It's here. The Green Bay Packers are at Lambeau Field. Welcome to the best time of the year. As Family Night nears, I have to give a phat shout-out to my Godson, Vargasito, who will be making his first trip to the most hallowed theater in all of American sports. Cherish it, Vargasito!
As the Lambeau Faithful prepare to see the Sunrise on the new season, important to remember that Family Night has provided a platform for players to get recognized. In the case of Sammy Swagga, it was the springboard to his spectacular rookie season. The first time we saw him pick off a pass in the Green & Gold was on Family Night. Later that year, he sealed the "Trump Card" for Packers fans as he picked off Caleb Hanie to give the Packers the Halas Trophy. At Soldier Field. In the Visitors Locker Room. Sorry, but it's fun to reminisce. Last year, Family Night featured Brandian Ross picking off Aaron Rodgers and returning it for a TD. Instantly, Ross had caught the attention of the 13-time World Champions followers. Some may remember Kevin Kaesviharn and his two interceptions off Brett Favre in the '01 Family Night game. After he was released, he signed with the Bengals. He was a solid Safety for the Bengals. Yes, the Family Night provides an opportunity for the welterweights on the roster to perform under the Lambeau Lights. And, on some occasions, the welterweights perform with BELT-like goodness and rise their status to roster worthy levels.
I apologize if I am a bit repetitive in this post from my last writing, but I feel it's importance is worth reiterating. Sure, the defense was awful last year. But, let's face it, the unit couldn't get any worse, with the exception of the turnovers. With that: Feel fine, Packers fans. We're on our way for a big season. And, believe it or not, it's going to come through enhanced youth on our defense. The "juice" that our youthful exuberance will add to the defense cannot be overlooked. Sure, mistakes will come with the inexperience. But, expect the defense to be faster, more aggressive and to have more versatility. I wouldn't be surprised if as many as 7, yes, SEVEN rookies contribute on defense. Perry, Worthy, Hayward, Daniels, McMillan, Moses and Manning. All will have a chance, in one way or another. Here's what to watch for on Family Night with each of them:
Nick Perry: How often does he have his hand in the dirt? I'm sure that -since it is a practice - he will be standing up more often than not as the repetitions he gets dropping in coverage during live action are absolutely priceless. Plus, he's played on big stations before, but he's never played at Lambeau Field. It's possible that the 1st team defense will line up against the 2nd team defense, which will provide an opportunity for Perry to shine. It'll be interesting to see him drop into space.
Jerel Worthy: Watch this man get off the ball. People often talk about his first step and yes, Worthy is quick, but what'll really impress is how quick he is off the snap. He's great at guessing the count. Penalties come with this, but Worthy speed off the snap cannot be coached. It's innate. Either you have it or you don't. Worthy has it in a fashion similar to the way KGB got off the ball. KGB ran around the outside of tackles. Worthy will slide between guards and tackles with cat-like quickness and solid hand work.
Casey Hayward: He's being prepped to play in the slot, but I want to see him on the outside. As I've wrote before, the first time I watched Hayward was last year against South Carolina. I tuned into the game to watch Alshon Jeffery, who was drafted this year by the Bears in the 2nd round. In the game, Jeffery had two catches. So, did Hayward. After that game, I wanted to watch Hayward play weekly. It also didn't hurt that Jordan Rodgers, Aaron's brother became the starter for Vanderbilt. Nonetheless, as I watched Hayward, he was often on an island. On the outside. Against top flight SEC talent. Hayward was a ballhawk. I want to see if he can play on the outside at the pro level.
Mike Daniels: Hope he can stay healthy. If he's in action, watch his pad level. If he's understands leverage and stays low, his bowling ball figure might roll through many guards this year.
Jerron McMillan: If he's going to make his way into the lineup, like I believe he will, he will have to display terrific range and he's going to have to seek out contact. Aggressiveness will be key. I'm interested to see how he takes angles to the ball and when he's in Centerfield, how does he get sideline to sideline? Does his sprinters speed translate to football speed?
Terrell Manning: No one is talking about him, but he has a GOLDEN opportunity in front of him. We've seen that Bishop and Hawk are not ideally suited for the dime defense. I really like DJ Smith's game, but he doesn't seem to be an ideal dime LB either. In college, Manning was a turnover creator. Additionally, his agility and size are terrific assets. He's used to playing in space. Plus, he has experience rushing the passer. His versatility is unmatched among our ILB's. When the Packers turn to the 2nd team dime defense, I hope Manning is manning the middle of the defense. Rastaman Vibrations, Terrell. Bring the fire and the positivity to the defense on 3rd down, mate!
Dezman Moses: No one is better at finding the undrafted gems than Ted Thompson. This year, Moses might be that guy. Blessed with pass rushing ability, this physical gem has done nothing but impress. Daily, it seems. Stoked to see what this guy does when the light comes on. Go SmokeStack on 'em, Dez. Blow 'em up, young man!
Other key things to watch:
Alex Green: If he plays, how does he move in space? Can he cut with his typical grace that we saw glimpses of last year? How does he approach contact? He could be an added weapon to the NFL's most lethal offense. And, yes, he, too, is a Rastaman.
James Starks: sure, he runs with reckless abandon. But, how's he approaching life as a blocker? Is he still whiffing on blitz pick-ups? Is he attacking blockers too high? Is he even recognizing where the blitz is coming from?
DJ Smith: Smith might be the biggest benefactor to the minor injury that Bishop sustained. It gave him more reps. 1st team reps. It lined him up right next to AJ Hawk. The two of them have been able to battle it out in order to earn playing time alongside a healthy Desmond Bishop in the starting lineup. With Bishop's return fast approaching, the Family Night is Smith's time to shine. Polish the helmet, DJ. Look good. Feel good. Play good.
MD Jennings: The Doctor currently owns the role at safety in the nickel and dime packages. It'll be interesting to see if "Doctor Karma" is around the ball again. Thus far, when we've seen him, he's been Johnny On The Spot. He will need to continue to find the football and prove that he's physical enough in the box in order to keep his grip on this enhanced role. Carpe dime, Doctor Karma!
Davon House: Another Rasta! It's time to roll, Ras Davon. It's time to roll, baby! Thus far, it appears that he's been a highlight in Training Camp. He's been physical. He's played the ball well in the air. And, with that, it appears that he has taken over the starting spot opposite T-Mon. I'm really curious to see him cover a vintage double move by either Jordy or Be Great Jennings.
DJ Williams: Once again, DJ Williams has been a star early in camp. I'd love to see him elevate his game, so that he could be the TE opposite J-Mike in double TE sets. But, in order to do so, he'll have to improve as a blocker. Last year, he was a liability as a blocker. And, with the way McCarthy shifts his TE's, Williams will have to improve as a blocker or the Packers will become predictable when he's on the field. He has the natural talent to be a lethal weapon down the middle of the field, but he'll have to answer the same questions that I listed for James Starks earlier.
Ryan Taylor: Last year in Training Camp, Taylor made me reminisce about the great Paul Coffman. Then, we saw very little of him in the regular season. Taylor looks to have the special teams gifts, the blocking skills, the route running and the hands to be a rotational TE in the NFL for a long time.
OL Depth: My biggest concern on this team is the depth of the OL. If we suffer an injury at OT, who will play the back-up role? Thus far, Datko looks to be a sieve. Sherrod hasn't recovered. It's a major concern. We know that EDS will do an admirable job backing up Lang, Sitton, and Saturday, but who is going to step up to back-up Bulaga and Newhouse? Further, can Newhouse continue to develop into a legitimate starting LT? Another guy to watch is Sampson Genus. Though he's only a Center, can he legitimize himself enough to stick around as more than a practice squad player.
QB play: This isn't about the NFL's MVP. Rather, we've heard a lot about the high hopes the Packers have for Graham Harrell. Will he have the confidence to whip it down the seam? Or will he stick to the underneath stuff? It's possible that he'll be facing the first team defense, so we will get a good look at how he's progressed. On the contrary, watch BJ Coleman. Dude, will be fearless. He will rocket the ball all over the field. He will try to squeeze it into traffic. Hell, in some ways, he might even remind you of a young gunslinger from 20 years ago. He definitely has a cannon. His maturity is potentially worth questioning, and with that, only time will tell.
The boys are back in town, G-Force. And, as my Dad said on ESPN NFL Countdown last year, "It's Party Time! Party On!"
Go Pack Go!