Packers have tough roster decisions to make

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By Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, August 29, 2014

GREEN BAY--It’s not too often NFL head coaches run out to the other side of the field to check on an injured undrafted rookie free agent.

But when Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy made his way out to the opposite numbers to see how badly injured outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott was, it spoke to the inroads the longshot rookie has made since training camp began.

Elliott, it turned out, merely had muscle cramps due to dehydration, and he returned to the game after a couple of series.

An injury wouldn’t have hurt his chances of making the 53-man roster, because before succumbing to the cramps, he had dominated the Kansas City Chiefs’ second offensive series. It was another eye-catching performance for a guy who played defensive end at Toledo and came to the Packers with the odds against him.

“His body of work has been very good,” McCarthy said after the Packers concluded the exhibition season with a 34-14 victory Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

Elliott, who came into the game with four sacks (three against St. Louis and one against Oakland), was outstanding in a five-play span.

On first and 10 at the Kansas City 10, he dumped running back Knile Davis after a 2-yard gain. On third and 4 at the 16, he shot inside Chiefs right tackle Donald Stephenson, a third-round pick in 2012, and drew a holding penalty that forced quarterback Chase Daniel to scramble for 5 yards.

On third and 12, Elliott beat Stephenson again with an inside move and dropped Daniel for a 5-yard sack.

Pass rushers are not a dime a dozen, and the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Elliott is not going to be hitting the streets when the Packers make their cut to 53. Elliott wasn’t so certain that was the case, but if he is released, he’s bound to have a half dozen teams or more ready to see if he can help their pass rush.

“I really didn’t have that many expectations,” Elliott said. “I just wanted to show I could play at a high level. Obviously, a sack is a big play, but at the same time you have to show you can play football, whether it’s a sack or a tackle.”

The Packers probably don’t need Elliott to help them this season with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry ahead of him.

Elliott said he still had work to do on pass coverage and playing the run.

Bail out

General manager Ted Thompson was set up to make a tough decision on third-round pick Khyri Thornton, a huge disappointment at defensive end this summer.

When Thornton suffered what appeared to be a serious hamstring injury—he had crutches with him in the locker room after the game—he may have bought himself another year. Chances are the Packers will put him on injured reserve and give him a crack at redeeming himself in training camp next season.

Even with the loss of nose tackle B.J. Raji, the Packers seem settled on the defensive line. They might have felt worse if veteran free agent Letroy Guion had not returned to play a series after missing all but the last week of camp with a hamstring injury.

“I felt great,” Guion said. “It’s was only one series, but I got maybe 10 plays and was able to get rolling a little. I played some nose and a little nickel.”

Guion started at Raji’s former position with Josh Boyd and Thornton at end. Boyd has played some nose this summer along with rookie free-agent Mike Pennel, who has a very good chance of making the team.

More injuries

Linebacker Nate Palmer played inside for the first time and is hoping he gave the Packers another reason to keep him.

The problem was, however, he left the game with a right knee injury and did not return. Palmer said he got hit in the side of the knee and wanted to go back into the game, but judging on how stiff his leg was after the game, it was obvious it wouldn’t have been a good idea.

If the injury is significant, Palmer could wind up on injured reserve.

Offensive tackle Aaron Adams injured his knee and did not return to the game. Linebacker Adrian Hubbard injured his right knee and did not return, but he said he didn’t hear anything pop and was hoping tests didn’t show anything serious.

Hubbard had a sack before leaving the game.

Good feeling

Rookie Corey Linsley knows he’ll be starting against the Seahawks.

That became official when center JC Tretter injured his knee against Oakland last week. Linsley worked this past week with the starting unit but played a good portion of the first half with the No. 2s Thursday night, because none of the starters dressed.

The No. 2 offense scored on its first two possessions, and Linsley appeared to hold his own against Kansas City’s backup defensive line, with the exception of a blown assignment on a running play.

He admitted that he’ll have to deal with some nerves when the Seahawks game rolls around, but he felt comfortable and in control against the Chiefs and was hoping to build from that.

“I actually felt this was, mentally and in terms of the intangible aspect of the game, I felt the most comfortable out there now,” Linsley said. “They’ve been telling me to get to the line and make the calls quicker and I felt that I did that better today than I ever have before.”

Fellow center Garth Gerhart started at left guard and may have played better there than he did when he relieved Linsley. The Packers have to make a decision whether to keep Gerhart, look for another center or go into the Seattle game with guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton potential replacements for Linsley.

Big play Janis

Like Elliott, there doesn’t seem to be any way the Packers can cut receiver Jeff Janis.

The raw but speedy receiver has made play after play when given an opportunity and showed up again with a 33-yard touchdown reception, a 62-yard kickoff return and a drawn pass interference call.


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