Matthew Mulligan / Lukas Keapproth/Press-Gazette Media
Chiefs safety Bradley McDougald tackles Packers running back Alex Green in the second half last Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. / John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports
The Green Bay Packers went light at running back and waived two second-year linebackers they considered promising prospects just a year ago in their roster reduction to 53 players Sunday.
The Packers also are looking for a No. 2 quarterback after cutting 30-year-old Vince Young. And in a surprise move, they released the one free agent of note they’d signed in the offseason, tight end Matthew Mulligan.
They decided to go with only four running backs instead of the usual five or six when they waived third-year pro Alex Green. The 2011 third-round draft pick led the team in rushing last season, even if it was with only 464 yards and a 3.4-yard average per carry. If the Packers were going to sign halfback Joe McKnight, who worked out for them this weekend, they likely would have done it before final cuts.
The Packers also waived Dezman Moses at outside linebacker and Terrell Manning at inside linebacker. Moses made the team as an undrafted rookie last season, and counting playoffs played 493 snaps on defense and 244 on special teams. General manager Ted Thompson thought enough of Manning to make a rare trade up for him in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
The Packers cut Young after he finished the preseason against Kansas City by putting up only six points on two field goals and a 61.0 passer rating in 11 possessions. B.J. Coleman is the only backup quarterback on the roster, though that likely will change.
The Packers released Mulligan after paying him $105,000 in bonuses as a free-agent signee in the offseason. Coach Mike McCarthy has talked frequently this year about making a greater commitment to the run, and the Packers signed Mulligan specifically to improve their run blocking.
NFL teams immediately can begin signing vested veterans (players with at least four accrued seasons in the league) cut Saturday. Players with fewer than four accrued seasons are subject to the waiver wire. After waiver claims are awarded at 11 a.m. today, teams can begin signing their eight-man practice squads.
The Packers kept nine of their 11 picks from this year’s draft — one, guard-tackle JC Tretter, is on the physically unable to perform list. The two waived were receivers Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey, both seventh-round picks.
The Packers also kept three undrafted rookies: outside linebacker Andy Mulumba, guard Lane Taylor and safety Chris Banjo.
Following is a position-by-position synopsis of the Packers’ roster:
Running backs (4)
Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, James Starks, John Kuhn
Overview: Alex Green looked better in this camp than last season, when he had chronic swelling and soreness in his reconstructed knee. But he wasn’t an instinctive runner, and the Packers had to go light somewhere to keep seven defensive linemen (not counting Mike Neal, who is splitting time between defensive line and outside linebacker). Lacy is the No. 1, and Starks, who ran better than Green, probably is the No. 2 for normal down and distance. Kuhn appears to be the primary passing-down back because he’s the best pass protector of the group, though Lacy also has protected OK. Franklin could be a change-of-pace passing-down back but has to improve significantly as a blocker. He blew at least two protections in the preseason finale against Kansas City.
Tight ends (4)
Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, Ryan Taylor, Brandon Bostick
Overview: This was one of the Packers’ deeper positions. They were unable to trade Mulligan, whose release might have been the team’s biggest surprise move. He was their best blocker by far but injured his elbow in the second preseason game, missed a week, then struggled when he returned with his arm heavily wrapped. The Packers also cut former 2011 fifth-round pick D.J. Williams, who was a prolific pass catcher in college but undersized (6-2, 245) for the NFL. Bostick, a converted college receiver, made it based on his potential as a receiver. Keeping Quarless was a mild surprise after he missed all of last season (knee reconstruction) and then 2½ weeks of camp (quad) this year because of injuries.
Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross
Overview: Boykin is the No. 4 receiver and Ross the No. 5. The Packers are looking to get Cobb off return duties, so Ross probably will be their primary return man to start the season. Seventh-round pick Charles Johnson and undrafted rookie Myles White appear headed for the practice squad. Undrafted Tyrone Walker made a run, but the Packers must think he’s not explosive enough for a small receiver (5-10, 191), because there was no indication that they talked about the practice squad when they waived him.
Aaron Rodgers, B.J. Coleman
Overview: Though Coleman is the No. 2 for now, it appears likely he’ll be replaced. He finished the preseason with a 49.6 passer rating and played erratically in training camp. There are many options, but none particularly good. Assuming he’s replaced, Coleman could return to the practice squad, either this week or at a later date.
Offensive line (8)
David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten, Lane Taylor
Overview: The Packers might add a lineman released by another team, and could accommodate the move either by releasing Taylor or someone at another position group. Patrick Lewis, an undrafted center-guard, appears headed for their practice squad. Van Roten is the backup center and Newhouse the backup swing tackle. Barclay probably would move from right tackle to replace an injured guard, with Newhouse replacing Barclay.
Defensive line (7)
B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd
Overview: The Packers went heavy here in part because Jolly made himself impossible to cut after three years out of football. In four preseason games, he had a sack, an interception and two passes knocked down. Thompson also must have been convinced that someone would have claimed Boyd, a fifth-round draft pick who flashes athletic talent for a 310-pounder. Boyd will have trouble getting on the field without injuries to others. Raji, Jones, Neal and Daniels will rotate as the inside rushers in most nickel and dime personnel groups.
Outside linebackers (5)
Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer
Overview: Moses’ release was among the bigger surprises, because he was the No. 3 outside linebacker last season after Perry’s wrist injury. Moses didn’t make many plays in camp, but he had a toe injury that sidelined him the first week and might have affected him thereafter. Neal looks like the No. 3 outside linebacker even though he’s new to the position and has more-than-the-usual limitations in coverage. The undrafted Mulumba outplayed the sixth-round pick Palmer all camp, but Palmer might have won a roster spot with his last-ditch strong performance against the Chiefs (a sack, a forced fumble and two tackles).
Inside linebackers (5)
Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington
Overview: Terrell Manning showed promise as a blitzer but must have lacked overall instincts, because he didn’t make as many plays as the others. Francois is the No. 3 inside linebacker. Lattimore is one of the team’s best special teams players and probably the No. 4 inside linebacker. Barrington, a seventh-round pick, showed some ability in coverage all camp and had a sack for a safety against the Chiefs that helped push him past Manning.
Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Haward, Davon House, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush
Overview: First-year pro James Nixon was the lone player in camp who could have challenged Shields for the team’s fastest player. He has the potential to be a good special teams cover man but wasn’t ready to beat out the ultra-professional Bush for that job. Nixon is a decent bet to land on the practice squad. If Hayward (hamstring) can’t play this week against San Francisco, the Packers could use the fifth-round pick Hyde as nickel corner, or move Williams inside in the nickel and bring in House to replace him outside. Hyde played so well near the line of scrimmage as a blitzer and ball hawk that the Packers might have to get him on the field at least in the dime role, ahead of safety Jerron McMillian.
Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo
Overview: Banjo came from the bottom of the depth chart to win a roster spot after joining the team as a tryout player for the rookie minicamp. He played well around the line of scrimmage, though his height (a little over 5-9) could be a liability in coverage downfield. Burnett has a hamstring injury that could sideline him for another week or more, which might have helped Banjo make the final 53.
Tim Masthay, Mason Crosby, Brett Goode
Overview: Crosby’s pay cut and exceptional finish (26-for-27 on field goals the final week in practice and the preseason finale) saved his kicking job. He’s on a roll, but if he falters, among the veteran kickers available are Dan Carpenter, Neil Rackers and Billy Cundiff.