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Tag:Green Bay Packers
Posted on: September 14, 2011 10:45 am
Edited on: September 14, 2011 10:49 am
 

Cam brilliant vs. AZ; faces stiffer test with GB

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has received a great deal of praise for his astonishing NFL debut, but before we start engraving his name on the Rookie of the Year Trophy just yet, let's see what he does for an encore.

Newton completed 24 of 37 passes for 422 yards -- the most any rookie quarterback has even thrown in their first NFL game.

As expected, he kept the Arizona defense honest with his legs, but it was the accuracy and command of the offense that he showed that caught the Cardinals off-guard. Newton's poise down the stretch was very impressive. So too, was his focus on the big picture following the game. Newton didn't want to talk about his record-breaking performance. Instead, demonstrating the leadership qualities that teammates at Auburn had praised him for, Newton focused on the need to improve and the disappointment of the 28-21 loss.

"The last time I lost a game was Navarro Junior College," Newton told reporters following the game. "What do you want me to say, it feels great? It is not a comfortable feeling for me."

"There's going to be a lot more things I can look back on tomorrow after I watch the film," Newton said. "One thing I know is you have to capitalize. When you're in the red zone, you can't take the sack, you can't digress."

Now, for all of the great things Newton demonstrated against the Cardinals, it is only fair to point out the generally shabby play by the Arizona defense. On many occasions, Newton was throwing to wide open targets.

Rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson was victimized on several occasions (though he provided what turned out to be the game-winning score on an 89-yard punt return in the 4th quarter). Peterson lined up against Steve Smith for much of the day and was beaten for Smith's second touchdown of the day (26 yards). Earlier in the game, Smith got behind Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson for the 77-yard score that was Newton's first score as a professional quarterback.

The Cardinals, of course, were without their best cornerback of the past several years after trading Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the Philadelphia Eagles as part of a package to land their own new quarterback, Kevin Kolb.

The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers will give Newton a much stiffer test Sunday. Though obviously the brilliance of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and NFL Defensive Player of the Year runner-up Clay Matthews were huge reasons for Green Bay's success last season, the strong play from the Packers' defensive backfield played a critical role in securing the Lombardi Trophy. While the Philadelphia Eagles possess the "dream team" combination of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and the aforementioned Rodgers-Cromartie, for my money, the Packers' Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields is every bit as treacherous.

And after Newton's stunning debut, the trio will certainly be taking the rookie quarterback seriously.

One silver lining for Newton, his own confidence -- and that of teammates, coaches and Carolina fans -- should be high heading into this weekend's home opener.
Posted on: May 9, 2011 12:27 am
 

Finding the Fits -- Rookie impact TEs


Over the next two weeks I will be highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.

Tight ends and centers were viewed by most talent evaluators as the weakest offensive positions available in 2011. For the first time since 1999, no tight ends were selected in the first round. The Minnesota Vikings made Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph the first tight drafted in 2011, taking him with the 43rd pick. This was the lowest the first tight end had been drafted since the Bills took Florida State's Lonnie Johnson with the 61st pick of the 1994 draft. It wasn't just the top-end talent lacking in this group. The depth was weak too. The 2011 draft saw 13 tight ends get drafted. The 2010 and 2009 drafts each had 20 get drafted.

There is, however, plenty of reason for optimism with this class, as there are some exciting schematic fits with this group.

Earlier this week I broken down the quarterbacks , running back and wide receiver fits.
 
Good Fits:

Lance Kendricks, St. Louis Rams:

Kendricks signed with Wisconsin as a receiver and shows the body control, hands and athleticism normally associated with that position. He won't provide the Rams with  much as an inline blocker at 6-3, 243 pounds, but he is a matchup nightmare with the reliable hands to take advantage of Sam Bradford's accuracy down the seam.


Lee Smith, New England Patriots:
Smith is probably the least talked-about of the Patriots' haul this year, but he serves as one of the clearest examples of this year's draft of picking players to fill specialist roles. The 6-6, 269 pound Smith proved himself to be every bit as stout at the Senior Bowl as he had on tape, cementing his status as the draft's elite blocking specialist tight end. The Patriots already boast two exciting receiving threats at tight end in second-year standouts Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Tight end, like running back, has become a position of specialists not unlike the starting pitcher-middle relief-set up man-closer roles in baseball.  There aren't a lot of players at pick 159 that can make a real impact on a Super Bowl-contending team. Smith is one of them.

D.J. Williams, Green Bay Packers:
Just as Kendricks was a good fit for the Rams, Williams' athleticism and soft hands make him an intriguing mismatch in the middle of the Packers' aggressive passing attack. At 6-2, 245 pounds, he certainly lacks Jermichael Finley's size, but the 2010 Mackey Award winner is a reliable route-runner who will fit in immediately. Williams is also one of the more tenacious blockers of this class. His ability to latch on and ride defenders could lead to more big plays for his teammates.

Questionable Fit:

Julius Thomas, Denver Broncos: 

Thomas is a very intriguing talent who could pay off big for the Broncos with this pick. Denver has a need at the position and Thomas' athleticism and soft hands drew raves at the East-West Shrine Game. My concern is that Thomas is among the rawest of the 2011 tight end crop and that the Broncos seemingly could have used a player closer to starting. Thomas, like many before him, is a basketball convert. He played four years for Portland State's basketball team and walked on with the football team last spring. He'd only played one year in high school prior to that. John Elway knows full well the value of a security blanket over the middle. Thomas could become that security blanket, but he's far from the finished product right now.


Posted on: January 7, 2011 7:32 pm
 

Peterson vs. Fuller worth price of admission

LSU junior Patrick Peterson, who I currently project to be the first cornerback to ever be the No. 1 overall pick in an NFL Draft , is one half of a spectacular individual matchup that makes for must-watch scouting in tonight's Cotton Bowl.

Unless you are a fan of Big 12 football, you may not know Jeff Fuller, but he's quietly ascended among the top ten wide receiver prospects potentially available for the 2011 draft.

The 6-3, 215 pound Fuller is the Aggies' Von Miller on offense -- a superstar that must be accounted for on every single snap. Having caught nine, seven and 12 touchdowns over his three seasons in former Green Bay Packers' head coach Mike Sherman's pro-style offense, Fuller is a proven commodity capable of taking over games.

Peterson is such a rare combination of size, agility and straight-line speed that there isn't a receiver in the college football who I believe can consistently get open against him. If Peterson doesn't bring his "A" game against Texas A&M, however, Fuller can make some big plays on him  -- especially if junior quarterback Ryan Tannehill gets time in the pocket.

As T.O. might say, get your popcorn ready. Tonight's showdown between Peterson (who I believe to be the best player in college football) and Fuller (among my favorite sleeper candidates to sneak into the first round) should be among the elite individual matchups of the entire bowl season.

Should you want to scout these two (and the rest of the Cotton Bowl) "alongside" me, feel free to check out my posts on Twitter tonight.
Posted on: December 20, 2010 11:19 am
Edited on: December 20, 2010 11:21 am
 

Young NFL QBs Tebow, Flynn, etc impress

As you've no doubt heard or read before, the NFL is a results business. For all of the hype that Tim Tebow received coming out of college (and the little that Matt Flynn had), they were among a group of young passers forced to prove themselves Sunday.

Tim Tebow's starting debut, of course, was the player most focused on. Tebow was unable to lead the Broncos to a victory in Oakland, but played better than his statistics might lead you to believe. The Broncos protected their rookie quarterback with a run-heavy attack. Tebow completed 8 of 16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown. He would have thrown for another TD had RB Lance Ball not dropped a short pass in the endzone. Tebow also led the team with 78 rushing yards, including a 40 yard touchdown run that showcased the Heisman form that helped him overtake Herschel Walker as the SEC's career leader in touchdowns. Tebow wasn't spectacular, but considering that Denver had lost 59-14 at home to the Raiders in October and were tied at 20-20 in the 3rd quarter before Oakland was able to pull away late to win 39-20), Tebow showed plenty of upside.

Perhaps the most surprising performance of the day -- at least to some -- came from Green Bay Packers' backup Matt Flynn . Flynn, a three year veteran making his first career start, out-shined MVP candidate Tom Brady for much of the night, completing 24 of 37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw an interception. Flynn played poorly a week earlier after Packers' starter Aaron Rodgers went down with a concussion against Detroit. Flynn's improvement in this game wasn't a surprise to Packers' brass. They are very high on Flynn, as evidenced by the fact that they kept him over 2008 second round choice Brian Brohm. In fact, as I noted in this space in September of 2009, some of the reason why Packers' GM Ted Thompson forced Brett Favre to either retire or accept a trade to a team other than the Vikings was the belief in the former LSU standout, Flynn.
Flynn's performance will hardly unseat Aaron Rodgers, but it does provide the Packers with the assurance that they have a reliable backup and trade commodity.

Tebow and Flynn's efforts in losses weren't the only highlights from young quarterbacks, however.

The Carolina Panthers got their first win under rookie Jimmy Clausen . Clausen was far from spectacular in the Panthers' 19-12 victory over Arizona, but he was more efficient than fellow rookie John Skelton, completing 13 of 19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He did not commit a turnover - only the second time in eight starts this season that's he thrown for a TD and not had a turnover. Clausen wasn't so good that the Panthers should consider anyone other than Andrew Luck with the first overall pick, should the Stanford redshirt sophomore come out early and Carolina end the season with the worst record. He was good enough, however, to allow the team to look at another position (rather than reach for another developmental QB) should Luck remain at Stanford. 

In terms of efficiency, Cleveland's Colt McCoy (19-25 for 243 yards and two TDs) was actually the most impressive rookie quarterback of the day. The Browns struggled to maintain drives against the Bengals, however, and lost to Cincinnati, breaking Marvin Lewis' squad's 10-game losing streak. McCoy's two touchdowns came on a trick play in the first quarter and a defensive breakdown in the 4th.

The Broncos, Packers, Panthers and Browns have plenty of decisions to make before the April draft. Some of those decisions, however, may have been made easier with the performances of their young QBs yesterday.

Remember that for complete draft coverage, be sure to check out NFLDraftScout.com or simply click here.


Posted on: August 22, 2010 5:31 am
Edited on: August 22, 2010 3:00 pm
 

Seahawks lose rookie Okung to ankle injury

By the end of the first drive of his second NFL game, Russell Okung -- the player Seattle drafted (and paid) to replace Hall of Famer Walter Jones -- suffered a "legitimate ankle sprain" which could keep him sidelined into the regular season.

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he wasn't sure if the sprain was of the "high ankle" variety, which often takes considerably longer than "low ankle" sprains to heal. High ankle sprains are known to sideline players for 4-6 weeks or more.

Seattle hosts NFC West division favorite San Francisco in three weeks to begin the regular season.

I attended this game and looked forward to comparing the play of Okung and Green Bay Packers' first round pick Bryan Bulaga (who was impressive ).

In watching Okung's three plays live, as well as watching and re-watching the recording of the game I took at home, I still am not sure how or even when, precisely, Okung was injured.

Neither were Carroll nor quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when interviewed following the game.

Okung started at left tackle and played each of the three offensive downs of Seattle's first drive. The rookie did not appear to be injured on either of the first two plays -- two runs by Justin Forsett.

Okung appeared to ease out of his stance cleanly into pass protection on third down. He was balanced and under control. The pocket began to break down and Hasselbeck made his throw -- which Deion Branch allowed to slip through his hands -- and the Seahawks were forced to punt. Though I focused on Okung throughout much of the play, I followed Hasselbeck's pass and didn't notice Okung being hurt.

Later, after it was announced that Okung had suffered an ankle injury and was "doubtful" to return, I asked some of the media and pro scouts around me if they had noticed Okung limp off the field or suffer the injury. None had. 

In fact, the first notion most (all?) of us in the pressbox had that Okung was hurt was when former offensive guard Mansfield Wrotto took over as Seattle's left tackle on the next drive. Seattle Post Intelligencer's Greg Johns reports that Okung was "helped to the locker room early in the first quarter." Okung did not return to the field, nor was he made available to the media following the game. 

Upon getting home this evening, I reviewed the film to see if there was a clearer view of the injury.
 
As I suspected, the television coverage focused on Hasselbeck's pass to Branch on third down. Okung appears to be comfortable in pass protection when the camera follows the ball. 

Often, when offensive linemen receive ankle injuries while in pass protection, they are rolled up from behind. The pocket was shifting as the play ended and it is possible that this is precisely what occurred with Okung. The television coverage I have, however, does not show Okung being knocked down. 

Regardless of how it happened, the injury to Okung could wreak havoc with the quiet optimism that had been brewing in Carroll's first training camp in Seattle.

The Seahawks struggled mightily with injuries along the offensive line last year; they started five different left tackles last season. Improved consistency and durability along the offensive line was considered as critical to the Seahawks improving from their 5-11 record last year as any other factor.

The usually energetic Carroll appeared somber in the post-game press conference, admitting that Okung's ankle sprain was "pretty significant."

He was short on specifics other than to say that Okung's x-rays were negative and that the No. 6 overall pick would undergo an MRI Sunday.

Carroll did, however, further acknowledge the severity of the situation.

"We obviously made it [left tackle] as big a priority as we could make it in getting him," Carroll said. "So, we'll have to see how it goes."

"That's a big loss if he can't come back. We put a lot of time and effort into getting this guy right and he's done everything we've asked of him. We'll just have to see how long it's going to take."

Mansfield Wrotto played the rest of the game at left tackle for the Seahawks.

Okung's injury is the second the team has faced in the past week along the offensive line. Ray Willis, who started all 16 games last year at right tackle for the club, was already out with plans to undergo knee surgery.  His injury, like Okung's, is expected to keep Willis out until at least the start of the regular season -- and perhaps much longer.

 


Posted on: August 21, 2010 11:59 pm
Edited on: August 22, 2010 12:22 am
 

Bulaga impressive as GB's backup LT, LG

If the season goes as hoped for the Green Bay Packers, first round pick Bryan Bulaga won't see much time at left tackle. The Packers feature former Pro Bowler Chad Clifton on the left side and certainly don't want to have to trust Aaron Rodgers' blindside protection with a rookie.

However, with Clifton, Rodgers and the rest of Green Bay's starters comfortably on the sideline, Bulaga has been impressive working againt Seattle's starting defense throughout the second quarter of the team's preseason game tonight.

Bulaga, playing left tackle matched up against Seattle's best pass rusher -- DE Chris Clemons -- throughout much of the second quarter. While Clemons has occasionally challenged Bulaga with a speed rush, the former Iowa Hawkeye has done a nice job protecting backup quarterback Matt Flynn and providing big running lanes.

Bulaga has the footwork necessary to remain at left tackle, though he isn't an elite athlete. He's shown good upper body strength, routinely latching onto Clemons and controlling him. Bulaga's anchor has also been impressive. Clemons was flagged late in the second quarter for getting his hands too high into Bulaga's facemask, but the No. 23 overall pick of the 2010 draft held his ground surprisingly well. He's also done a nice job in the running game, popping Clemons quickly and turning him either inside to set the edge or outside to open up a clear gap for the Packers' backup runners.

Beginning in the third quarter, Bulaga was moved inside to left guard. While his play there has been solid, his inexperience at the position was obvious. Quinn Pitcock, a backup defensive tackle struggling to earn a roster spot, beat him off the snap on a few occasions with a quick burst early on. There were also times when his initial punch was too high, giving the Seattle DTs an opportunity to rush the passer after being stopped initially. As the third quarter went on, however, Bulaga seemed to gain confidence inside. Again, the power that was evident against Clemons when playing left tackle proved helpful at left guard. Bulaga was consistently able to land the initial pop to the defender and generate running lanes.

Currently listed as the backup left tackle and left guard for the Packers, Bulaga is likely to see plenty of playing time as a rookie.

If tonight's performance was any indication, Bulaga appears capable of helping immediately and like a potential future standout at whatever position the Packers most need help along the left side.



Posted on: August 17, 2010 12:45 pm
 

Ten Surprising Rookies So Far (3rd Rd-UFA)

During a handful of radio spots over the past few days I've been asked to list rookies that have stood out to me in film review so far in the preseason.

Of course, I start out with some of the obvious choices. Many of the first and second round picks are already proving that the 2010 draft class was every bit as strong as we said it was .  

Rather than re-state the obvious -- that Ndamukong Suh guy is pretty good -- I thought I'd highlight ten players selected in the third round or later that I and, more importantly, league sources feel have been impressive thus far in the preseason.

This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. There are certainly other players who have stood out, as well. Feel free to leave comments with others that have impressed you and I'll keep my eye on them.

Players are listed in the order they were selected, not necessarily by who has impressed the most.

  1. S Morgan Burnett, Packers (3rd round, 71st overall): Burnett struggled a bit in Green Bay's preseason opener against Cleveland, but otherwise has been one of the rookies generating the most buzz.  Green Bay loves his range, but wants to see him be more consistent in his gap responsibilities. 
  2. WR Jordan Shipley, Bengals (3rd round, 84th overall): Anyone who focused on Shipley while at Texas won't be at all surprised that he's impressed so far with the Bengals. Shipley's toughness, reliable route-running and soft hands have made him the unsung star of a receiving corps dominated by the personalities of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.
  3. TE Tony Moeaki, Chiefs (3rd round, 93rd overall): Moeaki has been one of the real stars of training camp for the Chiefs, displaying the athleticism and soft hands that helped him be a standout at Iowa. If he can remain on the field (durability was an issue in college), he could give the Chiefs the best option down the middle they've had since allowing Tony Gonzalez to leave for Atlanta. 
  4. WR Mike Williams, Buccaneers (4th round, 101st overall): I've already highlighted Williams in a previous blog post as having a terrific camp. He showed off his athleticism in the preseason opener, making bigger plays against Miami than Brandon Marshall was able to do against the Bucs. If Williams can keep his focus, he could end up as one of the biggest steals of the 2010 draft.
  5. CB Walter Thurmond, Seahawks (4th round, 111th overall): Thurmond entered his senior year as a potential Top 50 prospect, but a horrific knee injury sidelined him early. It was surprising to see a team take him as early as Seattle did simply because the belief was that Thurmond was at least a year away from contributing. Instead, he saw extensive time in Seattle's opening game against the Titans at cornerback and punt returner. Watch out for Thurmond. He was among the more consistent of Oregon'd DBs in recent years -- quite a statement considering that the other three starters (Patrick Chung, T.J. Ward, Jarius Byrd) were all second round picks.
  6. DT Geno Atkins, Bengals (4th round, 120th overall): I've touted Atkins' explosive burst off the snap before and it is showing up for the Bengals. Atkins is known for flashing and then disappearing for long stretches. If he can play with consistency, he could emerge as Cincinnati's starting three-technique. In two games he has 3.5 sacks.
  7. FB John Conner, Jets (5th round, 139th overall): Due to his Terminator nickname, the fact that Rex Ryan used "his" draft pick on him and the exposure of Hard Knocks and Monday Night Football, Conner is finally getting the hype his game deserves. It's been awhile since we've seen a fullback this explosive a blocker and capable as a runner/receiver come into the NFL.
  8. NG Cam Thomas, Chargers (5th round, 146th overall): The Chargers made a calculated gamble releasing veteran Jamal Williams, but in Thomas they appear to have the big body necessarily in filling their former Pro Bowler's large shoes. Thomas has impressed head coach Norv Turner and appears well on his way towards seeing extensive playing time as a rookie this season.
  9. DE Greg Hardy, Panthers (6th round, 175th overall): Like the Bucs' Williams, I've already highlighted Hardy's play because, quite frankly, he's been among the most impressive rookies I've seen so far this preseason. With Julius Peppers gone, few are expecting Carolina to have any success rushing the passer this year. I think the combination of Hardy and 2009 second round pick Everette Brown could surprise.
  10. WR Victor Cruz, Giants (undrafted free agent): I considered several undrafted free agents to list here, including Philadelpia offensive tackle Austin Howard, Detroit safety Randy Phillips and Houston DT Malcolm Sheppard, among others), but Cruz's dominating performance against the Jets on Monday Night was too much to ignore. I blogged about his 6 catch, 145 yard, 3 TD performance last night, but all indications are that his efforts have been just as good throughout OTAs and training camp. 


Posted on: August 14, 2010 10:43 am
 

Kolb impressive in first game as Eagles' starter

It is admittedly easy to get caught up in the hype of a strong preseason performance, but Kevin Kolb looked every bit the part of a future NFL star in his 2010 debut as the Philadelphia Eagles' starting quarterback last night against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Kolb's stat line -- 6/11 for 95 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions -- is far from jaw-dropping, but in one quarter of action Kolb engineered two scoring drives and seemed on his way to another before being lifted mid-drive for Michael Vick once the second quarter began.

What was most impressive about Kolb's performance was his poise and accuracy on a variety of routes.

Kolb's first pass was a perfectly placed slant to DeSean Jackson for 21 yards. His next was a crossing route for 29 yards to Jeremy Maclin. Both passes caught his athletic wideouts in stride and allowed them to use their agility and straight-line speed to generate significant yardage after the catch. The first pass came from under center. The second from the shotgun.

In between the two throws, Kolb was forced to scramble to get a first down. On third and five, Kolb, out of the shotgun, sensed the pressure and scrambled left, faking a throw to freeze Jaguar defenders just enough for him to get six yards, escape untouched out of bounds and pick up the first down. In doing so, he ran to the Philadelphia sideline, where his excited teammates congratulated him with yells and slaps on the helmet.

Kolb, however, didn't look excited. He looked poised and ready for the next play. The pocket sense, balance and athleticism he showed in running for the first down were elements of his game Kolb for which is rarely recognized. Some, in fact, have argued that mobility is one of the areas in which the Eagles will miss Donovan McNabb the most, but not in this game.  Kolb ran twice, picking up 15 yards total.

Kolb's stat line would have been better if not for a couple of rare drops from his tight end (and training camp roommate) Brent Celek. Each of the passes, including what should have been a touchdown from the 11-yard line, came in hot, but hit Celek in the hands.

The Eagles surprised us all by trading McNabb to division-rival Washington in April. It was natural to characterize head coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman's decision to trade the potential Hall of Fame quarterback as risky, especially considering that Kolb had only two starts in three seasons since being drafted in the second round (No. 36 overall) out of Houston.

Kolb's impressive performance, however, was eerily similar to the one that Aaron Rodgers had in his first preseason action as Green Bay's starter after trading Brett Favre to the New York Jets. Rodgers was 9 of 15 for 117 yards, a touchdown and an interception (deflection).  The stats might be a little different, but the moxie, accuracy and mobility that Rodgers showed in that contest had to be comforting to general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy.

It is far (FAR!) too early to think that Kolb will be able to make the same seamless transition from former high pick biding his time behind a superstar to emerging as one in his own right as Rodgers has done for the Packers.

But the fact that Kolb was successful in his first start since taking over for McNabb is encouraging. Even more so was how he engineered that success.


 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com