One thing that stood out about the Packersí secondary last year was its tackling.
All their cornerbacks tackled well, and in the alley in the run game their safeties, Nick Collins and Charlie Peprah, were tough tacklers. They saved a lot of big plays because they tackled.
This year, second-year pro Morgan Burnett is back from the torn ACL that ended his 2010 season in Week 4 against Detroit, and the Packers have him back in the starting lineup ahead of Peprah.
The question is, will Burnett be aggressive in the alley and tackle? That doesnít show up in practice, because thereís no tackling in practice, no breaking anybody down. Itís something to watch in the preseason opener tonight at Cleveland.
Burnettís a big body at 6 foot 1 and 209 pounds. Thatís big for a safety. He doesnít get beat over the top in the passing game, seems to always be in the right spot. But can he be aggressive and tackle? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers likes to bring his safeties up to the line of scrimmage. Last year either Collins or Peprah would come up, you never knew which. Burnett before he got hurt didnít do that, the Packers knew he wasnít physical and that wasnít his game. Heís more a center fielder.
Letís see how that plays out. It looks like the job is Burnettís, but can Peprah beat him out? Burnettís got a big body, but Iím not sure how physical heíll be.
Looking at the depth at defensive back, thereís a lot of jerseys running around out there, but the guy who stood out before he pulled his hamstring last week was Davon House, their fourth-round draft pick. He has nice balance, some competitiveness. Really seems to have a nose for the ball, is able to turn around and locate the ball. You saw that last week, a couple interceptions, breaking up passes, then he got the hammy. Thatís the guy that sticks out.
It looked to me like House was the next-best corner after Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields. But Jarrett Bush is coming along too. Sometimes it just takes some confidence. Heís definitely better than last year. The thing with him, he sometimes gets in trouble by being too aggressive, but it seems like heís tempered that this year.
D-backs have to be super aggressive, that traitís a must. They have to be explosive and have good balance, and the third thing Ė and Iím not so sure it isnít the first thing Ė is they need an ego, because theyíre going to get burned, and theyíre going to get burned a lot. No quarterback goes 0-fer. Itís kind of like baseball, if a cornerback goes .300 thatís probably pretty good. But Bush sometimes gets himself out of position because heís a little too aggressive. He seems able to run with receivers, and he has a nose for the ball. Heís got the physical attributes, thatís for sure. Itís just whether he can temper the aggressiveness and do what heís supposed to do.
More on the greyhounds
I spent most of last week watching the greyhounds Ė the defensive backs and receivers Ė and from what I see on the offensive side, if they keep five receivers like they did last year, Brett Swainís on the outside looking in.
The top five are a given: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and second-round draft pick Randall Cobb.
If they keep six, Swainís back in it, but thereís an undrafted rookie who has a shot too, Tori Gurley of South Carolina. You canít coach 6-feet-4. Heís not overly explosive, but he catches the ball and gets in the right spots. That says a lot about him. Of the younger guys like Chastin West, who was on the practice squad last year, and undrafted rookies such as Shaky Smithson and Kerry Taylor, out of those guys Gurley has separated himself.
Itís hard to tell after only two weeks if Gurley is a real NFL player. Kind of a long strider. Heís making plays because he has a big body, he can get up and get the ball, but thereís not that explosion. You watch Cobb, you see the suddenness, the ability to change directions, to sink his hips and turn in cuts. Not that Gurley is bad, itís just when he comes out of a cut itís not that explosive, boom, like Cobb or Jennings. But I like the kid, he looks pretty decent.
Looking at some of the other lesser-known guys, Diondre Borel is moving from quarterback at Utah State to receiver in the NFL, and it shows. He has really nice body control, but coming in and out of breaks itís just not there. Antonio Robinson, who was on the Packersí practice squad at the end of last season, heís just not aware enough yet. A couple times this week he was the hot read on a blitz, and the ball was there and he wasnít looking. Iím not sure if itís because he came from a small school (Nicholls State), where they didnít do that much, or heís not experienced, or maybe heís not catching on. But heís just not aware.
At receiver thereís a lot to learn, you have to know the hot zones, thereís a lot to read. The defense might line up in Cover 2 and then it becomes man one over the top if theyíre blitzing, or it could be Cover 3. Receivers make adjustments all the time. Same thing with undrafted rookie Kerry Taylor out of Arizona State. Just didnít seem to be aware, there were balls coming at him and he wasnít looking.
As far as the top guys, Nelson is having a nice camp, he seems to be the guy catching the deep balls along the sideline. Thatís always been his spot, around the sideline.
Also watched Donald Driver a little bit. Everybodyís wondering if at 36 heís lost a step. Iím not so sure he hasnít, he doesnít seem to have the straight-line speed he had when he was younger. But they havenít had the starters in there a whole lot in practice.
*The Packers have six tight ends in camp, and if they keep four again, itís hard for me to believe Tom Crabtree and Spencer Havner make the team. The two rookies, fifth-round pick D.J. Williams and seventh-rounder Ryan Taylor, have big enough bodies, theyíre going to be good blockers Iím assuming. Havner was making plays Thursday night, but he was on the scout team and they were doing game-plan stuff. Where was Crabtree? You donít see him. The two rookies, you see them catching. Second-year pro Andrew Quarless, you see him catching every once in a while.
*I thought at the beginning of camp outside linebacker Frank Zombo might have been on the bubble, but I donít think so now. Brad Jones might be. Zombo is kind of separating himself from Erik Walden and Jones. Last year Zombo looked so mechanical at times, like a robot. He seems more fluid and confident now. Heís physical, no doubt about that.
ó Green Bay Press-Gazette correspondent Eric Baranczyk played football at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and later served as an assistant coach. He will provide periodic evaluations of the Packers during training camp.