NFC North: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Since 2010, when Julius Peppers arrived in Chicago, only two NFC North players have more sacks than him.

Peppers
Matthews
One of them is now his teammate.

That means the Green Bay Packers -- with the addition of Peppers -- have two of the top-three pass rushers in the division. Since Peppers' first season in the division, only Jared Allen, who left the Minnesota Vikings to sign with the Chicago Bears in free agency this offseason, has more sacks among NFC North players than Clay Matthews and his new teammate, Peppers (see accompanying chart).

The partnership between Matthews and Peppers should be mutually beneficial.

From Matthews' standpoint, he believes it will mean fewer double teams.

"This guy's (6-foot-7), 290 (pounds); I'm 6-4 on a good day and 255," Matthews said during a recent interview with USA Today. "They're going to double the big guy, and that leaves plenty of opportunities for me. I haven't had too many one-on-one opportunities, and when you do, you're expected to win -- at least in our locker room -- the majority of the time, because that's supposed to be a mismatch."

Matthews expects to be fully recovered from his second thumb injury -- the two of which kept him out of six games last season (including the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers).

With Peppers and Matthews, the possibilities for defensive coordinator Dom Capers are many. He could line them up on the same side of the formation, forcing a guard or tight end to block one of them. He could separate them, leaving a dominant pass-rusher on each side. Or he could rush one or both of them from the inside.

"I'm excited about it," Matthews said. "Most people are curious as to how they're going to use him in a 3-4 scheme, but I don't think it matters. I think you line him up on the field in a zero-, one-, three-, five-, seven-, nine-technique -- he's going to get attention, and he's going to get double teams. It's going to create opportunities for one of us on the field to have our one-on-one matchups, and that's where that person needs to win."

Even if Peppers can only repeat his performance from last season, when he posted seven sacks, that would be more than any Packers' defensive lineman posted last season. Mike Daniels was tops with 6.5 sacks.

The Packers want to expand Daniels’ role this season and also hope to get more production from B.J. Raji, who will move back to nose tackle. They also plan to use Nick Perry and Mike Neal the same way they will use Peppers -- as a multi-position player they are calling the elephant spot.

"I think he's going to give teams a lot of trouble, especially with Clay, Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels," Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush said this week. "Within also the D-line, they can't just double Clay anymore, so he's going to wreak havoc over there. I played with him in Carolina before I came here to the Packers, so I got to see his ability over there in Carolina. He's definitely a force to be reckoned with. I think with Clay and the whole gang, I think we'll be a championship caliber team."
The Green Bay Packers began the process of rebuilding their defense by adding free-agent pass rusher Julius Peppers and re-signing several of their own key players -- B.J. Raji, Sam Shields and Mike Neal among them -- but there's still much to do in next month's draft.

Mel Kiper's fourth 2014 NFL mock draft is out on ESPN Insider today, and his projected first-round pick for the Packers at No. 21 overall should help in that process.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Pick after pick crawled across the bottom of television screens last April 25, 26 and 27 and those wondering when the Green Bay Packers would draft a safety got their answer when the 254th -- and final -- pick in the 2013 NFL draft was announced.

Three safeties went in the first round, but none to the Packers.

Two more came off the board in Round 2, but neither was a Packers pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
AP Photo/Rogelio SolisHa Ha Clinton-Dix may be available to the Packers when they draft in the first round.
Seventeen more were drafted on the third and final day, yet the Packers still had not filled one of their biggest needs.

That's not to say they went into last year's draft wholly convinced that they didn't need help at the position. But when it came time to exercise each of his selections, there wasn't a safety sitting there that intrigued general manager Ted Thompson enough to make that call.

Thompson liked a few of the safeties in the draft, but the ones he was sold on were either already off the board or would have been a reach at the time of his pick.

So here are the Packers, nearly a year later, and Thompson still has not put pen to paper on a contract for a new safety of any consequence. (And no, street free agent Chris Banjo does not count.)

That has to change next month, when Thompson will take nine selections into the May 8-10 NFL draft, doesn't it?

If Thompson fails to land one of the top, say, five or six safeties in this draft -- be it Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville, both of who are locks to go in the first round; or possible second- and third-round picks like Jimmie Ward of Northern Illinois, Deone Bucannon of Washington State or Terrence Brooks of Florida State -- then he will be handcuffing defensive coordinator Dom Capers in much the same fashion he did last season.

Last summer, Capers and coach Mike McCarthy opened the competition at free safety to a pair of second-year players, Jerron McMillian (a 2012 fourth-round round pick) and M.D. Jennings (an undrafted free agent the same year). It was a close competition, more so because neither one stood out, and when strong safety Morgan Burnett was unavailable for the season opener because of a hamstring injury, that duo started Week 1 at the two safety spots.

The Packers thought so little of their performances that they cut McMillian late last season and did not even bother this offseason to offer Jennings a restricted free agent tender, which would not have cost them any guaranteed money.

"Obviously we didn't get the production that we wanted from that [free safety] position," safeties coach Darren Perry said this offseason.

To be sure, the Packers need Burnett to show that Thompson wasn't misguided when he signed him to a four-year, $24.75 million contract last summer.

"I think he's fully capable of doing it," McCarthy said this offseason. "Morgan's going to do everything he can. He needs to be more assertive in play-making opportunities."

In order for Burnett to flourish, he can't be worried about the player lined up next to him. That player was supposed to be Nick Collins, the three-time Pro Bowl safety whose career was cut short in 2011 by a neck injury. At age 30, he still would have been in the prime of his career last season.

If the Packers don't find another Collins, they must at least come close.

Since the team's resurgence in the early 1990s, they have enjoyed a strong group of safeties -- from LeRoy Butler to Darren Sharper to Collins; all were Pro Bowl selections during their time in Green Bay.

The dynamic of the position has changed in recent years. Whereas Butler was a fierce hitter, today's safeties are judged just as much on speed and ball skills as anything else. What NFL teams need now are safeties than can cover chunks of yardage in milliseconds and knock passes away or, better yet, intercept them. The Packers were the only team in the NFL last season that didn't get a single interception from a safety.

"The intimidator isn't necessarily needed anymore," ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. "The big hitters, you don't need that."

Kiper doesn't believe Clinton-Dix will be around when the Packers come up at No. 21 in the first round, but Pryor very well could be available.

Even if Pryor is gone or Thompson passes on him, he will have other options, says Kiper.

"Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois you could make an argument is the best cover safety in the draft," Kiper said. "He's coming off the [foot] injury but he had a very good career, has great ball skills, real good hands for the interception. And Ward is a decent tackler, but he doesn't have tremendous size [5-foot-11, 193 pounds].

"The days of that big, intimidating safety are just about over. Terrence Brooks from Florida State would fill that void at that point as a safety that could come in and help you right away."

No matter what Thompson does in the draft, Capers and McCarthy plan to work cornerback Micah Hyde at safety this offseason. Perhaps the fifth-round pick out of Iowa last year will be the full-time answer; he certainly showed enough as a rookie to warrant more than the 39.4 percent playing time he got last year. But if the Packers think Hyde can allow them to concentrate on other areas of need in the draft, they'd better be right.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When the Green Bay Packers report for the offseason program on Tuesday, don't expect linebacker Clay Matthews to put his twice-broken right thumb through any vigorous work right away.

But when training camp begins in July -- and more importantly when the regular season kicks off in September -- Matthews does not expect there to be any issues.

In an interview with USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Matthews said he expects his thumb to be a non-issue going forward.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
AP Photo/Mike RoemerClay Matthews hopes thumb casts, like this one worn Nov. 10 against the Eagles, are in his past.
"It's been getting better, so I have no doubt," Matthews said. "Obviously, OTAs will probably be one thing. I can't imagine I'll be too heavily involved with some of the stuff. I'm sure I can do stuff here and there."

But when training camp opens?

"I'll be ready," Matthews said.

For the first time, he revealed exactly what happened following his second injury, which occurred on Dec. 22 when he sacked Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Matthews had returned from the first break, called a Bennett's fracture, six weeks earlier against the Philadelphia Eagles -- a game he called "by far my worst professional game, but there was a legitimate excuse" -- and after wearing a club cast that left him ineffective for that game, he opted for a much smaller cast.

All was well until his thumb hit the helmet of teammate Mike Neal on the way to sacking Roethlisberger.

Rather than opting for the same surgery that he had when he first broke his thumb on Oct. 6 against the Detroit Lions, he went with something different.

"It's called a tendon transfer," Matthews said. "I broke it [the first time], and they did a closed-pin reduction. [The thumb] was dislocated, so they put it back in there. The bones line up, but it was a real small piece of the bone. So, everything was fine. I was coming out, I was working hard, and I was in a cast.

"And unfortunately, on a sack of Roethlisberger, the tip of my thumb [hit] my teammate's helmet. All that pressure went down the cast, broke it again. So then, to make it tighter, we took part of the tendon, turned it around, drilled some holes and they almost tied a knot through. It's stronger than [the left one]. Now it's super tight."

The Packers kept Matthews on the active roster for the playoffs, hoping he could return if they made a Super Bowl run.

Matthews estimated that his thumb is "about 75, 80% of where it needs to be."

"It's getting there," he said. "By the time the season rolls around, it'll be fine. I'm optimistic about it. I mean, I've never heard of a career-ending thumb injury, but no one had heard of a Bennett's fracture when I had done that."
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If the Green Bay Packers do nothing else at the quarterback position this offseason, at least they know they have someone who has proven he can win games as a backup.

That is a better situation than they were in a year ago, when they had no clue whether Graham Harrell or B.J. Coleman could function with a meaningful NFL game on the line.

Flynn
Flynn
And it's a better situation than they were in in September, when they broke training camp by cutting Harrell, Coleman and Vince Young.

By re-signing veteran quarterback Matt Flynn on Tuesday, the Packers renewed an insurance policy that paid off last season after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Flynn came back on Nov. 12 after failing to win starting jobs with the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders (and following a brief stint with the Buffalo Bills).

Just 12 days later, he rallied the Packers to a comeback tie against the Minnesota Vikings and went 2-2 in his next four starts to keep the Packers in playoff contention before Rodgers returned to win the regular-season finale -- and NFC North title -- against the Chicago Bears.

Whatever Flynn's shortcomings were (likely a lack of arm strength and an unfamiliarity with new offenses) when he got his chances in Seattle and Oakland, he has proven to be comfortable and effective in Green Bay, where he began his career in 2008 and still holds a share of the team’s single-game passing yards record (480 against the Detroit Lions in the 2011 regular-season finale, a mark Rodgers tied in Week 2 last season against the Washington Redskins).

Perhaps the Packers won't need Flynn or they will decide Scott Tolzien is a better option after he goes through coach Mike McCarthy's offseason program for the first time. But for now, they don't have to worry about the unknown that came with Coleman, who never caught on with another team; or Harrell, who, coincidentally on Tuesday, was hired as an assistant coach at Washington State, according to media reports.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Brett Favre's reunion with the Green Bay Packers was supposed to happen last season, but the high school football team he helped coach got in the way.

So said Packers president Mark Murphy on Tuesday, just before he and several current and former players boarded a bus to begin the team's annual Tailgate Tour.

Favre
At just about every stop along the way during past tours since the Packers jettisoned Favre by trading him to the New York Jets in 2008, Murphy has been asked about the relationship between the team and its former quarterback.

No doubt Murphy will be asked it again on the five-day trip that includes stops in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"There's not a lot to report," Murphy said Tuesday morning. "We do have on-going communications with him, and I think relations are good. We're hopeful to have him come back soon.

"We wanted to have him come back to a game last year, and his team kept winning and winning, so it kind of made it tough to find a time where it worked."

Perhaps Favre’s return could take place this coming season, considering he reportedly will not return to his role as offensive coordinator at Oak Grove High School, which won the Mississippi 6A title last fall.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Last month, ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert brought you the story of how GPS-based technology is being used in sports -- including by more than a dozen NFL teams -- to study injuries and aid in their prevention.

Since then, one of the companies featured in the piece announced it has added the Green Bay Packers to its list of clients.

On Friday, Catapult Sports, an Australian-based firm that compiles live data on athletic exertion, welcomed the Packers in a message it posted on its Twitter account.

How, exactly, the Packers plan to use the company's services -- which among other things can measure an athlete's level of exertion and use it to gauge if that player is at greater risk for an injury -- is not immediately known.

On Catapult's website, Buffalo Bills strength coach Eric Ciano explained how he uses the data.

"The number one goal of this system right now is trying to help prevent injury as well as help us with the rehab process," Ciano said. "There are a lot of different things that goes in to it, but the biggest thing is 'how can we monitor guys on the field to help us get the information?'"

A recent study by Football Outsiders that appeared on ESPN.com Insider indicated the Packers were among the most injured teams in the NFL the past two seasons.

McCarthy took that a step further when he said recently that in his eight seasons as head coach, he’s had only two truly healthy teams -- the 13-3 team of 2007 and the 15-1 team of 2011.

We know from listening to McCarthy talk after injuries have befallen his team year after year that he has long been willing to examine all aspects of his team's training regimen.

"You got to grade yourself on, did you hit the target of training your football team right through this new CBA schedule?" McCarthy told reporters last month at the NFL annual meetings. "And you look at injuries; you look at your outcome. I feel like I haven't hit the target that I want to hit. So with that I'll continue to change and adjust and emphasize the things I feel we need to do and that will be evident when they get back here in the offseason program.

"The offseason program is going to be different than it was the last two years and training camp will be also."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There are several ways to judge an offseason.

The ESPN Insider team took one approach late last month, when it assigned grades to every team’s free-agent moves Insider. In that project, it gave the Green Bay Packers a C-plus.

Here's another way to do it -- by the Las Vegas odds.

In that regard, the Packers fared even better.

Two months after the LVH SuperBook listed the Packers' odds to win Super Bowl XLIX at 16-1, those odds have improved. In its latest figures released this week, the LVH SuperBook listed the Packers as 12-1 to win the Super Bowl.

Only four teams were listed ahead of the Packers -- the defending champion Seattle Seahawks (4-1), the runner-up Denver Broncos (5-1), the San Francisco 49ers (6-1) and the New England Patriots (8-1).

Vegas apparently likes the direction general manager Ted Thompson has gone this offseason, signing pass-rusher Julius Peppers to bolster the defense and retaining some of his own key free agents such as cornerback Sam Shields, nose tackle B.J. Raji, outside linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal, fullback John Kuhn, tight end Andrew Quarless and running back James Starks.
The Green Bay Packers' greatest needs would seemingly be on the defensive side of the ball.

Even with the addition of pass-rusher Julius Peppers, they likely need to upgrade a few more spots in order improve on its 25th overall ranking last season. With that in mind, it might come as a surprise that in ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft , version 4.0, he has the Packers taking offensive players not only with their first-round pick but also with their second.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There's little reason to think veteran fullback John Kuhn won't be on the Green Bay Packers' roster when this season opens in September, but the contract he signed last week does not make that a given.

Kuhn
Kuhn will turn 32 on Sept. 9 and is part of a crowded backfield. Although he's the only experienced fullback on the roster and is one of the most experienced players on the entire team, the Packers did not lock themselves into anything with the one-year contract the two sides hammered out last week.

The $1.03 million deal included only $100,000 in guaranteed money in the form of a signing bonus, according to ESPN Stats & Information salary data. Three years ago, he received a $750,000 signing bonus as part of a three-year, $7.5 million deal. That contract all but ensured Kuhn would be on the roster.

This one, however, does not.

The rest of the contract includes a base salary of $855,000, a $25,000 workout bonus and up to $50,000 in a roster bonus that is broken up into $3,125 per game in which he is active.

The Packers only have one other fullback on their roster, street free agent Ina Liaina, but it's worth wondering how much they will even use a fullback this season, if at all. Last year, Kuhn played 28.1 percent of the offensive snaps and although he once again showed his mettle as a blocker, he carried only 10 times for 38 yards.

Earlier in the offseason, it was worth wondering if the Packers would even bring back Kuhn after coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL scouting combine that he hoped reigning offensive rookie of the year Eddie Lacy -- and the rest of his halfbacks -- would become three-down players, thus perhaps eliminating the need for Kuhn as the designated third-down pass protector.

For now, though, Kuhn is back, but it's worth watching how things develop in the backfield between now and the final cuts.
Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson Getty ImagesGreen Bay Packers receivers Randall Cobb (18) and Jordy Nelson are both in line for raises as they enter the final season of their current contracts.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point in the next 11 months -- likely sooner rather than later -- the Green Bay Packers will extend the contracts of receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson.

Between now and when they scribble their names on their new deals there will be much discussion about each player's value.

Myriad factors come in to play during contract negotiations, but the most important ones are production, injury history (which is usually tied to production) and age (which can be tied to injury history).

Another factor you might hear thrown around when it comes to Cobb and Nelson is the unscientific term "No. 1 receiver" -- as in should either one or both be paid like one?

In an ESPN Insider piece, former NFL scout Matt Williamson helped define exactly what that term means .

He came up with four characteristics:

  • They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
  • They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
  • They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
  • They must display the above traits with consistency.

What was perhaps most interesting about Williamson's list is that he came up with only 14 players in the NFL who fit his criteria.

"The term 'No. 1 receiver' is often thrown around loosely, but to me, there certainly are not 32 No. 1 receivers in the league just because every team has a favorite target," Williamson wrote.

Also, Williamson had two tight ends -- New England's Rob Gronkowski and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham -- among his 14.

Among his 12 receivers, only four were among the NFL's top-10 highest-paid receivers (see the accompanying chart). They were: Detroit's Calvin Johnson (No. 1), Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (No. 2), Chicago's Brandon Marshall (No. 6) and Houston's Andre Johnson (No. 8).

However, six of the 12 are still playing under their rookie contracts and will be in line for significant raises on their next deal.

Back to the cases for whether Cobb and Nelson belong in that same category as they enter the final season of their current contracts.

According to Williamson, one of them should be considered a No. 1 receiver and the other is close. Also, it's possible for one team to have two No. 1 receivers, Williamson wrote, as is the case with the Bears (Marshall and Alshon Jeffery).

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound Nelson cracked the list at No. 13 under the heading "Just ask their quarterbacks if they are No. 1 receivers." Williamson also put San Francisco's Michael Crabtree in that same category.

"With great size for the position, he is often mistaken for a possession weapon, however only three receivers converted more receptions of 20 or more yards last year, Williamson wrote of Nelson. "His deep speed and big-play ability is vastly underrated, but Nelson also is Aaron Rodgers' go-to target when Rodgers needs a first down and has always proven to be reliable.

"Nelson had his best season in 2013, accumulating over 1,300 receiving yards, and bear in mind that he was playing without Rodgers for much of that time. He isn't a product of the system or his surroundings and would be great in any environment."

Nelson's next contract will be his third. Midway through the 2011 season, he signed a three-year extension that averaged $4.2 million per season. That average ranks 32nd among all NFL receivers in 2014.

Williamson ranked Cobb among 11 players who he termed as "close but not quite" No. 1 receivers.

Cobb, who like Nelson was a second-round pick, is entering the final season of his rookie contract. Two factors likely kept Cobb out of Williamson’s top 14: his size (5-10, 192) and that he missed 10 games last season because of a fractured tibia.

But in 2012, Cobb caught 80 passes despite missing one game, and there is room for growth. He is entering his fourth season but won't turn 24 years old until late in training camp this summer, making him more than 5 years younger than Nelson, who turns 29 in May.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The addition of the 34-year-old Julius Peppers might be a short-term fix for the Green Bay Packers' defense.

Peppers
But when it comes to next month's NFL draft, the Packers' most significant free-agent signing since Charles Woodson in 2006 allows general manager Ted Thompson more flexibility with his early-round selections.

So says ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

"I think it does," Kiper said. "It gives them that hole filler and that pass-rusher that you need."

Even if Peppers is only a one- or two-year player, it gives the Packers the ability to address other areas of need, especially on defense.

"I think safety, tight end, inside linebacker are positions they could address and could end up falling their way and could fill those major needs," Kiper said.

Let's start with safety, a position the Packers have largely ignored over the past year. They're looking for a playmaker to fill a crater-sized hole at free safety. Two players who started at safety last season, M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, aren't even on the roster anymore. The Packers let Jennings walk as a restricted free agent and cut McMillian before last season ended.

Kiper believes one of the consensus top-two safeties in the draft could be available to Thompson when the Packers pick at No. 21.

"You look at Calvin Pryor from Louisville; I don't think [Alabama’s Ha Ha] Clinton-Dix will be there, but Calvin Pryor could and he's a heck of a football player," Kiper said.

While Kiper said he doesn't think the top tight end, Eric Ebron of North Carolina, will be there when the Packers pick, it's possible the top inside linebacker, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, will be there.

"You can make an argument he'll go a little earlier," Kiper said of Mosley. "If Mosley and Pryor are there, those would be two guys that fill areas of need and are good football players."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With the bulk of the free-agent work done, it's a good time to recheck the Green Bay Packers' depth chart leading up to the May 8-10 NFL draft.

On Thursday, we broke down the way things look on offense.

Next up is the defense:

Defensive end: Datone Jones, Josh Boyd, Jerel Worthy.

[+] EnlargeDatone Jones
AP Photo/Morry GashThe Packers are counting on defensive end Datone Jones to rebound in his second season.
Analysis: The Packers have high hopes for Jones despite a disappointing rookie season in which the former first-round pick was slowed by an ankle injury and recorded just 3.5 sacks (two of which came in one game). "I feel he's one of those second-year players who [can] take a huge jump," coach Mike McCarthy said of Jones earlier this offseason. "That will be my expectations for him." Boyd, a fifth-round pick, actually saw more playing time late last season than Jones. Worthy played in only two games a year after he blew out his knee.

Defensive tackle: B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion.

Analysis: Moving Raji back to nose tackle on a full-time basis should help his production, which declined sharply over the last three years following a move to defensive end. Daniels was perhaps the team's most improved player last season, which should lead to an even bigger role this season. Guion, who was cut the Minnesota Vikings, will have to battle for a roster spot.

Elephant: Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, Mike Neal.

Analysis: Elephant is a catch-all term for the multiple positions this trio will play. They will be part outside linebacker, part defensive end and part defensive tackle. The addition of Peppers, who was signed last month after being released by the Chicago Bears, should boost the pass rush. Expect Perry to play more on the right side this season, where he was far more impactful last season. These players will actually be tutored by linebackers coach Winston Moss.

Inside linebacker: A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Victor Aiyewa.

Analysis: Hawk had perhaps his best season last year, but Jones was a disappointment after signing a three-year, $11.75 million contract and could be on shaky ground for a starting job. Lattimore, a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender, got some playing time last year while Jones was hurt and could push for the starting job. So could Barrington, a promising rookie who missed the second half of the season because of a hamstring injury.

Outside linebacker: Clay Matthews, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer, Chase Thomas.

Analysis: Neal and Perry played almost exclusively at outside linebacker last season, so there's a good chance they'll be a big part of this group again. But behind Matthews are a couple of second-year players, Mulumba and Palmer, who played more than anyone expected last year as a rookies. Mulumba, an undrafted free agent, played better than Palmer, a sixth-round pick. Thomas was signed early in the offseason off the street after spending most of last season on the Atlanta Falcons' practice squad.

Safeties: Morgan Burnett, Sean Richardson, Chris Banjo.

Analysis: Easily the thinnest position on the roster, there's still likely to be several additions here, probably via the draft. However, McCarthy said cornerback Micah Hyde will get some work at safety. Whether he's a candidate to start next to Burnett (a strong safety), however, remains to be seen. Burnett needs to bounce back from a disappointing season, but there's little reason to think his job is in jeopardy. Richardson returned late last season from a serious neck injury and showed promise. Banjo played more early in the season than he did late last year.

Cornerbacks: Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Jarrett Bush, Davon House, James Nixon, Jumel Rolle, Antonio Dennard.

Analysis: This is among the Packers' deepest positions thanks to the return of Shields, who signed a four-year, $39 million contract, and Hayward, who is expected to be healthy after a hamstring injury limited him to just three games last season. Williams closed the season playing perhaps as well as he did during the Super Bowl season of 2010, which is why they kept him despite a $7.5 million salary. Bush had his best season in coverage last year, while House was a disappointment. Nixon's speed makes him an intriguing prospect. Rolle was promoted from the practice squad late last season, while Dennard joined the practice squad late last season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This isn't the schedule that most fans are waiting for but until the NFL releases the regular-season schedule later this month, the dates of the offseason workouts will have to do.

The NFL announced on Thursday the offseason workout plans for all 32 teams.

The Green Bay Packers will get things started on April 22, one day later than the league allows for teams with returning head coaches. Coach Mike McCarthy likely is giving his players an extra day so that they don't have to travel on Easter Sunday in order to make it to Green Bay for a Monday workout.

For the first six weeks of the program, players will take part in strength/conditioning training and individual position drills.

The organized team activities, which are full-squad, non-padded practices, run on the following dates: May 28-30, June 3-5, June 10-13. Typically, the Packers open one workout per week to the public, weather permitting. Those open dates have not yet been announced.

The mandatory minicamp will be June 17-19.

After the minicamp, players and coaches will break for vacation before training camp begins in late July. The full training camp schedule won't be determined until the Packers know the date of their preseason opener.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's hard to tell where John Kuhn's popularity is greater: Among Green Bay Packers fans or with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Both were likely celebrating on Thursday, when Kuhn agreed to return on a one-year contract that will pay him a little more than $1 million if he makes the roster this season.

Kuhn's agent, Kevin Gold, summed up the feeling in the subject line of his email that announced the deal. Gold wrote: "KUUUUUHN!"

Why is Kuhn so popular?

Kuhn
To understand that, you must go beyond the statistics -- 165 carries for 506 yards (a 3.1-yard average). That's not for a season. That's for his eight-year career, the last seven of which have been with the Packers.

Rather, just turn on the highlights from last year's regular-season finale. Skip ahead to the final minute of the fourth quarter.

On fourth-and-8 from the Bears' 48-yard line with 46 seconds left, Kuhn saved the Packers' season. He dove at then-Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (now with the Packers) and got just enough of a block on him to allow Rodgers to throw the game-winning, NFC North-winning touchdown to Randall Cobb.

After the game, Rodgers called Kuhn: "A big-time football player."

"It's always good to highlight the unsung heroes on the play, and it was definitely John Kuhn, as usual," Rodgers added. "They brought empty pressure, checked to it late, and I was trying to hit Jordy [Nelson] right away, the safety rolled down quickly. As I looked outside, I felt Julius was coming free, was going to try to elude him, which the chances of that are pretty slim. John comes out of nowhere and cuts him."

Kuhn is the ultimate NFL underdog. He played small-college football at Shippensburg (Pa.) and entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Perhaps that's why he's so beloved in the NFL's smallest city.

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