The Green Bay Packers have certainly put together a very interesting 53-man roster heading into the opening game of the season versus the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.
The Packers are just three days away from that game, which will take place under very hot and humid conditions in northeastern Florida.
One of the most surprising aspects of the roster is that four undrafted rookies made the team. It’s not surprising that an undrafted rookie made the team, as it seems to happen every year for one or two players, but four is almost unheard of.
Three of the four undrafted rookies are defensive backs. They are Kentrell Brice, Marwin Evans and Josh Hawkins. All three of those players had fabulous camps, plus also shined in preseason games. With the addition of those three players, the Packers now have 11 defensive backs on the roster.
The other undrafted rookie who made the club was quarterback Joe Callahan. In a recent story, I wrote that Callahan was the offensive MVP for the Packers this preseason. Even with that, I still didn’t believe that the Packers would keep No. 6 on their roster. But indeed, Callahan made the club.
“This is just clearly Joe Callahan earning the job,” head coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. “I mean, how the hell does he not make the team? It was clear. Just watch the games, watch the video. I’m very, very happy for him personally because you always like to see a guy grab hold of an opportunity. I thought it was very obvious what he accomplished during the preseason.”
Another surprise on the roster was seeing the Packers keeping seven wide receivers. In the McCarthy era, the team has kept five receivers for the most part and sometimes even six. But seven? Time will tell how all of the receivers will be utilized.
The seven receivers are Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis, Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis and Trevor Davis.
To even get to seven, the Packers had to cut Geronimo Allison, who had a great training camp. The Packers were able to add Allison to the practice squad.
The kicking game of the Packers also went through some alterations before the current 53-man roster was set.
First, the Packers cut veteran punter Tim Masthay last week, after it appeared that he had won a training camp punting dual versus undrafted rookie Peter Mortell. But even after Mortell was released, the Packers thought they could still do better, so they cut Masthay and brought in Jacob Schrum, who punted for the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2015.
Schrum punted very well in the last preseason game in Kansas City and locked up a roster spot.
Then the Packers released longsnapper Ricky Lovato in the final cut, which meant that the team needed a new longsnapper. The Packers actually brought back their old longsnapper, Brett Goode, who handled those duties from 2008 until late last season when he tore an ACL.
The Packers also made one waiver claim, when the team picked up rookie running back Jhurell Pressley from the Minnesota Vikings. Pressley was timed at 4.38 in the 40 at his pro day at New Mexico. Pressley gained 2,725 yards (a 6.9 average) and scored 35 touchdowns in his career as a Lobo.
The most shocking development in the final roster cuts was when the Packers released left guard Josh Sitton. That release stuck out like a sore thumb, or in Sitton’s case, a sore toe.
Sitton is considered one of the best guards in the NFL. Over the past four seasons, Sitton had been named to three Pro Bowls and was named second-team All-Pro twice.
As good as Sitton has played throughout his career in Green Bay, many observers saw a drop off in his performance last season. A lot of that could be blamed on injury issues.
Sitton has had back issues for a couple of years now. Plus, in 2014, Sitton tore a ligament below his left big toe midway through the season and that injury hampered him all year long.
And in training camp in 2015, Sitton disclosed that the toe injury had not yet fully healed. Last season, the Packers allowed Sitton to miss a number of the practice sessions to rest and rehab his toe and back issues, but it was pretty apparent that Sitton’s performance on the field was affected by his injury issues.
That situation may have played a part into why Sitton was released. Another reason was the fact that four offensive linemen, including Sitton, would be unrestricted free agents after the 2016 season. The other three linemen are David Bakhtiari, T.J. Lang and JC Tretter.
According to an USA Today Network-Wisconsin report, the Packers reportedly told both Sitton and Lang that their contract situation would not be discussed until after the 2016 season.
On Monday, Lang confirmed that report that he and Sitton were told their contract negotiations would be put on hold while the Packers worked on younger players’ contracts during the season.
That means that Bakhtiari and Tretter were bigger priorities in terms of extending their contracts, as opposed to Sitton and Lang.
Pete Dougherty of USA Today Network-Wisconsin also put out a very interesting article the other day which talked about how Vince Lombardi often looked to move on from older players on his roster. Dougherty gave many examples from the that era, which saw players like Jim Ringo, Bill Quinlan, Dan Currie, Bobby Dillon, Jesse Whittenton and Hank Gremminger move on from the Packers.
Dougherty compared that history with the release of Sitton, who turned 30 back in June.
Included in that same piece was some insight from an NFL source. The source said that in the eyes of the Green Bay organization, Sitton had become haughty and uncommunicative.
When asked about why he decided to release Sitton, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t really add any insight.
“I’m not going to go there,” Thompson said. “Not right now, no.”
Thompson did however have a comment about the former No. 71 of the Packers.
“I will say this,” Thompson added. “Josh Sitton is a heck of a football player and a good teammate. He’s one of the better picks I’ve ever made.”
After his release, Sitton didn’t burn any bridges with the Packers via any comments and instead quickly signed a three-year deal with the divisional rival Chicago Bears.
The bottom line is that an issue or a variable of issues precipitated this shocking release.
Before training camp started for the Packers, I asked NFL scout Chris Landry about how Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense of Packers will perform in 2016, compared to 2015.
“I’m not worried about Aaron,” Landry said. “I’m more concerned about the offensive line. That will dictate how effective they will be running the football and that’s going to determine the protection level and what he [Rodgers] can do in the passing game.
“Listen, you never know, but you hope for good health, better health. They [the Packers] have got weapons. I think they have better weapons than they have had in the past. But to me, the success of the offense is going to come down to the offensive line play and how well they are able to hold up there.
“If they do, this offense can flip around and be one of the eight or ten best offenses in the league and be a big, big factor for them going deep into the playoffs. If they don’t, they won’t even win their division, because I think this Minnesota team is pretty good and pretty consistent.
“I think it’s pretty clear where the issues are. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I like at least some of the things I’ve seen. The offensive line to me is one you have to see and grow and develop. They won’t be as good in Week 1 as they will be in Week 7 or 8, but I want to see the progress there. That will determine ultimately how good this team will be.”
Landry said this when he assumed Sitton would be the starting left guard. It appears now that it will be Lane Taylor starting at left guard with the release of Sitton.
In addition to that, center Corey Linsley has missed all of training camp with a hamstring injury and will start the season on the PUP list. In the absence of Linsley, Tretter has manned the center position and has had a great camp.
Still, questions still linger on the offensive line. Can Taylor do the job at left guard? No. 65 is an effective run-blocker, but can struggle at times with his pass protection.
Also, what is the next course of action if Taylor doesn’t play effectively? Don Barclay would most likely get the next shot at left guard, as he has also had a great camp since he moved inside from offensive tackle and has manned the center and guard positions this summer.
We shall see how things develop on the offensive line. If the line does hold up, the offense should be much improved with all the weapons Rodgers will have at his disposal.
Nelson is back after missing the entire 2015 season because of a torn ACL, while the Packers also added tight end Jared Cook in free agency.
In the running game, Eddie Lacy had an excellent camp/preseason and looks much like the back who performed so well in 2013 and 2014.
The defense has also made some improvements. The secondary looks to be the biggest strength of the defense. There is talent everywhere, plus the depth is outstanding.
The inside linebacker position looks to be solidified with the addition of rookie Blake Martinez, who appears like he will be given the duties of a three-down linebacker.
Martinez will be paired with Jake Ryan at inside linebacker, with only Joe Thomas in reserve. That is because the Packers waived Sam Barrington. If injuries occurred at the position, Clay Matthews can move back inside or the Packers could simply call up Carl Bradford, who had an excellent camp and preseason.
The Packers are also very deep at outside linebacker, with Matthews, Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott and Kyle Fackrell manning the position.
The defensive line is a bit short-handed with only five linemen on the roster. They are Mike Daniels, Dean Lowry, Christian Ringo, Letroy Guion and Kenny Clark. The reason the group is lacking in numbers is because Mike Pennel is serving a four-game suspension.
The Packers also have the option of using both Peppers and Jones on the line in passing situations.
Special teams improved quite a bit last year under the leadership of Ron Zook, who took over as coordinator in 2015. After finishing a NFL-worst 32nd in 2014, Zook had his units climb up 15 spots to be ranked 17th last season.
Although there are still question marks about the punting situation, kicker Mason Crosby is one of the best in the business at his position. Plus, before his ACL injury, Goode was as automatic as they came as a longsnapper.
The speed of the special teams should be excellent, especially with the additions on the roster at defensive back and wide receiver.
Finally, in looking at the current 53-man roster, it’s definitely still a fluid situation. Moves will have to be made after both Pennel and cornerback Demetri Goodson serve their four-game suspensions.
In addition, the Packers may add a free agent who is considered a vested veteran. The defensive line is one place where a player like that might be added. Players who might be able to help the Packers there include Terrance Knighton, Red Bryant or former Packer Cullen Jenkins.
By signing a player like that after Week 1 of the season means that the player’s salary would not be guaranteed for the entire season, which it would be if they opened the season on the 53-man roster.
Adding a defensive lineman during the season has helped out the Packers on a couple of occasions in recent history. Examples are Howard Green and Grady Jackson.
Time will tell how the 2016 Packers will fare this season. The opening act starts on Sunday afternoon in hot and humid Jacksonville, Florida.
Ironically, Jacksonville is the place where Sitton was born.