News & notes: M.D. Jennings constantly reminded of Seattle

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 20, 2013 – 5:33 pm

For a recap of Tuesday’s practice, which featured the backup QBs as Aaron Rodgers sat out with an illness, check out today’s feature story. Here are some other news & notes:

–Constant reminder: S M.D. Jennings isn’t thrilled with his current fate, which is being forever connected to last year’s “Fail Mary” on the final play in Seattle. He can’t escape reminders of it wherever he goes, though he’s always a good sport about it and has signed autographs of the famous end zone picture when asked. Of course, the reminders are back again this week with the Seahawks coming to Lambeau Field for a preseason game.

“All the time,” Jennings said of how often he’s reminded of last year’s Week 3 contest. “It’s something that’s stuck with me unfortunately. It’s something I’m trying to get over. I don’t want to be remembered by that play. I just try to go out there and play football.

“It’s not about Golden Tate or the Seahawks. It’s just about getting better as a team and getting ready for the regular season.”

More important to Jennings, he’s trying to lock down the starting safety spot opposite Morgan Burnett. He’s been competing with Jerron McMillian throughout the preseason, and based on the way the reps with the first unit are being distributed in practice, Jennings is in the lead for the starting job.

He’s taking nothing for granted, though. Any talk of what he’s working to improve on always comes back to the basic fundamentals.

“I’ve been trying to focus on playing with better pad leverage and pursuit angles to the ball, just things of that nature,” he said. “I really know which way the coaches are going to go with it. All I can do is go out there and do my job.”

No matter who wins the starting job, both Jennings and McMillian are expected to play from scrimmage in the various defensive packages. Neither has made any standout plays in the preseason yet, but two games still remain.

“It’s always a learning curve,” McMillian said. “You need to be accountable, make plays and play as fast as you can. Not have any mental errors. That’s your quickest way on the field is to make sure you know what’s going on.”

–True contender: Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that rookie CB Micah Hyde would get an opportunity to return punts, and he was the returner taking the first rep on Tuesday. Hyde had a 13-yard punt return last week in St. Louis and could make a strong bid for the job with a good showing against Seattle.

–Injury update: The only changes to the injury list were that CB James Nixon (ankle, knee) returned to practice, while CB Loyce Means (ankle) was sidelined.

–Finley fans: TE Jermichael Finley makes a big play or two in practice every day, and Tuesday was no exception. Finley continues to beat defenders down the middle of the field and on crossing routes, providing a steady target for whichever Packers QB is throwing the ball.

“This is the Jermichael Finley I work with every day,” McCarthy said. “This man approaches football the same way every day. He’s a joy to coach. Physically he’s in a place he wants to be and he’s clearly having his finest training camp. It’s clear-cut.”

QB Vince Young, a teammate of Finley’s for one season at the University of Texas, said more than once that he’s proud of the former Longhorn, who came into the NFL two years after Young did.

“He’s got a lot of swag,” Young said. “You can tell he’s feeling it right now.”


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News & notes: Jordy Nelson still hoping for opener

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 19, 2013 – 5:49 pm

For a rundown on Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s post-game press conference, during which he discussed the team’s health and the need for more high-impact plays, check out today’s feature story. Here are some additional news & notes from Monday:

–Nelson aims for San Francisco: WR Jordy Nelson, who is out for the preseason after having surgery on his knee, wouldn’t go so far as to guarantee he’d be ready for Week 1, but he said that remains the goal and thus far “we’re progressing right on schedule.”

The knee issue is something that first cropped up for Nelson during his college days at Kansas State, and he has dealt with it in his pro career, but he said it’s never been a constant thing. That’s why he never had the surgery until now, when it cropped up after one week of training camp but five weeks before the first game.

“You want to avoid surgery as much as possible,” Nelson said. “That’s what we tried to do. We thought we had it taken care of, and then we realized we didn’t.

“Something happened in practice and it flared back up. Right away I knew it. There was enough time left before opening week that we were felt hopefully we could get in and get out and get ready to go. That was our plan, and that’s what we’re still hoping for.”

Nelson added that had the flare-up occurred during the regular season, he would have been able to play through it, but with the timing it made sense to go this route.

“Our main goal was San Fran, and that’s a goal,” he said. “You never know what will happen. We’ll continue to take it day by day.”

–Extra attention: No one has distinguished himself as the clear No. 2 QB, but Mike McCarthy feels no matter who wins the job, the Packers will be better off for having brought in Vince Young.

“I look at the quarterback room, it’s a better room since the day Vince Young came in here,” McCarthy said. “The minute he walked through the door, Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman have picked it up. That has been very evident from my viewpoint.”

Coleman has been the fourth QB in the rotation in the first two preseason games, but McCarthy complimented him for making “a hell of a play” on his TD pass in St. Louis, the Packers’ only TD of the preseason thus far.

On the play, Coleman scrambled to his right to buy time and then fired a strike at the front pylon of the end zone to undrafted rookie TE Jake Stoneburner, who was coming back hard for the ball. The score capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive.

“We’ve been working more scout stuff than our own stuff,” Coleman said of the third-string offensive unit he directs. “To be able to go out there, sustain a drive … those guys deserve it. They worked hard.”

–No interest in spectating: Rookie DE Datone Jones said he “hates” watching practice, even if it was just for one week with a bum ankle, in part because it reminds him of when he missed an entire college season due to a broken foot.

DE Datone Jones

DE Datone Jones

“It ate at me,” he said of then, and now, after Jones returned to practice on Monday.

He said he knew right away this injury wasn’t as bad as the college one, though, so he wasn’t overly anxious about it. It came on his very first snap in the first preseason game, when he was tripped by an opposing Arizona offensive lineman on his way to the QB.

“All I can remember is I made a great inside move, great pass rush move,” he said. “All of a sudden, Carson Palmer is in front of me, my eyes got bright and after that I was on the ground. That’s all I can really remember. I feel like I made a great play, it just turns out I hurt my ankle.”

–New duties: Rookie CB Micah Hyde returned his first punt of the preseason on Saturday in St. Louis, darting and dodging his way for 13 yards up the middle of the field. McCarthy said he’s going to give Hyde more punt-return opportunities this week, and Hyde says he’s ready.

“I feel comfortable,” Hyde said. “I did it in the past, and the coaches trust me enough to put me back there. I’m going to try to make the best of it.”

Hyde returned punts his final two seasons in college at Iowa. He recorded 13 returns for 68 yards, with a long of 27, in 2012, and he had 13 returns for 108 yards, with a long of 30, in 2011.


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News & notes: Mike Neal has ‘best practice’ of camp

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 14, 2013 – 5:11 pm

For the rundown on QB Aaron Rodgers’ chat with reporters at his locker, in which he talked about his lighter workload and the “vibe” of the team, check out today’s feature story. Here are some more news & notes from Wednesday:

–Neal flashes in new role: He missed time early in camp due to an abdominal injury and sat out the first preseason game, but DE Mike Neal is starting to look more comfortable in his new hybrid lineman-outside linebacker role.

DE Mike Neal

DE Mike Neal

On Wednesday, Neal was showing up in a number of drills, including the OLB-RB blitz pick-up and the one-on-one pass rush, where he worked from both inside and outside. He also stuffed one running play in team (11-on-11) work and was a factor at the line of scrimmage on a number of other snaps.

“Today was probably the first time we felt what we hope he’s about — his ability to be a difference-maker, the ability to put him in one-on-one situations and for him to win and to win consistently,” Mike McCarthy said. “I think Mike had his best practice today of training camp.”

Neal is taking a liking to the hybrid role now that he’s had more time to absorb the responsibilities of the OLB position, a process that began in OTAs. The next step will be to carry the kind of impact he had on the practice field on Wednesday into the preseason game in St. Louis on Saturday, which he said he’s definitely looking forward to.

“I think it best suits me. Just using my athleticism is probably the biggest thing,” Neal said. “The learning part of it is what they wanted me to (accomplish) so I can put myself in those positions.”

–Young to get more plays: McCarthy said he’s seen a lot of progress in QB Vince Young now that he’s been in camp for a week, and he plans to get Young more snaps with a larger play selection in Saturday’s game.

Young took a number of snaps in the team drills on Wednesday and appeared to be getting the ball out of his hand faster on pass plays, an indication he’s understanding the scheme more and more.

“It’s important for Vince to be able to call it, see it in his mind and be able to execute,” Rodgers said. “Seven days after he’s been here he’s definitely improved with the verbiage and he’s making some plays.”

–Injury update: WR Randall Cobb (bicep) and RB James Starks (illness) sat out practice, while G T.J. Lang (back) returned and TE Ryan Taylor (knee) was back on the field for the first time since the Family Night scrimmage. DE Ryan Pickett also returned after missing a day for personal reasons.

RBs Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris were cleared for more contact, with Lacy doing more in the team drills than Harris did. Lacy didn’t appear to have any issues with his hamstring, but he stopped short of saying he would for sure have clearance to play on Saturday in St. Louis. Both Lacy and Harris missed the first preseason game last week.

“Most likely they’re going to make the decision, but you have to look at the bigger picture,” Lacy said. “Preseason is a time for you to go out there and showcase what you can do and get a taste of how it is, how it’s going to be when the season gets here. But if you’re not 100 percent or don’t feel you can go, then don’t risk it.”

–Plays of the day: Two of the rookie stars thus far in camp have been undrafted WR Tyrone Walker and fifth-round CB Micah Hyde, and the pair made two of the highlight plays in practice again on Wednesday.

Walker made a nifty tip-toe catch right at the front pylon of the end zone on a throw from QB Graham Harrell after Harrell scrambled to his left to buy extra time.

Then, moments later, Hyde was in coverage on a fade to the corner of the end zone to WR Myles White. With his back to the ball, Hyde turned his head at just the right time to see it and deflect it. As he fell to the turf, the ball then hung on Hyde’s hip and he was able to tip it back to himself, make the interception and get up to run.

The grab looked similar to Antonio Freeman’s “Monday Night Miracle” against the Vikings in 2000, only it was a great defensive play rather than an offensive one.

“I knew it didn’t hit the ground,” Hyde said. “Luckily I was able to tip it back into my hands.”


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Game notes: Johnny Jolly almost gets sack

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 10, 2013 – 1:06 am

The Packers came close multiple times to getting sacks in Friday night’s 17-0 preseason loss to Arizona, but the most notable near-miss may have come from DE Johnny Jolly.

DE Johnny Jolly

DE Johnny Jolly

Attempting a comeback after three years away from the game, Jolly found a lane through the middle and into the pocket, but he lost his footing as Cardinals QB Drew Stanton avoided him and completed a 17-yard pass on third-and-12.

“I should’ve had that play,” Jolly said. “I don’t know, man. It was just one of those plays, I should have had it. I missed out on it.”

Jolly, who has been on a rep count in practice, said he was prepared for 20-25 snaps and believes he got at least that many, though he didn’t know exactly. He admitted he’s not back to where he was when he last played in 2009, but he still believes he can get there.

“I can’t explain the feeling that it was, but it was an awesome feeling,” he said of being back on an NFL field. “It’s been three long years, and now I’m back here. I’m just going to continue to push.”

–New dimension?: Backup QB Vince Young moved the chains twice during his three series of work. First, he hit rookie WR Alex Gillett on a slant to convert a third down. Then he ran 7 yards on a bootleg right to set up third-and-2, and then converted that with a bootleg and scramble to his left for 5 more yards.

“It’s football,” Young said. “Whatever it takes to get a first down, I’m going to get it, whether it’s throwing or running. I feel like my guys did a good job getting me the edge.”

At age 30, Young doesn’t quite run like he used to, but the power and agility in his legs was certainly evident.

“I think ‘VY’ brings a lot to this offense. You don’t know what he’ll do,” said TE Jermichael Finley, who played one season in college with Young at Texas. “You don’t know if he’s going to pass it, you don’t know if he’s going to run it.”

–More production needed: The Packers weren’t shy about trying to run the ball on Friday, but the production wasn’t there. RBs James Starks, Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green and Angelo Pease combined for 26 carries but just 70 yards, a measly 2.7 yards per rush. Rookie second-round draft pick Eddie Lacy didn’t play due to a hamstring injury.

“We have to run the ball a little more effectively I think moving forward,” QB Aaron Rodgers said. “We had a lot of attempts tonight and not a lot to show for it. We need that balance moving into the season and we have to find it the next three weeks.”

Starks led the way with 12 carries for 38 yards, the only back to average at least 3 yards per attempt. In his pro debut, Franklin didn’t find much running room, finishing with 14 yards on six carries, though he did add 12 yards on two pass receptions.

“It was moving fast,” Franklin said of the speed of the game. “It was definitely different from college. But it’s just going to take more reps adjusting to it, and I think it will slow down a lot more. It definitely can be a lot going on.”

–Close but not quite: WR Jeremy Ross got two cracks at a kickoff return, and he was maybe one step away from breaking it on his second try.

Taking a kickoff 4 yards deep in the end zone, Ross got out near the 20 and made a cut to his left but was upended at the 21, a 25-yard runback. He appeared to have a lot of room to his left if he had been able to break that one tackle.

“I was close. I was really close,” Ross said. “If I wouldn’t have gotten tripped up on those blocks right there, I would have been up the sideline.”


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News & notes: Clay Matthews remembers his first preseason game

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 8, 2013 – 1:53 pm

For a look at potential playing time and the Packers’ current injury situation heading into Friday night’s preseason opener vs. Arizona, check out today’s feature story (to be posted soon). Here are some other news & notes:

LB Clay Matthews

LB Clay Matthews

Matthews remembers: In a rather lighthearted moment in the locker room after Thursday’s practice, LB Clay Matthews was asked if he remembered his first preseason game.

He did. It was back in 2009, and Matthews had been injured in training camp, so he didn’t take the field for a preseason game until the fourth and final contest, at Tennessee.

“I was going up against that guy,” Matthews said, pointing toward another locker near his now occupied by a new teammate. “Vince Young, like a 12-play drive, no huddle, I was gassed, I didn’t think I was going to make it very long in this league.”

Lacy doubtful: RB Eddie Lacy didn’t practice for a second straight day due to a hamstring injury, making it unlikely he’ll play on Friday night. With RB DuJuan Harris still out, that will leave the running back duties to be shared amongst Alex Green, James Starks, Johnathan Franklin and Angelo Pease.

Like many of the rookies, Franklin claimed he’ll be more excited than nervous when he gets out there.

“It’s football,” he said. “When you’re doing something you love and you have a big opportunity like this, you look forward to something like this.

“The priority is to get better and take advantage of the opportunity.”

Kickers to alternate: Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t delve into specifics, but he said the coaching staff would come up with a plan to rotate or alternate kickers Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio so their competition can continue throughout the preseason.

“Exactly how we’ll alternate the kickers, that hasn’t been finalized, but we’re going to try to keep the competition as far as opportunities as balanced as possible,” McCarthy said.


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News & notes: Vince Young takes more snaps, kicking competition continues

Posted by Mike Spofford on August 7, 2013 – 3:06 pm

For the latest injury news and a recap of Wednesday’s practice skirmishes, check out today’s feature story. Here are some other news and notes:

–Young more involved: New QB Vince Young took far more snaps in the team (11-on-11) drills than he did his first day, and the uneven results were to be expected. It appeared on one play that Young’s cadence caused someone to false start, and later he overthrew TE D.J. Williams, leading to an interception by S Chaz Powell.

He came back from that to make a good throw to WR Jeremy Ross, only to have it knocked away at the last moment by CB Loyce Means.

“Vince Young is on Day 2 in a new offense,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “One of the reasons why we signed Vince Young is he knows how to play quarterback. He knows how to win. He’s played in games. He has experience. The hard part is what he’s going through right now. It’s a whole different verbiage.”

–Kickers even: In a brief kicking session, both Mason Crosby and Giorgio Tavecchio went 3-for-4 on field goals. Crosby was good from 36, 46 and 48 but missed wide right from 50. Tavecchio was good from 36, 48 and 51 but missed wide left from 46.

Not to get lost in the competition is the burden placed on holder Tim Masthay, who has to switch back and forth holding for both a right-footed (Crosby) and left-footed (Tavecchio) kicker from snap to snap.

“I feel like it’s come along pretty well,” Masthay said. “Ever since we signed Giorgio, I’ve taken a ton of snaps here. I’ve got a Jugs machine at my house and I’ve been catching left-handed field goal snaps for quite a while now and I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable with it. I feel good going into the game.”

Masthay also has been taking regular reps kicking off, and he did well in last Saturday’s scrimmage, but he was audibly upset at himself when he flubbed a low line-drive kickoff in practice on Wednesday. Masthay kicked off in college at Kentucky and enjoys getting his swings in.

“I was so mad at myself. It’s been quite a while since I mis-hit a kickoff like I did on that one today,” he said. “I don’t know if I just got a little too juiced up trying to crush it or something.”

–Different perspectives: Whether or not the post-whistle skirmishes witnessed Wednesday are good for the team depends on the point of view. DL Mike Daniels, who has been one of the more outspoken and feisty players throughout camp, loves it.

“The monotony of training camp, you see the same people every day, you eat the same grilled chicken every day, you should lose your mind,” Daniels said. “You should be angry when you hit the field. You should want to beat the crap out of each other. We’ve been doing that, and like I said, I can only imagine what we do when we see somebody we don’t like.”

QB Aaron Rodgers chalked up the extracurricular activity to fatigue and didn’t particularly care for it, but he agreed that it’s simply time to play against an opponent.

“Guys are grumpy and just don’t really take any of that extra stuff,” he said. “That’s part of camp. Some people like it more than others. I’d rather not have our guys punching each other in the helmet, hurting their hands, so hopefully that nonsense is done with. We’re excited about moving on to face somebody else.”

–Next man up: Rodgers called his new left tackle, rookie David Bakhtiari, “raw” and said he’ll be learning “in the fire” if he’s indeed the Week 1 starter.

Bakhtiari will be charged with handling the opponent’s best pass rusher on a regular basis, and Rodgers will need to have confidence that his blind side isn’t constantly under siege.

“There’s usually a tough guy at that position rushing at my back side against every team, and against their best pass rusher you need a lineman who can hold up,” Rodgers said. “Obviously we believe in David.”

Another injury on the offensive line could be problematic, though, Rodgers suggested.

“I’ve said before in this camp it’s impressive the kind of depth that we have, and now our depth is going to get tested,” he said. “We need those guys to step up and play well and be healthy. There’s fluke injuries in this thing and they’re frustrating, but from this point forward it’s going to be important that we keep all those guys healthy.”


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