With Frank Zombo almost certain to miss at least the first few games of the regular season, the Packers might be forced to keep an extra outside linebacker on the 53-man roster. That wouldn’t be good news for players vying to be the No. 5 tight end or the No. 6 corner, but it would be great news for Jamari Lattimore and Vic So’oto – a pair of undrafted free agents who are currently battling to be fifth on the depth chart behind Clay Matthews, Erik Walden, Zombo and Brad Jones. It’s difficult to tell which rookie the coaches prefer, but I formed my own opinion after watching both players at practice last week and then in the game against Arizona.
If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with Lattimore. While So’oto might be the better all-around linebacker right now, Lattimore should be an instant dynamo on special teams. And while he’s too small (230 pounds) to beat quality offensive tackles off the edge, he might be able to provide an occasional spark blitzing from an inside position. The former Middle Tennessee State star doesn’t have great 40 speed (4.65 at pro day), but he plays fast, and more importantly, he’s very quick and surprisingly explosive for his size.
EASY TO ROOT FOR RYAN
I’d like to see James Starks supplant Ryan Grant as Green Bay’s No. 1 running back this season. Starks is the younger, shiftier and much more versatile player. That said, I’m glad Grant accepted a pay cut and will remain with the team. He’s always been one of my favorite players. That’s because his story is impossible not to admire. The New Jersey native, who was plagued by injuries at Notre Dame, wasn’t drafted in 2006. He suffered a serious injury while a member of the Giants’ practice squad. He was traded to the Pack in September 2007 for a sixth-round pick – a price some considered too high at the time. All the 28-year-old has done since arriving in Green Bay is rush for 3,457 yards and score 24 TDs. And that doesn’t include his record-setting 212-yard postseason performance against Seattle in January 2008.
WEST’S GOOD, BUT NOT UNIQUE
After the Big 5, Chastin West has clearly been the next best wide receiver in training camp. But if GM Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy decide to keep a sixth player at the position, I’m not so sure West would be the choice. That’s because he doesn’t really add anything different to the group. The former Fresno State star has good size and above-average quickness, but so do Jordy Nelson and James Jones. It might make more sense to keep a young receiver who offers a unique trait. That could be Tori Gurley’s height or Shaky Smithson’s return skills or even Diondre Borel’s athleticism. Would it be fair to keep a lesser performing player over West? Of course not, but like life, the NFL isn’t always fair.
While many fans continue to gripe about the performance of offensive line coach James Campen and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum, the impressive work of one of their colleagues has gone largely unnoticed. And it shouldn’t. Ben McAdoo, who worked with McCarthy in both New Orleans and San Francisco and has been in charge of the tight ends since coming to Green Bay in 2006, has done one heck of a job. Under his tutelage, Jermichael Finley has developed into a budding star, Spencer Havner made the very difficult transition from defense look rather easy and a street free agent (Tom Crabtree) and a rookie (Andrew Quarless) played major roles in the team’s march to its fourth Super Bowl.
PLAYING COLTS A WASTE OF TIME
Unless a team needs a boost an artificial boost in confidence, it’s hard to imagine wanting to play the Colts in August. Indy has won only 4 of its last 29 exhibition games – and most of those losses came with quarterback Peyton Manning taking at least some snaps. Without the future Hall of Famer, the Colts have been even more inept than usual this summer. Indy has been outscored 49-13 by St. Louis and Washington – not exactly two of the league’s élite teams. McCarthy plans on using his starters for perhaps as long as the entire first half, but I don’t see the point. The starters get tested every day in practice more than they figure to get tested Friday. And at least in practice, the odds of getting hurt aren’t as high.