #52 (27, 6'3" 255 lbs)
  2. Brad Jones #59 (27, 6'3" 242 lbs)
  3. A.J. Hawk #50 (29, 6'1" 247 lbs)
  4. Nick Perry #53 (23, 6'3" 271 lbs)
  5. Dezman Moses #54 (24, 6'0" 249 lbs)
  6. Rob Francois #49 (28, 6'2" 255 lbs)
  7. Jamari Lattimore #57 (24, 6'2" 230 lbs)
  8. Terrell Manning #56 (23, 6'2" 237 lbs)
  9. Nate Palmer #51 (23, 6'3" 240 lbs)
  10. Sam Barrington #58 (22, 6'1" 235 lbs)
We all know that Matthews is a beast whenever he stays healthy.  His main issues have been with his hamstring.  I've been a huge Matthews fan since he took the ball from Adrian Peterson and ran it back for a touchdown in 2009.  In only 12 games last year, he still had 13 sacks.  Jones had 77 tackles last year, with all of them coming in the Houston game and after, which is a decent amount at 7 tackles per game.  Hawk had 120 tackles last year, which is higher than any but his rookie season.  Perry is probably one of our biggest question marks coming into this season, because of his injury from the prior year, but Perry wasn't that productive in his few games as a rookie, totaling only 2 sacks through 6 games.  But I think we all want to see Perry strong the first few weeks as we play read option quarterbacks, instead of playing Dezman Moses.  Moses had 4 sacks last year, but we all remember him getting torched as the 49ers game kept going, but for a rookie UDFA last year, he is better than we might expect.  Francois is a special teams player.  Lattimore had 7 tackles last season.  Manning had bad knees in college, and had a parasitic infection last year.  Napalm and Barrington are our late round draft picks, probably both going to play special teams until they learn the defense a little bit more.  The Packers need to pick it up on defense, and our linebackers need to be a lot better since they are one of the strengths of the defense.

Now it's time for us to do a points review.  With the newest rankings included.

1. Detroit Lions-21
2. Green Bay Packers-18
3. Minnesota Vikings-16
4. Chicago Bears-14

Next up will be the secondary and special teams will close the preview.  Hope that you all are enjoying these.