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  • Senior Bowl 2020, Day 2 Recap: North Carolina & NC State DLs impress
    by Owen Riese on January 23, 2020 at 4:05 am

    Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports The second day of the Senior Bowl practices is now in the books. Let’s take a look at the standouts. We’re two thirds of the way done with Senior Bowl practices for the week, as the action seemed to ratchet up a notch or two today. Yesterday I had mentioned that often times in these all-star game practices, players can be a bit hesitant to fully go all out, as they’re around new coaches and teammates and don’t want to stand out in the wrong way. That wasn’t the issue today, as the pads were popping in a big way. North Practice Alternating from yesterday, the North team practiced first on Wednesday, coached by the Detroit Lions staff. The practice seemed to flow better today, which was conducive to to a better viewing experience for those in attendance. Michigan’s Ben Bredeson had another strong day. I was sitting next to an NFC West scout and after one rep, he said: “That’s a starting guard in the NFL right there.” He’s done well for himself here in both pass protection and using his physicality. North Carolina’s Jason Strowbridge had another impressive day. The former Tar Heel is down to 267 pounds from a playing weight of 285 pounds for most of the year, but has still been effective rushing as an interior player. At one point he had two passes broken up in a row during team drills. North Carolina State’s Larrell Murchison was nearly unblockable today during 1 on 1s in pass pro. He was consistently lightning quick off of the football not allowing the offensive lineman a chance to block him. Houston offensive tackle Josh Jones had another strong day. His athleticism was on display often, and he didn’t lose a pass rush rep. A strong finish to the week along with a strong combine could continue his rise throughout this process. Michigan’s Josh Uche was a consistent problem for blockers in both 1 on 1 drills as well as during the team session. He’s a bit of a tweener in terms of his size (6’1” 241), but his pass rushing ability will find him a way on the field somehow. He’ll be an interesting fit for most teams, but a creative defensive coordinator will be able to use him to his fullest extent. South Practice The Bengals coached the second practice of the day with the South roster, and gave us a strong finish to the day. Offensive tackle Ben Bartch continued a strong performance throughout the week. The Division III star from St. John’s (Minn.) has made himself some money the last two days. Mississippi State offensive lineman Tyre Phillips had a strong day as well. The large offensive guard was one of the few players who has had success blocking South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw. At 6’5” 342, he’s one of the biggest players here, but showed nice ability on Wednesday. LSU’s Lloyd Cushenberry III and Damien Lewis also both had strong days for the second day in a row. Both have impressed in pass protection, and in the run game their continuity shows in drills. Oregon’s Calvin Throckmorton got the call up from the Shrine Game last week, and he assimilated himself rather quickly into the action, as he may have been the most impressive lineman on the South today. Alabama’s Terrell Lewis was solid on Wednesday. He’s built like an NBA power forward, and if he’s able to stay healthy, he’s going to help an NFL team win on Sundays next season. He was solid in pass rush, but uses his length well against the run as well. Penn State’s Cameron Brown had another good day from what I saw. While he’s been up and down in coverage, he’s now 2 for 2 in pass rush reps. At 6’5” 232 pounds, he’s an angular rusher who is able to use his athleticism. A bit disappointing, it looks like Auburn’s Marlon Davidson is done for the week, as he sat out of practice on Wednesday in a boot. Thursday’s practice will be held in South Alabama’s indoor facility due to expected inclement weather. The practice will be closed to the public, but the media will be on hand and we’ll be able to get you the recap of the final day of practice tomorrow.

  • Mike Pettine will remain the Green Bay Packers’ defensive coordinator, per report
    by Evan "Tex" Western on January 22, 2020 at 9:08 pm

    Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images Concerns about Pettine’s job being in jeopardy were short-lived. On Wednesday morning, Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur gave indications that he may have been considering making a change at defensive coordinator. Comments like “we’re evaluating everything” hardly suggest confidence when that is the response to a direct question about a subordinate’s job status. However, LaFleur evidently has decided that Mike Pettine will remain on board for the 2020 campaign. The news comes from ESPN’s Rob Demovsky, whose sources say that Pettine will return for next season after he and LaFleur conducted their season-ending interview on Wednesday. Mike McCarthy hired Pettine prior to the 2018 season, and his units largely improved from his first year to his second. The team finished 18th in yards allowed both seasons, but improved their points allowed rank from 22nd to 9th and their turnover ranking from 29th to 7th. They also improved in their DVOA rankings, particularly against the pass. The Packers ranked 29th overall, 28th against the pass, and 23rd against the run in 2018, but improved to 15th, 10th, and 23rd respectively this past season. Questions swirled about Pettine in recent days, however, in large part due to the team’s dismal defensive performances against the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers allowed 37 points in each of two games against the Kyle Shanahan-coached team, as Shanahan — who once worked for Pettine as offensive coordinator when Pettine was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns — ran circles around the Packers. For now, however, the biggest potential question mark on the coaching staff is answered.

  • Wednesday Walkthroughs: What was the defining story of the 2019 Green Bay Packers?
    by Jon Meerdink on January 22, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images APC writers weigh in on the biggest stories of the season. The Green Bay Packers’ 2019 season is over. Let’s talk about the 2019 Packers season. It’s been (more or less) two solid years of change in Green Bay. Dom Capers, Ted Thompson, and Mike McCarthy have made their exits. Mike Pettine, Brian Gutekunst, and Matt LaFleur have replaced them. In the process, significant storylines and plot threads have emerged, coming to a head at different points over the last few months. Here are our attempts to pull on the story threads that defined this year’s team. Which one — if any — jumps out to you? Evan “Tex” Western - Winning (and losing) in ugly fashion The 2019 Packers, as the team will proudly tell you, won ugly. The team was 9-1 in one-score games in the regular season and 1-0 in the postseason, and many of those victories came down to the wire. In fact, the only multi-score wins came against bad teams — the Broncos, Raiders, and Giants — or a playoff-bound Vikings squad without its best offensive weapon. At least those wins were wins, as the losses were far uglier. In Week 4, the Packers’ red zone offense fell apart when they had chances to put points on the board against the Eagles. In losses to the Chargers and 49ers (twice), the team went on the road to California and got manhandled, whether due to lack of preparation, poor game-planning, lack of focus, or whatever other reason. Overall, this season was a fun one, because the team won 14 games and returned to playoff success after two losing seasons, but it was also exhausting to watch as a fan. Too often the Packers had to hold on against an inferior team that made a late charge or needed a comeback of their own after getting behind with a poor first half. Regression in one-score games will be a common theme in the offseason — as it was late in the year, when the national media designated the Packers as the worst 13-3 team in history — and the Packers need to continue improving the roster so that the floor for that regression is something like 11-12 wins instead of 8-9. Paul Noonan - Average Rodgers There was a ton of change this season — a defensive overhaul, a new coach, new offensive philosophy, etc. — but none of that really matters. For the entire Aaron Rodgers era, the team has been built around the quarterback with the understanding that an average supporting cast would make them Super Bowl contenders. There was hope that a new scheme would reinvigorate that old non-gunslinger. Instead, it was more of the same uber-conservative play we’ve seen since 2015, and it’s probably time to conclude that elite Rodgers is over. Everything that takes place going forward should be framed as such, and you can argue that’s the case. The defensive personnel is loads better than it was in 2018, and this is allegedly a historic class for wide receivers. Maybe they can find their Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey to prop up a latter day great. Rodgers is a part of every other story you could tell, and given his star power and cap number, everything has to work with or around him. It’s pretty clear what they have now at quarterback, and hopefully they plan as such. Peter Bukowski - Turning the page on the McCarthy/Thompson era Tex and Paul make some good points, but I’m thinking bigger picture here. McCarthy’s pink slip and LaFleur’s arrival with a new offense and a culture reset defines this season because it signals a new era in Packers football. Will Aaron Rodgers continue to decline? Perhaps. But they won without him being great. That’s winning ugly. More to the point though, the Packers set a player-led culture, anchored by Rodgers, the Smith Brothers, David Bakhtiari and others. To a man, this was a unique experience and team, one loaded with young, talented guys who can get better. The front office already demonstrated a willingness to exercise all options at its disposal to improve. Everything the previous regime lacked at the end—leadership, culture, aggressiveness in personnel— this new administration possesses in spades. Whatever happens in the next few years, in the waning seasons of a historic quarterback, will define this decade of football in Green Bay. Regardless of what transpires, Year 1 will go down as a paradigmatic shift in the organization. How they build on it will define their ultimate success or failures. Jon Meerdink - Echoes of Thompson I want to build on what Peter said by offering the other side of the same coin. Though the Packers certainly did move on from the Thompson/McCarthy era, they still dealt with a lot of the ghosts from that time, for good and for ill. A big reason Gutekunst was able to rebuild the Packers quickly was that a lot of crucial core players were already in place. 60% of the Packers’ offensive line (Bakhtiari, Linsley, and Bulaga) were drafted and re-signed by Thompson. Likewise for Davante Adams. Thompson also added Aaron Jones, Kenny Clark, and Kevin King, though admittedly your opinion on that last pick could go quite a few different ways. But Thompson’s misfires on defense are a big reason the Packers had to spend so heavily on that side of the ball last spring. It’s also why Gutekunst has had to spend all three of his first round picks so far on defense, including two in the secondary, which Thompson repeatedly tried and failed to fix. Perhaps Gutekunst would have made some of those moves anyway, but Thompson left him virtually no choice if he wanted to squeeze anything out of the tail end of the Rodgers era. Gutekunst’s forced investment into the defense also meant a paucity of resources could be devoted to the offense, which, in turn, left the Packers short on fresh, young playmakers this season. Each of these stories individually (the legacy of Thompson’s good picks, the far-reaching consequences of his bad ones) could be a defining narrative for the 2019 Packers. But like the complicated legacy of the man himself, it’s best to look at both the good and bad together. Kris Burke - Re-opening the Super Bowl window, even if it’s small When the Packers finished with sub-.500 records the previous two seasons that saw them jettison both their longtime general manager and head coach, many fans wondered if the team would even get another shot at a Super Bowl before Rodgers hung up the cleats. They can wonder no more as Green Bay made an unexpected run that saw them on the doorstep of a trip to Miami. No, they didn’t win with flashy stats that would make the analytics people drool all over their keyboards, but that isn’t what the game of football is about. It’s about winning in whatever form it takes and the Packers found a way 14 times in 18 games. Now people seem to be pointing at the Packers as a prime regression candidate. Brian Gutekunst’s job is to prevent that. A lack of weapons hindered Rodgers, although as Paul said above it is now undeniable that he is no longer the quarterback he once was. This means adding reliable weapons that make his job easier and taking some pressure off Aaron Jones in the backfield. Gutekunst proved last spring he can be as aggressive when it comes to player acquisition as anyone and with how well Adrian Amos and the Smith Brothers worked out, he should be emboldened to do the same on offense come March (just no more Jimmy Graham-level misfires please). The Packers are back on track again and the front office needs to take advantage of this second Super Bowl window, even if it is only for a couple years.

  • 49ers created offseason plan for Packers by exposing Green Bay’s weaknesses
    by Peter_Bukowski on January 22, 2020 at 7:45 pm

    Matt LaFleur was unhappy with more than just the personnel in the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers gave him a clear picture of where they must improve. | Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images The lights shined too brightly on the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. The pressure and the outstanding coaching of the 49ers showed precisely where Green Bay must improve to compete. Aaron Rodgers raised eyebrows when he said the gap between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers looks bigger than it is, but not with his head coach. On Wednesday morning, Matt LaFleur, as fired up as he’s been at the podium this season, expressed fiery discontent with the effort his team gave in the NFC Championship Game. When the 49ers beat the brakes off the Packers on Sunday, they didn’t just expose the personnel flaws on the roster—slow linebackers, plodding receivers outside of Davante Adams, no defensive line depth after Kenny Clark— though they certainly did that as well. No, Kyle Shanahan and Robert Saleh demonstrated what Super Bowl-level coaching looks like, and their team played with have-to-have-it intensity their opponent flatly lacked. In other words, it’s not just who is on the field, but how they’re prepared and their mindset for the game. It reflects a need for improvement in talent, coaching, and leadership for the Packers to reach that proverbial next level. LaFleur didn’t mince words on Wednesday during his end-of-season press conference. He was pissed. “I just didn’t feel like we played with the same urgency, the same tenacity, the same toughness,” LaFleur lamented. “I don’t understand that because you’re there. You have an opportunity to go play in a Super Bowl and for that that to happen is — it’s bothersome.” Bothersome would be putting it mildly. “We have to look at ourselves. Everybody ... Why weren’t our guys playing with their hair on fire? I think everybody in our organization has to do that.” Of course, that self-reflection begins with LaFleur, who refused to endorse defensive coordinator Mike Pettine a day after reports came out that a change wouldn’t be “shocking.” In fact, LaFleur fired a shot across the bow of the defensive preparation as part of his disgust with his team’s play against the 49ers. “It’s disappointing because it’s not like we didn’t know what they were going to do. We knew exactly what they were going to do.” That’s on Pettine. If the team knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop it, that reflects a lack of preparation, or at least poor preparation, as well as execution. It also makes the second game this season where Kyle Shanahan read their mail. If that’s the team the Packers are chasing in the NFC, an inability to match wits would signal a fatal flaw in the coaching staff. That preparation, the plan the Packers mentioned all week, must be better because we know the 49ers are as well-coached as any team in football. The same will be true next year for teams like the Saints, Cowboys, Rams, and Eagles, with whom the Packers will be fighting in the conference. Low energy and effort stems from leadership, but not just the coaches. LaFleur, never one to be loose with words, obliquely referenced the play of his two prized edge rushers for sub-par play. “We didn’t set the edge the same as we had been earlier this season,” LaFleur said, not naming Preston and Za’Darius Smith but calling them out nonetheless. If they’re leaders on this team, and it’s clear they are, they must play better, lift their teammates up, and make sure their intensity matches the moment. For as outstanding as the Smith Brothers played this season and their estimable contributions to the culture in Green Bay, this stage is new to them. They’re not used to fighting in January as the faces of their franchise. Now, the Packers are looking to them to step up, as they look to Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, and the vets on the offensive line, to set the tone for these moments. They know what it takes now and Green Bay needs them to respond accordingly. Considering the leap they were able to take from last year to this year, such a marginal improvement would come easier. They played integral roles in bringing this locker room together, and now they have the opportunity to buoy their brothers even further. All the good culture in the world doesn’t replace talent either, though it can elevate teams to play beyond the sum of their parts. Beyond Kenny Clark, the Packers start Dean Lowry, the definition of an OK starter. After that, there’s a cliff, with Montravius Adams not taking the leap forward we heard about in the spring and into training camp. Tyler Lancaster’s story inspires, but his play hardly does. Improving the defensive line next to the studs the Packers already have, even with more just OK starters, has the potential to improve this team in a larger way than the incremental talent increase would otherwise indicate. A beefed up line keeps the linebackers freer, allowing the Packers to play smaller through this offseason, Brian Gutekunst can decide he wants a linebacker whose flaws require elite talent in front of him. When Martinez was at his best flowing downhill, he had Clark and Mike Daniels eating up blocks. If that’s what he needs to be good, then he’s not very good. That lack of vision, burst, and playmaking showed up again on Sunday. Even when he read the play correctly, he was slow to arrive or ineffective disengaging from blockers. Upgrading the defensive line would make the linebacker’s life easier and vice versa. Green Bay has the opportunity to do both. And the offense isn’t without blame. Despite the excitement over an improved game plan, the Packers offense listlessly moved through the first half with sloppy turnovers and conservative playcalling. LaFleur said he wants to up the tempo, something Rodgers mentioned in his post-game comments as well, but adding speed overall looks to be a priority this offseason. Rodgers holding the ball won’t change, but when the rhythm passing game is called, he needs places to go with the ball. In a draft loaded with deep threats and run-after-catch mavens, the Packers can quickly upgrade the skill positions, bring back some of the young, talented receivers who have shown promise the last two seasons, and feel much better about their ability to match up with some of the deeper secondaries in the league. Talent upgrades dominate the discussions for the offseason work and rightfully so as it’s the most obvious and relatable way fans can talk about getting better. Bring in better players and thus create a better team. It’s a start, but it’s not the finish line. Coaching, whether it’s upgrades to the staff or an adaptation of mindset, will have to be better to match the best in the league, and the leadership on this team can’t allow the kind of egg-laying we saw this season. Energy and effort are baseline expectations and this team failed in the biggest moment of the season to meet those expectations. Adding talent only goes so far. The current stars and coaches who make up the institutional system that talent joins will determine how far the Packers go in 2020 and beyond.

  • 3 Packers added to 2020 Pro Bowl roster as Adams, Clark, Za’Darius Smith make 5
    by Evan "Tex" Western on January 22, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports These additions will join David Bakhtiari and Aaron Rodgers on the roster, though not in the game in Orlando. The Green Bay Packers’ Pro Bowl count for 2020 is up to five. Following the Conference Championship Games on Sunday, a large number of players have backed out of their participation in this year’s Pro Bowl due to injuries. As a result, the 13-3 Packers are up to five Pro Bowlers with three new names being added as alternates. Wide receiver Davante Adams has been named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, replacing Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons. Adams finished with 997 receiving yards for the second time in his career, but did so in just 12 games after missing four contests in the first half of the season with turf toe. He added two huge games in the playoffs, averaging 149 yards per game in the postseason. Joining him is edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, a first-time Pro Bowler who replaces the Chicago Bears’ Khalil Mack. The league-leader in quarterback pressures this year, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith led the Packers in sacks with 13.5, finishing sixth in the NFL. He recorded a pair of sacks in the postseason, both in the Divisional Playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks. Finally, Kenny Clark will be a Pro Bowler for the first time in his NFL career, taking the place of Aaron Donald from the Los Angeles Rams. Clark matched a career-high with six sacks this season, picking up 4.5 of them in a three-game span in December. He also landed a sack in the Divisional Playoff game, and finished second to Donald among all interior defensive linemen in quarterback pressures. However, the Packers’ other two Pro Bowlers, David Bakhtiari and Aaron Rodgers, will not participate in this week’s game despite landing on the team after the initial vote. Both players are sitting out the contest with injuries and will be replaced by Lane Johnson and Kirk Cousins, respectively.


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