GREEN BAY – They played hard and they played fast.
They looked like a defense ready to at least tackle the ball carrier, if not the world, during Friday night’s annual intra-squad scrimmage.
The Green Bay Packers’ defense isn’t as good as it hopes to be by regular season’s end, but it already seems more promising than the dispirited group that limped to the finish a year ago.
Rookies such as defensive end Jerel Worthy, outside linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Casey Hayward proved to be active and athletic. Second-year pros such as linebacker Jamari Lattimore and cornerback Davon House also flashed the skills necessary to give some aid and comfort to the NFL’s worst defense.
Naturally, Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s offense looked to be ready for prime time. Aaron Rodgers was sharp as a razor, and the quarterback wasted no time hooking up with Jordy Nelson on a big play.
Running backs Alex Green and Brandon Saine, plus receiver Diondre Borel and tight end Ryan Taylor also showed sparks.
Even backup quarterback Graham Harrell displayed a measure of poise and precision that suggests there might be something here to build on.
In short, the Packers played hard and fast on both sides of the football, a testament to the acumen of McCarthy’s coaching staff and the want-to of the players. The holdovers want nothing more than redemption for last year’s 15-1 season that went poof! The newcomers desperately want a place on a team that is regarded among the NFL’s best.
The combination is promising. It’s too early to say 15-1 promising, but not too early to suggest GM Ted Thompson and his scouts added a very compelling group of rookies to the mix.
Linebacker Dezman Moses and defensive backs Jerron McMillian, Micah Pellerin and Sean Richardson look capable of pressing for a spot on the 53-man roster.
It sets up for an interesting preseason opener at San Diego.
The Packers are fortunate to open on the road, which allows the coaches an early opportunity to assimilate the young players into what can be a nasty environment. I can’t imagine the Chargers’ fans will be wild-eyed on Thursday night, but it will be helpful for the Packers’ young players to learn road trip protocol in a fairly tame setting.
I am especially curious to see how House, Hayward and Sam Shields perform in the secondary. Shields has been less than stellar, while House has turned heads and Hayward looks like a solid second-round talent.
The other area I am interested in is left tackle.
Two weeks ago, I said the offensive line – especially at tackle – was among the thinnest position groups on the team. Now, with left tackle Marshall Newhouse out with a mild concussion, the task of protecting Rodgers’ backside falls to Herb Taylor, with raw seventh-round pick Andrew Datko waiting in the wings.
For all of the Packers’ concern about the defense and the running game, the one area that could cause everything to fall apart is offensive tackle. Bryan Bulaga is well above-average at right tackle, but beyond that it gets really dicey.
Whether Taylor or Datko can play at an NFL level is a mystery. How long Newhouse will be sidelined with the concussion remains to be seen. Hopefully, this isn’t the beginning of a recurring issue for Newhouse.
James Campen, the offensive line coach, is considered among the best. It appears he will get the opportunity to remind everyone why.
Overall, the scrimmage was a success.
The defense rallied to the football, and the offense ran with considerable precision for this early in training camp.
The San Diego preseason game will be another step in the process. If Taylor and/or Datko show they can hang in against NFL-caliber pass rushers, it will mean one less headache for McCarthy, and more important, for Rodgers.
Chris Havel is a Packers News expert and national best-selling author. His latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ Player Autograph Parties the evening before home games.