GREEN BAY, Wis. — Here are the five players who can help make the Green Bay Packers playoff contenders this season:
Aaron Rodgers, QB: Just turn on the film of Brett Hundley last season, and you’ll know why Rodgers is the most important player in the NFL. The Packers are built around the quarterback; coach Mike McCarthy has never shied away from that idea. If the quarterback can’t operate the offense the way it needs to be run, then the Packers have no chance. It’s nearly impossible to build a team with both a franchise quarterback and a dominant defense in the salary-cap era. The Packers have never had both during McCarthy’s tenure, and though efforts have been made to upgrade the other side of the ball, this is a quarterback-driven team.
Davante Adams, WR: Midway through last season, opposing defenses began to view Adams as the Packers’ No. 1 receiver. Now that Jordy Nelson is gone, there’s no doubt about that. Plus, the Packers are no longer deep at the position. Behind Adams and Randall Cobb are a slew of unproven receivers. Adams’ concussion history — he had two last season and another in 2016 — could be worrisome. But the Packers paid Adams like a top-tier receiver ($14.5 million per season), and their offense would take a huge hit without him.
David Bakhtiari, LT: Protecting Rodgers is of the utmost importance, and Bakhtiari is one of the league’s premier left tackles. A two-time, second-team All Pro, Bakhtiari’s absence was felt when he missed four straight games early last season because of a hamstring injury. With right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) unlikely to be ready for the season opener, Bakhtiari’s presence this year could be even more important.
Clay Matthews, OLB: There’s even more pressure on Matthews — and fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry — this season, given that new GM Brian Gutekunst didn’t sign an outside pass-rusher in free agency and waited until the seventh round of the draft to pick one. Although Matthews’ sack totals have dropped — he hasn’t posted a double-digit sack season since 2014 — he’s still the player most opposing offenses have to game plan around given his versatility.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S: With the departure of Morgan Burnett, who signed with the Steelers in free agency, Clinton-Dix should become the captain of the secondary. Although his big plays dropped off last season — whose didn’t on the Packers’ scuffling defense? — he has the most big-play potential. He’s only a year removed from his five-interception, one-forced-fumble season of 2016. The former first-round pick also is in a contract year.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are a couple of ways of looking at Randall Cobb:
He’s an old 27 given the toll that 107 career NFL games, including playoffs, have taken on his body.
Or even though he’s entering his eighth NFL season, he’s not yet 28 years old.
This season could dictate how the Green Bay Packers receiver is viewed and what it means for his future with the team that picked him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
It’s a pivotal spot not only because he’s in the final season of a four-year, $40 million contract, but given the opportunities he should have after the Packers cut receiver Jordy Nelson this offseason. Some thought the Packers might dump Cobb and keep Nelson. Instead, the receiving corps consists of Cobb, Davante Adams, Geronimo Allison and a host of young, unproven players, including three draft picks.
A monster 2014 season — with 91 catches, 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns — created expectations that Cobb has not matched in part because of nagging injuries. He’s missed only four games combined the past two seasons, but he’s also played hurt throughout. That’s to his credit, although his production has slipped. Yet at times, there have been moments of brilliance; he caught three touchdowns in the 2016 playoff win over the Giants after he missed the last two weeks of the regular season because of an ankle injury. Cobb is again dealing with an ankle injury that could sideline him for the beginning of training camp, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“When he’s healthy and playing for us, our offense is a lot different,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said this offseason. “I think we saw it a couple of years ago against the Giants when he came off some injuries and a disappointing season filled with multiple injuries, he had three touchdowns. Obviously one was the Hail Mary, but he had two other really nice plays for us in a big game. That’s what he can do for us when he’s out there.
“Tough guy to cover. He really understands coverages and route concepts and soft spots in zone — stuff you just can’t really teach. And he’s so multidimensional. We can obviously put him at punt returner, we can split him out, we can put him the backfield and give him the rock.”
Whether he likes it or not, Cobb is the old man in the receiver room. He’s no longer the highest paid; Adams’ four-year, $58 million extension late last season took care of that. But Cobb has the potential to give the Packers a difficult matchup in the slot for defenses to deal with. The 5-foot-10 former college quarterback has 432 career receptions in the regular season, and 337 of them have come from the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Even with the addition of a dynamic pass-catching tight end in Jimmy Graham, Cobb could have a significant role in the offense.
“He’s got a lot left,” Adams said. “He’s an incredible athlete, he’s still got the burners and he has a lot to offer for the young guys as well. You go out there and you watch how he gets down on the field; he’s consistent and he’s one of the best, one of the hardest-working guys in the game and in practice and things like that. It makes it easy for the young guys to pick up on that.”
In some ways, Cobb has always been mature beyond his years. He was 20 when the Packers drafted him, and in his NFL debut he returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown against the Saints. On that night, he became the first player born in the 1990s to play in an NFL game.
“When I came in, I thought about him like he was 10 years in,” said Adams, who joined the Packers in 2014, Cobb’s fourth year. “It’s funny, because when [Allison] came in [in 2016] he said the same thing about me. He felt like I was an old guy. And I still don’t feel like an old guy now. So now, when they come in, I let them know — I’m right there with you. I’m not that old just yet.”
So how does Cobb feel?
“Do I feel like the old man in the room?” he said. “I feel like I’m still young, but they’re looking at me like I’m old, so I guess I must be.”
Not so fast, according to Cobb’s new receivers coach, David Raih.
“This business is funny, like 27 years old all of a sudden you’re old,” Raih said. “I just think there’s a lot of football left in Randall Cobb, and especially now this guy is one of the most tenacious people I’ve been around — and I’m talking about all the time. His story, too, I mean his entire life he’s heard something along those lines.
“And that’s just something that fuels his fire. He and I come in and we just have a business approach together, and I think it meshes well. I’m excited about Randall because every single day, every rep you can see him trying to use what he’s learning and what we’re talking about to improve his game, and he’s got the type of approach that will get results.”
By the time his eighth NFL season opens on Sept. 9 against the Bears, Cobb will be 28; his birthday is Aug. 22.
Just don’t tell that to his quarterback, who tried to settle the young/old issue.
“He’s done a number of things for us over the years, and still he’s relatively young,” Rodgers said. “First player born in the 1990s, so he’s not even 28 yet. He’s obviously a great friend of mine, but I look for a resurgence from him this year as long as he can stay healthy.”
The Milwaukee Brewers should go all-in and trade for Jacob deGrom.
The Brewers have made the playoffs four times in their history. It’s interesting to note that in each of those years, they made a big trade for a pitcher:
• In 2011, they acquired Zack Greinke before the season for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress. Greinke went 16-6 as the Brewers won 96 games and the NL Central.
• In 2008, they acquired CC Sabathia on July 7. He went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA in 17 starts, threw seven complete games and memorably carried the Brewers to the wild card by starting three times on three days’ rest the final nine days of the season.
• In 1982, they acquired Don Sutton on Aug. 30 and he went 4-1 in seven starts, including beating the Orioles on the final day of the season as the Brewers won the AL East by one game over Baltimore.
• In 1981, they acquired Rollie Fingers in the offseason, and he went on to win Cy Young and MVP honors as the team’s closer.
In those rare seasons when the Brewers have chased a playoff spot, seizing the moment has been their defining characteristic. The Brewers lead the Cubs in the NL Central. The Cubs are still the division favorites, but the Brewers are a good team. They have a dominant bullpen led by the unhittable Josh Hader. The lineup has a couple of holes and is only middle of the pack in the NL, but the Brewers lead the majors in defensive runs saved. The rotation is solid but unspectacular, ranking 13th in the majors in ERA. What the rotation needs is an ace. It needs Jacob deGrom.
The Mets’ season is over. They’re 13 games under .500, and their lineup on Tuesday included an LOL defense of Jose Reyes at short, Asdrubal Cabrera at second, Dominic Smith in left and Jose Bautista in right. It isn’t certain that the Mets should trade deGrom, let alone that they will, especially given that he’s under team control through 2020. The announcement Tuesday that GM Sandy Alderson is taking a leave of absence for cancer treatment and that his tenure as GM is probably over only complicates the direction of the club.
Do the Brewers have the young talent to acquire deGrom? It probably would take a package that exceeds even what they gave up for Greinke, who had two seasons of team control. Their top prospect is bat-first second baseman Keston Hiura, who is hitting .331/.389/.537 in the minors, including .358 in 21 games at Double-A. Corbin Burnes is the team’s top pitching prospect, and he has a 4.93 ERA at Triple-A Colorado Springs, with more K’s than innings, and I’d look at that more than a high ERA at Colorado Springs.
You start with those two. The Brewers have a glut of outfielders. Domingo Santana hit 30 home runs last year and has been sent back to Triple-A to find his stroke and get some playing time. The Mets have their own glut of outfielders, but you can sort all that out later. Maybe you throw in Freddy Peralta, the undersized right-hander with the big numbers at Triple-A and a couple of impressive outings in the majors, including seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and one hit on Tuesday against the Royals (though he probably faced better lineups at Colorado Springs). Is that enough? Hiura, Burnes, Santana and Peralta for deGrom? Maybe you get the Mets to include Cabrera, who would provide an offensive upgrade at second base.
The Cubs are vulnerable. The Brewers can win this thing. It isn’t likely that they can ever sign an ace, since they’ll lose every bidding war. They have to trade for one.
MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Brewers recalled veteran infielder Brad Miller from Triple-A Colorado Springs on Saturday and optioned struggling outfielder Domingo Santana there in an exchange of former 30-homer players.
Miller, acquired from Tampa Bay on June 10 for first baseman-outfielder Ji-Man Choi, was in the Brewers’ starting lineup at second base and batting sixth Saturday against St. Louis.
“That first day, no matter how much sleep you have, no matter the travel, it doesn’t really matter, you’re running on adrenaline,” Miller said before the game. “Excited to get in there right away and get to work.”
Santana hit .278 last season for Milwaukee with 30 homers and 85 RBI, but never got going this season. He hit .249 and just three homers and 17 RBI in 189 at-bats.
“At some point, we’re going to need Domingo and we’d prefer that he was kind of rolling and clicking when that times comes,” manager Craig Counsell said.
“It’s tough to do it when you’re not playing that much. It’s not something that you want to have to do, and he was a big part of our success last year. But, we just need to get him going and the best way to do that is have him playing,” he said.
With Jesus Aguilar and his team-best 16 homers earning more time at first base, recently activated Eric Thames has been playing more outfield, reducing Santana’s role.
The 28-year-old Miller batted .256 with five homers and 21 RBI in 48 games this season with Tampa Bay. Miller hit .243 with 30 homers and 81 RBI for the Rays in 2016, but dipped to .201 with nine homers and 40 RBI last season.
“Each year is different and you kind of go with the ebbs and flows — but I think just being in this environment and in this culture they’ve created here, it seems pretty positive for everybody involved,” Miller said.
Miller has started at seven different positions in the majors. He played 105 games at shortstop with Tampa Bay in 2016, then 98 games at second base with the Rays last season. This year, he played 35 games at first and six at second with Tampa Bay.
“What we may ask of him is to move around the field more regularly at different positions on a daily basis, whether it be double switches late in the game or in a starting role,” Counsell said. “But, he is versatile, he’s a pretty good athlete. He has done this all before, it’s just kind of getting him comfortable with doing it again.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — If you watched the New Orleans Saints last season — and looked specifically at how Sean Payton employed his running backs — then you have an idea how an NFL team can successfully incorporate two dynamic players at a position that typically features only one of them on the field at a time.
And how they can do it without taking the ball out of the hands of their Hall of Fame quarterback to boot.
You also might have seen a way the Green Bay Packers can meld their three potentially productive backs — Ty Montgomery, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones — into something similar even with the return of Aaron Rodgers from the broken collarbone that ruined last season.
The NFL always has been a copycat league, so don’t be surprised if coach Mike McCarthy takes a page out of Payton’s playbook. The Saints coach fielded the NFL’s fifth-best rushing attack last season in large part because he blended veteran running back Mark Ingram with Offensive Rookie of the Year Alvin Kamara. It wasn’t just your standard starter and third-down/change-of-pace combination; the two were essentially interchangeable, which kept defenses honest no matter which one lined up behind Drew Brees.
McCarthy certainly wasn’t going to tip his hand when asked last week if he studied how the Saints used their backs and if it could be applicable to his offense.
“The fact of the matter is we’re going to go running back by committee,” he said during an interview at the conclusion of the offseason program. “But if one of them would emerge as that full-time guy then you have to have that ability to … adjust to that. As far as planning and going into the season, that’s why we’re going about it that way. We feel like we’ve got three guys that have all done it, but they haven’t done it over a long period of time, so I think it’s just practical thinking from that position and realizing that it’s a very demanding position.”
Ingram ranked fourth in the NFL in both rushing yards (1,124) and rushing average (4.9). Kamara ranked 26th (728) and first (6.1), respectively. Kamara led all backs in receiving yards (826) and ranked second in catches (81). Ingram ranked 13th (416) and eighth (58), respectively.
That’s where Montgomery, Williams and Jones come in for the Packers. While none has done it for a full season — all three battled injuries at different points last season, something McCarthy has been rightly reminding everyone of since early in the offseason — they’ve all shown the ability to stay on the field for all three downs. All three can carry the ball, catch the ball and pass block, but the third skill might be the most shaky for each one.
By now, all three have become familiar: Montgomery, the converted receiver who provides matchup advantages; Williams, last year’s fourth-round pick who led the team in rushing; Jones, the small but explosive fifth-rounder who averaged 5.5 yards a carry and had perhaps the highlight run of the season with the 20-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Buccaneers.
“We’ve got young players that we really like that all played really well, but it’s been in short periods of time,” McCarthy said. “Ty Montgomery had a run there where he was outstanding. Jamaal has probably been the most available of the three, and Aaron has been so impactful when he’s been in there. I just think like anything, you project and you set a path.”
For his part, the 5-foot-9 Jones set out to bulk up this season in an effort to become more durable. He sustained a pair of MCL injuries — one to each knee — that derailed what could have been a special rookie season.
“I’m bigger all around,” Jones said this offseason. “That’s something that’s going to help me in pass protection and that’s something I want to get better at. I’m stronger, so definitely when a defender who’s bigger than me comes up I can hold my ground this year. I feel like any athlete wants to get bigger, stronger as long as they can stay explosive. I still feel just as explosive as I was if not even more.”
Perhaps the best thing about the Packers’ running back combination is they’re a year older and wiser. Given that it was Montgomery’s first full year as a running back, position coach Ben Sirmans essentially worked with three rookies last season.
“I think the thing is it gives you more confidence when you have a play design that they’re going to operate and do it correctly and not as concerned or worried about it as you were when they were rookies,” Sirmans said. “Are we putting too much on their plate? I think more than anything, it will allow us to expand the menu of what we’re doing.”
Whether it’s the Saints’ approach or some other form of running back by committee, it has become clear that McCarthy doesn’t plan to rely on one back and one back alone.
“You’ve got to be honest about that position; there’s not too many guys that can play 19 games,” McCarthy said. “To be the workhorse and do it week in and week out for 19 games, you’re a unique player. Your availability is at the top of the line because that’s such a demanding position. I can remember back in the 1990s seeing Marcus Allen in the cold tub after seeing him carry 25 times in a game. It took him probably until Wednesday or Thursday to recover. You always remember the first time you see what these guys go through at that position. And I think it’s no different for us because you do have to make a determination based on your players.”
The right-hander, who was called on to pitch in the inning with the Brewers trailing 8-5, first vomited behind the mound after finishing his warm-up tosses. Manager Craig Counsell came out to the mound and gave the pitcher a bottle of water while the grounds crew came on to clean up the spot. He then threw a few more warm-up tosses and remained in the game. He allowed a double to Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro to open the inning and then got pinch hitter Jesmuel Valentin to ground out before vomiting a second time.
Counsell came back out of the dugout to check on Houser again, but the pitcher was able to remain in the game. He allowed a run-scoring double by shortstop Scott Kingery but then got second baseman Cesar Hernandez to fly out and left fielder Rhys Hoskins to ground out.
The Brewers were not charged with mound visits when Counsell checked on his pitcher, umpire Laz Diaz indicated on the field.
“For Adrian today, it was just kind of a combination of a bunch of factors. He wasn’t under the weather at all, but it was an early wake-up call, not enough food, heat, probably a little nerves from getting to the big leagues today,” Counsell said.
“There wasn’t very much coming out. It wasn’t a food thing,” he said with a chuckle.
Counsell, who played 16 seasons in the majors and has been the Brewers’ manager since 2015, said this was the first time he saw a pitcher vomit while on the mound. He said he wasn’t worried about Houser’s safety.
“Adrian was completely fine,” Counsell said. “It was like he was just trying to get that part over with. There was no panic in his eyes, not in any way. He was talking and he wasn’t struggling at all. Like I said, it was just a kind of combination of all those factors. He was fine, kind of after he sat down and everything was good.”
This was just Houser’s fifth major league appearance. He had made two appearances for the Brewers in 2015 and two this season before Sunday.
“I think it was a combination of traveling this morning and not having a lot of food in me. I was trying to stay hydrated in the bullpen. It’s pretty hot here compared to Colorado Springs. All combined, it got me,” Houser said.
Houser’s willingness to stay in the game impressed Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.
“I have a lot of respect for anybody who would step behind the mound and throw up and step back on the mound and pitch,” he said.
Houser was recalled from Triple-A Colorado Springs earlier Sunday. The Brewers optioned right-hander Jorge Lopez to Colorado Springs in a corresponding move.
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Football coaches tend to speak their own language, inventing words and expressions as they go along. So when Green Bay Packers receivers coach David Raih described rookie J’Mon Moore as someone who “grabs grass,” it was met with some puzzled looks.
Even one of the most accomplished receivers in his group admitted that was a new term to him when he came into the NFL.
“That’s what they say around here,” Davante Adams said. “I had never heard that until I got here, but they use that to describe someone who’s literally moving [so fast] that they’re grabbing the grass quickly.”
It’s one of the reasons Moore has a chance – perhaps the best chance among the young receivers – to make an impact this season. Beyond the fact Moore was the highest draft pick (fourth round, No. 133 overall) among the three receivers that general manager Brian Gutekunst picked in his first draft this year, Moore appears to have acclimated himself the fastest.
Moore made a sideline catch with a high degree of difficulty in this week’s first minicamp practice and has shown the physical attributes that could give him first dibs on some of the snaps now available after the Packers cut Jordy Nelson in the offseason.
But back to that grass grabbing.
It’s a noteworthy description given the word on Moore coming out of Missouri was the potential lack of breakout speed. He ran a surprisingly slow 40 at the combine; his 4.6-second time ranked behind all but six of the 37 receivers who ran in Indianapolis. Yes, he ran faster (4.48) at his campus workout, but it was a red flag nonetheless.
The Packers, however, have not had any issue with his speed.
“He’s definitely a guy that grabs grass,” Raih said this week. “He’s got stride length, he’s high cut, and he naturally just covers ground. The main thing is knowing what he’s doing, so he can use those abilities. But yeah, I’m excited about him. I’m excited about everybody in the room.”
Fellow rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling (fifth round) and Equanimeous St. Brown (sixth) have made their share of eye-catching plays, too. St. Brown caught a 22-yard touchdown pass against first-round pick Jaire Alexander during one of the 2-minute drills this week right after Valdes-Scantling caught a short out for a first down to keep that drive alive. And then there’s Michael Clark, the 6-foot-6 former college basketball player who spent most of last season on the practice squad before he got his chance late in the season.
But Moore might be the most complete combination of size, strength and ability. He has wowed the Packers with his strength, conditioning and athleticism.
“Talk about God-given ability,” Adams said. “He has a lot of shiftiness to him. He’s a big dude. He’s like 6-3, big frame plus a lot of speed. As long as he picks everything up, he can do a lot to help us out.”
Of course, none of what Moore has shown this week has come with Aaron Rodgers on the field. Coach Mike McCarthy excused Rodgers and 15 other veterans from the mandatory minicamp because he prefers the final week of the offseason program to be focused on the young players. For Moore – or any receiver – to make his way onto the field come September and beyond, he will have to earn the trust of the quarterback.
Here’s how he plans to do that: “Just me being me,” Moore said. “Going out there, playing fast, being comfortable, knowing my assignment and just going out there not worried about too many things. Just taking it one play at a time, keeping my poise and having fun.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Whatever anyone thinks of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s play last season — and there seem to be plenty who took issue with it — the former Pro Bowl safety should be in better position to make a bigger impact this season.
At least that was his feeling after one day of minicamp practice.
Clinton-Dix skipped the voluntary organized team activities and returned to the Green Bay Packers this week for the first time since late May, when he left three weeks into the offseason program. Still, he got enough of a glimpse to feel like his role will be different this season under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.
“I’ll definitely be a lot more free in this defense for sure,” Clinton-Dix said. “We’ve got to see what it looks like come game day. We can talk about it now but game day we’ll be talking about some totally different s—. We’ve just got to all wait and see how it plays out. But I’m excited about the new defense, I’m loving it right now. I’m loving it.”
That didn’t seem to be the case last season, when former defensive coordinator Dom Capers used Clinton-Dix as more of a safety valve — keeping him far off the line of scrimmage to guard against big plays as the Packers struggled in that area. In the process, his opportunity to make big plays lessened. After a five-interception, one-forced-fumble season in 2016 led to his first Pro Bowl appearance, he picked off three passes last season but didn’t make the same kind of impact.
He became something of a target for fans, who criticized him on social media and even questioned his effort late last season after the Packers were eliminated from playoff contention.
Months later, he’s still being forced to defend himself. He took to Twitter last weekend with a series of posts.
Can someone tell me how similar my stats were from 2016 & 2017? Asking for a friend?
“I was just tweeting,” Clinton-Dix said when asked what prompted it. “Just can’t say too much [or] what I really want to say, so I’ve got to be careful. Sometimes I have to delete stuff.”
His decision to skip OTAs — even for a reason as valid as the death of his godmother — didn’t help public perception. He also didn’t do much to dispel the idea that he’s unhappy with his contract situation.
It’s a potentially career-changing year for Clinton-Dix. He’s in the final year of his original contract. He’s in the fifth-year option that all first-round picks since 2011 have had. The Packers exercised that option, which will pay him $5.957 million this season. He said he won’t make the mistake of putting too much pressure on himself in a contract year.
“My film is already on tape. I could not play a down and get a new contract and be fine,” Clinton-Dix said. “Stats speak for themselves, everything speaks for themselves. I’ve just got to go out there and continue getting better, continue maximizing my opportunity and winning my one-on-ones.
“I’m going to leave it at that, man. I know my value to this defense, and it’s up to you all to see. I guess we’ll see when we play Chicago and on from there. I’m excited about this opportunity I have in front of me right now going into my fifth year. Like I said, the sky’s the limit for me. Just watch, just watch.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. — Tramon Williams isn’t expected to be around this week. As a 12th-year veteran, he’s more than met coach Mike McCarthy’s prerequisite to be excused from the Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp.
And at age 35, Williams won’t be around the NFL forever. But his influence on the Packers’ defense and his seemingly ageless play make it seem like he will.
In his second go-around with the team that gave him his first real chance to play in 2007 as an undrafted cornerback, the measure of Williams’ impact won’t come only in the form of interceptions and pass breakups but also in the influence he’ll have over the Packers’ young cornerbacks — first- and second-round picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, respectively, plus second-year pro Kevin King chief among them.
While Williams and other veterans with at least five years of experience are expected to be excused from minicamp as McCarthy has done in the past, the fruits of his impact on the others should be noticeable.
It was no wonder that none other than Aaron Rodgers turned a question about the Packers’ rookie corners into an answer about old No. 38.
“I said it walking off the field today, the biggest difference on the back end is 38,” Rodgers said last week of Williams. “When he showed back up here, he is as of right now, in my humble opinion, the best on that side of the ball, and you want your best players to be the best guys in the locker room, and there’s nobody better than Tramon.
“It’s great having him back. Those young guys, I would tell them and will tell them here at some point, watch the older guys because there’s a reason that guy’s been around as long as he has — undrafted, practice squad, one of the biggest players in our Super Bowl run and then he’s back here to finish it up. It’s really fun.”
So many things went wrong in the final minutes of the 2014 NFC Championship Game that it’s easy to forget how it actually ended, and who gave up the final play.
It was Williams, who was in coverage — all by himself because of a blitz call from defensive coordinator Dom Capers — against Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse on the Seahawks’ 35-yard game-winning touchdown in overtime.
It was Williams’ final play as a Packer. The Packers moved on and so did Williams, who signed with the Browns that offseason. He played two years in Cleveland and last season with the Cardinals before he returned to Green Bay this offseason on a two-year, $10 million deal.
“I feel like there’s unfinished business,” Williams said upon his return.
“To walk off the field on my last play as a Packer getting scored on to go to the Super Bowl, it was a tough way to end it. But God puts you in different situations. I ended up leaving and there was a reason why I left — for me to grow. I feel over these last three years, I’ve grown so much more than I would’ve probably ever done while I was here. Now it’s time for me to come back here and get things in order. I’m up for that challenge. I believe that we will be back in the big dance when it’s all said and done. I’m hoping that these guys are here with me, and we’re going to get it done.”
More than a mentor
Williams’ return is more than ceremonial; he wouldn’t be here if general manager Brian Gutekunst thought he was over the hill.
During OTA practices, Williams regularly manned one of the outside positions with the No. 1 defense and is a good bet to be one of the opening-day starters. If King’s recovery from shoulder surgery goes as expected, he could be the other. Alexander could be the leading candidate for the nickel spot and Jackson for the dime position.
But there’s a mentorship aspect in play, too.
Williams played in new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s system in Cleveland, making him and defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson (who played for Pettine with the Jets) expert teachers of the new scheme.
“It’s one thing me saying it, it’s another thing you have a guy in the room with you doing those things, doing the yoga, getting massages, doing the extra stretching, studying film a certain way,” Packers defensive passing-game coordinator Joe Whitt said recently in talking about Williams. “He does everything the proper way, so it’s just been great having him back. And then the three practices he’s gone, he’s been really, really good. He’s still really quick. He’s got his hands on a number of balls. I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s played.”
Williams claims he doesn’t know how much longer he will play, even though he says he gets that question “all the time.” Unlike one of his mentors, Al Harris, who’s now on the Chiefs coaching staff, Williams doesn’t think he’ll coach after his career is over. But he has no problem helping out while he plays.
“One of the things that I’ve told those guys already, when I came in here and I had the opportunity to see great guys play and learn from great guys,” Williams said. “I wasn’t really forced in. My number was called, and I was prepared because I got a chance to watch those guys. I got a chance to watch Charles [Woodson] and Nick [Collins] and those guys and build a relationship with them, even when I wasn’t playing. All of that factors in.
“We try to do a good job of team bonding all the time, whether it be going out to eat at night or whatever it may be. You have to be able to trust the next man on the field with you, and you want that to go further than just the field. That’s one thing that I always preach to the guys. There’s a reason why guys play for a long time. One thing I realize is that smart guys last in this league. Everybody is talented, but the smart guys last in this league. The faster you can get smart, the better you’ll do and the longer you’ll last.”