It's that time of year again. Teams are breaking camp, roster "bubble" players are looking forward to showing their stuff in the final game of the preseason, and the kickoff to the regular season is just around the corner. So are teams' final roster cuts, which will reduce the total NFL labor force by almost 35% (anyone else see the irony of this happening over Labor Day Weekend?).
Naturally, you're wondering which players are good enough to crack our beloved World Champion Packers' 53 man roster. The following is my best guess as to who Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy are ready to roll with in 2011 on the way to Green Bay's second straight Super Bowl victory.
(Note: A * next to a player's name indicates that he is an absolute, stone-cold lock for the roster in my eyes. If one of these players are cut, I would be shocked.)
This was the easy part. Flynn is a top backup QB entering the final year of his rookie contract and his clipboard-holding days are numbered. Harrell has made leaps and bounds from his first year on the practice squad to now. Green Bay can't leave him there this season and risk losing him too. And yeah. It's safe to say the reigning Super Bowl MVP's roster spot is safe.
|Bye bye, Quinn Johnson.|
This is the year the Packers finally don't keep more than one FB and Quinn Johnson gets the ax. Grant and Starks look to be 1 and 1A, with Starks having a slight advantage to this point. Alex Green will get some opportunities as a third down back and a kickoff returner. But did you notice that Starks was in on third down with the first string at Indianapolis?
This is where it starts to get tricky. Five tight ends sounds crazy, but it's arguably the most valuable position on a roster. Jermichael is obviously a lock. No one can do what he does. He's too big for corners and safties and too fast for linebackers (and many safeties). Finley is a weapon that defenses don't have an answer for. Surprisingly enough, the only other lock in this group is rookie 7th round draft pick, Ryan Taylor. Taylor has entrenched himself on nearly every 1st team special teams units and has also been a pleasant surprise as a receiver. Quarless should make the roster based on potential and the fact that he's the only TE with extensive game experience behind Finley. Williams came on strong early in camp, but has faded of late. Still, it's hard to imagine Green Bay cutting a 5th round pick with great receiving potential. That brings us to Tom Crabtree. A fan favorite, Crabtree does the dirty work and is by far the best blocker of the bunch. Coupled with his valuable contributions on special teams, and the fact that he's Tweeted me back on a couple of different occasions, Tom Crabtree makes the cut.
|No room for the promising West in the Packers'|
talented WR corps.
Best receiving corps in the league, hands down. No room for Chastin West or Tori Gurley here, and I'm not losing any sleep over it. I know West has gotten a lot of love from the media and fans during camp, but it's time to get real. With average size and only marginal speed, would West really be able to contribute here? He certainly can't beat out the new and improved Big 5, and even if he did make the roster, it's hard to believe Green Bay would keep 6 WRs active on game day. If the Packers were to keep 6 WRs, I would rather have Gurley. A big target with excellent leaping ability and body control, Gurley could develop into a matchup problem in the redzone. He's also able to use his length to his advantage on special teams: he has 5 blocked punts in camp, and nearly got one in Indy last week. The problem with Gurley is that he's a project player at Green Bay's strongest position. Maybe somehow he clears waivers and signs to the practice squad, but I doubt that happens. 6' WRs like Chastin West are a dime a dozen. 6'4" WRs like Gurley, however, are much rarer and highly sought after. Both will sign somewhere else. Maybe TT can find a team willing to trade a late round pick for them.
This is another tricky one since no player has really emerged as a reliable backup. Hopefully the first stringers can stay healthy all year, especially Clifton. If he goes down early in the year, we're in trouble. Marshall Newhouse has been an enigma, performing exceptionally well in practice during the one-on-one periods but struggling in games this preseason. Sherrod has shown that he's still very raw and is not ready to play at this level. Another victim of the lockout, it's not time to push the panic button on Sherrod yet. He just needs reps, reps, and more reps. Remember, Brian Bulaga struggled big time during training camp and couldn't earn a starting role at the beginning of last season either. Right now it's obvious that Sherrod is thinking too much and is still getting comfortable in Green Bay's scheme. Given time, it will click for Sherrod. Hopefully the Packers have that luxury. Look for rookie 6th round pick Caleb Schlauderaff to end up on the practice squad if undrafted free agent rookie Ray Dominguez does in fact make the roster.
Easy picks here. Do the Packers keep another defensive lineman as insurance for Mike Neal? How bad is that mysterious knee injury? It sounds like he'll be ready for the opener against New Orleans. I just hope Neal isn't a big tease. Loads of talent, but so far has had a lot of trouble staying on the field.
|Rookie So'oto has more potential than Jones.|
This is where I make my favorite pick. An undrafted rookie free agent who will make an impact. I was right about Sam Shields before this time last year, and I love Vic So'oto this year. I've been pulling for him since the beginning of training camp and his big game against the Colts starters may have secured him a roster spot. He's big, and more importantly, he plays like it. Kevin Greene is always preaching to his LBs to be physical, something So'oto has shown time and again. It's also something Brad Jones and Erik Walden have been lacking. The difference is, Walden has improved and Jones has seemingly plateaued and cannot stay healthy. I considered keeping a 5th OLB in Jones because of Zombo's injury, but I'll explain why I decided not to in the next section.
How about D.J. Smith? This dude is a gamer. He has a nose for the ball and is a tackling machine. Smith has probably had the best camp of any of the draft picks this year, continuing to impress in practice and in games. He is instinctive and assignment sure, making him the top backup if Hawk or Bishop were to go down. Francois is another reliable backup who coach Winston Moss calls the "thumper" of the group. Francois is big enough to play OLB and has actual game experience out there (started against the Giants last year). Francois' versatility and the emergence of So'oto make Brad Jones expendable.
I think it's the end of the road for Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood. Lee has never really shown anything when he's been healthy and the drafting of Davon House in the 4th round of this year's draft and the emergence of Josh Gordy make it hard to justify keeping the former 2nd round pick. I think Gordy has made enough splash plays and has been solid enough in coverage to earn the sixth CB spot. He's faster than Lee and has more potential. Underwood has been a nuisance off the field but is very talented. However, Charlie Peprah played admirably last season while filling in at safety for Morgan Burnett, and Jarrett Bush can play safety in a pinch. House may win the dime back role later in the season, but this fact will not affect Bush's standing with the team. He is an absolute stud on special teams, and along with punter Tim Masthay, Bush was one of the most important keys to victory in both Bears games at the end of the year. The man is constantly ripped to shreds in comment sections and message boards because of a few bad games where he's had to step in and help out an undermanned secondary and I'm tired of reading it. I'll admit, early on I was part of the general group of Packer fans who cringed whenever they saw #24 in the game. However, this feeling has changed over the last year and a half.
I've never heard of another dime back put under so much scrutiny. Think about it like this: how many dime backs in the league would you rather have instead of Bush? If you can even think of another team's 4th CB, I'll be impressed. It's time to give the favorite scapegoat of our secondary a rest. The man is a SUPER BOWL HERO. This CANNOT be denied. Bush stepped up in the biggest situation when both Shields and Woodson, the heart and soul of the defense, went down in the first half. He made a game-changing interception that led to a Packer touchdown. We don't win the Super Bowl without that play. And contrary to popular belief, he was not out of position on that play. He didn't blow a coverage and get lucky. Here's what Bush's position coach, Joe Whitt, had to say:
“Jarrett on that play played it perfectly,” Whitt said. “Everybody keeps saying the tight end was running free, but it wasn’t because of what he did. He did the right thing on that play.”
No, it wasn't luck but the countless hours of film study that prepared Bush to make the play of his life. He recognized the Steelers' play and created a turnover. If Woodson had made the interception, people would describe it as a "heads up play" instead of dumb luck.
I will always remember the footage of Bush, standing on the field with tears streaming down his face and the confetti raining down from above, and the vindication he must have felt in that moment of supreme victory. It's the kind of image that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up and appreciate the amount of heart and effort these men put into this game. So Jarrett, you will always have at least one fan here at JonBob's.
Since there is no competition for these spots in camp, nothing really needs to be said here. Good to see Crosby knocking the rust off right before the season and it looks like we finally found a long-term answer at punter in Masthay.