Packers training camp: Day 1

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers opened training camp Thursday, but the biggest story was once again the contract of Aaron Rodgers. Or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of a new contract for the two-time MVP quarterback.

“[The Packers] talked about it enough that there’s an expectation that something would have been done. Obviously, judging by the questions here, there’s kind of an expectation that something would have been done before we started. I’m just trusting [my agent] Dave [Dunn],” Rodgers said following the first practice of camp. “They’re taking care of those conversations, and I’m focused on this team and being a leader.”

Rodgers has two years left on his contract that will see him make $42 million over that period. His average of $22 million per year over the life of his current deal leaves the 34-year-old 10th among starting quarterbacks. That kind of thing would keep some players away from training camp, upset that the team wouldn’t rectify an obvious slight.

“I don’t really operate like that,” Rodgers said. “There [isn’t] any animosity on either side.”

Whenever Rodgers does sign an extension, it’s going to make him the highest-paid player in NFL history. But it’s how long he’ll remain atop that list and how the contract will be structured that is likely holding things up.

“My contract is all about me and my tenure here. But, as we know, this league is about comparison to other contracts and that’s often how the negotiations go and have gone. When I signed my last deal, there was an amount of time before it got passed up…It’s just the way it goes,” Rodgers said. “[My contract is] important to me, but my focus is on this team and training camp.”

Catch or interception?

One of the first plays of the camp also served as the first controversy. During 11-on-11 drills, Rodgers tried to hit wide receiver Randall Cobb about 15 yards downfield, but cornerback Kevin King had tight coverage. The two battled for the ball, and to those watching on the sideline, it seemed like King came up with the interception, though it was pretty much a coin flip.

In asking Rodgers about it, a reporter compared the play to the “Fail Mary” in Seattle in 2012, where the Seahawks got a game-winning touchdown when officials determined Golden Tate had possession of the ball despite Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings having it pinned against his chest.

“It wasn’t even close. That’s a terrible reference,” Rodgers said. “Silly, silly question.

“But how did Kevin do? Kevin made a couple plays, but that was a completion…”

Get used to the visor

Clay Matthews’ nose looks in good shape despite him getting hit in the face with a softball last month. The outside linebacker spoke with reporters Thursday for the first time since suffering the injury.

“Took about a week off, obviously, to let the thing heal up and then kind of eased back into it,” Matthews said. “Everything feels pretty good now, so [I’ll] be smart about it. Obviously, I’m wearing a visor so I don’t get poked.”

Matthews has not worn a visor before, but he anticipates keeping it the entire season.

“Speaking with the surgeon that operated on [me], I guess rhinoplasty normally takes several months to really feel like you can kind of throw it around there and not have a lot of hesitation,” Matthews said. “It feels good, though. I really don’t have any limitations.”

Entering his 10th year, Matthews is also coming off knee surgery. Coach Mike McCarthy said they’ll be smart with the veteran’s reps in training camp.

Bryan Bulaga feeling good

The last time most fans saw Bryan Bulaga he was being carted to the locker room last November after tearing the ACL in his right knee. It ended his season and some thought it would potentially end his time with Green Bay. But there he was on Thursday working with a trainer at the south end of the practice field, continuing his rehab while starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

“Bryan has really, from early in the rehab, been ahead of the game,” McCarthy said. “I have confidence in Bryan…that [being on the PUP] will not threaten the beginning of the season.”

Bulaga agreed with McCarthy’s assessment.

“I’m optimistic about it, yeah,” Bulaga said of being ready for Week 1. “I felt like everything’s gone really well so far, month-to-month, week-to-week, kind of deal. Yeah, I’m disappointed I started on [PUP]. It’s been a tough road rehabbing and getting back to this point. I’m feeling really well at this point. Yeah, I’m disappointed but it’s part of the process.”

Without Bulaga in the lineup, third-year offensive lineman Jason Spriggs was with the first-team offense at right tackle.

Packers make a series of roster moves in advance of training camp starting

On the eve of the first practice of training camp, the Green Bay Packers made several roster moves Wednesday afternoon.

The club announced it had placed wide receiver Michael Clark and offensive lineman Cole Madison on the reserve/did not report list.

According to PackersNews.com’s Aaron Nagler, Clark is planning to retire. Signed as an undrafted free agent last year, Clark was on the team’s practice squad for the first 12 weeks of the year before being signed to the 53-man roster. He played in the final two games of the year and caught four passes for 41 yards.

Madison, a fifth-round pick in April, is dealing with a personal matter, according to ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky, and is expected to report to camp at some point.

The team signed wide receivers Adonis Jennings and Kyle Lewis to the 90-man roster in the place of Clark and Madison.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Field Yates reported a pair of players — tackle Bryan Bulaga and linebacker Nick Perry — will start training camp on the physically unable to perform list. It’s not surprise for Bulaga, who suffered a torn ACL last November. Perry, meanwhile, is dealing with a hand injury.

During the preseason, players can come off the PUP list at any point, but if you start the regular season on it, you must miss the first six games.

Packers RB Aaron Jones suspended

The Green Bay Packers will be without running back Aaron Jones to start the season.

The NFL announced Tuesday that Jones had been suspended for the first two games of the year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, is related to Jones’ arrest last fall on a marijuana charge. He was eventually found guilty of operating with a restricted controlled substance and was ordered to pay $1,047.00 in court costs. He had two other traffic charges dismissed.

Jones rushed for 448 yards and five touchdowns last season as a rookie, and many believed he could be Green Bay’s featured back this season. While that could still happen, it’ll have to wait. He’ll miss two key games — Chicago and Minnesota — to open the year and then be eligible to return to action when the Packers travel to Washington on Sept. 23.

Without Jones, Green Bay will likely lean on second-year back Jamaal Williams, who led the team in rushing with 556 yards as a rookie, and wide receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery.

Report: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix expected at Packers minicamp

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix hasn’t been at any of the Green Bay Packers OTA sessions this spring. But the former first-round pick will reportedly in town for the team’s mandatory minicamp that starts Tuesday.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Wilde, the safety has missed the sessions for a personal matter, though he would not divulge what it was when asked. Wilde reports Clinton Dix’s godmother passed away in May just before he graduated from the University of Alabama.

Clinton-Dix is entering the final year of his rookie contract and some took his absence as his displeasure over not getting a long-term contract. That led to backlash from a portion of the fanbase, who pointed to a 2017 season where Clinton-Dix didn’t appear to be as impactful as he had been when he went to the Pro Bowl in 2016. He finished with three interceptions after grabbing five the year before, though all his other numbers are nearly identical.
Clinton-Dix took to Twitter Thursday night to seemingly address those voices.

At the end of last season and into the offseason, Clinton-Dix said he believed his role in former defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ scheme was to cover for issues elsewhere in the secondary. The Packers were so worried about the play at cornerback that Clinton-Dix was used as somewhat of a safety valve to protect against big plays. That’s expected to change with new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

With Clinton-Dix missing OTAs, the Packers were going with Kentrell Brice and Jermaine Whitehead as their starting safeties, while Josh Jones was in his hybrid safety/inside linebacker spot that was held by Morgan Burnett last season.

Packers have no long-term concern with Clay Matthews’ injury

It appears Clay Matthews has escaped serious injury after being hit in the face with a softball on Saturday.

The Green Bay Packers linebacker was pitching in the Green and Gold Softball Charity Game when a liner off the bat of Lucas Patrick drilled him in the face. Matthews immediately covered his face with his glove, though blood could be seen pouring from his noise as he walked off the field.

Matthews later tweeted he would be OK, that he had a broken nose and would be undergoing surgery. Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy confirmed that Monday morning.

“Most importantly, we don’t have any long-term concerns,” McCarthy said before the Packers took the field for practice. “We’re talking about scheduling surgery probably mid-week.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s for a good cause. I’m just glad he’s OK.”

McCarthy also had a critique of Matthews’ skills on the mound.

“I think he needs to work on his off-hand, mitt-side,” McCarthy joked. “That’s what the tape showed me.”

Packers: LB Clay Matthews injured at charity softball game

The Green Bay Packers got a bit of a scare Saturday during the Green and Gold Charity Softball Game in Appleton.

While pitching, linebacker Clay Matthews took a liner to the face. He quickly put his glove over his face and walked off the field. The public address announcer later reported that Matthews would be OK.

Here is the video of the incident.

Meanwhile, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that Matthews was being taken to a local hospital to be checked out, though it’s believed that the veteran defender suffered only a broken nose and no other significant injuries.

Matthews and wide receiver Davante Adams captained the teams, taking over as the hosts of the event that had been run by Jordy Nelson before he was cut this offseason.

Packers add veteran tackle

The Green Bay Packers have added some competition to their offensive line.

Veteran tackle Byron Bell posted on his Instagram Tuesday night he had agreed to a deal with team.

An undrafted free agent from New Mexico, Bell originally signed with Carolina in 2011. The 29-year-old went on to start 56 of 62 games with the Panthers at right tackle. Bell then signed with Tennessee in 2015 where played three different positions, starting all 16 games. An offseason injury kept him off the field in 2016, and then he spent 2017 in Dallas, where he played in 12 games, including two starts at left tackle.

Bell visited Green Bay last year before signing with the Cowboys. He joins a Packers’ line that still has some questions, namely who will be the starting right tackle. It’s a spot held by Bryan Bulaga for much of the last seven seasons. But the veteran suffered a torn ACL last year, playing in just five games and he likely won’t be able to practice until training camp at the earliest. There was a point in the offseason where it speculated that Bulaga would be cut. That didn’t happen, and during the draft last month general manager Brian Gutekunst and coach Mike McCarthy both indicated Bulaga was part of their plans.

As for other options, former second-round pick Jason Spriggs was lining up with the first-team offense during OTAs last week, but is coming off a major knee injury. 2016 sixth-round pick Kyle Murphy, who also ended last year on the injured reserve, got reps as well.

It’s unlikely the team would have signed Bell if it was comfortable with what was on the roster, meaning it wouldn’t be a total shock if he ended up being the starter at right tackle when the Packers open the season against Chicago in September.

Packers add veteran tight end

The Green Bay Packers have dipped back into the free agent market for another tight end.

Veteran Marcedes Lewis posted a picture of him signing his contract with Green Bay early Thursday night.

A first-round pick in 2006, Lewis had spent his entire 12-year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars before becoming a free agent this offseason. He’s started 157 of 170 games, catching 375 passes for 4,502 yards and 33 touchdowns. Though not the receiver he was earlier in his career, Lewis is still considered among the better blocking tight ends in the league and was a major part of Jacksonville leading the league in rushing.

Lewis joins a unit that was lacking any kind of support behind Jimmy Graham and Lance Kendricks, and he becomes the fifth veteran free agent the team has signed at the position in the last three years.

Green Bay finished its first week of OTAs on Wednesday and will get the second week started next Monday.

Packers hit the field for the first open practice of OTAs

The Green Bay Packers were on the field for the first public practice of OTAs Tuesday afternoon.

Here’s a look at what we saw and heard.

Aaron Rodgers speaks

The biggest news item of the day came courtesy of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. After practice, the two-time NFL MVP was asked about the Packers being connected to former Dallas Cowboys’ wide receiver Dez Bryant and whether he’d like him in Green Bay.

“I’m paid to play quarterback,” Rodgers said, “so I don’t make those decisions.”

Pressed further about a receiving core that lost 33-year-old Jordy Nelson, has two established pieces in Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, a talented but still developing Geronimo Allison and then a lot of young unproven players, Rodgers seemingly made it clear what he thought about the idea of bringing in Bryant, who will turn 30 in November.

“We like young receivers, so I’m assuming that’s the way they are going to keep going,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know why you’d cut Jordy [Nelson] and bring in Dez, but he’s a talented player. He’s going to end up somewhere. If he ends up here, we’ll obviously welcome him with open arms and get him up to speed as quick as possible.”

It’s been reported that Green Bay has no interest in Bryant, so Rodgers comments about him are irrelevant. But his decision to bring Nelson’s name up again, despite saying last month that everyone needed to move on, would suggest he’s still not over losing one of his favorite targets, especially with the uncertainty at the position.

New QB on the field

If there was a thought that DeShone Kizer would come in and be Rodgers’ backup from Day 1 after being traded for from Cleveland, that got shut down pretty quickly on Tuesday. Instead of Kizer following Rodgers in team drills, it was his backup from last year, Brett Hundley, getting the second-team reps.

It’s possible that Kizer is still processing and getting a full grasp of the offense, though everyone is kind of starting over following coach Mike McCarthy’s promise to tear down the playbook and rebuild it with new offensive coordinator Joe Philbin this offseason. Either way, backup quarterback may be one of the more interesting position battles of the summer.

In the backfield

It’s just the second day of OTAs, but the running back rotation gave us a glimpse of what the Packers think of the guys in their backfield right now. Second-year back Jamaal Williams took first-team reps, with last year’s fifth-round pick Aaron Jones following him and veteran Ty Montgomery third.

Some fire on defense

Special teams’ coach Ron Zook uses a sound system with a mic to communicate with his players. No matter where you go on the practice field, you can hear Zook through the speakers. New linebackers coach Patrick Graham needs no microphone or sound system to be heard. Almost from the start of practice, Graham got after his guys, lamenting a mistake or asking for more energy, often in colorful language that didn’t go unnoticed.

“There’s a little bit of yelling at practice,” Rodgers said with a smile. “The linebackers coach does a lot of yelling, actually. That’s new [and] different. It’s energy. It’s yelling energy, but it’s good.”

Jimmy Graham makes his debut

For a third year in a row, Green Bay is introducing a new tight end to the mix. In 2016, it was Jared Cook. Then it was Martellus Bennett last season. This year, it’s five-time Pro Bowl selection Jimmy Graham. At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, Graham has already started making an impression.

“I thought those guys were big until I saw Jimmy,” said 5-foot-10 Randall Cobb of the previous No. 1 tight ends. “He’s a big dude. I try not to stand by him too often.”

Graham is a physical marvel and should provide a big target for Rodgers. But it wasn’t just his size that left the quarterback impressed.

“The guy is pretty damn talented,” Rodgers said. “He’s got some different elements that we haven’t had around here in a while with his ability to read coverages really quickly. He catches everything with his hands. We’re pretty excited about him.”

Rodgers found Graham several times Tuesday during team drills, including on what turned into a long catch and run for a touchdown off a broken play.

Concern on the edge

Though he didn’t take part in practice, linebacker Clay Matthews met with the media afterwards. And, according to PackersNews.com’s Michael Cohen, expressed significant concern about the depth at outside linebacker.

Matthew certainly has a point. Most thought Green Bay would take an edge rusher early in the draft, but new general manager Brian Gutekunst never did. He didn’t believe it was a very good year for the position. And while that might be true, it’s left the Packers counting on the guys behind Matthews and Perry — Reggie Gilbert, Vince Biegel and Kyler Fackrell — to provide a lift with zero assurances it’ll happen.

The following players didn’t take part in practice due to injury:

WR Davante Adams
LB Clay Matthews
LB Nick Perry
WR Trevor Davis
OL Bryan Bulaga
OL Lane Taylor

Two players — safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and cornerback Tramon Williams — did not attend the voluntary session.

Packers: Brett Favre’s rehab stint in 1996 wasn’t his only one

Brett Favre’s trip to rehab prior to the 1996 season is one that most fans know. The three-time NFL Most Valuable Player announced in May of that year he would be checking himself in to a facility in Kansas to battle his addition to pain killers. Favre exited after 72 days and led Green Bay to its first Super Bowl title in 29 years. What no one had heard of, or at least written about, was the fact Favre actually had three stints in rehab.

This is from Peter King’s final Monday Morning Quarterback:

“A year or two before (1995), I went to a place in Rayville, La., just outside Monroe. It was pills then too. Deanna and [agent] Bus [Cook] talked me into it. I didn’t think I had a problem, but they talked me into it. I went for 28 days. When I got out, I was able to control myself for a while. I wouldn’t take anything for a day or two, and I wouldn’t drink. But I was a binge drinker. When I drank, I drank to excess. So when I went in the second time, to the place in Kansas, I remember vividly fighting them in there. They said drinking was the gateway drug for me, and they were right, absolutely right, but I wouldn’t admit it. I will never forget one of the nurses. I had it all figured out. I fought with the nurse all the time. I would not admit the drinking problem. At the end she said to me, ‘You’ll be back.’

“I was back. 1998. Guess who was waiting there when I walked in—that same nurse. This time it was strictly for drinking. I didn’t go back to the pills. I admitted my problem, I was in there 28 days, and it worked. When I got out, the toughest thing was the first three months, because I had to change my thought process. When I played golf before, I realized the only reason I wanted to play was to drink. After a while, instead of thinking, ‘How many beers can we drink in 18 holes?’ I fell into a pattern of what could I do to get good at golf. I realized with each passing day I really didn’t like drinking.”

Favre’s time in Green Bay came to an end after the 2007 season. After playing three more years — one with the New York Jets and two with the Minnesota Vikings — he retired and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016.