It was a little more difficult to pick out a Best & Worst on the Green Bay Packers this week, mostly Worst, because a win can mask several issues, and I don’t think anyone would argue at this point that Green Bay’s first string Offensive and Defensive teams are just better than St. Louis’ squads. A few items cropped up as a concern, but along the front of the roster the players that we expected to play well, did so.
WR Jeff JanisPhoto courtesy espn.go.com
The training camp hero got his first action of the preseason against the Rams, and his inspired play continued. Janis had the play of the night with his simple drag route that he took to the house in the 3rd quarter. However, nearly as impressive from a roster standpoint was the fact that he was strong on his work as a punt returner, going back 3 times by my count. While he wasn’t able to field each kick, he did the correct thing each time, and did have an impressive fair catch on the run. Admittedly, Janis may be benefitting from not having played in the monsoon in Tennessee last week, so there isn’t the stigma of watching him attempt to play with a wet noodle of a ball, but if he can solidify his position at punt returner in camp and the next few games, the coaching staff will make room for him somewhere on the 53-man roster.
LB Jayrone ElliottPhoto courtesy zimbio.com
Jayrone may still be a long shot to make the team as an undrafted free agent from Toledo - however, 2 sacks and a strip/sack in 4 plays is enough to catch anyone’s attention, and the Packer front office and coaching staff certainly stood up to take notice. Elliott has apparently continued to perform well in practice this week, to the point where he was seen practicing with the primary defense as opposed to the scout defense during Tuesday’s session, and he’s also reportedly seeing more time on punt converage. If Elliott continues to make a positive impact, even at a lesser level than he did against St. Louis, he may force the Packers’ hand and make them find a place for him on the 53-man roster, as I’m sure there are other teams with linebacker needs that have seen Elliott’s performance and taken note (Dallas, anyone?).
LB A.J. Hawk
I was tempted to put CB Casey Heyward (good tackling) or DE Mike Daniels (involved in nearly every play he was on the field for), but I ended up going for A.J. Hawk, who was on the field more than Daniels, and was just as or more noticable on a play-by-play basis. Hawk has been vilified by Packers fans for years, and only in the past season or two have the majority of fans started to come around to keeping Hawk on the roster as he’s become more of an impact player. Of course, he knows the defense inside and out, and as the supporting cast around him has improved it seems that his play has picked up - perhaps he feels less pressure to do it all, now, and actually does more as a result? Either way, I kept marking down #50 on all kinds of plays, and if he can continue to be around the ball (especially on run defense), good things seem to happen for the Packers.
RB DuJuan Harris
After looking back at DuJuan Harris’ impact in the 2012 season, I was excited to see what he could do for Green Bay this year now that he’s back to 100%. Unfortunately, Harris had a forgettable game on Saturday, and when he finally did rip off a good run, he put the ball on the ground at the end of run and St. Louis recovered. He did do a little work at kick-returner, where he was okay but not spectacular (which is fine), and made a few good blocks while the rest of the offensive line was a turnstile late in the 1st half. However, I think if Raijon Neal was healthier, Harris might be in trouble trying to retain a roster spot. As it is, with Neal unable to practice, much less play, and Harris seeming to get more reps at returner, his spot on the roster seems secure. We also need to realize that DuJuan Harris was running behind the 2nd and 3rd string offensive lineman, which leads to our next “Worst” candidate…
Backup Offensive Line
Especially the 2nd string players like Derek Sherrod, who seemed to take a step backward from his performance in the first preseason game. Poor Scott Tolzien was a punching bag for the Rams defense for the space of a couple of drives, getting hit violently (usually right after releasing the ball) play after play. To Tolzien’s credit, he stood in the pocket and didn’t panic, and after halftime he showed that he still had the poise and ability to make several big throws and move the team effectively. However, for the end of the first half, Green Bay’s offense seemed to be stuck in neutral, and neither running backs or quarterbacks could make many plays as they were swarmed over or run down before anything good could happen.
As a team, Green Bay had at least two touchdowns taken off the board directly due to penalties, and suffered several other untimely calls that hurt the team one way or another, including wiping out an interception by Chris Banjo. While there may be an incredible number of penalties being called this pre-season compared to other years, the Packers need to recognize when and how penalties are going to be called in a game, and react accordingly. I’ll give them a little slack with understanding that different players often committed the penalties, and communicating how the officials are calling a game is difficult when there are nearly twice as many players on the sidelines for a pre-season game. That being said, not giving the officials a reason to throw a flag is a big issue that the team needs to get cleaned up before traveling to Seattle on Sept. 4th. The starters are expected to play their longest stretch of the preseason this Friday against Oakland, and with the first cuts to the roster coming later next week, the few reps left in practice and fewer plays in the game this week will be precious for those players on the bubble. Without a doubt there are a lot of good players through the back half of this roster that won’t make the team, so the next few days are critical not just to make a spot on the Packer’s roster, but also the chance for a spot on another team’s active or practice squad. It should be a fun game to watch on Friday night!