Thursday, August 11, 2011

My Take -> Preseason Week 1

Greetings, G-Force.
Pardon me while I tap my head with excitement. Repeatedly. Yes, it's pure bliss. The XLV Champs will start their title defense in Preseason battle this Saturday at Cleveland. Of course, the game will be televised live via the NFL Network. The last time the Packers won the Super Bowl, Mike Holmgren was the Head Coach. Fritz Shurmur was the Defensive Coordinator. This Sunday, Holmgren will be in the oppositions colors and Fritz's son, Pat, will be the Head Coach for the Browns. Additionally, Brandon Jackson will be wearing Browns colors for the 1st time since departing from Green Bay via Free Agency. Needless to say, there are plenty of fun story lines as we anticipate the Preseason opener.
As a fan who used to attend practices on an almost daily basis, I live for the Family Night Scrimmage. I was totally bummed to see it get rained out. Thankfully, I tuned in online and was able to catch what I could. Living out of town, the Family Night is my only way to catch the Packers prior to the Preseason opener. I enjoy the thought of Family Night. 50,000 fans coming to support an organization. A brand. An identity. With ecstasy. It's a National Reminder that the Packers remain the most authentic organization in all of American sports.
It's worth noting: last year during the Family Night scrimmage, an undrafted FA - Sammy "Swagga" Shields - picked off a pass and danced down the sidelines for a TD. Dating back to 2001, you may remember Kevin Kaesviharn. Kaesviharn returned a Favre interception for a TD. While Kaesviharn did not make the Packers roster, he did go on to have a solid NFL career. This year - another undrafted FA, Brandian Ross, picked off a pass and returned it for a TD. I'm not saying. I'm just saying. I was stoked about his play when I watched his YouTube video. He is not afraid to jab you at the line. He seeks contact. Maybe Ross has a chance. It'll be fun to follow.
Here are a few random thoughts as we enter Preseason play:

* Erik Walden will be our starting ROLB. The more I watch the final 6 games, the more convinced I become that his style of play best compliments Clay Matthews. When Zombo replaced Walden in the Super Bowl, Zombo was the OLB that was consistently rushing the QB, while Clay occasionally dropped in coverage. Walden is talented in space. He drops well. Zombo is the better pass rusher, but he's occasionally a liability in space.

* Sometimes you watch a guy play for a second and you get that feeling. For me, that feeling came with Anthony Bratton. Call me crazy, but I'm looking for him to make a run at making this squad. At this stage, I have him on my 53-man roster.

* Prediction: Mike Neal gets at least 6 sacks this year.

* I was pulling for Chastin West to make the team last year. I'm doing the same this year. Really like his game. Good frame. Like the way he uses his hands. His versatility is a concern. He hasn't shown special teams skills. Last year, the Packers tried him as a PR and he didn't show enough. I don't recall seeing him as a gunner. Maybe he gets a look during the Preseason this year? Doubtful. But, possible. The Packers are loaded at WR. In fact, my good mate, Vargas, went to practice on Tuesday night. He sent me a message that said, "Gurley. Gurley. Gurley." When we spoke the next day, I said to him, "Well, who do you like better: West or Gurley?" He says that he says both can play. "Different styles of receivers. Gurley can get deep on you. A run after the catch guy. West is more of a possession receiver." As I mentioned after the Packers signed Gurley, we have yet to see Gurley's full talent as he was under-utilized at South Carolina due to the complete arsenal of talent that the Gamecocks have. With Lattimore running the ball and with Jeffery across from Gurley at WR, he shouldn't be worried with being the 3rd option. This might be an area in which we're able to pull off a trade prior to the final cutdown. Or could this mean the end of Donald Driver's career in Green Bay? Driver is due a significant bonus prior to the 2012 season, so I imagine that this might be his last year, but if West and/or Gurley shows worth and Cobb continues to develop, well, as hard as it is to say - the best move for the future of this franchise might be to move on with out our loved one, Double-D. It's also noteworthy that one "source" says Aaron Rodgers commented last December that he believed West had a future in the NFL.

* Roster projection: The Packers keep 5 TE's this year. It's possible to see 4 TE sets this year. Give Rodgers 2 plays. Let him be a decision maker. Great fun!

* I'll be interested to see how the Packers utilize Grant & Starks. While Starks is the best back on the roster, I wonder if one of them will be used in single back formations and the other in two-back formations? Or will they both be used interchangeably? Further, who will be the 3rd down back? Does Starks get this job? Or does it go to Kuhn? Does Alex Green get a crack at the 3rd down job?

Bring on the Preseason. I'm ready to see this team play. Let's Repeat!

The Browns represent a solid opponent for the 1st preseason game. They have solid young talent. They've also brought in some solid veterans in Ben Watson, Scott Fujita and Sheldon Brown. In many ways, Holmgren is building the Browns much like the Packers & Seahawks were created under Holmgren's eye. As of now, the Browns future is in the hands of Colt McCoy's development.

Thus far, it sounds as though the Packers offense has struggled in practice. While this is not abnormal at this stage of training camp, it sounds as though the OL has had trouble. Protecting Aaron Rodgers is priority #1 in this game. And, hopefully, the first string offense will generate points. I expect Rodgers to have 1 Quarter to get in rhythm. It's important for Rodgers and Cobb to get some action together. Timing is vital. This is the time to learn the offensive cadences and to get on the same page. It'll be interesting to see if Finley gets on the field or whether the Packers give him the night off.
The Packers jump out to an early lead. While Grant gets the first carry, it's Starks who pounds away and finds the defensive secondary. Rodgers hits Jennings on a 12-yard puma route. He finds Jordy on a crossing route for a 1st down. He finds Jones for 6 yards on a comeback route. Finally, Starks rumbles into the end zone for a 7-0 Packers lead.

The 1st team defense comes out blazing. It wouldn't surprise me if Woodson gets the night off. Nonetheless, Mike Neal, BJ "The Freezer" Raji and Ryan Pickett control the line of scrimmage. Peyton Hillis pounds away without results. The Browns pick up one first down before Mike Neal gets the Packers off the field by applying pressure and forcing an errant throw from McCoy.

Cobb drops back for the punt return...OH BABY! OH BABY! OH BABY!

Rodgers gets one more drive. On this possession, it's Rodgers to Finley. Grant pushes his way for 5. Again, Rodgers finds Jennings. This time it's on a deep one and the Packers are in the Red Zone. After settling for a FG, the Packers first team offense leaves with a 10-0 lead.

Again, the first team defense, plays with a physical nature. Walden comes on a delayed pressure up the gut and gets to McCoy. The first team unit exits after a dominating 1st Quarter.

And then, the game finds rich excitement as the Packers depth and talent goes on display.

In the 2nd & 3rd Quarters, Alex Greene and Dmitri Nance share the bulk of the load. For the most part, they'll be running left behind Newhouse and either Lang or Sherrod. Newhouse dominates! Flynn comes out and has excellent targets in the form of DJ Williams, Cobb, Swain, West and Gurley.

Defensively, Zombo and Brad Jones are applying pressure. DJ Smith is getting sideline-to-sideline. There is legitimate speed found in the depth of the Packers defense.

Late in the 3rd, we get our first glimpse of Harrell. Rumored to be much improved, he, too, should have solid options in R. Taylor, K.Taylor, Gurley, West and Diondre Borel. We also see the first action from Brandon Saine as a Packer. The offense continues to move the ball.

Defensively, Peanut Joseph makes a name for himself. Playing with a vengeance - he's all around the ball. Bratton gets his hands on a pick. And - after missing time with a concussion - Lawrence Guy gets in on the action.

Packers 23. Browns 13.

What can I say? I'm excited for my first real glimpse of the Defending Champs! Should be a rager.

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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