Then reality sets in.
Not every rookie hits the ground running like Eddie Lacy or Clay Matthews. Aaron Rodgers looked like your typical, run-of-the-mill, overmatched quarterback with a decent arm. Jordy Nelson caught 33 passes and Randall Cobb grabbed 25. Josh Sitton started two games. Mike Daniels had two sacks.
It’s early – the preseason doesn’t start until Saturday night – but there have been no breakout stars among the Green Bay Packers’ rookie class. Plenty can change with four exhibitions upcoming but, at this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if not a single one of the Packers’ rookies breaks into the starting lineup and maybe only three carve out a regular role.
S HaHa Clinton-Dix: Clinton-Dix has shown up in the run game, whether it’s attacking the line of scrimmage to make the tackle or in taking out a 300-pound lineman to let someone else make the play. He might not be Kam Chancellor but his physicality is undeniable. Where he hasn’t shown up is the passing game, where he’s only gotten his hands on a pass or two. Too often, he’s been a step slow to the action. The question is, is he a step slow because he’s mentally a step slow? Or is he a step slow because he’s physically a step slow? Being a step slow mentally certainly would be understandable for a player feeling his way through his first camp. Being a step slow physically would be troubling, though it wouldn’t be surprising based on his testing numbers. Thus, Clinton-Dix remains the third safety behind Morgan Burnett and Micah Hyde. “These guys (Clinton-Dix and Hyde) haven’t played in one game (at safety),” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “Micah’s playing a new position, HaHa is coming straight out of college. We know what the expectations are, but again, this is the NFL and you should never underestimate this league and the challenges that are out there if you’re not ready to play. We haven’t done anything. We haven’t tackled anybody to the ground, we haven’t seen guys play hurt. There’s so many factors that go in that these games will showcase, and that’s what we’re looking forward to seeing. But I feel very good about what we have, and I can’t wait to see the guys play, because they’ve been working their butts off and they want to show what they’re capable of being.”
WR Davante Adams: For Adams, it’s been one step forward and one step back too often. Wednesday was a perfect, if exaggerated, example. In a red zone drill, Matt Flynn was flushed from the pocket and flipped a ball in the back of the end zone to Adams, who made a sensational one-handed catch. Later, however, he played to NFL scout Dave-Te Thomas’ scouting report by dropping two passes, including an easy crossing route. “I think he’s very quick,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. “He can get open against tight coverage with his sudden moves. He just has to continue to work on being as detailed as he can be in his route-running; he’s gotten better at it. He has a knack of being able to shake a defender and create some separation. If he can continue to do that and polish his route running, he’s a great prospect.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t expect to play long on Saturday but said he hoped to get Adams involved. “I’m day-by-day getting better and better, just trying to limit the mental mistakes, making sure I understand our concepts and everything,” Adams said. “I just have to lock in and start getting everything and start building trust with the other receivers and the quarterback, so they know they can count on me to do the right thing.”
DT Khyri Thornton: Beyond the elite prospects, defensive linemen typically have a hard time adjusting to the NFL, so Thornton’s slow start shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Packers, however, need him to adjust quickly. Injuries to Letroy Guion (hamstring) and Jerel Worthy (back) have left the team with a four-man rotation of B.J. Raji, Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Daniels. Thornton’s combination of size and athleticism make him a good fit for a new-look defensive line that’s built on versatility rather than girth.
TE Richard Rodgers: Almost immediately, Rodgers has been the most impressive of the team’s rookies. Some players play faster than their timed speed. That’s not the case for Rodgers, who will never overwhelm anyone with his athletic ability. Rodgers, however, plays bigger than his 6-foot-4 frame. Coupled with his route-running ability, he’s provided a nice target in the short to intermediate game. Can he block? Can he separate? Can he beat out Andrew Quarless and Brandon Bostick as the No. 1 tight end? The preseason will answer those questions. “I think that Richard, as far as his route-running, has been good from the time that he got here because of the exposure that he got last year in college, playing out in space quite a bit,” tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. “So, I thought that when he first showed up, he was pretty advanced there. It’ll be good to get into this first preseason game to see exactly where he is (as a blocker). He’s a guy that listens, he’s very smart and he figures things out. So, where he can go? You know, the sky’s the limit. And we’re hoping for the best.”
OLB Carl Bradford: Perhaps Wednesday’s practice was a turning point. After a quiet series of padded practices, Bradford batted down a pass, got excellent pressure on the quarterback and showed his strength during a half-line run drill. The Packers are loaded at outside linebacker but he could earn a situational role at a position where it’s the more, the merrier. “I think you’re going to see a guy that’s going to play very hard, he’s going to flash,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “Because his movement for that short, stocky kind of build that he has, he’s going to be able to change direction well playing the run, rushing the passer. He’s very smart. He’s trying to do what’s coached and he’s trying to make an impact, (but) there’s a lot of thought process going on with him right now. But he’s finally starting to settle down and, once he gets comfortable and trusting what he sees and what he reacts to, he’s going to continue to get better and then we can see what he really can do, which is what we’re banking on.”
WR Jared Abbrederis: A torn ACL sustained during the first week of practice ended Abbrederis’ bid to make the roster. With his excellent hands intelligence, quickness and return ability, he was the favorite to be the No. 5 receiver. “He was off to a good start,” receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “Outstanding in the classroom, does an exceptional job taking notes. He’s a detailed guy. It reminds me of Randall (Cobb) when he first came in. You saw some of the things that we look for, you saw his creativity and ability to create separation as a route runner.”
C Corey Linsley: J.C. Tretter hasn’t exactly been dominant but Linsley, a two-year starter at Ohio State, hasn’t been given any reps with the first team. He’s fared well in one-on-one drills but hasn’t been quite as good in 11-on-11 settings. The injury to Don Barclay improves Linsley’s chances of making the final roster. “I think every guy that has a helmet out there has the opportunity to progress,” offensive line coach James Campen said when asked if Linsley had an opportunity to challenge Tretter. “He has to play and perform, just like everyone else does. If you get an opportunity, you go with it and run with it. It’s what you make of that opportunity.”
CB Demetri Goodson: Goodson, the former basketball star at Gonzaga who started for only one season at Baylor, was considered a project when he was drafted. Nothing has changed. He made some plays during the first week of camp but was beat more often than not this week. He returned some kickoffs at Baylor but hasn’t been added to the mix. With the veteran depth at cornerback, the Packers don’t need Goodson to contribute this season. Really, the best bet is he has a quiet preseason so he can be stashed on the practice squad for badly needed seasoning.
WR Jeff Janis: Janis missed the first week-and-a-half of training camp with shingles. He made an impressive, one-handed touchdown catch against Sam Shields in his one and only practice. He has plenty of catching up to do, but the injury to Abbrederis and the inconsistent play of the rest of the candidates have him very much in the competition. “He’s got a ways to go,” Aaron Rodgers said. “I’ve been teasing him a little bit about his affliction, but I’m glad he’s all healed up and ready to go. But Jeff’s a talented guy. I think we saw in the spring and summer the kind of talent he’s got.”
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.