The obnoxious noise level tends to be what grinds most NFL players’ gears when preparing to play the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome.
David Bakhtiari? Not so much.
In what likely will be his first and only game at the Metrodome – the Vikings are 1-5 and in their final season at the venue – the Green Bay Packers’ rookie left tackle was making the appropriate adjustments before today’s game.
The question on his mind, however, had nothing to do with the oft-discussed noise level.
“The biggest question (I had) was how’s the turf? Can I use turf shoes or is it more cleat?” Bakhtiari asked.
But what about the deafening noise level that’s so often discussed when opposing teams march into the Metrodome?
“I already know it’s going to be loud,” Bakhtiari added. “I’m not going to be able to hear much. To me, being a tackle. I can barely hear much if it all anything, so I don’t think it’ll be a big switch. Crowd noise is crowd noise. It’s going to cancel things out. I guess, theirs is going to be even louder. It can louder, yes, but you already can’t hear anything.”
The Vikings’ 27th-ranked defense is down this season and has given up at least 31 points in each of their Minnesota home games this season, but veteran Jared Allen remains a focal point of the defense.
Bakhtiari likely will be matched against the 31-year-old defensive end, who already has 21 tackles and 4½ sacks in six games this season, but said he’s ready for the task at hand.
The stats indicate as much. After losing starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Bakhtiari has been better than serviceable in relief.
As the 11th tackle taken in April’s draft, the fourth-round pick hasn’t allowed a sack in his last two games and was the only rookie to start his team’s season-opener at left tackle.
Overlooked by some scouts for his size (6-foot-4, 298 pounds) and propensity to get overpowered, Bakhtiari has also been an upgrade in the run game this season. The Packers are averaging 5.9-yards per carry with three touchdowns running left this season (87 carries for 509 yards), according to Pro Football Focus.
By the same metric, they averaged only 3.7-yards per carry with four touchdowns for the season running left in 2012.
As for the critics, much like the noise, Bakhtiari couldn’t care less.
“Haters come one, come all. That’s fine,” Bakhtiari said. “I’m going to play my game. I don’t care how many views me of, ‘Oh, he’s only going to be this good,’ or where they’re going to slot me or draft me, that’s fine. Whatever team wanted to take me and that’s the Green Bay Packers. I’m fortunate they took me and fortunate they chose me, so I’m just here to give them what they picked up.”
Packers safety Sean Richardson received a measure of good news this week when team doctors cleared him to return to the field after undergoing cervical fusion surgery last January.
However, the 6-foot-2, 216-pound safety still faces a long road to regain a spot on the Packers’ 53-man roster.
Richardson made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt a year ago and it’s not a lock there’s a roster spot waiting for him, especially with the way rookie Chris Banjo has played during the first two months of the season.
Richardson had developed into a promising specials-team player, but had seen only 15 defensive snaps in four games prior to sustaining a herniated disk against the New York Giants on Nov. 25, 2012, an injury that required a single-fusion of the C-5 and C-6 vertebrae.
“He was coming along,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry said. “I know he was producing on special teams. He hadn’t played a whole lot of snaps on defense but at the same time he was getting the reps in practice and I think anytime as a young player, the more you see things and the more reps you get, the better you become.
“I think he was on track to continue his development as a quality safety in this league.”
Because the injury occurred further down the spine, doctors felt comfortable enough to clear him to resume his career. Three-time Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins saw his career come to an end two games into the 2011 season after suffering a herniated disk at the C-3 and C-4 level.
The issue for the Packers is they appear to have two other players on the physically unable to perform list – tackle Derek Sherrod (leg) and defensive lineman Jerel Worthy (knee) – who could be likely candidates to return at some point this season.
Sherrod is the only one of the four currently on PUP to resume practice and will need to be either activated, released or kept on PUP after this week.
Richardson, Worthy and rookie offensive lineman J.C. Tretter (ankle) are eligible to remain on PUP through a Week 10 matchup with Philadelphia. If any of them return to practice during that stretch, they’re then given a three-week window to practice with the team.
Even with the injuries the Packers have dealt with lately, room might be tight. The Packers are already carrying 11 defensive backs on their roster, including recently promoted cornerback James Nixon, who was signed off the practice squad when Buffalo attempted to sign him to its roster.
At the moment, that doesn’t concern the 23-year-old Richardson, who awaits the green light to resume his career after losing a full year to the herniated disk.
“I think any position when you’re not playing for several weeks and you’re out as long as he is, it’s going to take some time to get back out there,” Perry said.
“Regardless of who it is, it’ll take some time, but Sean is a hard worker. We can get him back whenever we can, I think it’ll be a big addition.”
Preparing for 15, not Jennings
After years of practicing against Greg Jennings, the Green Bay Packers’ secondary will line up against him for the first time in an actual NFL game today.
Jennings signed a five-year, $45 million deal with the Vikings this offseason after spending his first seven seasons with the Packers.
Minnesota has significant questions at a quarterback position that’s seen a starting carousel of Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman through the first six games.
What you can’t underestimate is Jennings, who 30 years old is still one of the league’s best route runners, according to Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt.
As for all the hysteria surrounding Jennings after a messy departure this offseason, the only thing the Packers’ secondary is concerned with is the number on the front of the jersey.
“He’s No. 15,” said Whitt with a smile when asked about covering Jennings. “I just looked at him like any other receiver and took the name away and said this is a guy that we have to defend because of the tools that he has.
“He runs routes as good as anyone in the league and not many guys can do that. A lot of guys, we know – all right he’s going to run vertical, he’s going to run slants, he’s going to run digs. We can cut the tree down on him. You can’t a tree down really on Greg because he can run every route on the tree inside and outside. He’s a guy who you better understand what he’s going to do.”
Jennings is second on the team in receiving this season with 24 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns.
Micah Hyde estimates he blitzed five times in 51 career games at the University of Iowa.
It just wasn’t the Hawkeyes’ defensive style to dedicate cornerbacks to the pass rush.
However, the Packers still saw enough on tape to indicate the 6-foot, 197-pound rookie had what it took to provide some heat in the pass rush off corner blitzes in nickel and dime sub-packages.
In six games, Hyde has already blitzed 19 times, according to Pro Football Focus, with two pressures and one sack rushing off the corner. Among cornerbacks who have played at least 50 percent of his team’s defensive snaps, Hyde is seventh in the league in that capacity.
“He doesn’t take a lot of wasted steps,” Whitt said. “He has the courage that if the offensive lineman does block him that he’ll get close enough to him that if the offensive lineman blocks down, he’s going to come free.
“But he’s not afraid to stick it in there with him if he does kick out on him. He shaves a lot of those extra steps off where another guy might be trying to round it. He’s going to edge it off. Then when he does, he has the ability to come through his hips at the tackle and he’s just natural at that. That’s not something you coach, that’s something you have and he has a good extra step and burst through the tackle through his hips>”
Jerron McMillian was excused from practice on Friday for personal reasons and is probable to play today against the Vikings.
Barring injury, most of that work likely will come on special teams.
The 2012 fourth-round pick played only one snap on defense last week after falling down in coverage in a three-deep prevent defense and conceding a 64-yard catch near the end of a 19-17 win over Baltimore two weeks ago.
Furthermore, the second-year safety appears to have lost his spot in the slot in the Packers’ dime defense as Hyde handled those duties in last week’s game against Cleveland.
So what does he have to do to earn back a defensive role?
“Consistency. That’s what separates the average from the good and the good from the great is doing it over a period of time,” said Perry of McMillian, who has five missed tackles against 15 made ones this season. “This is the game where you need to be as consistent as possible in every situation. That’s something as a young football player. They don’t quite understand the significance and importance of it. We still think he’s a good football player and he’s going to be a good football player, but we just have to get consistent in what we do and in every aspect.”
Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson is seeing his fewest amounts of snaps since his rookie season in 2010, but isn’t panicking about playing time.
An unrestricted free agent after this season, Wilson has been inactive twice in six games. In the four games he’s played, he has three tackles on 49 snaps, a byproduct of losing his starting spot in the base 3-4 defense to a resurgent Johnny Jolly despite perhaps his strongest training camp.
Wilson likely will be active today as the Packers prepare for a heavy 3-4 day against a Vikings’ offense that provides plenty of two-back looks behind Adrian Peterson and fullback Jerome Felton.
With eight listed defensive linemen currently on the roster, it’s only going to get more crowded with 2012 second-round pick Jerel Worthy nearing a return from the torn ACL he suffered last December.
“When you have guys like our d-line, everyone can go in and start,” said Wilson of a defensive line that’s currently third in the NFL in run defense (79.0 yards per game). “I’m on the sideline licking my chops waiting to get in there, but that’s the role I’m playing right now is a backup role. When I get in there, no matter how many plays I get in there, I just go hard and thank God for my opportunity to be here.
“You don’t have this in the NFL. You don’t get this every year. When you have a d-line like this, you just sit back and enjoy the journey. That’s what we’re doing right now.”
The Packers incorporated plenty of six offensive linemen looks during the 2012 season. In last week’s 31-13 win over Cleveland, the package finally returned with Marshall Newhouse reporting eligible for the first time this season.
Don’t be surprised if you see it again soon.
“We have been working on that,” starting right tackle Don Barclay said. “We put it in a little bit ago. You just never know when it’s going to get called. You just have to always be prepared for it and be alert for those situations.”
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