Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Take -> Offseason Review & Training Camp Preview

Greetings, G-Force.

I've been on a football writing hiatus since April. There's a lot to catch up on.

Many fans believe that Super Bowls are won in March. Free Agency dominates the landscape and in the minds of many football followers, pretenders become contenders. I disagree.

Recent history shows that the Champions are those teams who draft, develop and add onto the contracts of their own. Look at the '05 & '08 Steelers. The '06 Colts. The '07 & '11 NYG. The '10 Packers. Even the '12 Ravens. Most of the stars on each of these teams played - in large part - for only one franchise.

I remain firm. It's a draft. Develop. Sign your stars kind of league.

I didn't like that GJ85 ended up in Purple, but I understood the decision. I was more baffled that Desmond Bishop got away. I was fired up to watch heightened physicality from the defense with CM3, Datone Jones, Bishop, Nick Perry and an energized BJ Raji all in the front 7.

I couldn't believe how much money the Colts paid Erik Walden.

Tom Crabtree was fun to have in Green Bay. It was sad to see him go.

The real news out of Green Bay this offseason: Aaron Rodgers & Clay Matthews are locked up!!! Well played, Ted Thompson!

I also liked the deal that Morgan Burnett got. He's young and his best football is in front of him. Plus, it was a friendly deal for the Packers cap.

Due to the make-up of the salary cap and the high salaries associated with Superstars, the depth is generally found in low-cost young talent. Youth has to rise to the occasion. Thankfully, once again, Ted Thompson was aggressive in his accumulation of draft picks.

If you follow me on twitter, you know that post the Draft, I broke down each of the draft picks performances in the All-Star game that they played. That is, if they played in one. I also highlighted some undrafted Free Agent performances. As always, I never comment on a player until I've actually watched him play. Here are some notes:

Round 1.) Datone Jones, DL, UCLA. Yes, I'm always stoked when I nail a pick pre-draft. I wanted Jones. I got what I wanted!

NFL Network Analyst, Charley Casserley, ranked the Jets as having one of the elite drafts this past April. He cited Oday Aboushi as one of their impact selections. Clearly, he didn't watch the Senior Bowl. Jones absolutely worked Aboushi in the Senior Bowl. Pure domination. He won the leverage battle. He got in the backfield. He forced EJ Manuel to step up in the pocket. Consistently, he got a push. He was quick off the ball. He used his hands well.

Jones also blew by Terron Armstead, the Saints 3rd Round pick, with a swim move. Jones played on both the right and left side. He held the edge well and forced runs back to the inside. Against Armstead, he did a good job of extending his arms.

When TE, Vance McDonald, the 49ers 2nd Round pick tried to block Jones, McDonald failed miserably.

Jones, who had 19.5 tackles for loss as a Senior, repeatedly blew by Aboushi. He was tireless in his pursuit. He finished plays. He was a difference maker. Great speed-power combination. He was disruptive throughout. He even slid inside to play Left DT. His versatility was apparent. I'm thrilled he's in Titletown!

Round 2.) Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama. I didn't want Lacy in Round 1 due to his injuries. But, late in Rd 2? He was a steal. He can do it all. If healthy, he'll be a dynamite addition to the offense. He's a 3-down back who'll be rested because of a suddenly deep RB position. He's deceptively fast with an epic spin move. He possesses first-class power. If healthy, he has the ability to dominate. He could have been a top 15 pick. But, admittedly, his durability concerns me.

Round 4.) David Bakhtiari, OL, CO. Though I live in CO and attended 2 games of his, I can't say I saw anything that jumped out at me. But, I wasn't necessarily looking for him either.

Round 4.) JC Tretter, OL, Cornell. Tretter was supposed to play in the Senior Bowl, but he was injured prior to the practices. So, I've never seen him play.

Round 4.) Johnathan Franklin, RB, UCLA. I respect my brother Chad's football opinion as much as anyone. When I showed him the Senior Bowl film of Franklin, he said, "Brandon Jackson with a burst." While I believe he will be better than B-Jack - and so does Chad - I see why he made the comment. Not to temper enthusiasm, but they have similar running styles and both are solid 3rd down blocking/receiving options.

During the Senior Bowl, my notes were the following: My first assessment is that Franklin has quickness that we are not used to in Green Bay (DuJuan Harris has the same). He's shifty. In pass protection, he stood out. At one point, he stopped Cornelius Washington, the Bears 6th Rd pick dead in his tracks.

As a runner, Franklin showed patience. He trusted his blockers. He had the turbo to get to the corner. One one play, he picked up 12 yards due to an exciting cut. He rounds the corner and can get upfield.

He can run to the right. He can run to the left. He doesn't fear contact. He displayed vision.

He displayed vision, speed and shake on a 20-yard TD run in which he outpaced Robert Lester.

Throughout, Franklin was a blocking beast. I believe he will be the 3rd down back.

Round 5.) Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa. While some see him as a safety, I see him as a CB. If you followed my pre-draft guide, you know that I associated and targeted him as the type of CB that Ted Thompson would draft. He's made for the slot. Quicker than fast. In the East-West Shrine Game, he was rarely tested. But, he pursues tacklers with aggression. He's physical. He'll add solid depth to an already full CB position. With that said, in today's NFL, there's no such thing as too many DB's.

Round 5.) Josh Boyd, DL, Mississippi St. I watched Boyd in both the Senior Bowl and the East West Shrine Game. In the Shrine Game, there were times in which Boyd showed pass rushing ability. My Senior Bowl assessment was that he wasn't ready to make an immediate impact in the NFL. I liked the width of his body. He showed good hustle. On occasion, he displayed glimpses of being able to separate from blockers. He made plays at the line of scrimmage. He chased down ball carriers from behind. However, Kyle Long, the Bears 1st Rd pick, consistently swallowed Boyd. David Quessenberry, the Texans 6th Rd pick, also got the best of Boyd. Boyd did show some versatility as he played both DT positions. In all, I view him as a solid developmental prospect.

Round 6.) Nate Palmer, OLB, Illinois State. Palmer played in the NFLPA Bowl. He rotated between RDE & LDE in a 4-3. He showed decent timing off the snap. Not robustly quick off the ball though. But, he had a small buzz to him. He looks the part. However, when going against UDFA's, Ronald Mattes, Elliot Mealer, and James Nelson, Palmer made zero impact. He lacked physicality. I worry that he's soft. Frankly, I'm trusting Ted Thompson on this one. I don't see it.

Round 7.) Charles Johnson, WR, Grand Valley St. Intrigued by what I read. Never seen him play.

Round 7.) Kevin Dorsey, WR, Maryland. Like Palmer, he looks the part in uniform. Great build. Willing blocker, but he wasn't always able to sustain the block. He played in the Raycom All-Star Classic. Has a good stature. Lean. Good length.

He reminded me a little of Ruvell Martin. Didn't get off the snap quickly. Shorter stride than you'd expect from his size. Not cut for the slot, I don't think. Likely meant for the outside.

Round 7.) Sam Barringyon, LB, South Florida. I can't recall him from when I watched South Florida play.

Undrafted: Andy Mulumba, OLB, Eastern Michigan. I always love when Thompson goes after a MI product. It forced me to learn about Mulumba. And interact with him on Twitter. His YouTube video showed him stepping behind Taylor Lewan at the Big House in Ann Arbor to make a play. He showed great hustle. As I interacted with Mulumba on Twitter, I found out that when he went against Eric Fisher, the 1st overall pick in the Draft, Mulumba had 11 tackles. 5 of which were solo. During the game, he was mostly man v man against Fisher. I'm craving more info on this man!

Myles White, WR, Louisiana Tech. In the NFLPA Bowl, I liked his swagger. Good aggressiveness. Played on the outside with a feel that he could step into the slot. A willing blocker. Displayed an ability to get down to make the catch. Decent length. I projected him as a prime practice squad candidate and a more exciting prospect than Dorsey based on the limited action I witnessed.

Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State. Didn't play in an All-Star game, but I know his game. If he can develop as a blocker, he has a shot to stick. A solid red zone target. Finds the hole in the zone of the defense. Good hands. Special teams and blocking will determine his fate.

Gilbert Pena, DL, Mississippi. He, too, played in the Raycom All-Star Classic. In more than just his name, there was a resemblance to the Grave Digger, Gilbert Brown. Pena is massive.

Pena displayed good discipline. Solid hustle. He's more than stout. A big boy. He forced a fumble as he slapped Robert Marve's wrist from behind. Pena was double teamed throughout the game. He wraps up well, but if you cut him, he can't move well.

If you try to man up against him, Pena sheds the block well and eats the ball carrier. Pens often gets his hands up in passing lanes. He's disruptive.

Pena takes choppy steps and consistently comes with a bull rush. He's a great training camp body. With an aging Ryan Pickett, who knows. I like that Pena will be in camp. He was an absolute man in the Raycom All-Star Game. Arguably the most impressive player on the field.

Angelo Pease, RB, Kansas State. I watched a lot of K-State football last year. Angelo Pease never caught my eye.

10 Training Camp Predictions:

1.) Last year, I went on record. Before the Draft. I wanted BJ Coleman. I believe that he will become the Mr. August. He will outshine Graham Harrell. He will be the lone back-up QB.

2.) Don Barclay will run away with the starting RT position. Clearly, the Packers are focused on improving the ground game. It was a heavy emphasis in the Draft. When Barclay became a starter, the Packers became a much better running team.

3.) I still haven't forgiven Jeremy Ross for his dropped punt in SF. And, I still believe that the Packers might have won the game if Ross had caught the ball. (Yes, I'm over-the-top with my Packers goggles, but as I always say: I'm an optimistic realist). Regardless of Ross' past, I feel he runs away with the kick return job. And, thus, he gobbles a crucial WR spot. The Packers keep 6 WR: Cobb, Nelson, Jones, Johnson, Boykin, Ross. Fun to predict this position battle!

4.) Mason Crosby was absolutely awful last year. He rebounds with a strong camp.

5.) Barring injury, neither Alex Green nor James Starks makes the roster. Harris is legit. Franklin & Lacy are the prized rookies. There's only so many roster spots. Thanks for the XLV playoff run, Starks. I wish you could have stayed healthy. You have brute potential. Green gets a lot of reps early in camp in an effort to put him on display as trade bait.

6.) Mike Neal has no shot of succeeding as an OLB. Prior to him, the Packers have tried moving DE's, Aaron Kampman & Cullen Jenkins, to OLB. It didn't work. The same will apply with Neal. He can't play in space. He can't cover a TE or a RB. Those are duties of an OLB in a 3-4.

7.) Brad Jones proves he's a much more physical and instinctive ILB than AJ Hawk. Someone emerges as a threat to Hawk's playing time. While conventional thought would predict that Terrell Manning would be the guy, my prediction is that Jamari Lattimore is the surprise ILB in camp. It wouldn't surprise me if Robert Francois skips Manning on the depth chart.

8.) The depth at OLB remains disappointing. While Perry, Dezman Moses, Nate Palmer, Mike Neal, Donte Savage & Jarvis Reed are all prospects to play opposite CM3; I only see Perry & Moses as immediate options. And Moses has significant limitations due to limited speed and coverage skills. Further, he's still learning the role and lacks awareness. He gives great effort and therefore, he earns playing time. It wouldn't stun me if one or two of the UDFA's outperform Palmer. Likely Mulumba. My fear is that Palmer is this years Ricky Elmore. I hope I'm not bring too harsh. Palmer was hand selected by Kevin Greene. I trust Greene. I'm concerned about what I saw about Palmer. I'll be curious to see if Jarvis Reed can surprise in camp.

9.) Bryan Bulaga & Josh Sitton work wonders on the left side of the line. Lang & Barclay lock up the right side. But, pressure can come at Aaron Rodgers right up the middle. I don't believe in EDS as a 16- game starter. He's a patchwork, versatile 6th OL who can play both Guard & Center in a pinch. I don't see him as a starter. His lack of strength gets exposed early in the preseason.

10.) BJ Raji returns to form. Finally, in Datone Jones, the Packers have replaced Cullen Jenkins. Raji avoids constant double-and-triple teams. He's motivated. He's beastly. He wants a new contract. Early in camp, he shows the 2010 Raji form.

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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