NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - INSIDE SLANT
Since the establishment of the seven-round format in the NFL Draft in 1994, the Packers had taken only three running backs in the first three rounds and not once chosen two backs in the opening four rounds in any year.
So much for staying on script in this year's draft.
When Green Bay welcomes its big batch of newcomers next week for a rookie orientation camp, which runs May 10-12, the arrival of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin will mark an overdue change in direction for the Packers offense.
"We haven't been satisfied," said second-year running backs coach Alex Van Pelt, lamenting the near absence of production on the ground last season. "We need to get better in that area. Whether it be scheme, technique, players adjust (or) adapt to whatever we do, we had to improve in the run game, and that was addressed."
Not that Green Bay puts much emphasis on its rushing attack with Aaron Rodgers at the controls of a prolific aerial assault. Yet, being among the league's bottom feeders with a paltry average of 3.9 yards per carry and having its season-leading rusher (Alex Green) at less than 500 yards (464) gave Green Bay's decision makers plenty of persuasion to get greedy in the draft.
The Packers wound up getting what several draftniks felt were the top two backs in this year's rookie class and did so by having Lacy and Franklin fall to them.
"The reality of it is we've helped our football team," offensive-minded head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Lacy, the power runner from national champion Alabama, went from being a popular No. 1 choice for the backs in pre-draft assessments to lasting until near the end of the second round, where the Packers moved back and gladly took him at No. 61 overall.
Three other backs were taken before Lacy, whose stock apparently took a hit because of concerns with his durability. At least two teams - Denver and Pittsburgh - reportedly were turned off by Lacy because of his medical history.
He underwent fusion surgery for an injured big toe last spring. After getting through his final season of college football unscathed, a strained hamstring flared up earlier this year that made Lacy unavailable to work out for scouts until two weeks before the draft.
John Elway, Denver's executive vice president of football operations, didn't mince words about why the Broncos chose Wisconsin running back Montee Ball over Lacy three picks before the Packers' turn in Round 2.
"The bottom line was that we looked at the medical (information)," Elway said. "It really came down to the medical side, and that's what tilted the scales to Montee.
"They are both great backs, both very productive backs. (But) when we looked at the medical and going through our medical staff, we just felt that Montee was a better choice for us at that spot."
Lacy picked up with his workouts back in Alabama last weekend and declared, "As of right now, I'm 100 percent," an indication he should be able to participate in the rookie camp.
Nevertheless, the Packers protected themselves with the big-time selection of Franklin in the fourth round.
Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson traded up to get UCLA's all-time leading rusher, who surprisingly still was on the board at No. 125 at the outset of the third day of the draft.
"I've watched Ted Thompson enough times in the draft room that when he goes up it's going up for something and it's really good, and that was definitely the case," McCarthy said. "(A) very dynamic player. I'm excited to work with him. Just the little time I had to talk with him on the phone (after the pick was made), I think he's going to be an excellent fit for us."
The quick and elusive Franklin is well capable of becoming the Packers' featured back as a rookie. At the least, he can provide the situational punch if Lacy is able to pound away on the early downs.
As for the three incumbent backs on the roster - Green, DuJuan Harris and James Starks - they'll likely be in a fight the next few months to keep their jobs.
"It's going to obviously increase the competition in the (position) room, which is always a great thing," Van Pelt said. "It'll be interesting, it'll sort itself out as we go through the OTAs (organized team activities) and training camp. But, it made that room better, and not just by the two players we added but by the competition that it'll create for other guys that are in that room."
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Sandwiched around the addition of 11 players during the April 25-27 NFL Draft and the subsequent recruitment of nearly a dozen undrafted guys, the Packers cut some excess from the roster.
Three players were waived, the biggest among of them onetime starting linebacker D.J. Smith.
"It's just a roster thing," general manager Ted Thompson said after releasing Smith on April 24. "We knew we were going to be up against the roster by the time we get done (with the draft)."
Smith, a third-year player whom Green Bay selected in the sixth round of the 2011 draft, wasn't passed on a physical exam before the team cut him. He is five months into his recovery from surgery for a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee that he sustained six games into last season.
The young prospect had been the starter since Week 1 alongside veteran A.J. Hawk as the replacement for Desmond Bishop, who suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in the preseason.
With Bishop on track to be ready for next season and fill-in starter Brad Jones re-signed as a free agent, Smith became expendable.
"You never want to lose guys you consider your own guys," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "But, there's tough decisions medically or (with) roster moves, and as the personnel staff prepares the board, sometimes you're put in a position to make tough decisions. D.J. was an excellent pro for us. We wish him luck, and I think it speaks volumes about him being picked up right away by the San Diego Chargers."
The Chargers signed Smith a day after Green Bay let him go, giving him a two-year contract reportedly worth $1.07 million.
The Packers also cut third-year running back Brandon Saine, who incidentally suffered an ACL tear in the same Oct. 14 game at Houston in which Smith was felled by the season-ending injury, and first-year guard Joe Gibbs. The latter was on the practice squad the last part of the 2012 season.
--Green Bay's roster as of Thursday had 75 players, including the 11 draft picks. The roster limit is 90 during the offseason.
The team has yet to announce the names of the rookie free agents with whom it agreed to terms on contracts in the minutes and hours following the conclusion of the draft.
The Packers reportedly signed more than 10 undrafted players, including Illinois State quarterback Matt Brown, Kansas State running back Angelo Pease, Louisiana Tech receiver Miles White and Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner.
The acquisition of Brown comes after Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson didn't take a quarterback in the draft for the fourth time in the last five years. Brown would be the fourth QB on the roster, joining star Aaron Rodgers and young returning backups Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman, who was a seventh-round draft pick by the team last year.
The 6-3, 225-pound Brown was a four-year starter at Illinois State, throwing for more than 10,500 yards and 78 touchdowns with only 36 interceptions. He had a pre-draft visit with the Packers.
"I've been a Packer fan ever since the first time I watched (legendary quarterback) Brett Favre play," Brown told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It's just awesome being in the same breath as the Green Bay Packers."
--Starting cornerback Sam Shields remains unsigned, one of only four restricted free agents in the league who aren't under contract this spring.
Shields, who flourished at the end of last season with four interceptions in six games after returning from a severe ankle injury, received a second-round tender of $2.023 million. No other team made an offer to him by the April 19 deadline, leaving it up to the Packers to sign Shields to the one-year qualifying offer or a long-term contract.
Talks apparently have been taking place between both sides to work out a new contract.
If Shields isn't signed by June 14, the Packers can withdraw the qualifying offer and replace it with a one-year contract worth 110 percent of his 2012 salary, which was $542,500.
New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz and Baltimore Ravens tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are the other unsigned restricted free agents.
--Former cornerback Al Harris, whose accomplished tenure in Green Bay preceded the arrival of Shields as an undrafted rookie in 2010, is retiring as a Packer.
The team announced Harris' decision Wednesday.
Harris, 38, was a seven-year starter for the Packers from 2003 until '09, earning selection to the Pro Bowl two times.
He finished his 14-year NFL career by playing one season each for the Miami Dolphins in 2010 and the St. Louis Rams in 2011.
Harris is in his first year as a secondary coach with the Kansas City Chiefs after he worked as a coaching intern with the Dolphins last season.
--The Packers finalized their schedule of on-field offseason workouts, which will start with a rookie orientation camp May 10-12.
Organized team activities will be held on a maximum 10 days from May 20 to June 14, intermixed with the mandatory minicamp June 4-6.
Players will report to training camp July 25 with the first practice the next day.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I love the game of football, and I just love the ball in my hands. If you want me to run the ball inside, I'll do that. If you want me to run outside, so be it." - Rookie running back Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round draft pick from UCLA, on his running style.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Packers' picks:
Round 1/26 -- Datone Jones, DE, 6-4, 285, UCLA
Jones should give Green Bay's short-handed and underwhelming defensive line an immediate upgrade as an ideal fit for its diversified 3-4 scheme. He's athletic, plays physical and tracks the football in a hurry, tying everything together to blow up the backfield with 19 tackles for loss (6.5 sacks) last season. Jones' experience of playing at multiple spots in the Packers' style of defense will allow coordinator Dom Capers to create pass-rushing mismatches in a tandem with outside linebacker Clay Matthews.
Round 2/61 -- Eddie Lacy, RB, 5-11, 230, Alabama
Latest big-play back from 'Bama to arrive on the pro scene with much fanfare. Lacy stepped out of the shadows of predecessors Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson and rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns to help the Crimson Tide roll to the national title last season. Injury issues (including a recent hamstring ailment) may have allowed Lacy to slide to the Packers late in Round 2, but they'll take their chances on the punishing downhill runner (SEC career record of 6.8 yards per carry) in trying to fill a void at featured back.
Round 4/109 -- David Bakhtiari, OT, 6-4, 300, Colorado
Aaron Rodgers' incumbent blind-side protector at left tackle, Marshall Newhouse, has been put on alert with the arrival of Bakhtiari. As the replacement for standout Nate Solder (New England Patriots' first-round pick in 2011), the long-armed Bakhtiari rose above Colorado's mediocrity to become an efficient pass protector at the position the last two seasons.
Round 4/122 -- J.C. Tretter, G, 6-4, 307, Cornell
The converted tight end flourished in the Ivy League as a two-year starter at left tackle but, more so than the similarly versatile Bakhtiari, projects to be an interior lineman at the next level. A hard-nosed, driven Tretter could push left guard T.J. Lang or inexperienced center Evan Dietrich-Smith for a starting job.
Round 4/125 -- Johnathan Franklin, RB, 5-10, 205, UCLA
General manager Ted Thompson jumped back into the fourth round by making a trade with the Denver Broncos to nab the team's second high-quality back in this year's draft. A Lacy-Franklin pairing to supplement the Rodgers-led aerial attack has juicy possibilities. The knock on Franklin is his size, but he has explosive speed (4.4 in the 40) and credentials (1,734 rushing yards and 6.1 yards per carry last season) as UCLA's all-time leading rusher.
Round 5/159 -- Micah Hyde, CB, 6-0, 197, Iowa
Named the top defensive back in the Big Ten last season, Hyde has big-time experience as a starter for three years with playmaking skills and a willingness to hit. He's expected to stay at cornerback, a crowded position for Green Bay, but could distinguish himself on special teams, including as a punt returner.
Round 5/167 -- Josh Boyd, DT, 6-3, 310, Mississippi State
Boyd, a three-technique lineman better equipped to stop the run than collapse the pocket, will have to adjust to the nuances of a 3-4 scheme. Production by the sturdy three-year starter regressed last season, when he had only 1.5 sacks.
Round 6/193 -- Nate Palmer, OLB, 6-2, 248, Illinois State
Hybrid end-linebacker in college faces stern challenge in vying for a roster spot at a position group teeming with talent. Being around the Packers' defensive leader can only benefit Palmer, who put up Matthews-esque sack numbers with 17 along with five forced fumbles the last two seasons after transferring from Illinois.
Round 7/216 -- Charles Johnson, WR, 6-2, 215, Grand Valley State
The third college stop for the speedy Johnson (4.35 in 40) proved to be the charm. Extensive stint at Division II Grand Valley yielded 31 touchdown receptions the past two seasons and big production of 72 catches for nearly 1,200 yards in 2012.
Round 7/224 -- Kevin Dorsey, WR, 6-1, 207, Maryland
Dorsey had perhaps the most obscure numbers of all receivers taken in this year's draft with just 18 catches and four touchdowns last season, but Thompson chalked that up to quarterback issues at Maryland. Dorsey's average of 17.3 yards with those limited receptions is promising.
Round 7/232 -- Sam Barrington, ILB, 6-1, 235, South Florida
Athletic, versatile linebacker delivered in 4-3 system with at least 65 tackles each of the last three seasons with a total of 6 1/2 sacks, prompting Thompson to say the team's final pick had "really good value." Projects to play inside in 3-4 scheme.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (2)
--RB Cedric Benson held up for only the first five games last season before suffering a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. The eight-year veteran had some moments of being a rugged, productive ball carrier until he was lost in early October, so bringing him back would make sense.
--RB Ryan Grant rejoined the team for the stretch run in early December and didn't provide much at age 30. Giving Grant a third shot in Green Bay has been all but ruled out.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (1)
--CB Sam Shields (tendered at $2.023M with second-round pick as compensation) may go into next season as the team's No. 1 cornerback, provided he's still a Packer after his stock went up with a productive close to last season - four interceptions in six games, highlighted by a 52-yard touchdown return in the divisional playoff loss at San Francisco. The second-round tender given to Shields should keep teams from trying to pick him off.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--C Evan Dietrich-Smith: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--LB Robert Francois: Not tendered as RFA; $725,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.
--LB Brad Jones: UFA; $11.75M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
--TE Matthew Mulligan: FA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Tom Crabtree: Not tendered as RFA/Buccaneers; $1.6M/2 yrs, $50,000 RB 2013-14.
--WR Donald Driver (UFA; retired).
--WR Greg Jennings: UFA Vikings; $45M/5 yrs, $10M SB/$17.8M guaranteed.
--RB Brandon Saine (released).
--LB D.J. Smith (released).
--C Jeff Saturday (retired).
--LB Erik Walden: FA Colts; $16M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--DB Charles Woodson (released).
--LB Frank Zombo: Not tendered as RFA/Chiefs; terms unknown.