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NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - INSIDE SLANT
Long before the 2013 NFL schedule was unveiled in April, linebacker Desmond Bishop was looking forward to the matchup with Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Turns out Green Bay will play the Redskins in its home opener in Week 2 on Sept. 15, but Bishop won't be at Lambeau Field that day.
As the Packers were winding down their offseason program, multiple reports indicated the team was on the verge of jettisoning the veteran linebacker. That became reality Monday when Bishop's contract was terminated by the Packers.
Bishop had been sidelined the entire spring as he completed his recovery from a torn hamstring that kept him out all of last season.
As Bishop sat out the spring workouts, it became increasingly apparent the Packers are prepared to stick with A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones as their starting inside linebackers.
Hawk has been a mainstay in the lineup since he was taken No. 5 overall in the 2006 draft. Despite not bringing big-play impact to the field, Hawk led the team with a career-high-tying 157 tackles (including the playoffs) last season and stayed in team management's good graces by taking a pay cut in March on the final three years of his contract.
A few days after that restructuring was done, the Packers re-signed Jones, an unrestricted free agent, to a three-year, $11.75 million contract, which included a $3 million signing bonus. That is a substantial financial commitment made by the team to a fifth-year player who fell out of favor after earning a starting opportunity as a seventh-round rookie in 2009, only to have a renaissance the second half of last season.
Jones started the last 12 games beside Hawk after D.J. Smith, the replacement for Bishop, sustained a season-ending knee injury in mid-October. Jones ranked third on the Packers' defense in the regular season with a career-high 102 tackles and added a team-best-tying 16 tackles in the two playoff games.
General manager Ted Thompson decided to cut Smith, whose return for the start of next season was uncertain, on the eve of the April draft.
Less than two months later, a no-less-surprising parting of ways with Bishop occurred. Bishop, who turns 29 on July 24, had two years left on his contract, and was due to make nearly $3.5 million next season and slightly more than that in 2014. Bishop said the team never approached him about taking a paycut.
After being released, Bishop told ESONWiscinsin.com, "This is definitely a motivating factor. For several reasons, moreso I think than anything in my entire career. Just from the standpoint of actually being cut. You figure it's going to happen to everybody eventually at some point in their career, but I felt like I was the type of player who can go out on their own time.
"There's something about being released that's definitely going to add another chip to my shoulders. It's motivation. It's nothing negative about this whole situation. I think it's all part of the plan, and I have to keep playing it out. I think it's going to be good. I think all that is going to help me reach my goal."
Meanwhile, Bishop said he will be headed to Minnesota for a workout with the Vikings this week and believes he has a lot left to give a team.
"If you had to go in a dark alley, I'd be one of the guys you'd take with you because you knew what you were going to get," Bishop said. "At the same time, I feel like I haven't done enough - as a Packer or as a football player. I feel like I have a lot more potential to fulfill. That's my next goal, wherever it is. I still feel I can do a lot of great things."
--Perhaps the remaining days of organized team activities could temper things, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy is pumped over his team.
The Packers held their final offseason workout open to the public and the media Tuesday. On the same day the organization paid homage to legendary coach Vince Lombardi on the 100th anniversary of his birthday, Green Bay's contemporary field boss spoke in Lombardi-esque terms of endearment.
In McCarthy's assessment after two months of weight training and conditioning, on-field instruction and a combination of well-attended OTAs and the mandatory minicamp, he said, "We're clearly further ahead than we were last year."
McCarthy went into this offseason lamenting a ragged spring last year that spilled over to training camp and left the Packers in surprisingly dire straits at the start of the 2012 season, which they opened 2-3.
The season didn't end any better, despite a big turnaround that resulted in a final regular-season record of 11-5 and a second straight NFC North title. Green Bay crashed hard in the second round of the playoffs, getting run over on the road 45-31 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Not only did McCarthy and his staff have to go back to the drawing board - and even seek out the guidance of brethren from the college ranks - to try to fix a defense that flopped against running quarterbacks, but changes were made in team protocol.
McCarthy moved up the minicamp from the end of the offseason schedule and scheduled it amid the OTA sessions.
The tone has been set for getting off on the right foot when training camp kicks off July 25.
"I feel that we are having a good offseason program," McCarthy said Tuesday.
"Quality of work, No. 1," he said. "Less volume, more creativity as far as our scheme. ... (Also) I think the new players have integrated very well. In all of my years here, I think this is clearly one of the better integrations of a young group into the football team.
"And, frankly, I feel this and I've felt it since they came back in April, getting started in the weight room - this team has a different edge to it. It has a higher sense of urgency than I can recall. I don't how you sit down and measure that and put it on a scale each year. Maybe it's my higher sense of urgency, I don't know. But, I feel the leadership of this football team is a very consistent, steady personality as far as the everyday work. We haven't had the big swings (of) highs and lows that are normal during this time of year. I've walked off (the field) pretty much every day feeling there's a lot of quality work that we can apply to the future."
The Packers were to put in their final installation of the offseason Wednesday, then using the last two days of the OTAs for review purposes.
"At the end of the day, we're a young team, but this is a young, experienced football team," McCarthy said. "I really like the blend."
Green Bay's rookie class, which includes 11 draft picks, will stay put after Friday for another week of strength and conditioning work. The extra time also will be devoted to having Rob Davis, the team's director of player development, go through some administrative stuff with the newcomers, culminating with a symposium at the end of the week.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has set the stage for an intriguing quarterback battle in training camp this summer.
Not for the starting job, of course; Aaron Rodgers has that well in hand.
But, after not taking a quarterback in the draft and not signing a veteran passer in free agency, the Packers are going to let holdovers Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman fight for the No. 2 job. Harrell was Rodgers' top understudy last season while Coleman, a seventh-round draft pick, essentially had a redshirt year as he spent the entire season on the practice squad.
The competition could be heating up after McCarthy summoned Coleman to run Green Bay's second-string offense over Harrell in a two-minute drill at the end of an open OTA practice last week.
The 6-3, 230-pound Coleman responded with a touchdown drive that culminated with a long throw to undrafted rookie receiver Alex Gillett.
"B.J.'s got a ton of talent," McCarthy said. "He needs to play. We've got to get the game to slow down for him, and that's normal for a young quarterback where he is in his development. I feel good about those (two) guys battling it out."
McCarthy remains high on Harrell, 28, a second-year player who has been with Green Bay since the 2010 offseason. The 6-2, 215-pound Harrell, whose claim to fame thus far is setting NCAA passing records at Texas Tech, relieved Rodgers in four games last season and completed two of four passes for 20 yards.
Harrell solidified his status as the replacement for the departed Matt Flynn as Rodgers' backup going into last season by putting up big numbers in Green Bay's final preseason game. Harrell led three touchdown drives, finishing 13-of-15 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'm confident in our quarterback situation, and I think the most important part of our quarterback depth chart is there is a lot of room for improvement," McCarthy said. "Graham Harrell has improved every single year. I think he's definitely made another step this offseason. He's much stronger, he's more conditioned, he's done some things in fine motor-skill development I think you've seen showing up in the way he throws and releases the football.
"I feel good about his improvement. He has knowledge of the system. He needs to perform in the preseason at a high level; that's what you look for. He finished it the right way against Kansas City last year, but he has to have a good preseason (this year)."
The other quarterback on Green Bay's 90-man roster is Matt Brown, an undrafted rookie from Illinois State.
--Rodgers has been encouraged by what he's seen from the young prospects at quarterback this spring, but what is brewing at running back has piqued his enthusiasm for getting the season started.
General manager Ted Thompson went about trying to light a spark under the Packers' apathetic run game by taking two big-name college backs in the draft: Alabama's Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin in the fourth round.
Based on the investment made in them as high draft picks, Lacy and Franklin figure to be the top two contenders in training camp for the starting job. However, holdovers Alex Green and James Starks had the lion's share of reps with the No. 1 unit, while late-season starter DuJuan Harris sat out the minicamp and the last week of OTAs after having a cyst removed from his chest.
Lacy and Franklin were eased into the offensive scheme as McCarthy and his staff completed the installations.
"I like the young running backs. They're different players," Rodgers said. "Eddie is a bigger back; he can bring some power in the run game. And, you've seen Johnathan, he is a very shifty guy, he's got a lot of moves in the open field. He's a potential three-down back, which gives us an interesting backfield look."
--McCarthy will excuse the majority of the team for the next six weeks after the last OTA workout Friday.
The rookies, though, will stick around for another week of weight training and conditioning and some administrative stuff before the draft picks head to Canton, Ohio, for the NFL Rookie Symposium, which runs June 23-29.
Rodgers will spend the break from football in his native California.
"Just keep training for football and training for golf - my most important golf tournament of the year (the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe, Nev., in July) - and then put the clubs away and get ready for training camp," Rodgers said.
Hawk also is a returning player in that celebrity event.
Following the completion of the OTAs, Hawk will head to the East Coast. He's among 24 current and former players who will participate in this year's NFL Broadcast Boot Camp, which will be held June 17-20 at NFL Films headquarters in New Jersey.
The hands-on training program is designed for those who may have an interest in going into broadcasting after they're done playing.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's going to be wide open. Once you get to training camp, we usually keep five receivers. I think the top three are pretty set in stone, and there's a lot of guys fighting for those other two spots. So, it should be interesting to see who comes out in training camp." - Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on his assessment of the Packers' receiving corps.
NFL Team Report - Green Bay Packers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Cedric Benson (not tendered as UFA).
--RB Ryan Grant (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--RB Eddie Lacy (2/61): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T David Bakhtiari (4/109): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--T JC Tretter (4/122): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Johnathan Franklin (4/125): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Micah Hyde (5/159): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Josh Boyd (5/167): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Nate Palmer (6/193): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Charles Johnson (7/216): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Kevin Dorsey (7/224): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Sam Barrington (7/232): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--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.
--CB Sam Shields: RFA tendered at $2.023M with second-round pick as compensation; $2.023M/1 yr.
--TE Matthew Mulligan: FA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Desmond Bishop (released).
--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.