Cobb shows the burst of a star in the making for the Packers

The tandem of Rodgers and McCarthy will provide leadership and smarts to a team seeking to repeat as league champions. The team's quest continues this weekend when they take on the Arizona Cardinals in the second of four preseason games. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

How much should we take from the Packers first exhibition game Saturday night in Cleveland?

Well other than a 27-17 loss, there were probably more question marks, especially with the play of Packers cornerbacks Pat Lee and Jarrett Bush in the first couple of series, than exclamation points. However, if one is going to point to a positive, it’s got to be the initial look at second round pick Randall Cobb.

When he touched the ball heads turned and he made an immediate impact.

He will make the team, there’s no question about it. The question is how quickly Coach Mike McCarthy will implement him into the game plan when the regular season starts.

Cobb started the game with a kickoff return straight up the middle without hesitation and with courage for 32 yards.

His other return was similar, this time gaining him 26 yards. And while he showed his sure-handedness and his ability to catch the ball under pressure on his lone punt return, he also showed quickness of feet in eluding the initial tackler … that’s something Packers fans haven’t seen on special teams since Travis Williams and Willie Wood, and it’s a sure sign that the team should show improvement in special teams play over their dismal numbers last year.

Green Bay ranked 22nd in punt-return average and 26th in kickoff-return average last season.

On the offensive side of the ball, it wasn’t until the backups behind quarterback Matt Flynn hit the field that Cobb began to shine.

He made an impressive diving catch for 13 yards in tight coverage and then later in the first half caught a pass for 19 yards.

On the next play, Cobb caught another ball on a short route and then turned it impressively into a gain of 28.

For a first game, he was impressive. But the good news is that he joins a team with a talent-rich supply of receivers, so he will be able to be brought along slowly by McCarthy … or not. It seems, at least to me, that he could make an immediate impact … he could be that secret weapon to sneak into the lineup in specific situations … but I’m afraid the secret is already out.

Quoted in a story this morning by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a league personnel man said about Cobb, “He’s going to be a good player like he was in college. Looked good in the slot. Explosive.”

In adding to his description of Cobb’s role in the kickoff and punt games, the scout said, “He should be good at both. It should help them.”

Probably an understatement given the Packers’ special teams play last season, which with the running game, were the team’s weakest points until late in the season when James Starks boosted the run game and the punting of Tim Masthay helped the Packers to two important wins over the Bears.

Though Cobb’s debut came in a loss, Packers fans shouldn’t be concerned … yes, it is preseason and there were enough good things happening on the field to overshadow the weaknesses, mostly coming about because of missing players in key positions and the shuffling of players in and out. Those things should clear up by the start of the regular season and the consistent play of starters.

Rodgers got the first team going on the second possession of the night, scoring a touchdown, while Matt Flynn looked stable and consistent with the second team throughout the second quarter, leading the team to 13 points.

It was also good to see Starks and Ryan Grant running hard, as well as the debut of free agent Brandon Saine. The runner out of Ohio State caught the ball well and ran hard both inside and outside.

However, it was a different story when third-string quarterback Graham Harrell took over in the second half. While he had spurts, he had a much rougher evening than Rodgers and Flynn.

Granted, he played with the deep backups in the second half – and it showed. He didn’t put up any points, fumbled a shotgun snap on an apparent miscommunication with center Evan Dietrich-Smith that wrecked a fourth-and goal play from the 2-yard line, and had a third-quarter fumble on a sack returned 43 yards for a touchdown by Cleveland’s Titus Brown – a score that was the eventual game-winner.

Harrell didn’t get much help from the offense line, because of the three sacks, but despite all those negatives, he still made a good impression on McCarthy with his command on the field.

McCarthy was quoted this morning in the Green Bay Press Gazette, “I thought the quarterbacks as a whole, just from a pure management standpoint, were excellent. I thought Graham managed the play calling, the huddle operation, the adjustments. He was in a couple tough spots there in the area of protection. But I was pleased first of all to get Graham two quarters of work, that was huge. I don’t know how many times you’re able to get your No. 3 half the game, that was tremendous. Gives us an opportunity as coaches to continue to work with him. He has a very promising future.

Linebacking, in addition to depth at cornerback, is also a concern after last night’s game. There was zero pressure on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy and Bush and Lee were a step or two behind in their coverages. The right outside linebacking position featured Frank Zombo and Erik Walden and neither really showed the pop they need from that side to balance Clay Matthews. The last Walden was seen was when he was chasing the receiver downfield in the second quarter on the long pass inside the 10 that led to a score.

It was good to see Morgan Burnett finishing plays and tackles early in the game as he showed he is ready to step back into the starting lineup.

And what can we say about Josh Gordy who picked off two passes in the second half? He might be one of those players to get a second look in practice this week. His performance is why they play preseason games … sometimes players come out of nowhere.

McCarthy, the ever-postive one, saw the game from a different perspective, of course – that of evaluation. As any good coach at this point in the season, not much stock is taken in the final score – though, like Herm Edwards, McCarthy will always hit the field with a win in mind.

Following the game, here is what he said: “I’ll say this, we were able to get everybody in the game. Personnel evaluation was the No. 1 priority. We wanted to win the game, we always play to win the game. But personnel evaluation, operations of the sideline, management of your personnel, those are the three focuses that were expressed to the team. With the personnel evaluation being the A-No. 1 priority.”

In all, from a fan’s perspective it was good to see the team back on the field again.

Yes, it’s good to be back to football.

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Tags: Aaron Rodgers Clay Matthews Cleveland Browns Erik Walden Frank Zombo Green Bay Packers Jarrett Bush Lombardiave Matt Flynn Mike McCarthy Morgan Burnett Pat Lee Randall Cobb Tim Masthay

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