From the Far Hash: Roster Battle Winners and Losers Emerging
We are now three or so weeks into training camp, and coaches, scouts, and fans alike are beginning to see what each player is shaping out to be. We can begin to predict some of the roster battles winners and losers. Let’s take a look at one man’s opinions.
Winner: Vince Young. Sure, he hasn’t showed much yet at all. But, he really wins by default. Up to this point, Graham Harrell and B. J. Coleman are clearly not ready for prime time and cannot be trusted to run the team for multiple games if a tragedy were to occur.
The addition of Young to the roster marks a very different strategic approach for the brain trust of Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. In previous years, they expected the backup quarterback to run sections of the base offense run under Aaron Rodgers. After watching Harrell and Coleman struggle, it’s obvious they can’t run the base package. So, I think McCarthy is taking a similar approach to how Mike Shanahan is managing his quarterback situation in Washington, but in reverse order. When Robert Griffin III is on the field, the Redskins run a very athletic, mobile quarterback package. When the backup, Kirk Cousins, is on the field, the Redskins become more of a pocket passing team. The overall goal is to shape the offense around the quarterback, rather than forcing a square peg through a round hole. I think the Packers will run an athletic, mobile offense if Vince Young should ever unfortunately have to see the field; he’ll not be asked to be the same down field pocket passer that the marksman Aaron Rodgers is.
Losers: Graham Harrell and B. J. Coleman. At this point, both have played themselves out of roster positions.
Harrell plays slow and short. He refuses to throw the ball down field and is just too indecisive to run the offense. He’s a statue in the pocket, so I expect him to be outright released.
Coleman has all the physical tools one wants in a quarterback. He’s a long and smooth athlete. But, he plays too slow and doesn’t trust his reads. He needs more time to mature, so I expect him to be on the practice squad one more year. That’s his last chance.
Winner: Don Barclay. If we know one thing about Mike McCarthy, it is he’s loyal to a stubborn fault. Once his mind is made up, it’s just not going to change. I think, in his mind, he’s already decided Barclay will be the the starting right tackle. McCarthy doesn’t want to outright name Barclay the starter at this point because he wants the competition to help Barclay develop even faster. He has a high ceiling, even if he does lack a little athleticism. However, he’s mean and plays with some fire in the gut. He’s had a fine camp up to this point, despite playing musical chairs on the offense line. But, he’s outplayed the only other viable option, Marshall Newhouse, for that position. Expect Don to be the opening day starter against the 49ers.
Winner (by default): David Bakhtiari. With Bryan Bulaga getting injured, David became the default starter in the “next man up” philosophy. However, he has excelled in this position. There are some videos floating around the internet showing him in one-on-one pass blocking drills against Clay Matthews. Bakhtiari consistently wins. You could argue that Clay is going easy in practice, and practice is just practice. But, Clay goes 100% full speed 100% of the time. He has no quit in him. So, that means Bakhtiari is the real deal. Mike Daniels called him a psychopath. David has good knee bend, good feet, plays with his head up, and wants to kill his opponent. This is basically the complete opposite of Marshall Newhouse, who appears at times to rather have a few beers with his defensive end opponent and talk about the slow pace of life and how much he enjoys puppies and kittens.
Losers: Marshall Newhouse and Andrew Datko.
Newhouse looks very uncomfortable and unathletic at right tackle. Sure, there are always growing pains when switching positions, but coaching a little technique will never turn him into an Anthony Munoz. He’s reached his ceiling and there’s no more growth to be had. He doesn’t play with fire, urgency, or meanness. He makes the roster as the swing-man tackle backup. You could argue that Newhouse has always been a known quantity, but the fact he fell from the money position of left tackle to basically a utility backup makes him a clear loser this preseason.
Andrew Datko was a “nothing to lose” draft pick out of Florida State last year. He’s athletic, but injuries derailed his college career. He had the potential to be a value pick and develop into a viable player. I think the plan, during the draft last year, was to develop him into being Marshall Newhouse’s replacement at left tackle this year (and to leave Bulaga at right tackle). However, the combination of injuries and lack of playing time are derailing his professional career. He’s shown virtually nothing since coming to Green Bay. He’ll be waived, or if he’s still dinged up, he’ll get an injury settlement. I don’t see any way he makes the roster, unfortunately.
Winner: Matthew Mulligan. This free agent signing really surprised me, but once again showcases that Ted Thompson knows what he’s doing. Mulligan is a run-blocking beast and plays more athletically than he looks. While fans miss Tom Crabtree, Mulligan fills in this roster spot very nicely.
Loser: D. J. Williams. He is a practice warrior. Smooth athlete who looks like he was born to play tight end in the NFL. But, for whatever reason, he just can’t put it together during games when it truly counts. If Andrew Quarless can get his health together, Williams is truly on the roster bubble.
Winners: None. The Packers have three halfbacks vying for legitimate playing time this fall: Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, and DuJuan Harris. McCarthy is known to run by committee, but he also goes with the hot hand. Starks has shown great flashes of potential, but he has to show he can stay healthy for longer than just the team’s pregame meal. If he can stay healthy, you can expect him to get a healthy workload.
Losers: Alex Green and John Kuhn.
Green’s knee flared up the other day, so time is running out for him. He was drafted for his explosiveness and his potential as a pass protector. Eddie Lacy now becomes the thumper; his pass blocking at Alabama was not too shabby either. Green is trade bait at this point.
John Kuhn is a fan favorite. He gets the yard at third and one and is a pretty darn good pass blocker. Good receiver, too. But, Eddie Lacy can do all those things. The fullback is a dying position in the NFL, and Kuhn is no exception. His high salary is too much to pay to be a situational player, especially when a younger, faster, and stronger Lacy is already on the team.
Winner: Tyrone Walker. This guy seemingly came out of nowhere. He was one of the lone bright spots during the lackluster first preseason game against the Cardinals. I’m ready to declare him as a lock to make the final wide receiver spot.
Losers: Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey. Injuries never gave these guys a chance. You can’t make the team in the training room or on a stationary bike. They were drafted to compete for the last receiver spots, but now it’s an impossible hill to climb. Depending on their lingering injury situations, they will either be placed on injured reserve, waived and signed to the practice squad, or injury settled. They have literally given the Packers nothing on film, whether in practice or games, to evaluate.
Loser (sort of): Jordy Nelson. Missing the entire preseason can’t be good. This isn’t like Adrian Peterson or Robert Griffin III missing the preseason. Those two still practiced, but didn’t play in preseason games. Nelson is not even practicing. He knows the offense, so I have no doubts he’ll be ready from a schematic standpoint. But, I do have worries about his conditioning and timing with Aaron Rodgers. During a typical game, a receiver runs between two and five miles. You don’t build conditioning up in one week, so missing all that practice and preseason game time will hurt that. Coupled with the fact he’s not running routes to catch Aaron’s passes in practice, there will be timing rust when he comes back. I honestly don’t expect Nelson to be a factor until at least week three. He’ll play opening day, but he’ll be near the bottom of the box score. Don’t start him in your fantasy league.
Winner: Chris Banjo. Did you see the first preseason game? This guy can hit. He’s serious about his profession and is not scared to get into the scrum. Ultimately, he may not make the Packers, but he now has film out there that shows he belongs in the NFL. From his standpoint, he’s definitely a winner. He’ll be making Sunday paychecks somewhere this season, either in Green Bay or elsewhere.
Loser: Sean Richardson. Time is running out for him. Unfortunately, his career might be over. He has given no one any reason for optimism this year. I personally wish him well.
Winners: Sam Barrington and Robert Francois.
Barrington has had an impressive camp, and he has been rewarded with being a starter in the kicking game. This says a lot about the rookie. Many rookies have to earn that last roster spot by playing special teams, and it appears that Barrington has because he’s the only rookie on the first team kicking squad.
Robert Francois doesn’t always show much in practice. He doesn’t appear overly athletic and fast. But, during games, when it really matters, he steps up. His good showing, despite a missed sack, in the first preseason game shows he might be a viable backup. He’s strong and is made 100% out of heart. You want these guys on your team.
Loser: Terrell Manning. He’s a solid prospect who overcame tremendous adversity from his parasite infection. It is truly remarkable that he even made the team last year after basically playing on only four of eight engine cylinders. However, this year is different. He hasn’t showed much, and the crowded linebacker backup group may leave no room for him.
Winner: Sam Shields. He had a tremendous 2010 run, followed by a very up and down 2011 and 2012 campaign. He did come on strong finish to 2012, and he appears to be having a good run early on this season. With the injuries to Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams, and Shields’ run of good health, Sam has solidified himself as an opening day starter, which wasn’t always a guaranteed thing in the past.
Losers: Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams, and Davon House.
The Packers expected great things from Davon House this season based on a tremendous preseason in 2012. Most accounts suggest that if he didn’t get injured, he would have been the opening day starter. But, fast-forward to this season. He know looks lost. He got torched against the Cardinals in the first preseason game, and Aaron Rodgers lit him up again yesterday in practice. At this point, the question isn’t whether he’ll see the field as a starter or in a substitution package, it’s whether he even makes the final 53.
Tramon Williams was a premier corner until his shoulder injury that caused nerve damage. Now, he’s a liability because of it. He’s still gifted enough to be a worthy starter despite his injury, but he’s missed valuable practice time this summer. He will unquestionably make the team, but he may not be the starting cornerback in the base package. At worst, he’ll be relegated to the nickle package and/or slot cornerback, but that means he’ll still be on the field for at least 60% of all the snaps.
Casey Hayward has the potential to be special. He shined as a rookie and showed us that he wasn’t even beginning to scratch the surface of his high ceiling. But, he injured himself during off season workouts and hasn’t seen the field since. The biggest growth for developing players occurs between their first and second years. This missed time is undoubtedly stunting his development. Once healed, he will be on the field for no less than 60% of the snaps (if he is relegated to nickle and slot cornerback), but the lost development time makes him a clear loser during this training camp.
Winners: Every free agent and soon-to-be-waived kicker out there. Dudes, keep your cell phone charged and turned on. You may get a call from Ted Thompson.
Loser: Mason Crosby. After a horrible 2012, Mason stunk up the joint during Family Night. He is being out-kicked by a free agent during team sessions. He doesn’t instill faith or confidence at this point.