Highlighting the Packers' Best Preseason Performers So Far
As the Green Bay Packers get ready for their third preseason game on Friday night versus the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field, I would think that head coach Mike McCarthy and his coaching staff have to be pleased overall.
The team is 1-1 so far this preseason, but the big difference between last year's training camp and this year's is the overall health of the team. Yes, there have been some injuries, but none of the starters have been affected and the coaches are able to use the players quite liberally in various packages during practice and in games.
A number of players have stood out so far this summer, and I want to talk about 12 of those players in this slideshow.
Center JC Tretter
Things started out a bit slow in training camp for starting center JC Tretter. No. 73 didn't fare too well in the one-on-one battles the first couple of days in camp, but since then the second-year player from Cornell has been very solid, both at practice and in the preseason games.
The Packers are trying to find some continuity and consistency at the center position, as Tretter will be the fourth starting center snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers in as many years.
Tretter has already gained the trust of Rodgers, according to this piece written by Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
"He's done everything the way that we want him to do it," Rodgers said. "He's gained the trust of (guards) T.J. (Lang) and Josh (Sitton) – which is hard to do – and myself. I think the three of us are important for the center because it's his two sideboards and the guy that's in his ear the most, in myself. I'm really proud of JC. He's done a great job, and he gives us absolutely zero cause for concern at the position."
The Packers had some concerns about certain positions on the offensive line going into training camp this summer, but it appears that center will not be one of them after Tretter's performance thus far.
Right Tackle Bryan Bulaga
Besides the center position, the Packers were also concerned about how right tackle Bryan Bulaga would be able to come back after missing 23 consecutive regular-season games due to hip and knee ailments.
No. 75 has not only come back, but he's playing as well as he ever has in his time in Green Bay.
Bulaga has added more weight and is noticeably stronger. Bulaga talked about the transformation in this story written by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"To me, it was, 'What amount of weight could I put on where I still feel confident moving laterally in the run game and the pass game?'" the former Iowa Hawkeye said. "I'm at the weight now where I'm very comfortable with it and feel like I can anchor down with it against bull-rushing-type D-ends and speed-to-power guys that take the edge and come in hard on bull rushes.
"I'll be able to anchor down, sit down, and still be able move with that weight, is what my goal was this off-season."
So far, so good, looking at the play of Bulaga thus far this summer, both during practice and the games.
Wide Receiver Jeff Janis
Seventh-round draft pick Jeff Janis was another player who got off to a tough start at the beginning of training camp. Janis couldn't even practice at the start of camp due to a case of the shingles.
But since he has come back, Janis seems to make at least one big play at every practice, and that certainly showed in the preseason game versus the St. Louis Rams last Saturday.
Janis ran a short crossing route when quarterback Matt Flynn hit him with a pass. Janis turned on the jets, and No. 83 ended up with a 34-yard touchdown reception.
Janis has excellent size (6'3", 219 pounds) and speed (4.42 in the 40), and those measurables have served him well at camp this summer.
The former Saginaw Valley State star has also been given some opportunities to return punts this summer.
All in all, Janis has an excellent chance of making the final 53-man roster when it's all said and done.
Tight End Richard Rodgers
Going into training camp this year, the Packers had seven tight ends on the roster, which included three rookies. One of those rookies was Richard Rodgers, who shares the same last name with the starting quarterback of the Packers.
Rodgers also hailed from the same college, Cal. There seems to be an obvious connection between No. 89 and No. 12.
Rodgers looked great at OTAs and at minicamp, plus he has looked solid enough in training camp to start both preseason games thus far at tight end.
With the leg injury suffered by Brandon Bostick in the game against the Rams last Saturday, it looks as though the starting tight end job is between Rodgers and last year's starter, Andrew Quarless.
Rodgers has shown exceptional hands this summer, and if he can be effective with his blocking, he appears to be the front-runner to be starting at tight end on September 4 when the Packers open up the regular season in Seattle versus the Super Bowl champions.
Backup Quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien
Unlike last training camp , it certainly appears that the Packers would be in able hands if starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not able to play.
Veteran Matt Flynn proved himself again last season, when he basically saved the Packers' season while Rodgers was out with a fractured clavicle.
Flynn hasn't missed beat this summer, as he looks very capable in running the offense of the Packers.
So has Scott Tolzien, even after a bit of a rough start to training camp. Tolzien knows the offense much better now that he's been able to go to the offseason quarterback school the Packers utilize.
Both have shown enough ability up to this point to warrant roster spots at the end of training camp. And I believe that is exactly what will happen on August 30 when the final roster is made.
Defensive End Mike Daniels
Head coach Mike McCarthy has always said that he looks for players to improve noticeably in their second and third years with the Packers.
Defensive end Mike Daniels is a good example of that. In his rookie year in Green Bay in 2012, Daniels had two sacks. Last season, No. 76 exploded on the scene with 6.5 sacks.
The play of Daniels has improved so much that this summer, Daniels is one of the starting defensive ends for the Packers in their base 3-4 scheme.
Not only is he still getting pressure on the quarterback this summer, but he—along with nose tackle B.J. Raji and defensive end Datone Jones—has been able to stop the run quite effectively so far this summer.
I would not be surprised to see Daniels get to double-digit sack figures in 2014.
Nose Tackle Mike Pennel
The Packers signed free agent defensive lineman Letroy Guion to be the main backup to nose tackle B.J. Raji, but Guion has yet to practice in training camp due to a hamstring injury.
That has opened the door for an undrafted defensive lineman to show what he can do. That player is Mike Pennel, who goes in at 6'4", 332 pounds.
Pennel had a bit of a checkered past in college at Arizona State, where he had some run-ins with the coaches before ending up at Colorado State-Pueblo.
In camp and in games so far this summer, Pennel has been more than solid with his play, especially defending the run. There have been no issues with the coaching staff, either.
Against the Rams last Saturday, Pennel even had a sack.
Because of the injury to Guion, Pennel is a good bet to make the final roster if he continues to play well and stays coachable.
Linebacker Jayrone Elliot
It seems to happen every year in Green Bay. That is, an undrafted linebacker makes the final roster. It happened in 2010 when Frank Zombo made the team. The same thing occurred in 2011 when Jamari Lattimore made the squad.
Likewise in 2012 with Dezman Moses. Last year it was Andy Mulumba.
This summer before training camp, the odds seemed to favor outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard to do that same thing. After all, Hubbard had been a solid starter under Nick Saban at Alabama.
Now don't get me wrong, Hubbard has not had a bad camp. He's had his moments. But the undrafted linebacker who is getting the most attention is Jayrone Elliott, who played his college ball at Toledo.
In his career with the Rockets, Elliott had 124 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles.
No. 91 has shown those same qualities in camp this summer, as he has fared well in the one-on-one passing drills, then had three sacks versus the Rams last Saturday in limited snaps.
That has led to more reps at practice this week, as the Packers are looking to expand the amount of snaps Elliott will get versus Oakland this Friday at Lambeau Field.
Cornerback Davon House
So far this summer, it appears that the Packers are extremely deep at the cornerback position. Besides starters Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, the Packers can also bring in Casey Hayward and Davon House to help out in the nickel and dime packages.
The Packers can always use veteran Jarrett Bush if need be, plus they have promising youngsters like Demitri Goodson and Jumal Rolle.
But it has been House who has stood out more than anyone at cornerback this training camp. No. 31 has opened some eyes with his play at practice and in games.
House wants more opportunities as well, as he mentions in this article by Tom Silverstein and Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"For me to, let me say, see more playing time, I need to get picks," House said. "In press, they don't like to throw the ball as much and if they do it's usually a comeback or a fade or sometimes it's a slant.
"Slants are really hard to pick off (in press). Comebacks are hard to pick off and fade balls the quarterback is going to throw it to where only he (the receiver) can catch it or incomplete."
"Playing off, you can see the ball thrown," he said. "You're encouraging slants where you can actually jump in front of it. You can run with a fade and locate the ball and pick off a comeback. So, for me to get to more balls I'm going to have to play off more."
So far, his strategy is paying off.
Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Sean Richardson
In 2013, the safety position of the Packers stuck out like a sore thumb. There were no interceptions, lots of missed tackles and a number of blown assignments.
The Packers decided to do something about that this season. First, they let starter M.D. Jennings find work somewhere else, as they didn't tender a contract offer to Jennings.
The team also decided to move second-year cornerback Micah Hyde to safety. In addition to that, the Packers selected Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
The safety position was an area of weakness for the Packers last season. This season, it could be a position of strength.
Right now, the starters are Hyde and Morgan Burnett. However, Burnett has missed some time with ankle and oblique ailments, which allowed Clinton-Dix to get some valuable time with the starters.
And even with Burnett back as a starter now, Clinton-Dix has been playing in the dime package on defense most of the time in practice.
No. 21 has had a solid camp thus far, and he looks to get a fair amount of playing time, as the Packers use their nickel and dime packages on defense much more than they use their base 3-4 look.
Another safety who has impressed so far in camp is third-year player Sean Richardson. Richardson leads the team in interceptions in training camp at practice and looks much more comfortable in coverage as opposed to last year, when he was coming back from a neck procedure.
Bottom line, the Packers appear to be at least four-deep at the safety position in 2014.