Scott Tolzien earned his keep in preseason play, but keeping both backup QBs was the smart move.
Roster analysis: All the right moves
Deeper than in recent years, the Packers’ roster decisions Saturday brought next to no surprises. That’s because other than keeping three quarterbacks for the first time in six years, most of the cuts were clear-cut.
By JASON WILDE
GREEN BAY – We may never know just how much the nightmare scenario at quarterback last season influenced the Green Bay Packers’ thought process at quarterback Saturday.
Maybe had they had one more we-can’t-lose-him level player fighting for a roster spot or received one palatable trade offer before the 3 p.m. cudown deadline, maybe there’d only be one man standing as Aaron Rodgers’ backup this season.
Instead, both Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien made the 53-man roster Saturday, marking the first time since 2008 – when Rodgers was a first-year starter and Flynn was a rookie seventh-round pick who’d won out over second-round pick Brian Brohm for the No. 2 gig – the club has kept three quarterbacks coming out of camp.
As of Saturday night, the Packers were one of 19 teams in the 32-team NFL that kept three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster following the final cuts: New England, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Houston, Tennessee, Kansas City, Oakland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota, Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Arizona and San Francisco also did so.
On the eve of training camp, coach Mike McCarthy said this about the idea of keeping three quarterbacks: “The opportunity for three quarterbacks really comes down to how the third potential quarterback performs and what goes on with the rest of your football team. We’ve never gone in and said ‘We only need to take two quarterbacks.’ Because we’ve been so blessed here the last 20 [or so] years to have great quarterback play and [have that guy] start week in and week out.
“We all understand what happened last year. You could overreact to that. Last year and my year in San Francisco, from just a pure quarterback coaching standpoint, were the two toughest experiences that I’ve been a part of—when you play four quarterbacks in one year. So you learn from that. What can you do better? We’re better already because we’ve had Matt and Scott here from Day 1, so we’ll see what happens. I know I said in the spring, I’m not opposed, Ted’s not opposed to keeping three quarterbacks. It really depends on the competition at the other positions.”
After the Packers’ 34-14 preseason finale victory over Kansas City, McCarthy was reminded of those comments.
“I said [that] the day before training camp?” McCarthy replied. “I don’t think you can overreact to what goes on the year before. I think it’s important to take all your experiences and evaluate it, decide the things you’re going to change, the things you need to adjust and the things you need to emphasize. And the thing we emphasized with every one of our players was, you’re not only competing against the men at your position, you’re competing against people at other positions. And that’s ultimately what this will come down to.”
And ultimately, that answer was to keep all three quarterbacks.
Here’s a position-by-position look as it stands now, with the possibility of another roster move or two to come Sunday:
Quarterbacks (3): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn, Scott Tolzien.
Over and over again, McCarthy and Thompson have insisted that they will keep the best 53 players, regardless of position. That’s what they did at quarterback, where they talked about keeping only Rodgers and one backup but ultimately decided to keep the whole band together. Before last season, Rodgers had missed only one start because of injury – a 2010 concussion-induced absence at New England. Perhaps he returns to his ultra-durable self and the Packers start a new run of 20 more years of uninterrupted healthy, high-quality quarterbacking. But if that doesn’t happen, and somehow disaster strikes again, they now have two quarterbacks who have been in the system all year and won’t be overwhelmed. This is the right call.
Running backs (4): Eddie Lacy, James Starks, DuJuan Harris, John Kuhn.
The Packers skimped a bit here, but it appears likely that they’ll keep undrafted rookie free agent LaDarius Perkins on the practice squad in case of emergency. While they went with one fewer running back than they have in recent years, t’s hard to recall a time where the group was deeper. Lacy is a top-10 back, Starks is coming off a season in which he averaged 5.5 yards per carry and Harris, after missing all of last season with a patellar tendon injury, had a few bumpy moments in preseason but looked like the guy who revitalized the running game at the end of the 2012 season. One could argue that Harris should be the first man off the bench after some of the plays he made in preseason, but the bottom line is that the talent here means Lacy can get a breather every now and then – a valuable commodity for a player whose punishing running style can be worrisome.
Wide receivers (5): Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams, Jeff Janis.
So much for all that talk about this being the deepest group in ages and the team needing to keep six. As of now, after the first three, there’s a precipitous drop-off. Adams is a second-round pick and is extremely talented, but he had a quiet training camp and preseason and presumably was one of the intended targets of Rodgers’ not-so-subtle public comments about how players who don’t know what they’re doing can’t be on the field with him. Janis caught only two passes all preseason but both went for touchdowns – a 34-yard catch-and-run in St. Louis and a 33-yard over-the-shoulder job on Thursday night against Kansas City. The truth is, there wasn’t a sixth worth keeping from the moment rookie fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first week of camp. Chris Harper was too inconsistent. Myles White’s hands suddenly became shaky. Kevin Dorsey, despite working on many of the No. 1 special teams units, didn’t show much as a pass-catcher. And Alex Gillett, the converted quarterback from Eastern Michigan, probably had the most impressive camp of the also-rans. He’s worthy of another year on the practice squad. Bottom line: If the top three stay healthy, Rodgers has ample weaponry. If not, there could be trouble.
Tight end (4): Brandon Bostick, Richard Rodgers, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor.
Bostick’s leg injury, which could cause him to miss Thursday’s opener, seemingly opened the door for Jake Stoneburner to keep his roster spot. Instead, Stoneburner was waived/injured and the Packers will head to Seattle with only three healthy tight ends if Bostick is a no-go. Rodgers, the rookie third-round pick from California, has been steadily impressive throughout camp and started the first three preseason games at tight end when the production really mattered. Quarless still may not be the guy he was pre-2011 knee injury but he does everything well enough and provides veteran presence. And Taylor is still a core special teams guy who probably deserves a snap or two offensively to prove himself.
Offensive line (8): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, JC Tretter, T.J. Lang, Bryan Bulaga, Corey Linsley, Derek Sherrod, Lane Taylor.
The depth would feel so much better if Don Barclay hadn’t been lost for the season to a knee injury. Tretter, who’ll miss the opener and could be sidelined for up to six weeks with an impaction fracture in his knee, will be replaced by Tretter for the time being, but without Barclay in the mix, this unit feels thin, even with eight players in the room. But no one who was released really deserved a roster spot, and for as long as he can remember, McCarthy has had 10 offensive linemen at his disposal when the practice squad is included. Linsley, a fifth-round pick from Ohio State, seemed to give the Packers the luxury of having a true center as a backup at the position, and then Tretter went down. Nonetheless, if the starting five stays healthy upon Tretter’s return, this unit has the makings of the team’s best in probably a decade.
Defensive line (5): Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Letroy Guion, Mike Pennel.
Another group that feels shorthanded, in the wake of B.J. Raji’s season-ending torn right biceps. The starters in the 3-4 base defense, it appears, are Daniels, Jones and Boyd, with Guion and Pennel in the mix inside. If Thompson decides to put in a waiver claim or sign a player off the street after the dust settles, the defensive line seems like the logical place. The coaches clearly are expecting Jones and Boyd to make huge leaps in their second seasons, and for a defense that ranked 25th against the run last year and 29th against the run in terms of yards per carry allowed (4.63), the philosophical shift away from big, stout, husky defenders to longer-levered athletes will have to pay off. It seems unlikely that the team would find a player worth claiming on waivers since big guys are hard to find. Interestingly and unsurprisingly, 2012 second-round pick Jerel Worthy was cut by New England Saturday, meaning the Packers will get nothing from their trade with the Patriots earlier this month.
Inside linebacker (5): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Carl Bradford.
McCarthy believes Jones will be ready for the opener despite a quadriceps strain that sidelined him for the final week of camp. If he can’t go, both Lattimore and Barrington did good things during training camp and feel like capable backups. Meanwhile, Bradford is the one player on the 53-man active roster coming out of camp that should feel blessed that his draft stock carried the day. Thompson hasn’t cut a player drafted in the fourth round or higher following that player’s first training camp since 2005, when fourth-round wide receiver Cory Rodgers got the boot. The coaches and scouts liked what they saw from Bradford in his one-week cameo at inside linebacker after being invisible outside from the day he was drafted. He just never looked comfortable outside, but he may have found a home with the shift. Regardless, he’ll be a weekly inactive all season long if the starters and top backups are healthy.
Outside linebacker (6): Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Jayrone Elliott.
Keeping 11 total linebackers is a high number, especially considering Bradford’s undeserving camp. But it also points to the philosophical shift on the defensive side of the ball, where McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers want to use more personnel groupings and get more athletes on the field. Matthews, Peppers and Neal make for an intriguing pass-rushing threesome if the Packers can get them all on the field at the same time, and no matter what the competition level was, Jayrone Elliott showed that he merits not only a roster spot but consideration as a situational pass rusher after leading the NFL in preseason sacks with five. He becomes the latest in a long line of undrafted free agents to make the team at outside linebacker, following Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto, Dezman Moses and Mulumba. Will he make a greater impact than that group did?
Cornerback (6): Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Demetri Goodson.
Probably the deepest position on the roster. Williams and Shields are both capable of being shutdown corners; Hayward is back to health after missing all but three games last season and House, who has challenged for and held a starting job for short periods in the past, is finally healthy and showing what he can do in a contract year. Add in ol’ veteran Bush, who had an interception on Thursday night against the Chiefs, and the cover crew is strong. The one head-scratcher is Goodson, who did little to impress – and actually had some painful-looking growing pains – in preseason but made the roster based on potential and draft position. Cornerback Jumal Rolle and safety Chris Banjo were more worthy of the roster spot than the ex-Gonzaga hoopster.
Safety (4): Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Sean Richardson.
On opening day last year, none of these four were in the lineup at safety. Burnett was nursing a preseason hamstring injury that shelved him against San Francisco; Richardson was on the physically unable to perform list trying to come back from spinal fusion surgery; Hyde was a rookie cornerback who was working his way into the sub package; and Clinton-Dix was starting his junior season at the University of Alabama. The opening-day starters were M.D. Jennings, who was cut by the Bears Saturday with an injury settlement, and Jerron McMillian, who didn’t even make it to the final cut with Kansas City this summer. The talent is better now, although Banjo, who does have practice-squad eligibility remaining, probably deserves to be on the 53.
Specialists (3): Mason Crosby, Tim Masthay, Brett Goode.
After Crosby’s career-best, bounce-back season a year ago, all is right with the world with this group.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.