Sunday, August 7, 2016

My Take -> Preseason Preview

Greetings, G-Force.

Michael Franti sings "Summertime. It's always on my mind. Even in the winter, I want the Sunshine." I hope you've enjoyed your Summer as much as I've enjoyed mine. A Breakside Passionfruit Sour from 9/15 sits by my side. It's loaded with carbonation and sips like champagne. It's a good place to start as 2016 is going to be a football celebration.

2016. A defining year in the TT, McCarthy, and Rodgers legacy. We're equipped to win it all. With Bakhtiari, Sitton, Lindslay, Lang and Bulaga manning the line of scrimmage, the band is back together for one more year. Lacy appears to be fit. Nelson and Montgomery return. Jared Cook is added on a 1-year deal. Offensively, the Packers have gifted Aaron Rodgers with as much talent as their is on any team in the league.

Defensively, the Packers are going to need team chemistry to be at an all-time high. Additionally, the Packers will need the likes of Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo and Blake Martinez to make an impact. They'll need to compliment the play of CM3, Peppers, Perry, Datone, Daniels, HaHa, Sammy Swagga, Q Rollins, Randall, Guion, Hyde and Burnett.

If healthy, this team should be as good as any team in the league. It's up to McCarthy and Rodgers to deliver. Their success - as a unit - is as vital as any component on the team. Their camaraderie is key. It's important to note that Rodgers' vibe seemed healthier than it was last year. He was smiling. He was carrying a positive body language. There's no reason that Rodgers doesn't play at an MVP level this year.

I'm more nervous about the 2016 season than I've ever been. I feel like it's Super Bowl or bust. And, while I'm confident that we will be there in the end, I can't take another heartbreak. The Packers have most everyone of importance back for one more year. Next year - we won't look the same as the roster will be raided via FA. THE TIME IS NOW! I'm predicting it: the Green Bay Packers are winning Super Bowl LI. Last year, we were hung over from the devastation in Seattle. We never really found our groove. This year - we get our confidence back. We win the Division. We grab a first round bye. We finish 12-4. Much like the XLV Season, it's Green Bay beating Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.

Here are my top 10 things to watch in training camp:

10.) Josh Hawkins, CB. TT has won big with undrafted CBs in the past. Hawkins could be next. East Carolina is a team that I try to watch on an annual basis. Hawkins is someone that often caught my eye. I didn't view him as a player that'd get drafted, but he'll make a great training camp body and with Joe Whitt as his mentor, it wouldn't shock me to see Hawkins make a push at the Roster. Hawkins can run. He anticipates routes. He can jump like he's on a trampoline. He could potentially play both in the slot and on the perimeter. He has the athleticism to play in the NFL. I hope he puts it all together. Entering camp, he was my UDFA darling for 2016.

9.) OL. When the starting 5 is healthy, they're as good as anyone. With Bakhtiari, Lang and Sitton becoming FAs after this year, they'll be motivated to have great years. But, TT wasn't going to take any chances. He wants Aaron Rodgers to receive first-class protection this year and he's utilized heavy investments to ensure that the 2-time MVP is standing up. He spent on Lane Taylor. He traded up for Jason Spriggs. He drafted Kyle Murphy. He brought back Don Barclay. Tretter is still in the mix to be the back up at all 5 positions. Josh Walker had a really solid preseason last year and he filled in admirably when called upon against StL last year. And, Matt Rotheram has shown glimpses. Taylor's signing indicates that the Packers are unlikely to bring back both Sitton and Lang. Spriggs has great quickness. I like his footwork and the was that he shuffles well when he's moving laterally. Hopefully, Barclay can return to his 2013 form. Murphy might end up being best suited for G. He lacks quickness and might not have the footwork not playing Tackle. It's possible that the Packers OL depth will be better than its been in my lifetime.

8.) Christian Ringo & Dean Lowry. The DL depth is potentially a roster concern. Either Ringo or Lowery could be the solution. They have contrasting styles, but both could fill a similar role. Ringo is much shorter. He wins with leverage and quickness. He needs to get underneath a lineman in order to push him backwards. Ringo disappointed in his rookie training camp and lost his rookie year. I have high hopes for him in 2016. Lowry is going to win with effort. He's not only going to disrupt by potentially stopping the run, but he should bring a pass defense role that we haven't seen since Johnny Jolly. Lowry will get his hands in the air. There's no reason that Lowry doesn't knock down a minimum of 3 passes per year. He will bring Aaron Kampman's work ethic. He will be a fighter and should be a force at times in the preseason. I'm counting on one of them having a solid preseason and to position themselves for a role in the defense - especially while Mike Pennell is out.

7.) Jeff Janis v Jared Abbrederis v Davante Adams v Trevor Davis. Janis will make the team. He's a lock due to his role as a gunner. Hopefully, he can carry the momentum from last years playoff performance into the 2016 season. He's still raw as a receiver, but 2016 is a big year in his development as a WR. It's clear to me that the Packers want Adams to be the #3 WR. They want him to realize his potential. He will be given every opportunity to be an every down WR. Last year was painful, but I'm pulling for him to have a rebound year. Regardless of how he performs in the preseason, Adams is likely to be on the roster. I'm intrigued with how the Packers are utilizing Abbrederis this year. I've read about him lining up in the backfield. We know that Rodgers trusts him. Abbrederis showed well in the playoffs last year. He will have to stay healthy throughout training camp to ensure a spot on the 53 man roster. As I draw up mock 53 man rosters, it's tough to design one that allows the Packers the luxury of keeping 7 WRs. Davis is the Wild Card. Ideally, he seems like the type of guy that TT would be able to hide for a year. However, Davis got off to a quick start in camp and he offers some value as a speed threat. He also has KO return skills. Davis will get the opportunity to show his style in the preseason and he could force the Packers hand. It'll be fun to watch.

6.) OLB. The Packers have a number of bodies on the roster, but do they have anyone who is an every down player? CM3 can ball. After that, there's a lot of question marks. Datone is moving to the elephant end, which is a new role for him. Nick Perry has been unable to stay healthy in his career. Perry needs to have a career year. I'd love to see 8-10 sacks out of him. McCray has been added and he'll immediately bring special teams value. McCray is a punishing tackler. He's aggressive. He will bring attitude, but can he be an impactful defender? Kyler Fackrell will bring wit, intelligence, desire and commitment; but his strength and speed will be tested. Fackrell could become a solid role player if he's pressed into action. He has great length and he'll get his arms in the air when he's unable to get to the QB. Furthermore, he will drop into coverage with confidence. It's possible that he could have a Frank Zombo type impact on the team. Jayrone Elliott has been Mr. August over the last two years. He's looked like he could become the next KGB. But, then, in the regular season, he's seen limited playing time and he's been mostly quiet. In 2016, it's time for Elliott to become a legitimate pass rusher. He needs to take that next step and show that he can be a pass rushing specialist. Reggie Gilbert could push for a spot on the practice squad.

5.) JP. Peppers is back for another year. On my CHTV podcast spot, I mentioned that I believed Peppers would mostly be seen as an interior pass rusher on passing downs. A 3rd down weapon. Lined up next to CM3. Causing disruption. I also believe that Peppers will likely see heavier snaps in September than he will in October and November. The Packers are going to try and keep JP fresh. At the same time, they're paying Peppers to get 7 sacks this year and to force a couple of crucial turnovers. I'm interested in seeing how he's utilized.

4.) HaHa. HaHa has the potential to turn into an All-Pro Safety. I'm about to be very critical, but it's only because I believe HaHa has all of the tools necessary to become an elite Safety. For two years, we've seen HaHa in position. Consistently. Ready to make the game changing play. However, he's been inconsistent with his ability to finish the play. He's plugged the hole, but he's whiffed. He's had his hands on the ball and dropped it. He's misplayed the ball in the air. And, while we've seen HaHa make a number of great plays, he's also left a number of plays on the field. I'm hoping he's showing leadership skills and he's blossoms into a Superstar. Noteworthy: when the Packers have previously won the Super Bowl, they've always had a top flight Safety. It's time for HaHa to take an enormous step forward.

3.) Jordy Nelson, Ty Montgomery, and Jared Cook's health. Two years ago, Jordy Nelson was as good as any WR in the NFL. His return is crucial to the Packers 2016 success. I didn't like the way Nelson was running as he jogged out of the locker room on Family Night. We need him at 100%. He brings the deep ball element. He brings same mindedness between QB & WR. Last year, excessively, we saw Rodgers and his WRs misread plays as to whether it should've been a back shoulder throw or a go-route. With Nelson, that'll change. Also, people forget that the Packers were undefeated with Montgomery in the lineup last year. He's importance cannot be overstated. He brought versatility. He brought disguise. He brought effort as a receiver, a runner and a blocker. He brought intelligence. Rodgers trusted him. And, importantly, he made Cobb better as his presence allowed the Packers to use them interchangeably. He was also averaging more than 31 yards per KO return. The Packers mightily missed Montgomery. I'm excited for him to comeback. Jared Cook was brought in to bring a dimension that's been missing in GB. Cook is a TE who can stretch the field. He's a threat after the catch. He's an adequate blocker. He's a threat after the catch. The Packers need to get Cook in rhythm with Rodgers. They need to get their timing down. While we don't need it this week, it's important for Cook to be ready in the next two weeks.

2.) Kenny Clark. The 2016 Green Bay Packers will be Mike Daniels' defense. He's the Leader. He needed someone to mentor. With Clark, Daniels got what he needed. Clark can trash people. He will bring quickness to the DL. He will bring physicality. He will bring energy. Daniels will make certain that he brings consistent intensity. Daniels will promise that Clark will be mean enough. It's up to Clark to be ready to make plays in Week 1. The Packers need a dominant force on the DL. Clark was drafted in Round 1 to become that baller. If so, with Daniels & Clark, we could see a number of riveting plays behind the oppositions line of scrimmage. Exciting!

1.) ILB. The weakest link on the roster is the ILB position. Once again, TT largely avoided the ILB in the offseason. And, with CM3 presumably moving back to OLB, I am really concerned. Admittedly, I'm not overly confident that Blake Martinez will be able to play in the NFL. I hope I'm wrong. But, I fear that he'll get overpowered. I fear that he'll get beat to the spot when he's trying to take an angle to a ball carrier. And, while Martinez is going to be one of the most likable players on the team, I'm concerned that his smarts won't make up for his athletic deficiencies at the NFL level. Again, I hope I'm wrong. If it's not Martinez, who will it be? Barrington is still injured. Ryan showed limitations. Joe Thomas has to take the next step. It's a make or break year for Carl Bradford. Beniquez Brown might also make a push at a roster spot. There's rumors of Morgan Burnett entering the mix at ILB. I'm hoping CM3 still plays some at ILB and that the Packers utilize their depth and versatility at OLB to their advantage.

The Packers kick off the 2016 NFL Season in the Hall of Fame game. Frankly, I have one wish: lets keep everyone healthy!

I expect Gunter to grab a pick. I expect Crockett to get a bunch of carries and to top 80 yards. I expect Justin Perrillo to have 3 catches. I expect Jayrone Elliott to grab a sack. I expect Trevor Davis to grab 3 balls. I expect Blake Martinez to do enough to get people's hopes up. I expect Robertson Daniel to impress. I expect Lowry to make his presence felt.

Packers 16. Colts 13.

2016. The band is back together for one more tour! It's Super Bowl or Bust!

Go Pack Go!

Talkin' S-Mac.

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