McMillian's release jolts Packers
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
GREEN BAY--If a fall in the standings wasn’t enough, if going 38 days without a win didn’t do the trick, players had what occurred Tuesday.
Fresh off a holiday weekend they were reminded that—at 5-6-1, facing another make-or-break Sunday—jobs are at stake.
“Any day,” cornerback Davon House said Wednesday, “your name could be called to go upstairs to turn your playbook in. So it should be really high urgency because ‘J-Mac’ got cut the other day. And I didn’t see it coming.
“To me, it sends a message. I don’t know about everyone else. But to me, it’s a reality check that, yeah, you could get cut, too.”
Call it Stage 5 of a midseason swoon. Job security. Safety Jerron McMillian’s release Tuesday was a virtual memo sent throughout the organization, a memo the Packers rarely send. This is a team that gives young players time to grow. The hard-hitting McMillian was a fourth-round pick just one year ago.
One player said he was “shocked,” one said “everyone was surprised.”
As the losing enters Month 3, the proverbial seats get hotter. Throughout the locker room, players realize this.
“I don’t care where you’re at, what sport,” said defensive end C.J. Wilson. “Football, basketball, when you start losing, everybody’s on the hot seat all the way from the bottom to the top and the top to the bottom. We’re not here just to be playing football. We’re here to win. If you’re not winning, you have to make some adjustments.”
Those adjustments haven’t been needed most of general manager Ted Thompson’s tenure. Since going 4-12 in 2005, the Packers have endured one losing season. The steady-as-she-goes, draft-and-develop process has worked. Cast a wide net with rookies, trust youth and talent should rise to the top.
Then quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. The Packers went 0-4-1. And true colors, elsewhere, become apparent.
“It kind of exposed everybody else,” Wilson said. “It also shows his worth to this team and that he’s worth every bit of money they give him.”
So everybody else is under microscope. All players vow they’re well aware how fleeting this opportunity is. As several say, jobs are “always” on the line.
Still, seeing a teammate cut at this point of the season—even one who was benched—resonates in a locker room.
“It really reminds you that this is a business,” said safety Chris Banjo, who leapfrogged McMillian on the depth chart. “That’s the tough part about it. Jerron, he’s a tough-minded person. I know he’s going to be OK regardless, but it’s crazy to think about. ... All of us are always being evaluated and always being watched.”
Added safety M.D. Jennings, “It’s a cutthroat business. We don’t make those decisions. The only thing you can do is take advantage of the opportunities you have. Don’t take anything for granted.”
Or else you might be next. Only six of 18 players drafted in 2011 and 2012 are healthy and on the team.
Critiquing McMillian on Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy pointed to “the consistency of his performance.” The safety was violent. He played with swagger. But his tackling didn’t improve from Year 1 to Year 2. Burned for a pair of big plays at Baltimore, he was then stashed on special teams.
Searching for a new message must be maddening for McCarthy. He showed his team the “Keep Calm and Carry On” banner. He played up urgency—multiple weeks. Maybe actions will speak louder than words. Whether it was the team’s direct intent or not, releasing a player can have a piercing effect. Fear is a motivator.
This is a team fresh off a 40-10 flogging at Detroit. The Packers surrendered 561 yards and 30 first downs.
Asked if the urgency is where it should be, Banjo said, “There are some things you can question,” though he quickly added players are trying to reinforce any positives right now.
Jobs will be at stake these final four weeks. A few lockers down, House does the math himself—not many players from the 2011 and 2012 drafts are left.
After his two missed tackles and up-and-down coverage at Detroit last week, House gave himself a “C.” He says he lost his eye control and didn’t break down Jeremy Ross on his punt-return whiffs. House, one of the most blunt players on the team, knows he’ll need to clean this up.
“The way I look at it from last week—just try to make the tackle,” he said. “Don’t go for the big hit. And slow him down so my teammates can get the help.”
Who is on any perceived “hot seat” is guesswork. If Thompson is willing to part with a fourth-round investment—high currency in Green Bay—several others could be on watch.
Patience tends to run on empty as losing continues.
“Seeing a guy like that go down, that’s not what we’re normally about but we’re trying to win,” Wilson said. “We’re in the winning business. So if you’re not producing or maybe he didn’t fit the scheme, that’s not my decision. All I can do is say it’s a blessing to be here.”
Tight end Andrew Quarless is the one who was shocked by McMillian’s release. The two are good friends. Once the dust settles, he plans to call McMillian. For now, for this team, it’s a reminder of “how real this is league is,” Quarless said.
This is a season unlike any Thompson and McCarthy have experienced together.
So maybe we shouldn’t be too surprised they’ve deviated from the status quo.
“I don’t want to call it a losing season yet,” Quarless said, “but this is the most losses I’ve seen since I’ve been here. This many losses this early, I guess it does change a lot of things.”