Aaron Nagler talks Packers training camp and Jerry Kramer being a Pro Football Hall of Fame senior finalist on Facebook Live. (Aug. 24, 2017)
GREEN BAY - Ever since Julius Peppers and Datone Jones left via free agency, members of the Green Bay Packers coaching staff dutifully have toed the party line about their remaining crop of outside linebackers, even if it means bending the truth.
There was the quote from coach Mike McCarthy that labeled this particular group as perhaps the deepest collection of pass rushers in his tenure as head coach.
There was associate head coach/linebackers Winston Moss asking a reporter if he disagreed with McCarthy’s statement and following up by expressing his “love” for “every single guy that’s in that room.”
And there was defensive coordinator Dom Capers explaining that the Packers have been thinner at outside linebacker in the past.
These statements were aimed, for the most part, at Kyler Fackrell and Jayrone Elliott, the two players bumped up the depth chart from fringe contributors to key supporting roles. Neither one had the track record or pedigree to invoke such confidence from the coaches, but positive reinforcement is less damaging to the psyche than blunt honesty.
After nearly a month of training camp, Fackrell remains behind on the learning curve, rookie fourth-round pick Vince Biegel is rooted to the PUP list and Elliott dropped out of the last two practices with back spasms. The fragility of the position is now impossible to ignore.
“Listen, the reality is that the pass rush this year, the majority of the impact that we anticipate has got to come from me and Nick,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said of himself and Nick Perry. “Those guys have now bumped up into kind of that second-tier slot. There was a four-man rotation last year with Datone and Julius. I don’t know if we’re asking anything more from them or if they need to do anything more. I think they just need to stay ready and make sure there’s not a lapse in play in that time that Nick and I aren’t on the field.”
Matthews’ assessment is an accurate summation of what this upcoming season is all about at the outside linebacker position: If he and Perry cannot stay healthy, the Packers are in serious trouble.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of time for Fackrell and Elliott to harness the potential that makes their skill sets so enticing. Fackrell has the height, length and speed to be a matchup nightmare for opposing linemen. Elliott has the quick-twitch athleticism to make splash plays behind the line of scrimmage.
It’s far too early to write them off, but that doesn’t make the party line any easier to toe.
“I really like what I see from Jayrone so far this camp,” Matthews said. “I think he’s taken that step to become that first guy in, and Kyler as well has shown a lot of promise in that he can really turn it on as far as the way he rushes the passer. It’s now in his second year it’s about taking those chances that maybe Jayrone is more comfortable with or that Nick and I can get away with as opposed to being a guy who just follows what the playbook says. What’s that expression: You can’t steal second with a foot on first. I’m surprised I got it right. That’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You see the great players around this league, around this team, that’s what they do."
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Personal touch: As training camp winds down, the cruel reality of roster cuts hangs thick in the air above draft picks and undrafted players alike. And this year, with the elimination of the initial cut from 90 to 75, the final decisions by general manager Ted Thompson will issue as many as 15 extra pink slips next weekend.
In the past, Packers coaches or executives have tried to meet with each released player individually. They share the disappointing news and offer a brief summation of what the organization thought of that player’s performance in training camp.
But now, with final rosters shrinking from 90 to 53 in the span of 10 or 12 hours, the ability to provide a personal touch is lessened by the sheer volume of decisions Thompson and his subordinates need to make.
“We have in the past,” Thompson said. “This year the numbers might be such that we have to divide it up more, but we have I think a fairly good system — if you can call it a good system — so there’s a process and the players are not held up too much because oftentimes they want to get about traveling home or whatever. But our personnel group, our coaching staff, coach McCarthy historically have all done an outstanding job of putting their arm around the players and letting them know how much we appreciate them.”
Cash money: Philadelphia Eagles receiver Bryce Treggs was fined $24,309 for his blindside block on cornerback Damarious Randall during the Packers’ first exhibition game earlier this month.
Treggs, a former undrafted free agent from California, lamented the fine on Twitter earlier this week and did not feel his hit on Randall constituted a dirty play. Randall vehemently disagreed and responded with a jab at Treggs’ lack of wealth.
“Yo broke (expletive) shouldn't play dirty then,” Randall said.
Later in the same game, rookie ride receiver Malachi Dupre was leveled by safety Tre Sullivan. The vicious hit landed Dupre in a local hospital and saddled him with a concussion.
Sullivan, however, was not fined. While brutal, the hit on Dupre was deemed legal by the league.