Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Packers Deciding Who Stays and Who Goes

Over the past week,  the Packers made some personnel moves to reduce their current roster to 75 players.  Among those moves were the release of notables Jarius Wynn and Anthony Hargrove.  Wynn started all 16 games last year for the Pack and posted just 3 sacks and a paltry 19 total tackles.  His release comes as no surprise to me, as the Pack clearly wanted to make changes on their D line.  They signed Hargrove in March and spent 2 early-round picks on linemen  Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels.  With Worthy seemingly grabbing hold of the starting RDE spot and with CJ Wilson holding his own during camp, Wynn was expendable.  Hargrove was let go earlier this week and with little explanation from GM Ted Thompson or Head Coach Mike McCarthy.  The prevailing thought is that the move was a combination of his having to serve an 8 game suspension and not standing out with the limited action he saw in camp.  Because Hargrove wouldn’t have been available until week 9, the Pack gave most of the reps to the other D linemen that they needed to evaluate.  He was likely brought in as insurance against an unforeseen injury.  Fortunately, that unit has remained relatively healthy and recovered quickly from any dings.

Another move that the team and Pack fans were hoping to avoid was the placement of ILB Desmond Bishop on season-ending injured reserve.  Because the league and the NFLPA weren’t able to agree on a new rule that would allow each team to bring back one player from IR before the end of the season, the old rules apply.  There was some hope that there would be an agreement and a possible return for Bishop, if he recovered well, around week 10 or so.  This opens up a big opportunity for DJ Smith, who filled in last season when Bishop recovered from a calf injury.  Smith is now the clear favorite to start at ILB in the team’s base 3-4 defense.  It also opens up a spot at a crowded position with Robert Francois, Terrell Manning, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore trying to stick.

Also placed on season-ending IR and likely to be released once the team reaches an injury settlement with them are Du’ane Bennett (RB), Johnny Jones (DL), Shaky Smithson (WR), Demarco Cosby (TE), and Ray Dominguez (G).  Smithson and Dominguez had outside chances to make this year’s team but health issues and lackluster camp performances led to their demise.  This is Smithson’s second straight year on IR at the end of camp and it is clearly time to cut the cord.
Andrew Quarless and Frank Zombo were placed on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) which means they will miss at least the first 6 games of the 2012 season.  Quarless suffered that gruesome knee injury in a December game vs. the Giants and is still recovering from that.  Zombo has had chronic issues with injury and he is likely being saved in the event that the OLB position becomes thin during the early part of the season.  If everyone remains healthy and effective, Zombo will likely be placed on IR or released when he is eligible to return.

The team has 4 days to make more roster moves and reduce to its final count of 53 players.  Their final preseason game is this Thursday against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Starters will see very limited action with the coaching staff needing every down to evaluate those who are on the bubble.  Some of those players are WR’s Diondre Borel and Tori Gurley who are trying to make a strong final push to convince the team to carry 6 WR’s.  It’s very possible that the Pack may feel that more depth is needed elsewhere and they are set with the 5 that they currently have.  If released, both Gurley and Borel would likely catch on somewhere else.  Because Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have battled injuries over the past few years, I foresee the team keeping one of the 2, likely Gurley.  Also pushing hard is Dezman Moses at OLB.  Because Erik Walden is serving a 1 game suspension during week 1 and due to his stellar play in trainint camp, Moses is likely to make the final roster.  He has seemingly passed up Vic So’oto for a spot on the team.  So’oto has seen his reps reduced over the past few weeks and barring an unexpected injury, I expect him to be let go by week’s end.

At QB, Graham Harrell is currently the team’s backup with BJ Coleman likely to end up on the Practice Squad.  Harrell has performed very marginally thus far and has had some fans nervous about his ability should the unthinkable happen and if Aaron Rodgers is forced to miss time due to injury.  The thought of the team making a trade for a veteran backup is looking more and more slim as each day passes.  It would require the Pack to create a roster spot for a 3rd QB and reduce depth elsewhere.  It would also likely cost a higher pick as team’s asking prices tend to rise as the regular season nears.  One thing that may calm fans’ minds a bit is to look back to 2008 when Matt Flynn entered the season as backup to first-year starter Rodgers.  Flynn played poorly in his first few bits of action and some may recall a game in Tampa when Rodgers left with a shoulder injury.  Flynn looked every bit as uncomfortable as could be but over time, he eventually settled in and became a viable signal caller.  It’s hard to say if Harrell will have the same success but it’s very clear that he needs quite a bit of development yet.  Fingers crossed that Rodgers can stay on his feet.

At running back, the team will have to decide what to do with James Starks and Brandon Saine.  Newly acquired Cedric Benson is the starting back with Alex Green backing him up.  John Kuhn returns as the team’s sole fullback.  Saine recently returned from injury and needs to have a strong showing in this week’s game at KC.  Starks is likely to miss this week’s game with a nagging turf toe injury.  Starks has battled health issues from day 1 and if the team hasn’t yet grown tired of his lack of availability, fans have.  The team has had more than its fair share of injuries over the past few years and it’s all about who is in uniform and ready to contribute.  Turf toe is a tough injury to heal while also trying to play.  Charles Woodson has had some issues with it over the past several seasons but has managed to play through it (and effectively).  Starks and the team will have to decide if he can still play through this for most of the season.  When healthy, Starks has struggled so it will be interesting to see which direction the team goes.  My rational mind says they should go with Saine and either let Starks go or PUP him if they can.  But I don’t make those decision and by Friday afternoon it could be Saine looking for a new team.  The Pack won’t keep both.

More to come as this week unfolds.  The Packers host the Chiefs this Thursday at 6pm CDT which will officially end their preseason.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

 - Jason Perone (@WSB_Jason)

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