Richard Rodgers making strides in his blocking
The final stat sheet reads one catch for 1 yard.
However, the Green Bay Packers' coaching staff knows the truth about Richard Rodgers' performance in Sunday's 38-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. They'll remember how it was the best game of rookie tight end's young career.
With his dad, Richard Sr., working as the Panthers' special-teams coach on the opposite sideline, the Packers leaned on their third-round pick to block on 22 of his 35 snaps Sunday, according to Pro Football Focus.
The overlooked exploits included stonewalling Carolina safety Roman Harper on Randall Cobb's 47-yard completion in the second quarter. Earlier on the drive, Rodgers set a perfect entry block for Eddie Lacy on a 10-yard gain on third-and-1.
In the third quarter, the 6-foot-4, 257-pound tight end backed Harper up one more time on James Starks' 14-yard carry, the longest of the day for a Packers' running back.
A day after the blowout win, Packers coach Mike McCarthy called the best game of Rodgers' rookie season. Roughly an hour earlier, offensive coordinator Tom Clements offered a similar appraisal.
"He's been playing very well over the last several weeks," Clements said. "He plays hard, he finishes and he's blocking very well as an in-line tight end or coming out of the backfield. He has improved over the last several weeks and we hope he gets better."
Rodgers, who dropped weight to play receiver last season at California, had seen some struggles with his blocking earlier this season. Backed against their own end zone in last month's 19-7 loss to Detroit, defensive end Jason Jones blew Rodgers off the ball to force a safety.
He's still far from a finished product – Pro Football Focus docked him for allowing a sack to Thomas Davis in the third quarter – but Rodgers seems to be turning a corner in an area every young tight end must master to get on the field in Green Bay.
"I don't know where the projection was, but when he came in he was bigger than what he was in college," Clements said. "He's a big-framed kid. He's diligent. He gets after it. So it was a pleasant surprise when we first got the pads on. But he's been consistent with his blocking ability."
Andy Mulumba kept his fingers crossed, but deep down the Packers' second-year outside linebacker knew the truth.
His ACL was torn, reconstructive knee surgery was imminent and there was nothing he could do about it.
One of three undrafted rookies to make the Packers' opening 53-man roster in 2013, Mulumba's sophomore season lasted only two games after he suffered the season-ending injury in fourth quarter of the Packers' 31-24 win over New York in Week 2.
"It took me a little while to come to peace with it," Mulumba said. "I've never really missed a season since I started playing football. It was emotional, but I'm not the only one that this thing happens to. There are a lot of people like me. You just have to move forward."
Injuries to Clay Matthews (broken thumb) and Nick Perry (broken foot) resulted in Mulumba playing more snaps than anyone would have predicted his rookie season (298 defense, 211 special teams) en route to finishing with 30 tackles and a sack.
Coming into Year 2, defensive coordinator Dom Capers saw Mulumba as another possible elephant linebacker in the Packers' reworked defense. With the addition of Julius Peppers, however, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound outside linebacker played strictly on special teams before the injury.
Coincidentally, the two outside linebackers who were the healthiest last season – Mulumba and 2013 sixth-round pick Nate Palmer – were both on injured reserve by the Packers' third regular-season game.
Mulumba is one of four Packers' players to suffer an ACL tear this season, along with offensive linemen Don Barclay and Aaron Adams, and receiver Jared Abbrederis. McCarthy said earlier this season the NFL average is only two for a season.
"I'm just following the protocol they're giving me here," Mulumba said. "Some of the guys who have been through it, tell me it's not impossible to come back from it. You just have to follow the rehab, take it slow and then stick with the plan."
Sam Barrington and Kevin Dorsey, the Packers' two remaining seventh-round picks from the 2013 NFL draft, were thrown into the spotlight for the first time in Sunday's win over Carolina.
Barrington received his first NFL start at inside linebacker next to A.J. Hawk despite missing the last two games with a hamstring injury. The increase in playing time was brought to his attention earlier in the week and the second-year pro did his best to remain focused.
Barrington finished with a pair of tackles on 29 defensive snaps, which mostly came in the 3-4 base formation. Fourth-year veteran Jamari Lattimore handled most of the nickel snaps until late in the fourth quarter.
Brad Jones, who entered the season as the starter, didn't see a defensive snap after relieving an injured Lattimore to mixed results a week earlier in Miami.
"Sam Barrington has been doing a lot of good things," McCarthy said. "I wanted to get him involved. As we talk about a lot in here, we try to utilize all of our players. Sam has talents, a skill set and has been a part of our program for going on two years now."
Dorsey received the nod as the fifth receiver over rookie Jeff Janis. He caught his first NFL reception off a 4-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers out of the backfield where fellow receiver Randall Cobb was also lined up.
Most of his work came on special teams where he had a 1 1/2 tackles on 23 snaps. He nearly made the opening 53-man roster for his effort and versatility and has picked up right where he left off in camp.
"It took him about a week," said special-teams coach Shawn Slocum about how long it took Dorsey to get acclimated. "Yeah, he played fast yesterday and he played physical."
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