Dougherty: Packers make surprising moves at WR, QB

Pete Dougherty
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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Michael Clark (89) during training camp Monday, July 31, 2017 at Ray Nitschke Field.

Final cuts are in, and as usual the Green Bay Packers had a couple surprises.

Following are five observations about the choices general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy made to get to 53:

1. The Packers went light at receiver (five) only a year after they were the lone NFL team to keep as many as seven after final cuts.

That excludes Geronimo Allison, who doesn’t count on the roster because he’s suspended for the first game. When he returns next week, they’ll have six.

Still, it’s hard to fault the decision to keep, in essence, six (if you include Allison) even after returning all seven receivers from season’s end last year plus adding two in the draft. Thompson cut several prospects, but none whose performance demanded a spot on the 53.

And really, their most intriguing young receiver in camp wasn’t Max McCaffrey, or draft picks DeAngelo Yancey (fifth round) or Malachi Dupre (seventh). It was undrafted rookie Michael Clark.

Clark wasn’t going to make the 53, and it’s highly unlikely another team will claim him for its 53. He’s still too raw after walking away from a Division I basketball scholarship to play college football at Marshall for two years.

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But Clark has a higher ceiling than the other three. He has exceptional height (6-6), an OK vertical (33 inches), and essentially the same speed (4.53-second 40) as Yancey (4.53) and Dupre (4.52). Most importantly, Clark displayed an ability in camp that sets him apart from all the team’s receivers. He was nearly unguardable on jump balls.

So if I’m the Packers, he’s the guy I’m most concerned about getting to the practice squad. If someone claims McCaffrey, Yancey or Dupre, so be it.

All three have ability, and you’d rather have them on your practice squad than not. But did any of them show enough in preseason games for another team claim? Remember, last year, Geronimo Allison did more than any of them and wasn’t claimed after the Packers released him on final cuts. Most clubs have young receivers they like, just like the Packers.

2. Thompson’s decision to cut rookie quarterback Taysom Hill is hard to square with his keeping Joe Callahan on the 53 to start last season.

I don’t blame the Packers for not wanting to keep three quarterbacks on the final 53, but Hill was more deserving this year than Callahan last year. Now Hill will have to clear waivers before the Packers can add him to their practice squad.

I’d guess it’s less than 50-50 Hill gets claimed — he’s an old (27) rookie with a bad injury history in college — but it will hardly be a shocker if someone picks him up. This game is quarterback-centric, and he has the potential to at least be a backup in this league. So somebody might want a look-see. Just to be sure, I’d have kept him ahead of either Lucas Patrick or Justin McCray.

3. On first glance, it looks like the Packers went light again at inside linebacker by keeping only three (Jake Ryan, Blake Martinez and Joe Thomas).

But that’s not really the case. Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones also play inside linebacker in the nitro package, which we’ll probably see a fair amount of this season. So the Packers really have five at that position.

But the three standard inside linebackers reflects how the game has changed. There are few true inside linebackers who can stay on the field for second and third downs. They have too much trouble matching up in the passing game. So teams don’t need as many. They’re becoming niche players.

4. In 25 years on this beat I don’t recall the Packers ever keeping seven cornerbacks on their roster before this year.

But the Packers liked undrafted rookie Lenzy Pipkins enough to keep both him and LaDarius Gunter as the Nos. 6 and 7. And another undrafted rookie, Donatello Brown, was in the running, too. Look for him on the practice squad.

If it had come down to Pipkins or Gunter, I’d have gone Pipkins because he’s faster. But the Packers’ coaches probably feel a lot more comfortable with Gunter, whose 861 snaps last season led the team’s cornerbacks.

The seven cornerbacks goes with the de-emphasis at inside linebacker. Defenses can’t have enough cover men in today’s NFL. They have to match up with four-and five-receiver sets, have enough depth to withstand the attrition of a 16-game season and keep developing players for the future.

5. I’m not convinced the Packers are set at offensive line. Outside looking in, it’s one of their thinnest positions, yet they kept 10 (last year it was eight).

Center-guard Don Barclay is expected to miss a few more weeks because of an ankle injury, so Thompson needed another backup who plays both positions, either Lucas Patrick or Justin McCray.

But both? The Packers seem to like their toughness, but I’d have thought either would have made it through to the practice squad. That would have opened a spot for Hill, defensive lineman Brian Price, or one of the wide receivers.

Now I’m wondering if one of the two is a placeholder for a guard-center the Packers add in the next day or two. Or if one will be demoted when Allison returns from his one-game suspension.

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