All that matters is Rodgers' health
A lot of people are making a big deal about the Green Bay Packers' depth after their backups put on an impressive preseason finale in their 34-14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
But it doesn't mean a hill of beans. The main thing, almost the only thing, is that quarterback Aaron Rodgers stays on the field.
How many guys can the Packers lose and keep winning? Let's go back a few years, to 2010. They had 15 guys on injured reserve by the end of the season and won the Super Bowl. The guy that mattered most was Rodgers. They also had Charles Woodson at the peak of his career, and Clay Matthews was playing great on defense as well.
Really, to win a championship, the Packers need only a few playmakers on each side of the ball.
On offense, they have several difference makers. Obviously it starts with Rodgers. Then there's Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. And if rookie tight end Richard Rodgers learns to block somebody, he could be a stud.
On defense, there's Matthews and Sam Shields. Then maybe Julius Peppers, and maybe Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Micah Hyde. One of those safeties, Hyde or Clinton-Dix, has to rise up.
It looks like the Packers are going with Hyde as the starter opposite Morgan Burnett. They seem to like the older guy to start the season — they did it with Jarrett Bush ahead of then-rookie Casey Hayward at nickel cornerback in the opener two years ago. So maybe it's Hyde for now and then the first-round pick Clinton-Dix takes over as the season goes on. Or maybe Hyde will play well and Clinton-Dix will surpass Burnett during the season. Could happen.
I mention Clinton-Dix as a possible playmaker because against the Chiefs, for the first time in the preseason he didn't look like a fish out of water. I never saw him asking a teammate where to line up. As the season goes on, the mental part of the game probably will slow for him, and he'll be the physical guy he was at Alabama.
We saw a glimpse of that in the first quarter Thursday night. Kansas City had second-and-8 on its 12, and running back Knile Davis ran through the "B" gap. Clinton-Dix filled like a rocket and dropped him after a 4-yard gain. That's the stuff the Packers have been missing since Nick Collins' career-ending neck injury in 2011, a safety who can play at all three levels — the line of scrimmage, linebacker depth and the safety.
Center of attention
Rookie Corey Linsley looks like he has the physical stuff to play center in the NFL. The only question in replacing injured JC Tretter at the starter in the opener at Seattle is if he's ready mentally.
Linsley, a fifth-round draft pick, did 36 reps on the bench press at the NFL scouting combine last February, and that weight-room strength shows in his play. Teams don't need a center to run a 4.8-second 40, they need him to snap the ball and smack a defensive guy in the face. Linsley looks like he has a little red streak running down his back. I kind of like that. He'll block until the whistle blows. Once he engages a guy, that's it, the guy's done. I like his feet too.
Still, there's no way to know from the Kansas City game how Linsley will handle everything Seattle throws at him in the ear-drum shattering noise of CenturyLink Field. Kansas City didn't do anything complicated with its interior defensive linemen. If I'm Seattle, I'm going to run inside twists, and I'm going run stunts and games with linebackers and defensive linemen. I'm going to test the heck out of Linsley.
So far, you don't see any back down in Linsley. He did get pushed back like he was on skates on a pass rush or two against the Chiefs, but he didn't give up a sack. And I like the way he blocks until the whistle. He has that mean streak, and he's a Big Ten guy who's played against big guys.
This deserves close watch. Tretter is the Packers' center, but you never know. If he's out a long time because of his knee injury and Linsley plays really good football, I don't know if you make the switch back when Tretter returns. The tools are there with Linsley. He has nice knee bend, his hands are good — coming out of college that's hard. And once he locks onto a guy he stays on him.
■ Jayrone Elliott, the undrafted outside linebacker, looks like he needs more lower-body power and upper-body strength to get off blocks, because once a lineman or tight end gets his hands on him, he disappears.
But he had five sacks in preseason, including one against Kansas City, and you can make a lot of money in the NFL as a pass rusher on third downs. Against the run, Elliott is very pedestrian. But as a pass rusher, it looks like he's kind of got it. He has a nice motor and seems like he can work inside and outside moves well. He gets his center of gravity down when he turns the corner. Those kinds of things get guys paid millions of dollars to play on third downs. But the run game, very pedestrian.
■ Rookie defensive lineman Mike Pennel has shown a little something to think he's more than just a first-down, defend-the-run player. In the second quarter Thursday night, on a first-and-goal from the Packers' 4, the Chiefs' Cyrus Gray was stopped for a 2-yard gain. Pennel got a nice push, but then he did more by spinning off his block. He didn't make the tackle, but he slowed Gray, which set up somebody else for the tackle. That showed Pennel isn't just a power guy, that he can move and the coaches are teaching him things he needs to be successful. He could see playing time not just on first down and short yardage.
■ I don't know if the Packers will cut second-year receiver Kevin Dorsey and put him on the practice squad. But there are a bunch of teams looking for receivers. He's a big guy who can run and could be a tough one to let go.
■ You can tell backup safety Chris Banjo likes special teams. He had a big hit covering a punt Thursday night. That might have been enough to keep him on the 53-man roster.
Former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offers his analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.