One: The Big Deal
Talk about your full-house backfield.
As the offense ran plays against a scout-team defense on Tuesday, running backs Alex Green, Brandon Saine and Duane Bennett stood off to the side. Green (rest), Saine (hamstring) and Bennett (knee) might all be held out of Thursday's preseason game at San Diego. If that's the case, the Packers will have only two running backs: James Starks and Marc Tyler.
Starks, the starter and leading candidate to handle third downs, is a big part of the offense and probably won't play more than a few series in a meaningless preseason game. That means Tyler, an undrafted rookie from USC, figures to carry the load.
"I didn't really know all of them were going to be out until today so I hadn't really thought about it," Tyler said on Tuesday. "I know I'm going to be in there a lot, so I'm excited about the opportunity to show what I can do and that I know the plays, that I know who to block."
Tyler, the son of former NFL star Wendell Tyler, was one of the nation's top running backs at Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village, Calif., where he piled up 8,000 all-purpose yards and 123 touchdowns for a national juggernaut. At USC, Tyler rushed for 913 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. His hopes for a lofty draft grade, however, went down the drain, starting with the infamous TMZ video in which Tyler suggested USC players are paid, then meager production once his senior season began (568 yards, four touchdowns) and a plodding 4.78 clocking in the 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.
Tyler, who at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds fits the Packers' mold for a running back, was lured to Green Bay by a $5,000 signing bonus. He was a long shot then and he remains one now with the Packers high on returning backs Starks, Green and Saine. Nonetheless, Tyler couldn't have dreamed of a better opportunity to showcase his skills to NFL evaluators as well as a large contingent of friends and family.
"Any opportunity you get to touch the football in the National Football League, whether it be preseason or regular season, is a great opportunity," running backs coach Alex Van Pelt told Packer Report on Tuesday. "He'll have a chance to get a lot of touches in this game just due to the situation. I'm looking forward to watching him play."
What Van Pelt has seen on the practice field has been encouraging.
"He has a good feel, I think," Van Pelt said. "He came in with that. Protections, he seems to be a natural when it comes to assignments and having to go across the ball and picking up blitzers off the other side. Those are things he does very well. He's a good runner and has a natural feel for the hole and how the play develops. He has a feel for blocking schemes and where the ball is going to be, and he usually hits it."
That feel for the game comes from being a self-described "football freak." His father was a terrific all-around player who reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage in five of his 10 seasons and scored 85 total touchdowns. With football in his genes, Tyler has seen the nuances of the game for many years.
"I always watched (football) and I even used to play it in my room with my football cards," Tyler said. "A lot of that has to do with my college running back coach who I had my last two years, Coach (Kennedy Polamalu). He really broke down defensive fronts and what we had to read and how to read a defense. It's pretty much the same offense in terms of protections, so I know when I see something, I have a feel of where to be."
Two: Rookie of the Day
When the Packers used a seventh-round pick on oft-injured Florida State standout Andrew Datko, many fans thought he might win the starting job at left tackle. Now that he's struggled through almost two weeks of camp, many fans and reporters think Datko won't make the roster.
Some balance is needed in those opposing viewpoints.
No, Datko has not been very good. Family Night only confirmed what was seen on the practice field, and his 10-13 record in the one-on-one pass rushing drill is the worst on the team among offensive linemen getting more than a couple of reps.
On the other hand, Datko played his entire junior season with a bad shoulder, with Datko picking up some bad habits as he scratched and clawed his way through the season. Then, he missed most of his senior season after he came back too soon from surgery.
"Andrew just started picking up here these last couple days," offensive line coach James Campen said. "He just needs to play into it. He hasn't played a lot of football. You say he's got 40 starts or whatever that number is, but he didn't play a lot last year. He's knocking some rust off and getting better and better. ... We want to train him and remind him — and he knows — that if it's strong, use it. His shoulder's good so use it."
Three: Position of the Day
Each day, we take a look at the competition at one position.
Safeties: Position coach Darren Perry downplayed it, but the top three safeties on the depth chart are obvious simply by looking at who's on the field: Charles Woodson and Morgan Burnett are the starters, with M.D. Jennings joining Burnett when Woodson's at cornerback.
Typically, the Packers keep four safeties. So, who's the fourth?
"I wouldn't even say we've got a top three," Perry said. "We've got a bunch of guys vying for spots. It's a competition that I think is healthy. I think guys realize that there's an opportunity out there. We told them not to worry about the depth chart too much. It just gives us a starting point. These next four games will determine where you finish out. It's not a matter of where you start but where you finish. We've got four games to give guys an opportunity to establish roles on this team."
Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick, routinely has shown his physicality and has been good enough in coverage to work in the slot with the No. 2 dime defense. If nothing else, he'll be a demon on special teams as he worked on the No. 1 kickoff and No. 1 punt return this week. Undrafted rookie Sean Richardson has been working with the No. 1 punting unit.
GM Ted Thompson, on undrafted free agency: "I'm not giving away any secrets. Historically, we have treasured college free agency. We will not stop from doing that. Everybody has their own idea of who that gem is, and a lot of our ‘gems' haven't turned out to be gems. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't. If you've got to focus on it, I'd rather you focus on the ones that turn out good. The percentages start to fall, just like in the draft."
CB Charles Woodson, on a female being part of the officiating crew for Thursday's game: "It's probably about time. I'm sure women have probably tried at some point along the way leading up to this point, so I would assume it's somebody qualified out there that we won't have to jump over for making bad calls. We look forward to it. That's just the way things are and the way I think it should be. So hats off to her and whoever decided to make it happen."
Coach Mike McCarthy, on the preseason opener: "I think we're right in line with where you are normally at this time of the year. You're ready to go play against somebody else. We're excited to go out to the West Coast and get going. It's a long trip, but it's our first time in live action, so we have reached that point. I thought that was evident a couple of nights ago. It will be a great challenge, it always is when you compete against the Chargers."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.