NFL 2016: With Nelson back, full cast in place for Packers

September 6, 2016


In this Sept. 28, 2015, file photo, Green Bay Packers' Randall Cobb dives into the end zone for a touchdown catch during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, in Green Bay, Wis. Randall Cobb bulked up. Eddie Lacy slimmed down. And now that Jordy Nelson is back from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have the pieces to make another Super Bowl run.

GREEN BAY — Randall Cobb bulked up. Eddie Lacy slimmed down.

And now that Jordy Nelson is back from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a full supporting cast again in Green Bay. The Packers have the pieces to make another Super Bowl run.

"You look at our offense and we're built in a way to have a great year," Cobb said. "It's just going out there and proving it. Going out there and executing to expectations."

That didn't happen last season, when the Packers uncharacteristically struggled with the ball. Their four-year reign as NFC North champions came to an end.

Green Bay still won a wild-card game and took Arizona to overtime on the road before losing in the NFC divisional round.


In this June 6, 2016, file photo, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson stretches during NFL football practice in Green Bay, Wis. Now that Nelson is back from a knee injury, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a full supporting cast again in Green Bay. The Packers have the pieces to make another Super Bowl run.

After the season, Rodgers had minor knee surgery. Rodgers, who turns 33 in December, also altered his diet as he tweaked his offseason conditioning routine.

Nelson only returned with a couple of weeks left in camp after what was described as a minor issue with his left knee; he tore the ACL in his right knee in preseason a year ago.

"I've been giving him a lot of opportunities to work on a couple things, but he looks good," Rodgers said.

So has tight end Jared Cook, an offseason free-agent signee from the Rams. The 6-foot-5 Cook has shown the potential to give the offense the big, athletic playmaking target that the Packers haven't had since Jermichael Finley in 2013.

If things go as planned, Nelson would give Rodgers the missing deep threat, while Cook and tight end Richard Rodgers would offer big targets over the middle. Also, one or more the Packers' corps of young receivers behind Nelson and Cobb would take steps forward in their developments.

The always tough Cobb, who added bulk but didn't appear to lose any quickness, would make catches in traffic. Lacy and James Starks would provide a one-two punch at running back, while the offensive line would stay healthy and keeps Rodgers upright.


In this July 31, 2016, file photo, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shares a high five with a fan as he enters Lambeau Field during NFL football training camp, in Green Bay, Wis.

"I don't think there's a cap or a limit you can put on it," Cook said about the possibilities for the offense. "Endless, it really is."

Here are some other things to watch with the Packers:

SACK HAPPY: Clay Matthews is eager to move on now that the NFL has cleared him and fellow pass-rusher Julius Peppers in a performance-enhancing drug probe. The long-haired linebacker is headed back to the outside to rush the quarterback after spending much of the previous two seasons shoring up the run defense in the middle.

"Obviously, not happy with the entire situation and how it played out, but ultimately it's in the rear-view mirror now," Matthews said about the PED probe after the Packers' 17-7 loss to Kansas City in their final preseason game. "We can focus on football."

MIDDLE MEN: Matthews' move means a new look again at inside linebacker, a position that has been a trouble spot in recent seasons without Matthews. Coach Mike McCarthy looks like he'll start second-year player Jake Ryan and rookie Blake Martinez in the middle of the base 3-4 scheme. Martinez, a fourth-round pick out of Stanford, has been studying up on the playbook.

ON THE LINE: Veteran starters Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion figure to see a lot of snaps at the physically demanding position to start the season. Depth on the defensive front will be thinned out because of the NFL's four-game suspension of emerging third-year player Mike Pennel for violating the league's substance abuse policy. First-round draft pick Kenny Clark's practice time in camp has been limited because of a back injury.

ON THE LINE, PART 2: J.C. Tretter is the new center on offense with two-year starter Corey Linsley maligned by a hamstring injury. Tretter has been a versatile backup for the Packers the past three seasons, so there is little concern about how he'll mesh with Rodgers and the rest of the line. But the Packers made a surprise move on roster cut-down day when they released longtime starter Josh Sitton. There were a few nervous moments in the backfield for Rodgers last year behind a banged-up offensive line. Now, the line will start the year with new starters at two interior positions.

SECONDARY MATTERS: The defensive backfield has turned into a strength with the drafting of safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and defensive backs Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins the past few years. Sam Shields is one the NFC's top cornerbacks, and Micah Hyde is a jack-of-all-trades. Safety Morgan Burnett had a back injury in camp, though coaches think be ready for the Sept. 11 opener against Jacksonville.

Packers going with Lane Taylor to replace Josh Sitton on OL

GREEN BAY— The Green Bay Packers' offensive line is stuck between a state of shock and the need to move forward.

The surprising release of three-time Pro Bowl left guard Josh Sitton over the weekend has been tough on the close-knit unit.

"He's going to be a tough presence to fill there, a tough void there," right guard T.J. Lang said on Monday.

Coach Mike McCarthy announced the Packers are going to fill Sitton's spot with Lane Taylor when the season begins on Sept. 11 at Jacksonville.

The timing of Sitton's release so close to the start of the regular season doesn't help either, Lang said.

"We've got to get ready to play a game in six days," the veteran added. "We've got to move on quick, because Jacksonville's right around the corner."

A fourth-year pro, Taylor has started two games in his career. He is coming off a preseason finale against Kansas City in which he was penalized twice for holding and once for a false start, and appeared to be late in picking up a blitz that resulted in a sack.

"I've put in a lot of hours, a lot of time, taken a lot of reps. I'm going to look forward to the opportunity," Taylor said.

Sitton, who signed with the NFC North-rival Chicago Bears on Sunday, was a second-team All-Pro last season and a durable starter who missed only two games over the previous seven seasons.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Lane," McCarthy said. "He's earned this opportunity."

While McCarthy said that he likes what Taylor has done in run blocking, "The pass protection and some of the things — particularly how we do it and what we do — is something he just needs some game experience at. That's part of the leap when you make changes."

Sitton, 30, was entering the last year of a five-year, $33.75 million extension signed after the 2011 season. The contracts of three other offensive line starters — left tackle David Bakhtiairi, center JC Tretter and right guard T.J. Lang — are also due to expire after this season.

In announcing Sitton's release Saturday, general manager Ted Thompson said the move was made "with a focus on what is best for the team and the growth of the offensive line."

Sitton was known to play through injuries. He also caused a minor stir at midseason last year when, during a midweek football show for the Green Bay Press-Gazette newspaper, he said that the Packers' offense had "become too predictable. Teams know exactly what we're going to do every week."

Asked if the Packers were better with Taylor, McCarthy said, "I don't think it's fair to say that about anybody ... Every decision we make is in the best interest of improving all aspects of our program. This is not about one player. This about our football team."

Lang thought the offensive line would be fine with Taylor, but Sitton had seen just about every look imaginable and could provide tips or wrinkles to combat those schemes.

"That'll come in time with Lane," Lang said. "But I have no doubt he's going to be a guy who can go out there and be the guy and do a good job of it."

NOTES: McCarthy said WR Jordy Nelson, who is coming back from a knee injury is a "full go" for practice this week and is expected to play against the Jaguars. ... The Packers have re-signed LS Brett Goode, who was the starting long snapper for most of the previous eight seasons before getting hurt in December.



Associated Press