Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My Take -> Training Camp Edition

Greetings, G-Force.

I hope that you are enjoying the Summer as much as I am. There's a reason that this blog is tardy. It's because I've been living a fun-filled personal life. Nonetheless, I hope this blog is received as better late than never. The 2015 NFL Season is upon us. And, much to the joy of Packer Nation, the Packers enter the 2015 Season as the clear favorite to win the Super Bowl.

As I write, I sip a June 2015 version of Crooked Stave's Progenitor. It's a plush, dank sensed dry hopped golden ale. Slightly sour. Medium bodied. Citrus intense. There are no wrong turns in the way this beer opens up. Musically, I listen to Phish's 7/21/15 show from Bend, OR. It was my Son's first show and it coupled as a celebration of my wife & I. The following day, we enjoyed our 9th anniversary. The "Blaze On" from the show is one major reason that I love music. I'd never heard the song before and instantly, I was skipping with an Irish flair that leaves the soul sweating with goodness. The opening lyrics to the song are applicable to the current state of the Green Bay Packers. "Climb that hill. Stay on your feet. Scramble for your footing when it gets too steep." Yes, the journey to the Super Bowl 50 title will not be easy. There will be bumps along the way. The Packers will be tested. Their ability to persevere when dark clouds arise will determine the outcome of the 2015 Campaign.

You only get Aaron Rodgers for so many years. Super Bowl 50 better come home to Titletown, U.S.A. THE TIME IS NOW. Ted Thompson knows this. That's why he approached the Draft in the fashion in which he did. In 2014, the Packers special teams units were pathetic. A major aim of the 2015 Draft was to improve upon those special teams units. Ty Montgomery will instantly improve the Kickoff Return team, which was beyond poor last year. I expect Damarious Randall, Aaron Ripkowski and Jake Ryan to all make impacts on special teams this year. Additionally, Thompson had to bring depth to ILB and CB. Randall and Rollins should immediately contribute at CB. Jake Ryan will bring competition at ILB.

One of the things I miss most about not living in WI is going to Training Camp. I love going to Training Camp practices. You get an up-close and personal look at the way these extraordinary athletes move. If I were at Training Camp, this is what I'd be watching:

10.) OL. Bakhtiari, Sitton, Linsley, Tretter, Lang, Bulaga, and Barclay are locks to make the team. I expect the Packers to keep 8 OL. Matt Rotheram is a name to keep an eye on. A versatile player who can play either Guard or Tackle.

9.) RB. We know that Eddie Lacy and James Starks are locks to make the roster. John Kuhn didn't get brought back to get cut. He'll be on the roster unless his play falls off of a cliff. Aaron Ripkowski was drafted as Kuhn's replacement. He'll make the team and see time on special teams when he's on the GameDay roster. While it wouldn't stun me to see the Packers only keep 4 RB's on the 53-man roster; John Crockett, Rajion Neal and Alonzo Harris will all push for a roster spot. Crockett is the fan favorite as he was the prized undrafted free agent. But, Crockett isn't littered with speed. He's a steady runner who runs with consistency. I'm high on Rajion Neal, but the speed I saw on him at the college level wasn't on display in limited action last preseason. While he did compile yards, he didn't wow you with his talents. I wonder if he's quick enough for the NFL game. Look for Alonzo Harris to turn some heads with his straight ahead power football mentality. He'll toss his weight around to pick up yards. He'll bulldoze forward. He'll bring a bit of a Eddie Lacy's physical mentality.

8.) WR. Nelson, Cobb, Montgomery, and Adams are locks to make this roster. I expect Janis to use his speed to nail down a roster spot as well. Janis will not only perform in the preseason at WR, but he'll also compete for a gunner role on special teams. Will a 6th player command a roster spot? There are a bunch of big bodies in camp. Ideal size. Solid college production. Names that I'm excited to watch: Ricky Collins, Adrian Coxson, and Larry Pinkard - if they can stay healthy.

7.) DL. It cannot be overstated. The Packers will be shorthanded to start the year at DL. They play at Chicago, Seattle and Kansas City to start the year. All 3 teams will jam the football at the Packers throats. They'll be without Datone Jones in Week 1. Guion will miss 3 weeks. I'm concerned. Big time.

Mike Daniels is a beast.

The last time we saw Raji on the field, he was mediocre at best.

Josh Boyd needs to take the next step in his career.

Khyri Thornton looks like a bust.

Mike Pennel has the height and weight, but he looked stiff in limited action last year.

Christian Ringo really interests me. In face, I'm flat-out stoked to see him play. Ringo is an undersized pass rusher. A bulldozer. Much in the mold of Mike Daniels. Look for him to get every opportunity to make a quick push for playing time early in the year. I wish I had the opportunity to see him at practice. I hope he can match Daniels' intensity.

Bruce Gaston was a workhorse - at times - at the college level. He didn't catch up on with Arizona last year, but he has a mean streak to him and could turn some heads at camp this year. Gaston is definitely a prospect for the practice squad.

Lavon Hooks has a great opportunity in front of him. He's an athletic big body. A sound run stopper. He could fill a major need for the Packers who are craving someone with his talents. At the college level, his activity was inconsistent. He flashed. But, he needs to ensure that his battery is charged. He's a personality that would be fun to have around. I am pulling for him.

6.) OLB. CM3 should see the majority of his snaps at ILB. I believe that we'll see a lot of Julius Peppers at DT on passing downs during the season. Mike Neal and Nick Perry are oft-injured. So, the Packers need someone else to elevate. Jayrone Elliot was terrific in the preseason last year. He has the length to make an impact as a pass rusher. Adrian Hubbard was kept around last year on the practice squad. He has the physique. But, can he put it all together? Jermauria Rasco got caught up in a numbers game at LSU, but he has ideal size. He's likely a practice squad candidate. Andy Mulumba did some nice things in his rookie year. He's limited from a speed and quickness perspective, but he fights with tenacity. I'll be surprised if James Vaughters makes the roster. The Packers need someone to elevate. Who will it be?

5.) It's an important preseason for Brett Huntley and Scott Tolzien. Ted Thompson plays for draft picks. Tolzien is on a 1-year deal. If he plays well, he'll be an unrestricted Free Agent next year and he could attract some interest around the league. Well, the Packers might be willing to let him go if Huntley lives up to his potential. At one point, Huntley was viewed as a potential 1st round pick. Possibly even a target to be the top overall pick. He had a below average Junior Year. He came out. The Packers might have scored BIG with the selection of Huntley. Not only might he merit a compensatory pick by allowing the Packers to let Tolzien sign elsewhere next year, but it's possible that Huntley might someday net the Packers a compensatory pick as well. Matt Blanchard could earn himself a spot on the practice squad with a solid preseason.

4.) ILB. Yes, CM3 can solve all problems at one of the ILB positions, but depth and the starter opposite CM3 are question marks. Barrington did some nice things last year. But, he's limited. He lacks speed. He gets exposed in space. He has limitations.

Before the draft, I wrote this about Jake Ryan: "A football player. Smart. Savvy. Finds the football. Wants to succeed. A natural. Awesome hustle. But, somewhat limited athletically. After his ACL tear, he didn’t develop as fast or as much as I thought he might. Plays a little like AJ Hawk." Prior to his knee surgery, I was a big fan of Jake Ryan. I thought he had a really bright future. He was never the same player after the injury. Still, I'm excited about the pick. He's a smart player. A natural, knowledgeable football player. After the Packers picked him, I jumped from my chair with excitement. My Son, Dylan, came running over and said, "What happened, Daddy?" I said, "The Packers selected Jake!" Dylan's favorite TV show is "Jake and the Neverland Pirates." Dylan replied with, "Daddy, pick me up." I did. Soon, Dylan referred to Jake as "YELLOW JAKE" due to Michigan's uniforms. So, from now on, in this blog, Jake Ryan is YELLOW JAKE. I'm excited to see how he's utilized. He and CM3 on passing downs could be a fun tandem. YELLOW JAKE does have experience rushing from the edge. He'd be a natural at coming on the blitz.

Joe Thomas intrigued in the preseason last year. He was a thumper. He was active. I want to see more of him early this year.

I don't believe in Nate Palmer.

I can't believe that Carl Bradford didn't translate to the NFL. He was a Tasmanian Devil at the college level. Undersized, but the ultimate fighter. I hope he can make a push at ILB, but I just don't see it.

Tavarus Dantzler intrigues. He looks the part in his uniform. I want to see him move.

3.) Kennard Backman v Justin Perillo v Mitchell Henry. Three TE's with ideal size. Without question, one of them will make the roster. Backman is both the favorite and the draft pick. Perillo is the incumbent. Henry is a reliable target who will push to make this roster. Don't discount Henry. All 3 will receive opportunities. One will make the roster. One will likely be a practice squad player. And, with AQ81!'s suspension, it's possible that 2 of them are on the Week 1 roster. As the season wore on last year, the Packers TE's became utilized more and more. By the end of the year, they were a major threat on 3rd downs. Often times, they were Rodgers' initial target. Richard Rodgers seems ready to have a great year catching the football. But, can he block? AQ81! is coming off a disastrous offseason in which he was suspended for firing a gun into the air and then he lost his daughter during birth. For good reason, he's going to be in a rough mental state. Backman, Perillo, and Henry. It'll be an interesting position battle. The lights are on young men. Rise up!

2.) Ty Montgomery. If you've followed my blog long enough, you've known that I've been a major fan of Montgomery's for a long time. Before the draft I wrote: "I’m higher on him than most are. He reminds me of a poor man’s Anquan Boldin. Tough, physical receiver who can also move into the backfield. Solid in the return game as well. Would instantly help on kick-off returns. Get the ball in his hands and he’ll find space. At this stage, he might be best used in the slot. He’s a classic Ted Thompson “football player.”" Early in the college football season, I had him ranked as a 1st round prospect. He had issues with catching the ball, at times, last year. But, he'll add versatility to an already dynamic offense. He and Cobb will be interchanged. We'll see a lot of 5 WR formations with either Cobb or Montgomery ending up in the backfield. We'll see Montgomery on the quick hitch or on the swing pass. We may see him on the wheel route out of the backfield. He'll be a major weapon for this offense. After the catch, he's forceful. He's powerful. He's tough to bring down. I'm really excited to see how he's utilized. I can't wait to see Montgomery on Kickoff Returns!

1.) The youth at the CB position. Sammy Swagga will start at one CB. SHOWCASE Hayward will play at either the other CB or he'll win the slot role. But, the Packers have to replace T-Mon. In desperate fashion. With Randall, Rollins, and Gunter; the Packers added three players that I targeted prior to the Draft. All three will immediately have the opportunity to contribute at CB. Of the three, it's possible that Gunter translates best to the perimeter of the field.

Before the draft, I had this to say about Randall: "Hard hitter who finds the football. Great in the run game. Plays with passion. He can also step into the slot and cover a receiver. Gets his hands on the receiver and does a good job directing routes." I stand by that statement. I hope he can adjust to the outside.

Before the draft, I had this to say about Rollins: "Plays like a middleweight boxer. He’s a feisty fighter. Quick on his feet. Utilizing his basketball skills to steal the ball, he displays great coordination. Both hand-eye coordination and foot-eye coordination. But, I see him solely as a slot CB." I stand by that. I question whether he has the speed to turn and run with top-shelf WR's on the outside.

Before the draft, I had this to say about Gunter: "Gunter can turn and run with the best of them. He’s a little soft, but he’s willing. He might translate best to FS, but he has a future in the league. High points the ball. Made some big plays when the lights were on. Some might have him as an undrafted prospect. I think he has a bright future." He doesn't have great track speed, but he uses his length in a fashion that makes him play faster than he times.

Randall. Rollins. Gunter. We need one of the three to be ready for Prime Time. To be playing at a high level for most of this year. The NFL is a passing league. In order to defend in the modern era, you have to be strong on the perimeter. The key to the Packers success might be directly correlated to the progress of Randall, Rollins and Gunter. Thankfully, Joe Whitt is the Packers best positional coach. He'll be getting the kids ready.

Training camp is in full swing. The pads are on. While I don't want summer to end, I'm anxious to hear helmets collide.

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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