The one thing I’ve learned from watching Matt Flynn the past four summers is that he will always play better than he practices. Aaron Rodgers‘ backup is off to another relatively slow start, but there’s no reason to be concerned. He’ll find a way to move the offense as soon as the opposition is wearing different colored uniforms. I didn’t see what the coaches saw in Graham Harrell last summer and I still don’t see it. His arm is weak and his accuracy is average at best. The lockout is the only argument I can make for keeping him around. At least he knows the system.
I used to think James Starks looked like a poor man’s Eric Dickerson, but now I’m tempted to remove the words poor and man. That’s how terrific he’s looked in training camp. The playoff sensation is running with great power and decisiveness. While Ryan Grant appears fully recovered from the ankle injury that ended his 2010 season, he simply doesn’t possess Starks’ physical ability. The former 1,200 yard rusher may be the nominal starter when the Saints come to Lambeau, but I can’t imagine him getting the bulk of the carries. Rookie Alex Green hasn’t done much through the first week of practices.
Jermichael Finley is an absolute freak. His height, athletic ability and soft hands make him almost impossible to defend. He’s almost toying with the poor souls who are assigned to cover him. Barring injury or stupidity, there’s no way I can imagine general manager Ted Thompson letting this guy get away. Prior to Finley’s return to the practice field, the most impressive tight end was seventh-round pick Ryan Taylor. He isn’t as savvy a route runner as fellow rookie D.J. Williams or as strong a blocker as Tom Crabtree, but he’s a more complete player. He has a good chance of making the team.
The coaches are giving the young receivers plenty of snaps, and a few of them have taken advantage of the heavy workload. Second-round pick Randall Cobb has looked terrific. His incredible quickness makes him stand out from the crowd. I realize the Packers have the best quartet of veteran receivers in the league, but coach Mike McCarthy will find ways to get Cobb on the field. Count on it. If the team wasn’t so deep at this position, either Chastin West or Shaky Smithson would have a legitimate chance to stick. West isn’t flashy, but he runs good routes and catches almost everything. Smithson is a quick as a hiccup return specialist with enough raw skills to eventually develop into a useful NFL receiver.
Bryan Bulaga looks like the player ready to take the biggest leap from season one to season two. He’s so much more confident than he was a year ago. And why not? He now has 16 starts under his belt, and more importantly, the coaches are no longer asking him to learn multiple positions. First-round pick Derek Sherrod has struggled at left guard after spending his entire college career at tackle. Veteran T.J. Lang has been more impressive, but it’s early. If Sherrod doesn’t start, he might find himself backing up Bulaga. That’s because Marshall Newhouse will be hard to supplant as Chad Clifton‘s understudy. The quick-footed youngster been one of the most improved players in camp. I was surprised when Nick McDonald made the team last summer. I didn’t see anything to get excited about – and I still don’t. Right now, journeyman Evan Dietrich-Smith is the second-best center on the roster.
Anyone waiting for C.J. Wilson to flash big-time pass rushing skills had better get a chair. It’s going to be a very long wait. He’s not athletic enough to beat quality offensive linemen on a consistent basis. On the other hand, Jarius Wynn just might be. The undersized three-year veteran is enjoying his finest camp. He looks quicker than before and he seems to have added to his repertoire of moves. If he continues to improve, there will be a place for him on the final roster. Mike Neal has only practiced sparingly, but it doesn’t take long to see his potential. Assuming he can stay healthy, he’ll be a more than adequate replacement for Cullen Jenkins. Ryan Pickett and Howard Green look more like sumo wrestlers than defensive linemen, but extra pounds won’t be an issue as long as they can shut down the run.
Erik Walden has taken the early lead in the battle to start opposite Clay Matthews. The former street free agent is playing more like a high draft choice. He looks bigger, stronger and more explosive than he did last season. Frank Zombo and Brad Jones have been OK, but neither has flashed nearly as often as Walden. Sixth-round pick Ricky Elmore was a productive pass rusher in college, but he hasn’t gotten many sniffs of the quarterback yet. In fact, undrafted free agent Jamari Lattimore has probably been more impressive. He needs to get stronger, but he runs well and seems to pack a punch. Depth at inside linebacker is still a concern, but it isn’t quite as big a concern thanks to Robert Francois. The third-year player is much-improved now that he’s taking all of his snaps at one position. He isn’t a big hitter. but he’s smart and fairly athletic. Not surprisingly, sixth-round pick D.J. Smith is still thinking too much.
Davon House and Brandon Underwood were both enjoying solid camps before suffering injuries. The former was making a strong push to be the No. 4 corner and the latter was showing real promise at safety. Veteran Jarrett Bush is covering like a blanket so far, but I’m not getting carried away. He typically plays better in practice than he does in games. Sam Shields was the talk of camp at this time a year ago, but he’s been pretty unspectacular so far. He doesn’t seem to be playing with the same sense of urgency. I’m not worried, but it’s something to keep an eye on. There probably won’t be room for Josh Gordy, but he can play corner in this league. Morgan Burnett has been up-and-down in his return from knee surgery, but his potential is obvious. He has superior range. Brandion Ross and Anthony Levine are talented small-school players who don’t seem to be intimidated by the bright lights.
Mason Crosby is off to another slow start, but he’ll be OK. Tim Masthay, on the other hand, looks terrific. It’s amazing how much better he’s gotten since last summer. Cobb has a chance to be the team’s best returner since Allen Rossum. Under-appreciated long snapper Brett Goode is almost automatic.
-Special thanks to contributor Mike Tahan, who has been covering training camp for Packer Update. Mike wrote this post – all I had to do was edit his shaky spelling and atrocious grammar!