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Bring Back Brett? It might happen in 2014, after all

Jul 24, 2014 -- 2:29pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Brett Favre may return to Lambeau Field this year after all.
 

GREEN BAY – And so, it continues.

Two weeks after acknowledging to reporters that both the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre were concerned about the iconic quarterback possibly being booed upon a return to Lambeau Field, and three days after Favre told ESPN 1000 in Chicago that he’s not in fact worried about being booed, Packers team president/CEO Mark Murphy said Thursday that the sides are indeed talking about Favre coming back this year – but not to have his No. 4 retired just yet.

Speaking July 10 with reporters about the team’s finances, Murphy had said that he did not anticipate the Packers retiring Favre’s number this season, and he stood by that Thursday. But after saying two weeks ago that the team could “possibly” bring Favre back this season, the word choice changed to “hopeful” Thursday.

Murphy did say that he read Favre’s comments to ESPN Chicago about not being concerned with being booed. But Murphy, who said on July 10 that the possibility of Favre being booed “is an issue” for both sides, did not address the discrepancy between Favre’s comments and his.

“I guess I’d say kind of stepping back from it – and you were all here – that was a very emotional time for the Packers,” Murphy said of the summer of 2008. “I think as time goes on, the emotions are passing and cooling down.

“We have the best fans. There’s not anything close in terms of other fans across the league. I think they’re going to look back and they’re going to see the entirety of what he did, not just the last few years when he played for the Vikings.”

Later, Murphy added, “I’m very hopeful that when he does come back that he will be fully, fully supported by our fans. I’m confident in that. In terms of when he would come back, we’ve had ongoing discussions with him, very good relations. We are talking about bringing him back for a game this year. We had discussions last year about bringing him back for a game; those were not fruitful, but we’re hopeful we can get him back for a game this year.”

Murphy then reiterated that it would not be for Favre’s jersey retirement, and that the team’s goal is to do it before Favre is expected to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August 2016.

Meanwhile, when asked about former president/CEO Bob Harlan’s role in the talks with Favre – Favre told ESPN Chicago that Harlan was working “diligently” and “spearheading” the effort to retire his number and induct him into the Packers Hall of Fame – Murphy said Harlan has been working in his capacity as an executive committee of Packers Hall of Fame, Inc.

“Bob and I have worked together on it,” Murphy said, “particularly as it relates to his induction into the Packers Hall of Fame.”

London calling? Murphy expects UK game for Packers

Jul 24, 2014 -- 2:03pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Packers president Mark Murphy expects his team to play a game in London in the not-too-distant future.
 

GREEN BAY – London will be calling the Green Bay Packers soon, according to team president/CEO Mark Murphy. But the club will not be giving up a home game in order to play in jolly ol’ England.

Speaking at the team’s annual shareholders meeting Thursday morning at Lambeau Field, Murphy spoke on a variety of NFL league topics, including the international games that have yet to include the Packers.

And while Murphy didn’t say so, the most likely date would be in 2016, when the Packers are slated to play at Jacksonville as part of the schedule rotation formula. The Jaguars agreed to play one home game in London for four consecutive years, a window that began last season when they lost to San Francisco there.

Murphy said he expects the Packers to play in London "in the coming years" but vowed that the team would not give up a home game in order to do so.

“London has been a big addition to the league for a number of years,” Murphy told shareholders. “I anticipate that the Packers will probably play there in the coming years, but it will be an away game. They will never take a home game.”

The NFL is staging three regular-season games in London this year, with the Oakland Raiders facing the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 28, the Atlanta Falcons playing the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26 and the Dallas Cowboys playing the Jaguars on Nov. 9. The Raiders, Falcons and Jaguars are the designated home teams.

All the games will be played at Wembley Stadium, where the league has been playing regular-season games since 2007.

There were two games in London last year, with Minnesota beating Pittsburgh 34-27 on Sept. 29 and San Francisco defeating Jacksonville 42-10 on Oct. 27.

In a press briefing after the meeting, Murphy indicated that there was some discussion about the Packers playing the St. Louis Rams in London in 2012, when the Rams had agreed to play three games there. But Murphy said the Rams didn’t want their home game against the Packers moved overseas because Packers fans travel so well and assured a sellout. The Rams ended up playing the New England Patriots there instead.

“We would never give up a home game. It’s too important for the community. But we would [and] I would be excited about having a chance to play in London,” Murphy said, adding that he is very confident  that  the Packers could avoid giving up a home game to go. "I think our fans would love to travel to London, and I think it’d be a great experience.

“I think the league would like the Packers to play in London. I think we’re a very unique organization that across the pond they might find interesting.”

Murphy also discussed a number of other topics while at the podium before the estimated crowd of 14,759, including:

> Murphy confirmed that the Packers want to host the NFL Draft now that the league has decided to move it around.

"Green Bay has made an effort to see if we can host the draft,” Murphy told the crowd before pointing out that the league has narrowed the 2015 host finalists to Los Angeles and Chicago. When a smattering of boos followed, Murphy quipped, “Yeah, I thought it was a bad decision, too.”

> Murphy said he believes the NFL will indeed expand the playoffs to 14 teams “but not until 2015 season.”

> Murphy acknowledged that the Packers “did have some ticket sale challenges” with the playoff game against San Francisco and reiterated that the team will use a “pay-as-we-play” policy for playoff games going forward. Meanwhile, he said the Packers are “studying” a variable pricing model for regular-season and preseason tickets and predicted that the team will go to such a policy next year.

“One of the issues that we as a league face is the quality of play in preseason has really dropped off from what it was years ago. Players are in good shape and they don’t need the games to get them ready for the season,” Murphy said. “A number of teams have looked at it and are reducing the cost of preseason [games] but they’re increasing the price of other games.

“It’s a balancing act. We’re studying it. Something that makes it a little more complicated for us is the fact that we have the green and gold packages, but I anticipate that’s something we’ll move to next year.”

> Murphy says the Packers now have 112,000 names on their season-ticket waiting list, and that the official seating capacity at Lambeau is now 80,750, which ranks second-highest in the NFL behind MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., which is shared by the New York Jets and New York Giants.

> Murphy reminded shareholders that a biopic on iconic Packers coach Vince Lombardi is in production and is slated to be released in conjunction with Super Bowl 50.

“We’ve been working with them on it,” Murphy said, adding that Legendary Pictures, which produced the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, is making the film. “

2014 Most Important Packers No. 3: Clay Matthews, OLB

Jul 24, 2014 -- 7:00am
 
 
Photo/Getty Images  
After missing four games in 2012 with a hamstring injury, a twice-broken thumb cost Clay Matthews six more games last year.
 

GREEN BAY – As misleading statistics go, there might not be one worse than the Green Bay Packers’ regular-season record the past two years in games that star outside linebacker Clay Matthews missed with injury.

Over the past two seasons, the Packers four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has missed nine regular-season games – four with a hamstring injury in 2012, five with a broken thumb last season.

And the Packers’ record in those nine games?

7-2.

That’s right, without Clay Matthews in the lineup, the Packers’ winning percentage over the past two regular seasons is .778. So who needs him?

The Packers do.

“When Clay Matthews is on the field, we’re a different defense,” coach Mike McCarthy has said on multiple occasions over the past two seasons, including after the first time Matthews broke his thumb on Oct. 6. “He is clearly one of the best defensive players in the league.”

Matthews missed a total of six games in 2013 – including the Packers’ NFC Wild Card playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field – after signing a five-year, $66 million contract extension before the season. His 7.5 sacks last season in 11 games marked only the second time in his five-year career when he failed to reach double digits in sacks. According to Pro Football Focus, Matthews was credited with four quarterback hits and 21 hurries in 571 snaps last season; by way of comparison, he had 12 QB hits and 45 QB hurries in 1,133 snaps in 2010, when he had 13.5 sacks, and 14 hits and 25 hurries in 877 snaps 2012, when he had 13 sacks despite the four-game absence with the hamstring injury.

The injuries that have befallen him the past two seasons have led to something of a misconception about Matthews being injury-prone. While it’s true that he’s had a chronic hamstring issue since the Packers took him No. 26 overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, he played in all 16 games as a rookie and the hamstring only cost him one game in 2010 (a loss to Minnesota). The only game he missed in 2011 was the regular-season finale (a victory over Detroit) when the coaching staff opted to rest him and several other key veterans with the No. 1 playoff seed already sewn up.

Matthews did not participate in any of the offseason organized team activity practices or the mandatory minicamp, spending them as a spectator instead. It’s unclear whether he’ll take part in the opening practice of training camp on Saturday, but he said during the offseason that his goal was to be full-go for camp.

Once he is, the Packers have tweaked their defensive scheme not only to get more players involved but to give Matthews a greater, more diverse role. The effectiveness of that plan, of course, is reliant on him staying healthy.

“With the plans they see me having this year and the type of player they see me becoming, I think it’s great the changes that we’re putting in – not only with the personnel, [but also] the scheme,” Matthews said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s a shot in the arm and will provide kind of a little rejuvenation to this team, especially to the defensive side of this locker room. I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully it will present some problems for opponents.”

About The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 series presented by West Bend
The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 list is not a list of the 20 best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the 20 players the Packers can least afford to lose if they want to return to the Super Bowl, or the players who must have the biggest impact for the team to be successful. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com and others. Agree? Disagree? Chime in via email (jwilde@espnwisconsin.com) or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde,  @ESPNMilwaukee or @ESPNMadison.

McCarthy gets emotional at street-naming event

Jul 23, 2014 -- 10:39pm

GREEN BAY -- Mike McCarthy is seldom in the mood for drama, but the Green Bay Packers coach was overcome with emotion as he was honored Wednesday by the Village of Ashwaubenon naming a street in his honor.

Speaking at a podium set up in the parking lot of the Green Bay Distillery, one of the businesses on the former Potts Avenue that is being renamed Mike McCarthy way, the coach choked back tears at one point in the proceedings.

Here's the video via Green Bay ABC affiliate WBAY-TV:

WBAY

Ashwaubenon renames street to fete McCarthy

Jul 23, 2014 -- 1:48pm
 
Photo/Packers.com
The Village of Ashwaubenon is renaming a street in honor of Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
 

ASHWAUBENON – On your way to your next Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field, you’ll be able to drive down McCarthy Way along with Lombardi Avenue and Holmgren Way.

The Ashwaubenon Village Board unanimously voted in favor Tuesday night of renaming Potts Avenue, which runs past the south end of Ray Nitschke Field, where the Packers practice. On Wednesday, the village and Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt, who first suggested the idea after McCarthy led the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title, held a ceremony celebrating the change.

McCarthy, who never asked to have a street named in his honor, said Wednesday that he was “very humbled and honored” by the gesture.

The name change affects businesses on Potts Avenue from Oneida Street to Ashland Avenue. The portion east of Ashland Avenue will remain Potts, which is named after a person who developed a subdivision in the area, according to Ashwaubenon village president Mike Aubinger said.

McCarthy said this spring that he feels he’s at halftime of his coaching career in Green Bay, but renaming streets in honor of Packers legends hasn’t always worked out perfectly.

The new McCarthy Way will intersect with Holmgren Way, the former Gross Avenue renamed for ex-Packers coach Mike Holmgren in 1997 after Holmgren led the Packers to the Super Bowl XXXI title. Less than two years after the street was renamed for him, Holmgren left Green Bay to become the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks.

Not far from those two streets is also Brett Favre Pass, a short street which runs in front of the Brett Favre Steakhouse restaurant that was named in 1998. When Favre returned as a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2009 vandals famously blocked the letter “P” at the beginning of the word “Pass.”

 
Via Google Maps 

2014 Most Important Packers No. 4: Jordy Nelson, WR

Jul 23, 2014 -- 7:00am
 
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Ever since coming into his own late in the 2010 season, Jordy Nelson has put up big numbers when healthy.
 

GREEN BAY – As much as Edgar Bennett loves the diverse personalities in his meeting room, the Green Bay Packers coach can think of one way his job could be made infinitely easier.

A room full of Jordy Nelsons.

“You wish all your guys shared that competitive nature, that mindset, that attitude, that drive, that professionalism,” Bennett said of the Packers’ leading receiver last season. “Here’s a guy who walked on in college – so nothing was given to him. And that’s what we talk about every day – you’ve got to earn it. That’s the mindset. If you walk in here thinking you’re entitled to something, you set yourself up for failure.

“He’s the blueprint. You see him, you look at how he conducts himself on and off the field – class. In the classroom, he’s a leader. On the field, he’s a leader. At practice, he’s a leader. I love it.”

There is certainly plenty to love about Nelson, who enters a contract year at age 29 coming off a season in which he caught a career-high 85 passes for a career-best 1,314 yards with eight touchdowns – despite a revolving door at quarterback following Aaron Rodgers’ fractured collarbone. Of his production, 50 catches for 847 yards came from Rodgers; 35 catches for 467 yards came from Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn.

How many catches might Nelson have had with a healthy Rodgers for a full season? We might find out this year – and even if Nelson isn’t as productive as he was a year ago, he’ll still be one of the better bargains in football until he gets a new deal.

Since finishing the 2010 season strong, including nine receptions for 140 yards in Super Bowl XLV, Nelson has been the Packers’ most productive receiver when healthy.

While he only had 45 receptions for 582 yards in 2010, he caught 16 passes for 281 yards and his only two TDs of the season in the final six regular-season games. He then had 21 catches for 286 yards in the playoffs.

Nelson then broke out in 2011, when he had 68 catches for 1,263 yards and an eye-popping 15 touchdowns in 2011. And despite missing four games and parts of two others in 2012 with a hamstring injury, he still caught 49 passes for 745 yards and seven TDs that year. Then came his career year last season.

The last time Nelson, a second-round pick in 2008, was in a contract year, he signed a three-year, $13.989 million extension on Oct. 2, 2011. That deal included $5 million in guaranteed money, including a $3.5 million signing bonus. The deal paid Nelson a base salary of $2.7 million last year, and according to Spotrac, which studies player salaries, Nelson currently sits at the 34th highest paid wide receiver in the NFL based on average annual salary. (His 2014 base salary of $3.05 million ranks 20th.)

At the end of the team’s June minicamp, he expressed confidence that a deal would get done – and hinted that he thought it might get done right around now, even with fellow wide receiver Randall Cobb also going into the final year of his deal.

“I think it’s a little bit different [than when Greg Jennings and James Jones departed as free agents] because we’ve gotten a lot younger,” Nelson said. “If I were to walk, and you’ve got Randall who could possibly walk, now you’re down to all rookies besides ‘Boink’ (Jarrett Boykin). I think it’ll be different. I wouldn’t be surprised if stuff starts picking up soon.

“There’s a time frame they work off of, so I’ve been informed of that so we’ll just wait and see when it hits. Everyone knows, deals get done closer to training camp.”

It’s hard to imagine the Packers not getting Nelson re-signed before the season begins, especially since he’s said he has no interest in going elsewhere. And given his close relationship with Rodgers – the two car-pool to the team’s flights to road games – and his standing in the local community, he’d be much more difficult to replace than even the popular Jennings or Jones.

“As far as what it takes to be a true pro. He’s that guy. I kept saying it last year. He’s one of the best at his position. No doubt about it. He’s one of the best at his position. He should’ve went to the Pro Bowl last year. But that’s fine and dandy. As always, our mindset is to earn it every single year.”

About The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 series presented by West Bend
The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 list is not a list of the 20 best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the 20 players the Packers can least afford to lose if they want to return to the Super Bowl, or the players who must have the biggest impact for the team to be successful. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com and others. Agree? Disagree? Chime in via email (jwilde@espnwisconsin.com) or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde,  @ESPNMilwaukee or @ESPNMadison.

2014 Most Important Packers No. 5: Julius Peppers, OLB/DE

Jul 22, 2014 -- 7:00am
 
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Julius Peppers switched sides in the NFC North border battle, and his teammates are excited about the possibilities.
 

GREEN BAY – No one is comparing Julius Peppers’ signing with the Green Bay Packers to the 1993 Titletown arrival of Reggie White.

Not coach Mike McCarthy, who was in his first year as a lowly offensive quality control coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, his first NFL job; not Ted Thompson, who’d just joined the Packers’ scouting staff a year before White’s arrival; not even the few players in the Packers locker room who can be considered semi-football historians and know what White’s arrival meant to the franchise. (Five players on the roster hadn’t even celebrated their first birthday when White signed on April 6, 1993.)

White was 31 years old, not 34, when the Packers signed him. He was in his prime, not nearing the end of the line. He was the most sought-after free agent in the NFL’s brief history of unfettered player movement, not cast adrift by his team in a cost-cutting move.

But it was in 1996 – when White was 34 years old to start the season – that the Packers broke through and won Super Bowl XXXI. White had 8.5 sacks that season – and then had a Super Bowl record-tying three sacks in the Packers’ victory over New England in New Orleans – his impact was much greater than the number itself. Two seasons later, his last in Green Bay, he registered 16 sacks and was named NFL defensive player of the year, even though he turned 37 before season’s end.

According to terrific research by the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Pete Dougherty, since the NFL began keeping sacks as an official statistic in 1982, only 14 pass rushers who’d reached their 34th birthday have ever registered double-digit sacks. They’ve done it a combined 26 times.

While Peppers didn’t have double-digit sacks last year for Chicago – he finished with 7.5 – he has had at least 10 sacks in eight of his 12 NFL seasons. He had 11 sacks in 2011 and 11.5 in 2012, If he can have something resembling that kind of production – while also helping fellow elite pass rusher Clay Matthews and others on defense be more productive – then McCarthy should be able to deliver on his “big letters” promise of defensive improvement.

“Julius is such an impressive person from all angles. Very professional in his approach, takes great care of himself, you can see that in [the initial offseason] workouts,” McCarthy said. “Then we hit the field [for organized team activity practices] for the first time, and just the way he moves. He looks awesome in (No.) 56. I was a little worried about finding a shirt to fit him, but we worked that out. He looks very natural at the outside linebacker position.”

The Packers intend to use Peppers in a hybrid position they’ve dubbed “elephant,” which is a defensive end/outside linebacker. After playing 855 snaps last year for the Bears, the Packers don’t plan on asking him to play that much.

What they do plan on seeing is how he and Matthews can work in tandem, and how two big-name, big-time pass rushers not only work in concert, but how they help others (Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Nick Perry, and the inside linebacker group).

“I was a little shocked [by Peppers’ signing],” said Matthews, who had 7.5 sacks last season despite missing six games with the right thumb he broke twice. “I know we don't make too many offseason acquisitions especially, you know, such a big name. But obviously I'm happy to have him on this side of the ball. I know he's a tremendous threat. Tackles know what he possesses, as well as offensive coordinators, so I think it's just going to present new elements to this defense that we've been looking for. I'm excited, I know he is. Looking to make some plays this year.”

For his part, Peppers has never been paired with a player of Matthews’ caliber. Now that he is, he’s got as good a chance as anyone to join those other 14 players who had 10-plus sacks at age 34 or older.

“I haven’t really played with a guy like Clay, really my whole career,” Peppers said. “A really dominant player on the outside, I really haven’t had that ever. I’m excited to get out there with him and see what we can do.”

About The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 series presented by West Bend
The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 list is not a list of the 20 best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the 20 players the Packers can least afford to lose if they want to return to the Super Bowl, or the players who must have the biggest impact for the team to be successful. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com and others. Agree? Disagree? Chime in via email (jwilde@espnwisconsin.com) or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde,  @ESPNMilwaukee or @ESPNMadison.

Favre says he's not worried about being booed after all

Jul 21, 2014 -- 4:31pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Brett Favre now says he’s not worried about being booed upon his return to Lambeau Field – whenever that is.
 

GREEN BAY – Not even two weeks after Green Bay Packers president Mark Murphy said that the team was not anticipating retiring Brett Favre’s No. 4 this season – and acknowledged that both the iconic quarterback and the organization were concerned about Favre fans having a negative reaction to him upon his return – Favre said Monday that he’s not in fact worried about being booed.

Speaking on the Carmen & Jurko show on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, Favre disputed the notion that he’s concerned.

"I've heard that was a concern of mine. I'm here to tell you I'm not worried about that," said Favre, responding to former Packers teammate John Jurkovic. “You can't please everyone. Not everyone's going to like you.  So be it."

When he spoke with reporters following a meeting to discuss the team’s financials on July 10, Murphy did say that Favre was worried about being booed. Favre had been scheduled to return to Lambeau Field last November but canceled the appearance.

“That is an issue. He doesn’t want it, and neither do we,” Murphy said. “He wouldn’t want to come back and get booed. You can’t control 80,750 people … [but] I really think as time goes on, every year that passes, it’s less likely that he would get booed, but that is an issue.”

On Thursday, Favre said it was because the Oak Grove High School football team, for which Favre was the offensive coordinator, was still in the Mississippi state playoffs. The school went on to win the 6A state title, and Favre said his schedule was the reason for the cancelation.

Favre revealed Monday that former president/CEO Bob Harlan has taken an active role in bringing Favre back for induction into the Packers Hall of Fame and the retirement of his No. 4.

"I've had contact with Mark Murphy on a regular basis in regards to how we're going to do this, the ceremony,” Favre said. “Bob Harlan, the former president, is working diligently [and is] spearheading the Packers Hall of Fame-slash-jersey retirement ceremony

"I do believe time heals wounds in a lot of ways. I'm fine with coming back. I know it's going to be a great ceremony when we are going to do it. It's just a matter of when. From my end, everything’s good."

Murphy didn’t explain why Favre’s number would not be retired this year when he spoke with reporters on July 10.

“I don’t anticipate having him retire a number this season, in a game this year,” Murphy said. “We have very good relations, and very good communication, but I don’t anticipate that this year.”

2014 Most Important Packers No. 6: David Bakhtiari, LT

Jul 21, 2014 -- 7:00am
 
 
Photo/Getty Images
David Bakhtiari started all 17 games last season, but the coaches are putting greater expectations on him in Year 2.
 

GREEN BAY – While it would be easy – and, accurate – to say David Bakhtiari’s play at left tackle as a rookie fourth-round pick helped save the Green Bay Packers’ 2013 season from disaster, everyone from head coach Mike McCarthy to offensive line coach James Campen to Bakhtiari himself knows that he won’t be graded on the same curve this year.

“I had a great rookie year. That’s how I look at it. I had a great rookie year; I had an OK year as a player,” Bakhtiari said during the offseason, which officially ends Friday when players report to St. Norbert College for training camp. “But I don’t have that tag this year. I want people to be like, ‘He had a good year as a football player.’ Not rookie, not second-year, any of that. Throw all that out. ‘He was a good player. He’s a guy we want on our team.’ I want the organization to want me here – want me at left tackle.”

The Packers don’t just want Bakhtiari at left tackle – they did decide to keep him there even though the man he replaced, Bryan Bulaga, is back from his season-ending knee injury and has moved back to his old spot at right tackle – but they need him there. And, they do need him to improve.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bakhtiari allowed 10 sacks (including two in the playoff loss to San Francisco), five QB hits and 29 QB hurries in 1,191 snaps. Every left tackle faces a steady diet of elite pass-rushers, and Bakhtiari was no exception last year. Still, those numbers would have been unacceptably high for anyone other than a rookie who was thrust into the starting lineup when Bulaga went down in training camp.

For comparison’s sake, when Marshall Newhouse served as the team’s starting left tackle in 2012, he played 1,256 total snaps and allowed nine sacks, eight hits and 37 hurries

“He did well as a rookie but he’s got to play consistently,” offensive line coach James Campen said of the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Bakhtiari. “He’s taken that next step from the standpoint of being stronger -- he’s bigger than he was last year, has gained some weight. You’ve got to remember, Dave’s a young kid. He’s just like Bryan -- a very young kid that came out [of college] as a junior. He’s still going to grow some.

“[It’s a matter of] just being consistent while seeing the game, picking up on tendencies and those type of things. He played against a lot of good rushers last year. He had a gauntlet of guys who are very good rushers. It’s retaining what he did last year and then building forward.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has made it abundantly clear that he will not change his style of play because of last year’s fractured collarbone, which means that he’s likely to take a few hits when he’s extending plays and improvising outside the pocket. That makes it all the more vital that his blindside protector not allow Rodgers to absorb additional punishment.

At the same time, Bakhtiari isn’t going to change his approach, either – and that means not stressing over the fact that he’s got the back of one of the best quarterbacks in the game.

“I wasn’t overthinking my position. I was just playing football,” Bakhtiari said. “If you want to block a player, just go out in the game and do it. Don’t think about the variables – that it’s Aaron Rodgers that I’m blocking for, or that I’m going against Aldon Smith or DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers or on and on and on – I just said, ‘If I do what I do, then I can block anyone.’ That is what I do know. That’s what my coaches know, that’s what the GM knows. That’s why they drafted me. They wouldn’t have drafted me if they didn’t think I could play.”

About The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 series presented by West Bend
The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 list is not a list of the 20 best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the 20 players the Packers can least afford to lose if they want to return to the Super Bowl, or the players who must have the biggest impact for the team to be successful. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com and others. Agree? Disagree? Chime in via email (jwilde@espnwisconsin.com) or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde,  @ESPNMilwaukee or @ESPNMadison.

2014 Most Important Packers No. 7: Randall Cobb, WR

Jul 20, 2014 -- 7:00am

 

 
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Randall Cobb missed 10 games last season with a small fracture of his tibia just below the knee.
 

GREEN BAY – In the unlikely event that he would have forgotten just how brutal last season was for him, Randall Cobb only needed to walk the halls of Lambeau Field en route to practice this offseason to be reminded.

“It feels good, not walking around on crutches, not rolling around on a Segway,” the Green Bay Packers’ fourth-year wide receiver said after using both those pieces of equipment while sidelined with a leg injury for most of last year. “Just being back at practice and being back with the camaraderie of the guys, it's just a great feeling to be back out there.”

Cobb missed 10 games after sustaining a small fracture at the top of the tibia in his right leg, near the knee. Like quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was sidelined for basically eight games with a broken collarbone, Cobb came back for the regular-season finale at Chicago and caught a game-winning, last-minute 48-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to beat the Bears and send the Packers to the NFC North title and a playoff berth.

And as memorable as that play was – Cobb caught just two passes that day, both of them for touchdowns – the season on balance was a frustrating one. After starting the season with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games and finishing the first quarter of the season with 25 receptions for 325 yards and two touchdowns – putting him on pace for 100 receptions for 1,300 yards and eight TDs – Cobb went down on a low hit by Baltimore safety Matt Elam on Oct. 13. The Packers put him on injured reserve with the designation to return, but there was no guarantee he would indeed be activated.

And while he did return against the Bears and also caught two passes for 51 yards in the team’s playoff loss to San Francisco, the season still felt like a lost year to Cobb, who’d led the Packers in receptions (80) and receiving yards (954) while adding eight touchdowns.

Knowing what he could have accomplished last year had he stayed healthy – and knowing he’s in a contract year with a chance for a sizeable payday if he delivers – it was clear in conversations with Cobb during the offseason that he is ultra-motivated.

“I'm expecting myself to have a big year this year,” he said. “So I’m just preparing myself day in and day out and doing everything to put myself in the best situation to be able to help this team and find a way to get to a Super Bowl.”

The reason Cobb is so valuable to the offense – aside from the fact that he’s simply an excellent player – is that he is extremely versatile and can line up in a variety of places, but also that the Packers offense doesn’t have anyone who plays the slot receiver position as effectively as Cobb does. While rookie fifth-round pick Jared Abbrederis has the look of an NFL slot receiver – Cobb himself said he sees a lot of similarities between Abbrederis and him, and Cobb has also taken the ex-University of Wisconsin star under his wing – he is still a third-day draft pick with a lot to learn before he can be counted on as a regular contributor.

At the same time, just as Nelson frequently lined up in the slot while Cobb was sidelined, Cobb believes he can be an effective outside receiver and does not want to be pigeonholed as only a slot player. The Packers intend to line him up in a variety of spots – in the slot, out wide, in motion, in the backfield – just as they have in the past.

“Not giving away anything whatsoever, I think he can play inside or outside. I think he can be utilized in a number of different ways,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “No doubt about it, he can play outside. He came into a similar situation playing outside and inside. It depends on what we ask him to do at the time.”

Wherever he lines up, after what he endured last year, Cobb simply wants to be back on the field – making an impact.

“I feel great. I had a great off-season. We got a lot of work in this off-season. So I'm really excited to get back this season,” said Cobb, who played 385 snaps (including playoffs) last year, as compared to 733 in 2012 (when he missed three games with a knee injury) and 309 as a rookie second-round pick in 2011. “Even me and Jordy as vets, we feel like we have something to prove every day and set a standard.”

About The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 series presented by West Bend
The 20 Most Important Packers of 2014 list is not a list of the 20 best players on the team’s roster. Rather, the primary factors are the individual player’s talent, the inherent importance of the position he plays and the team’s depth at the position. Think of it as a list of the 20 players the Packers can least afford to lose if they want to return to the Super Bowl, or the players who must have the biggest impact for the team to be successful. The list was formulated through offseason conversations with players and coaches, as well as statistical reviews and player evaluations by ProFootballFocus.com and others. Agree? Disagree? Chime in via email (jwilde@espnwisconsin.com) or on Twitter to @jasonjwilde,  @ESPNMilwaukee or @ESPNMadison.
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