ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Jason Wilde
GREEN BAY – Alex Van Pelt has enough work to do, coaching both the Green Bay Packers’ quarterbacks and wide receivers. He was not looking to appoint himself general manager.
But, if Packers GM Ted Thompson decides to bring back quarterback Matt Blanchard to fill one of the team’s 10 practice-squad slots, Van Pelt would be thrilled.
“Those are personnel decisions,” Van Pelt said Tuesday afternoon, shortly after Blanchard learned he was one of seven players released by the team ”But I’d love to him in the room.”
Blanchard, who started camp ahead of rookie fifth-round pick Brett Hundley but saw Hundley move past him in terms of practice reps in recent weeks, signed with the Packers in the spring after an impressive workout.
The former University of Wisconsin-Whitewater star played well with his limited opportunities during the first three preseason games, with his best showing coming on Saturday night, when he worked the fourth quarter and was 8 of 11 for 87 yards with a touchdown and an interception that came when rookie wide receiver Larry Pinkard stopped his route down the left sideline.
Blanchard, who was in his fourth training camp after two summers with the Chicago Bears and one with the Carolina Panthers, could have been released earlier as a courtesy to give him a better chance of catching on elsewhere.
“That’s the strongest group of four I’ve ever been around,” Van Pelt said of Aaron Rodgers, Scott Tolzien, Hundley and Blanchard. “That was a good group of quarterbacks. They are all deserving of wearing an NFL jersey.”
GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 17th and final practice of training camp on Tuesday:
Thumbs up: Everyone, from coach Mike McCarthy to quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the offensive linemen themselves has said it: One of the biggest reasons for the offense’s success last season was the cohesion of the offensive line, and that chemistry was forged by the quintet playing 17 of 18 games together last season. (The lone exception: When right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed the team’s Week 2 game with a knee injury sustained in the opener.)
Thus, it was wonderful news that a starting crew that was missing four of its five guys before halftime of Saturday night’s loss to Philadelphia was nearly back to full strength Tuesday. Left tackle David Bakhtiari (sidelined since Aug. 13 with knee soreness), left guard Josh Sitton (out since Aug. 23 with an ankle injury) and Bulaga (who left Saturday night’s game with a sprained ankle) were all back to work Tuesday, with only right guard T.J. Lang (concussion) still unavailable. Odds are, all five will be good to go for the Sept. 13 opener at Chicago.
Thumbs down: McCarthy is as fan-friendly as any coach in the league when it comes to considering the team’s fans. He is loath to go inside during training camp because of weather – he managed to bat 1.000 on that this year, despite a couple of rainy practices – and understands how important the practices are to the locals and the local economy. That said, his responsibility is to his team first, and if McCarthy deemed it necessary that practice be moved from its originally scheduled Monday timeslot to Tuesday, so be it. But the move resulted in the smallest gathering of the summer, and players were light on bike kids, as Green Bay schools opened the 2015-’16 academic year on Tuesday. If it was the right call for football reasons, that’s understandable, but the team does have a marketing partnership with Madison-based American Family Insurance for the so-called “Dream Drive” area where kids and players match up, and on Tuesday, the final ride was a dud.
Play of the day: Less than an hour later, tight end Harold Spears would be unfurling a gigantic, black plastic garbage bag, into which he would dump all the personal effects he had in his locker. But before being released, the undrafted free-agent tight end whom the Packers picked up after he was cut by New Orleans made one final play during his final practice with the team. During a red-zone period in the final portion of practice, Spears appeared covered when Rodgers somehow fit a fastball into the tiniest of windows and into Spears’ mitts for a touchdown. The throw was reminiscent of Rodgers’ touchdown to Jordy Nelson in the Metrodome a few years ago, when the ball buzzed past the earhole of the defender, or Rodgers’ small-window strike to Richard Rodgers in last year’s playoff game against Dallas. On this play, it was rookie inside linebacker Jake Ryan who could not get turned around to react fast enough to deflect a pass that seemed to pass through him.
Camp confidential: After a promising start with this No. 1 offense getting unexpectedly extensive work in the opener at New England, McCarthy thought he might be looking at his most productive preseason in his decade in charge. Instead, he lost No. 1 wide receiver Jordy Nelson to a season-ending knee injury in the second game and watched a very uneven performance on Saturday night against Philadelphia.
“Every training camp takes a different path,” McCarthy said. “The first two weeks, I felt very good about the way we practiced, the ability to get through all the installations, the quality of practice, the competitiveness of the practice. Week 1 [of the] preseason, going up there, I felt we got off to a good start against New England. Pittsburgh, [the game was] very disjointed. I think the effect of the injury to Jordy affected guys during the game. So from an adversity standpoint, that’s a learning opportunity there.
“And then the game against Philadelphia, you had some good things, you had some bad things and you had some ugly things go on. So there’s always an up-and-down to every path through training camp, but that’s kind of where we are after three preseason games.”
Packers Playlist: "I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers and "Intergalactic" by Beastie Boys were the songs played during the regeneration periods. Listen to all the tunes from training camp on the Packers Regeneration Period Playlist on Spotify.
Injury report: Second-year wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, who had been sidelined since the first practice of camp on July 30 when he suffered a concussion, made his long-awaited return. Rookie running back Alonzo Harris (hand) returned to practice wearing a cast. Bakhtiari, Sitton and Bulaga were back in action. Wide receiver Randall Cobb (shoulder), safety Micah Hyde (neck spasms), wide receiver Ty Montgomery (hamstring tightness), defensive end Datone Jones (knee) and Lang sat out.
They said it: “I don’t have any injury updates on any of our players.” – McCarthy, when asked about Cobb’s shoulder injury.
Practice schedule: In the words of Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller after the final credits ... “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.” The Packers’ next open-to-the-public practice will be in Spring 2016 when they open organized team activity practices.
GREEN BAY – At one point during Tuesday’s final practice of training camp, the Green Bay Packers lined Davante Adams, Myles White and Jeff Janis up with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the No. 1 offense.
If his injured right shoulder progresses the way he expects, Randall Cobb does not anticipate that being the lineup for the Sept. 13 regular-season opener at Chicago.
“I don't plan on missing a game,” said Cobb, who obviously won’t play in Thursday night’s preseason finale against New Orleans at Lambeau Field. “I'm doing everything in my power to get back before then, but we still don't know severity. We've still got to get a lot of the swelling out. It definitely is a lot better then what we all thought it was in the beginning.”
Cobb, who initially feared that he’d fractured his collarbone the way Rodgers had back in November 2013, was injured on the third offensive play of Saturday night’s preseason loss to Philadelphia after leaping to catch a Brett Hundley pass on the left sideline and landing hard on his shoulder before an Eagles defender toppled onto him.
The Packers already lost wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the year with the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee at Pittsburgh on Aug. 23, and projected No. 3 receiver Ty Montgomery missed Tuesday’s practice with what a team spokesman termed “hamstring tightness.”
Cobb was reluctant to say how quickly he’ll be back to 100 percent, and it’s possible that he’ll have to face the Bears while still in some measure of pain or discomfort.
“Just taking it day-by-day right now, just trying to figure out exactly how long it's going to be,” Cobb said. “We can't put a time estimate on when it's going to be (healed). But we're not even 72 hours away from when I hurt it.
“It bothers me, obviously. It is an injury still, I think it will be something that'll be fine.”
Asked how important it will be for him to practice next week in preparation for the opener, Cobb reminded reporters that he didn’t do much during the week leading up to the 2013 regular-season finale after missing most of the season with a lower leg fracture.
“I didn't practice much going into the Bears going into 2013 and came back after 10 weeks,” Cobb said. “So I don't think that really matters.”
GREEN BAY – Although Jordy Nelson seems to be handling the disappointment of suffering a season-ending knee injury as well as anyone possibly could, the Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl wide receiver likely is still in for some difficult times as he preps for the long road back to football.
Bryan Bulaga can tell him that from first-hand experience.
When Nelson crutched his way into the Packers’ locker room last week, 48 hours after learning he’d torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the team’s preseason loss at Pittsburgh, he seemed to be in remarkably high spirits, considering. There’s was a distinct vibe in the room that Nelson had moved on better than some of his teammates had.
“I have, because it's not going to change. Nothing’s going to change what’s happened,” Nelson replied when asked if he’d indeed moved on. “It was hard to begin with, just the shock, mainly because I didn't think I did it. I thought it was something else, I don't know what. I had never experienced it, I thought it would be honestly more painful than what it was. So the shock of it, when Doc told me, was a little overwhelming.
“[I] know it's going to be an adjustment for these guys not having me out there, but I'll be around as much as possible. They've got a good couple weeks to get used to it, they'll be ready to go coming [into] the season.”
While it was certainly encouraging to see Nelson so chipper – he was also seen joking with teammates during pregame warmups before Saturday night’s game against Philadelphia – he may not always be in such a good place emotionally if he experiences some of the same feelings Bulaga did during the 2013 season.
Like Nelson, Bulaga’s injury came before the regular season began, as he tore the ACL in his left knee during Family Night. And like Nelson, Bulaga didn’t initially realize the severity of the injury, so the diagnosis blindsided him.
“For me, emotionally, it was difficult,” Bulaga said. “It’s tough to know in the beginning of the year that you’re not going to play a snap of regular-season football. I know him, he’s a hard worker, he’s been getting ready for the season for a long time now. To have that all taken away in preseason, when a meaningful snap of football hasn’t been played yet, is difficult. So emotionally, it’s tough.”
After that, the rehabilitation work begins, and that isn’t exactly easy, either, Bulaga said.
“Obviously once you get the operation done, the rehab is a grind. It really is. It’s repeating a lot of the same things over and over,” Bulaga said. “It’s a mental grind, it’s an emotional grind, it’s just difficult. It’s hard to watch other people play your position. It’s just tough to do. But we’ll be behind Jordy no matter what.”
GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson has long said this is the worst part of his job.
On Monday, the Green Bay Packers general manager had to have the thanks-for-your-efforts conversation with five undrafted rookie free agents who were released: Linebackers Tavarus Dantzler and Josh Francis; offensive tackles Vince Kowalski and Fabbians Ebbele; and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks.
The five moves leave the Packers with 83 players on their roster, meaning they must make eight more roster moves to get to the NFL-mandated 75-player limit by 3 p.m. CDT Tuesday.
The Packers practice at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and while it wouldn’t be unprecedented for a player to take part in practice and be cut shortly thereafter, it’s more likely that the team will make its remaining eight moves before practice begins.
One of those moves figures to be placing wide receiver Jordy Nelson on season-ending injured reserve.
In the past, the Packers have cut a player or two whom they are interested in signing to the practice squad on the first roster reduction, as opposed to waiting until the cut to 53. The thought process is that teams are too busy cutting their own rosters down to claim a player for the final week of camp.
GREEN BAY – Scott Tolzien had never had a concussion before. After experiencing the concussion protocol for the first time, he doesn’t want to get another – and it’s not only because he wants his brain to continue functioning properly.
While the Green Bay Packers’ No. 2 quarterback said he appreciates just how seriously the team’s medical staff takes concussions, he admitted the process can be maddening when you want to get back on the field.
“It’s frustrating just because it’s very thorough. That’s what I found out,” said Tolzien, who did not play Saturday night’s loss to Philadelphia at Lambeau Field but was available to play in an emergency after passing his final concussion tests.
“The protocol now is pretty thorough. So it’s a frustrating process, but you understand it. The competitor in you wants to play, but it’s a thorough process that you’ve got to respect.”
Tolzien suffered the concussion Aug. 23 at Pittsburgh after playing well for the second straight game. For this preseason, he's completed 21 of 35 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions (96.0 rating).
While Tolzien has a lock on the Packers’ primary backup job behind NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, the preseason is an important time for him because it’s the only time – barring an injury to Rodgers – when he gets to play extensively. With Rodgers not playing because the offensive line was without three of its five starters – and lost starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a first-quarter ankle injury – Tolzien presumably would have gotten a lot of work against the Eagles.
Instead, rookie fifth-round pick Brett Hundley started and played three quarters. Although Hundley played relatively well, Tolzien isn’t in danger of ceding the No. 2 job.
“You always want to play whenever you can. So it’s frustrating,” Tolzien said. “But I’m going to follow what my doctors and coaches advise me.”
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who’ll next address reporters on Tuesday, is unlikely to divulge his playing-time plans for Thursday’s preseason finale against New Orleans, but it would stand to reason that Tolzien would play much of that game in hopes of prepping him for the regular season.
“Whatever the coaches have for me,” Tolzien said.
Tolzien empathized with his former University of Wisconsin teammate Jared Abbrederis, who suffered a concussion during the first practice of training camp on July 30 and has not practiced since. Tuesday is the final practice of camp before the team makes its final cuts and kicks off the regular season Sept. 13 in Chicago.
Tolzien said Abbrederis’ several head injuries at UW – although some were never officially termed concussions – are likely a factor in how long it’s taken him to return. Abbrederis was on the sideline Saturday night and has been in meetings and attending practice in recent weeks.
“His is different because he’s had a couple more than I have,” Tolzien said of Abbrederis, who missed all of last season with a knee injury. “But it’s kind of this double-edged sword because you are so competitive and you want to play but you’ve got to think long-term and the way that the protocol is is probably a smart thing.
“It’s hard sometimes to comprehend when you want to play. But when you take a step back, it’s probably a smart process.”
GREEN BAY – Letroy Guion lost his appeal of a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, so the Green Bay Packers veteran defensive end will miss the first three weeks of the 2015 season and forfeit 3/17 of his $1.5 million base salary as well.
The NFL announced Guion’s suspension Thursday, even though ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reported the initial three-game ruling several weeks ago. The league doesn’t officially announce suspensions until the player’s appeals have been exhausted.
Guion’s suspension stems from his Feb. 3 arrest in his hometown of Starke, Fla., where he was arrested with 3/4 of a pound of marijuana, an unloaded handgun and roughly $190,000 in cash that he said came from his playoff checks.
Guion will have to leave the team after the Sept. 3 preseason finale against New Orleans and will be allowed to rejoin the Packers – and the active roster – on Sept. 29, the day after the Packers’ Monday Night Football game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Guion reached a plea deal in March in which he paid a $5,000 fine and had the charges dismissed.
The suspension will cost Guion not only $88,235.29 per week in lost base salary, but his deal also included a $1.15 million roster bonus that was to be paid out weekly based on being active for those games. That means he’ll also lose out on three $71,875 payments he’d have received for playing in the first three games.
The Packers will also be without defensive end Datone Jones for the Sept. 13 opener at Chicago because of a one-game substance-abuse suspension. The Packers have been prepping for being without Guion and Jones by working their younger linemen into their rotation regularly in camp.
“The challenge is going to be being ready to play and play at a high level early in the season,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “With a couple of those key guys not there, we’ve just got to make sure some of our young guys are coming along and they’re ready to play and play at a high level. And that gives us a chance to play good football against really good teams early in the season.”
GREEN BAY – After Don Barclay’s abysmal performance at left tackle on Sunday, his quarterback was mindful of the words he chose.
“Don’s going to be more of a right tackle and a backup guard for us and a guy we can really count on,” Aaron Rodgers said after Barlcay allowed him to be sacked twice – including once for a safety – during the Green Bay Packers’ preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that afternoon. ”He’s played a lot of snaps for us over the years. He’s started a playoff game. He’s a guy we can count on.
“We have a lot of confidence in Donnie. This is just his progression back into feeling comfortable.”
Notice that while the NFL MVP was talking up his teammate – a lot of confidence, a guy we can count on – that he never mentioned the idea of Barclay playing left tackle, which was his position Barclay was playing against the Steelers with starter David Bakhtiari (knee) sidelined. Packers coach Mike McCarthy pulled Rodgers from the game after the safety, having seen him get hit hard on his right (throwing) hand. In addition, left guard Josh Sitton had suffered an ankle injury.
Pro Football Focus has graded 119 offensive tackles this preseason. Barclay, who missed all of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered during training camp, is currently No. 118 with a minus-9.5 grade.
“He struggled the last two games, no question,” offensive line coach James Campen acknowledged. “He struggled. Again, just like last week, the guy’s playing off an ACL. I have all the confidence in the world that he’ll play [better]. He’ll get back to being Donnie. He will. Just give him a chance. We’ve got two more preseason games, and that’s a blessing.”
Rodgers is not expected to play much – if at all – in Saturday night’s third preseason game against Philadelphia, in part because the Packers will not only be without Bakhtiari, but without Sitton and right guard T.J. Lang (concussion) as well.
Asked earlier in the week if he’d try out other options at left tackle, Packers coach Mike McCarthy replied, “Ah, we'll see.” Others who could play there are former practice-squad players Josh Walker and Jeremy Vujnovich.
“You don’t ever make excuses for players, and I never have. When you wear the helmet and you get asked to do the job, you have to do the job,” Campen said. “Donnie will come back from two performances like that. I have all the confidence in the world in that.”
GREEN BAY – The biggest mystery of the Green Bay Packers’ 2015 training camp has been the concussion suffered by former University of Wisconsin wide receiver and Packers 2014 fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis.
It occurred on the first day of practice, July 30, and he has not practiced since. Whenever coach Mike McCarthy is asked about the in-state kid, he repeats that Abbrederis is “going through the concussion protocol” and “making progress.” But getting clear answers about a player that many fans like – and who, again, won over tough-to-impress quarterback Aaron Rodgers quickly as a rookie last year – has been difficult.
For the second straight day, Abbrederis came out to Ray Nitschke Field and watched practice, which does constitute progress. But because players in the concussion protocol are banned from speaking with reporters by NFL rules until they are cleared, no one outside the organization has been able to say what symptoms are lingering and just how close Abbrederis is to returning to action.
Asked about Abbrederis being at practice, McCarthy replied, “Yeah, he’s getting better. The medical staff feels like he’s taking more steps, but as far as being out on the field and what he’s doing during the course of the rehab, it’s just another example of where he’s at in the protocol.”
That Abbrederis is taking part in the rehab group inside the Don Hutson Center would seem to indicate that he’s to the point where he is going through exertion tests to see if he’s experiencing any post-concussion symptoms after he works out.
“There’s different steps, and that’s one of them,” McCarthy said. “But he’s going through it.”
Time is running short for Abbrederis to earn a spot on the 53-man roster after missing last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, an injury he suffered during the first week of camp. The Packers have only one open-to-the-public practice remaining, set for next Tuesday, and one preseason game left after Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.
GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 16th practice of training camp on Wednesday:
Thumbs up: Remember when kicker Mason Crosby was such a concern that the Packers forced him to take a pay cut – with the opportunity to earn back all the lost money – and brought in not one but two kickers to challenge him for his job? That was before the 2013 season, and not only did Crosby respond with his best statistical season, he also earned back every penny of that pay cut – and hasn’t looked back since.
Although his in-game opportunities have been limited so far in preseason games, Crosby has been nearly automatic in practice, especially with his usual holder, punter Tim Masthay, putting the ball down. On Wednesday, Crosby connected from 33, 37, 42, 44, 48 and 52 yards, yet another perfect day that ran his camp numbers to 51 of 56 (91.1 percent) this summer. Of those, four of the misses came with departed punter Cody Mandell as the holder, including one kick that was blocked.
“He’s stroking it, he really is,” special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “He’s in a good place right now. Really, Mason’s been like that, for the most part, since I’ve been here. He feels good about the way he’s hitting the ball.”
Thumbs down: That’s not the case for Masthay, who was up-and-down against Pittsburgh on Sunday and was again all over the map with his punts on Wednesday in practice. According to noted punting enthusiast Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Masthay punted 13 times Wednesday. And while his averages of 48.0 gross yards and 4.18 seconds of hang time were good, they disguised his inconsistency: His best punt was a 59-yarder with 4.82 seconds of hang time, but his worst was a 39-yarder that was airborne for just 3.19 seconds.
“Tim can do it. Now, he was in a little bit of a rut, and I feel like he’s coming out it, I really do,” Zook said when asked about Masthay’s recent inconsistency – after he’d been much better while battling Mandell. “We’ve taken the pressure [off]. [We’ve said], ‘Hey, just put the ball down the sideline and let’s go cover it.’ And I think he’s just got to relax and go do it. That’s the biggest thing.
“It’s funny, like Tim said, he didn’t punt the way he wants to punt against Pittsburgh, but we still had a 41-yard net, which is pretty good, you’ll take that. Obviously we want it better, particularly when the weather’s like this. We’ve got to be consistent with that. He knows it and you just got to go do it.”
Play of the day: While Ty Montgomery seems to have inhabited this space a lot during camp, second-year tight end Richard Rodgers has made some eye-catching plays as well. And he made another on Wednesday, reeling in an over-the-shoulder touchdown pass from Brett Hundley during 11-on-11.
Camp confidential: While Packers fans – and many of his teammates – had a hard time coming to grips with their disappointment over Jordy Nelson’s season-ending knee injury, steady-Eddie general manager Ted Thompson, while certainly wishing his top receiver had stayed healthy, seemed to take it in stride.
“You lose players in this game sometimes, and you have to go on. You have to turn the next page,” Thompson said. “But you have extraordinary players, someone like Jordy. With an extraordinary player, you don’t expect to replace the person tit for tat, one for one or anything like that. I think it will command the work of the entire offense and the entire team to make up for that loss.
“But that’s our goal going forward is to be able to win games, be successful in spite of the very disappointing injury. It’s as simple as that. It’s as difficult as that.”
Packers Playlist: "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" by Silento, “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band and “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen were the songs played during the regeneration periods. Listen to all the tunes from training camp on the Packers Regeneration Period Playlist on Spotify.
Injury report: Rookie running back Alonzo Harris left practice with what a Packers spokesman said afterward was a hand injury. The same nine players sat out practice that did the day before: Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), tight end Justin Perillo (concussion), WR Javess Blue (shoulder), WR Jared Abbrederis (concussion), right guard T.J. Lang (concussion), guard Josh Sitton (ankle), No. 2 quarterback Scott Tolzien (concussion), defensive end Datone Jones (knee) and Nelson, who has yet to be placed on season-ending injured reserve.
They said it: “I’m pretty confident that we’re going to be a pretty good defense.” – Thompson, on the oft-criticized side of the ball.
Practice schedule: The Packers have only one open-to-the-public practice left on their training-camp schedule, it was changed to next Tuesday at 12:15 p.m.