Getting to 53: Winners, Numbers

We examine the Packers by position group following Saturday's cut to 53 players. What were the big surprises? What positions could use another player? And are the Packers in danger of giving up their "youngest team" title?

There are winners, losers and surprises as the Green Bay Packers reduced their roster to 53 players on Saturday.

Roster breakdown

Quarterbacks: No surprises here. Ted Thompson had gone with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn in 2008 and 2009, so why change now? Besides, it wasn't as if Graham Harrell lit the world on fire to force his way onto the roster. Not many teams have a star for a starting quarterback and an able backup, so the Packers are blessed.

Halfbacks: That the Packers are going with only Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson wasn't a shocker. If Kregg Lumpkin were any good, they would have promoted him from the practice squad last year rather than sign Ahman Green off the street. If the Packers add anyone on offense, this might be the place, especially if that running back has kick returning experience. Receiver Jordy Nelson was productive on kickoffs last year but punt return is a black hole with the team wisely saving Tramon Williams to play cornerback.

Fullbacks: Last year's decision to keep three fullbacks was a shocker. Not so much this year, with the decision to use John Kuhn as a combo fullback-halfback. Quinn Johnson was horrible on Family Night but was much better in the preseason. He's not as good as Kuhn and Korey Hall, but if it's third-and-1 or you're trying to run out the clock, there's no question who I'd want at fullback.

Wide receivers: This was a no-brainer, especially after Brett Swain came to life in the preseason finale. The fifth receiver is basically a special teams position, and Swain does the dirty work on special teams with aplomb. Sure would be nice, however, if the fifth receiver's special teams role was returning kicks.

Tight ends: The headline move in Saturday's transactions was the release of Spencer Havner. Had the Packers' fullback situation been atrocious, maybe they could have kept all five tight ends. But you can only keep so many fullbacks and tight ends, especially on a passing team. So, someone had to go, and surprisingly, Donald Lee (all four of the major special teams) and Tom Crabtree (three of four) were deemed more valuable on special teams than Havner (two of four). Still, for a team with major questions on its coverage units, a tight end-linebacker would seem like a logical part of the solution. Beyond special teams, put yourself in tight ends coach Ben McAdoo's shoes had they gotten rid of Lee. That would have made 23-year-old Jermichael Finley that group's elder statesman.

Offensive line: He's a great story, but not once did I think Nick McDonald would make the roster. Never, ever, ever. During one-on-one battles at training camp, McDonald was regularly abused. You could see the former Division II All-American left tackle had the potential to turn into a NFL-caliber guard and center, so he seemed like a logical prospect to stash on the practice squad so he could gain about 20 pounds of muscle. I'm shocked that he made it and shocked that, apparently, other teams were interested. Personally, I would have gone with Evan Dietrich-Smith over Jason Spitz as my jack-of-all-trades in the interior, though I can't quibble much with Spitz's experience. The one move I do agree with is going with the potential of left tackle/left guard Marshall Newhouse over right tackle Breno Giacomini. I wouldn't call it a likelihood, but I also wouldn't be stupefied if Newhouse starts at left tackle and Bulaga at left guard in 2012.

Defensive line: Welcome to new defensive lineman Justin Harrell. Oh, wait, that's the 2007 first-round pick. Rookie Mike Neal is the first guy off the bench, but Harrell will be in the mix on gamedays as the fifth guy in the rotation. Rookie C.J. Wilson beat out second-year player Jarius Wynn for the final spot, but it's not like either guy stood out during training camp or the preseason. Harrell, with his injury history and family problems (his infant wound up in ICU and his wife needed an emergency C-section), is a guy who deserves a break, because he really cares about his legacy. But if something happens to one of the top four guys, can Harrell's back stand up to a heavy workload week after week?

Inside linebackers: No surprises here, with the starting "trio" of Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk/Brandon Chillar so good that Desmond Bishop can't get on the field on defense.

Outside linebackers: This group is a mess and it'd be a surprise if Thompson doesn't add to the mix. Starters Clay Matthews and Brad Jones were injured through the preseason. Veteran Brady Poppinga is so-so and nothing more. Undrafted rookie Frank Zombo made some big plays during the preseason but was a major reason why the Chiefs ran it down the Packers' throats on Thursday. Ideally, a 3-4 defense will have nine linebackers on the roster. Including the four inside linebackers, the Packers only have seven who are truly deserving.

Cornerbacks: Here's another mess, with Al Harris on PUP, but it's not like there's an abundance of cornerbacks on the market. So, just like the end of last year, the Packers are stuck with who they've got. Charles Woodson is brilliant. Tramon Williams wasn't very good in the preseason, but he'll start. Sam Shields was pretty good in the preseason, but using an undrafted rookie against proven NFL receivers on a weekly basis is a scary proposition. Brandon Underwood's status is up in the air because of his shoulder. Pat Lee did almost nothing in the preseason. And Jarrett Bush is, well ...

Safeties: This isn't quite a mess, with Atari Bigby on PUP, but it's a bit disconcerting to see the falloff after two-time Pro Bowler Nick Collins. The other starter is rookie Morgan Burnett. The backups are Derrick Martin, who has improved from last year, when the Packers preferred linebacker Chillar to Martin when Bigby was hurt, and Peprah, who is on his second go-around in Green Bay.

Specialists: The special teams as a whole are a major question, but they look good here. Tim Masthay looks like a major upgrade to Jeremy Kapinos at punter. Mason Crosby had a strong training camp and preseason. We'll see what happens beginning Sept. 12.

Facts and figures

— Last year, the Packers had the NFL's youngest team for a fourth consecutive year with an average age of 25.70 years old on the 53-man roster for Week 1. This year, with Harris starting on PUP, the Packers have aged just a little to 25.89 years old. That would have tied the Colts for the youngest last year, so Green Bay could keep its title.

— The average player on the 53-man roster has 4.11 years of experience compared to their second-to-least 3.89 years last season.

— This year's roster includes nine rookies and two first-year players, meaning 11 of 53 players haven't played a single snap in the league. Of those 11, Masthay, Shields, Burnett, Neal and maybe Bulaga will have key roles.

— Three undrafted free agents made it: Shields, Zombo and McDonald. Two first-year players who weren't drafted in 2009 made it too: Masthay and Tom Crabtree.

— The only draft pick who didn't make the 53 was sixth-round running back James Starks, who is starting the season on PUP.

— Even without Harris, the Packers have seven thirty-somethings: Donald Driver, 35; Chad Clifton, 34; Charles Woodson, 33; Mark Tauscher, 33; Brady Poppinga, 30; Ryan Pickett, 30; Donald Lee, 30. Last year, they had a league-low four.


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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