Paul Imig’s Packers mailbag

Q: Don’t you think that Mason Crosby has just lost “it,” and with as many kickers that are running around after every graduating class, why does McCarthy put up with it? (Crosby) has become a huge negative and unnecessarily so. 
— Bill Gailbreath, Madison, WI

Q: The individual position that is a problem is the kicker. Which team should we be looking at the kicker competition for a possible replacement for Crosby, whom I believe is done.
— Lee Krohn, Portland, OR

A: The issues with Crosby’s accuracy from last season have obviously carried over. Crosby has repeatedly said that’s not the case, but the results say otherwise. The Packers were definitely sending a message to Crosby this offseason when they signed Giorgio Tavecchio. This was the first time Crosby has had any competition since his rookie year. However, there’s a big difference between signing a kicker off the street to a non-guaranteed contract (like Green Bay did with Tavecchio) and using a draft pick on a kicker. Had the Packers drafted a kicker, that would have been it for Crosby. But, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were comfortable enough with Crosby as their kicker that they opted to go the Tavecchio route.

Crosby’s struggles during the family night scrimmage highlighted this situation once again. As you wrote in your question, Bill, perhaps Crosby has just lost it. Confidence is a tricky thing, especially for a kicker.

If the regular season started today, I think Crosby is Green Bay’s kicker. Tavecchio has been better than him, but I don’t get the impression that the Packers are ready to ditch Crosby just yet. If Crosby misses multiple field goals in preseason, though, that could be the last straw for him. The situation could also change if another team releases a kicker during final training camp cut-downs, but if that player isn’t good enough for that team, why is he necessarily any better than Crosby or Tavecchio? Most likely, that player wouldn’t be a big upgrade. This is definitely one of Green Bay’s bigger decisions before the regular season.

Q: Do you see Johnny Jolly making the team?
— Kimberly, WI

Q: After seeing him throughout training camp and in the family night scrimmage, what do you think about Johnny Jolly’s chances of making the 53-man roster?
— Andrew K, Delafield, WI

A: Jolly isn’t at the same level as his competition on the Packers’ defensive line. Three years away from football and not spending the majority of that time training like a professional athlete clearly puts Jolly at a severe disadvantage. However, Jolly’s talent is still undeniable. When he last played in Green Bay, he was one of the team’s best defensive linemen — if not the best.

Just as big of an issue standing in Jolly’s way of making the team is what the rest of the Packers’ roster looks like. Green Bay has drafted two defensive linemen in each of the past two years, including Datone Jones and Josh Boyd this year. The Packers have six players on the defensive line who are likely considered to be locks to make it: B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels, Jones, Boyd, C.J. Wilson. Mike Neal could be in that group too, but he’s spent a lot of time at outside linebacker. Also, don’t forget that Jerel Worthy could return around midseason after tearing his ACL in Week 17 last year. Jolly’s best chance might be if the team decides he’s more valuable right now than Boyd (a fifth-round pick), but that likely only happens if Thompson is extremely confident that he can get Boyd onto the practice squad.

It’s still a long shot for Jolly, but he has a chance.

Q: Hey Paul … I know Coach McCarthy wants to play everyone Friday night, but will Vince Young get a decent shot at playing time? At least a couple of series?
— Ray Rivard, Arbor Vitae, WI

A: Despite Vince Young first practicing with the Packers on Tuesday, yes, the plan is for him to play in the preseason opener Friday night against the Arizona Cardinals. The biggest challenge for Young is understanding enough of the playbook, but McCarthy will try to put him in a position to succeed by not giving him more than he can handle.

Young hasn’t looked very good in practices yet, but he’s so much further behind the rest of the team in every regard. That’s not his fault. He was just signed this week. He didn’t have any of the prep work that his new teammates did. Physically, Young looks a bit rusty. But mechanics can be thrown off when there is so much to take in mentally. So, if Young doesn’t look better than Graham Harrell in the game against Arizona, don’t conclude too much from it.

Young has less than one month to beat out Harrell for the backup job, and that won’t be easy to do with as far behind as he is in the offense.

Q: In your opinion, what running backs stick with the team and who will be the starter?
— Steve, Menomonee Falls, WI

A: I wrote it on draft night and I’ll repeat it again here: I think Eddie Lacy is going to be a star with the Packers. He, along with Johnathan Franklin, started out at the end of the depth chart when training camp began, but it’s now fairly clear that Lacy is the top guy at running back. However, Lacy has missed two consecutive practices with a hamstring injury and is likely not going to play in the first preseason game on Friday night. Unless that injury keeps him out several weeks, I would expect Lacy to quickly regain his spot once he’s medically cleared again.

I think only four of the six running backs will make the 53-man roster. Angelo Pease, an undrafted rookie out of Kansas State, could be a practice-squad contender. Initially, I thought that either James Starks or Alex Green would be the odd-man out. But that situation is being complicated by DuJuan Harris’ knee injury. Also, Green’s knee injury from 2011 “flared up” this week, so it’s concerning for the Packers that he’s still dealing with that. Even without that, though, Starks has outperformed Green so far in training camp.

Lacy and Franklin will obviously make it, with Starks on the right track to stick around for at least one more year. Harris is the wild card because of his injury. Green probably needs to do something to convince the team that he’s deserving of a spot, because (assuming Harris eventually gets healthy), Green may be the fifth running back on a team that only keeps four.

Q: I have heard very little about last year’s RB (rookie)?
— Jim Palmer, San Diego, CA

A: Do you mean DuJuan Harris? The Packers didn’t draft a running back in 2012, but Harris — who went undrafted in 2011 — made a big impact late last season when he was called up from the practice squad. However, Harris has not practiced once throughout training camp as he deals with a knee injury.

Harris should have had a head start over rookie running backs Lacy and Franklin in training camp, but his knee issues have now really set him back. If Harris doesn’t get medically cleared soon, it may be difficult for him to be ready in time for Week 1. And, once the season starts, if Lacy has a good game, it may be too late for Harris to grab back the starting role that he held during last season’s playoffs.

Q: Who will be the Packers’ #4 wide receiver this season?
— Seth Herlinger, Saukville, WI

A: When training camp started, this was a wide-open battle. With holdovers Jarrett Boykin and Jeremy Ross being challenged by seventh-round-pick rookies Charles Johnson and Kevin Dorsey, there were four solid options to be the Packers’ No. 4 wide receiver. Now, going into the first preseason game after two weeks of practices, Boykin is the clear-cut favorite for that role.

Johnson and Dorsey have both been injured, practically eliminating their chance at catching Boykin by the time the regular season begins. Boykin isn’t very fast by NFL receiver standards, but he has great hands. On a team with several receivers that often struggle with drops, Boykin could prove to be Green Bay’s most sure-handed option. Expect Aaron Rodgers to look Boykin’s way quite a bit this year.

Q: Paul, We often hear in sports, “A team takes on the personality of its coach.” With so much talk about the Packers being soft, do you think this is a reflection of Mike McCarthy?
— Jamal, Durham, NC

A: I’m not sure that the Packers are soft, but the overall group of players on the roster are more of the finesse-type, at least in comparison to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. The NFL has already changed and is continuing to change, so teams will get the “soft” label quicker, simply because players aren’t allowed to do what they once were. That certainly doesn’t excuse missed tackles, but the league-wide emphasis on player safety has changed the way that coaches can teach players.

As far as McCarthy’s role in it, he does run a pass-first offense. That seems logical based on having Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. However, it again doesn’t excuse the team’s lack of a running game the past three seasons (finishing no better than 20th in NFL rushing rankings since 2009). With a bruising running back like Lacy now on board, McCarthy has a chance to prove — at least on the offensive side — that the Packers don’t mind exchanging blows at the line of scrimmage on a more consistent basis.

Q : Where can I buy a mailbox like this one????????????
— Richard Doucette, Wausau, WI

A: That might be a build-it-yourself type of situation. If you are successful in creating it, send us the pictures.

Q : Is there any talk that the training staff is to blame for all the injuries the Packers seem to suffer?
— Jim, Milwaukee, WI

Q: Why haven’t the Packers cut ties with their current strength and conditioning coaches and moved on to someone new?  I have a hard time believing that all of these injuries are just bad luck and not a result of substandard training. Look at the 49ers, for example. Rarely do they have injuries and they are one of the strongest teams in the league. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
— Dan K, Madison, WI

A: It seems like the Packers are trying everything they can to prevent injuries. It’s a topic that they — like every NFL team — researches in the offseason. The new idea of having television timeouts with music blaring at training camp practices was done with the hope that it helps prevent fatigue injuries. But, sometimes injuries just happen.

Bryan Bulaga’s torn ACL happened in an intrasquad scrimmage on a play that didn’t look out of the ordinary for him. J.C. Tretter’s broken ankle happened on a fumble drill in which his cleat got stuck in the field. The list goes on, but the vast majority of the time, there’s very little that can be done by a training staff or strength and conditioning coaches. Some players get hurt training by themselves in the offseason, which was the case with Casey Hayward and Mike Neal this year. The conclusion is often that it’s football, and in football, players are going to get hurt. I don’t put much “blame” on the team for injuries that happen.

Q : Who stinks more: Jay Cutler or Christian Ponder?
— Jeff, Milwaukee, WI

A: Ponder. While Cutler has yet to live up to his potential, this is a make-or-break year for Ponder in Minnesota. If Ponder doesn’t show improvement this season, I wouldn’t doubt if the Vikings consider going in a different direction at quarterback next year — especially with Adrian Peterson’s prime years ticking away.

Q: How does former University of Washington fullback Jonathan Amosa fit into the gameplan on offense and backing up John Kuhn?
— Jesse Parker, Seattle, WA

A: It’s difficult for a fullback to really be a standout performer in training camp practices, but Amosa has been solid. Eventually, the Packers need to find John Kuhn’s replacement. Kuhn will be 31 years old in September. It’s very unlikely that Amosa makes the regular-season roster this year, but he could be a practice-squad candidate for the team to train and then potentially have him ready in 2014 to take Kuhn’s place. Kuhn is so dependable, though, that Green Bay will try to hang on to him for as long as he’s productive.

(Note: Look for the next opportunity to submit mailbag questions in two weeks. Once the season begins, the mailbag will be a weekly feature excluding the bye week.)

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