The Green Bay Packers roster will take shape by the end of the month.
Their 53-man cut day is Aug. 31, just two days after the team’s final preseason game against the Chiefs. That means in roughly the next three weeks the Packers’ roster will be reduced from 89 players to 53, leaving 36 players currently on the roster out of work.
It is a brutal business.
Every year there are young, unproven players who surprise everyone in camp and make the final roster. These are feel-good stories that grace the month of August, but the other side of that coin is the players who were expected to make the final roster but fail to do so.
Every training camp, a few veteran players find themselves on the chopping block on cut day. Because their respected positions become overcrowded with young and promising talent, these long-time staples in Green Bay get pushed out of a job and are forced to find work elsewhere.
So who are these players on the Packers’ roster?
We already know that veterans Mason Crosby, Graham Harrell, James Starks, and Alex Green are being pushed by younger talent at their positions and are in danger of being cut. But what about players who are performing well, but still fall victim to the numbers game?
Currently, I see four veteran players that could be surprise roster cuts this year.
Kuhn has been a dependable player out of the backfield for the Packers for a long time now. He doesn’t excel at any one thing, but does a lot of things well. This has sort of been his M.O. He’s a multi-purpose player, but for the first time in recent memory, it appears he’s expendable this season.
Kuhn is an average run blocker for a fullback, and in many sets, Green Bay has been using tight ends D.J. Williams and Matthew Mulligan in the backfield (H-back) to clear the way for the running game. When Andrew Quarless is healthy, he can also constitute this role. Coach McCarthy likes his tight ends, so they may just keep an extra tight end on the roster and use him as a fullback in certain sets instead of having a full-time fullback on the roster.
Kuhn’s other duties for the past few years — third-down back, short-yardage back, and special teams — are currently being fazed out by younger talent. Kuhn is still a very dependable pass protector out of the backfield, but rookie back Johnathan Franklin is being groomed in camp to take over the third-down back role. Franklin is good at blitz pick-up and offers more in the passing game. Green can also fill in on third downs as well.
So does this all mean Kuhn won’t be on the team this year? I’m not sure. I believe he still has something to offer as a player, but his salary is right around $2 million a year and I’m just not sure what his value on the team is anymore.
The Packers are crowded at running back and tight end, and dropping the fullback from the roster would open up an extra roster spot for the team to keep an extra player at one of these positions.
Williams has been underwhelming in his two years with Green Bay. He’s had some nice preseason performances, but has proven to be a non-factor during the regular season. Williams is a small tight end (6-2, 240) who is a decent run blocker and offers something in the passing game. However, this camp could be make-or-break one for the third-year tight end.
The Packers have a lot of depth at tight end. Beyond Jermichael Finley, they have Quarless returning from a severe knee injury, and he offers the same skill set as Williams but in a larger frame (6-4, 252). Free agent acquisition Matthew Mulligan appears to be the Packers best run-blocking tight end and will probably make the team with a specific role in the run game. Third-year man Ryan Taylor is one of the Packers best special teams players and has some potential in the passing game.
Even “longshots” Brandon Bostick and Jake Stoneburner appear to be better receiving threats than Williams. Bostick has quietly been having a really good camp and his reps on the team have increased as of late with Quarless and Taylor out with injury.
Williams made a really nice third down catch in the preseason opener, but he also had two drops and was absent the rest of the game. The problem with Williams is that he’s failed to carve out a specific niche on the team like the other tight ends have up to this point. This means Williams could be expendable. With Finley, Quarless, Mulligan, and Taylor good bets to make the roster, that leaves just one roster spot between Williams, Bostick, and Stoneburner if the Packers were to keep five tight ends again this year. My guess is that Bostick may beat out Williams for the final roster spot. Williams best bet to make the team may be if Quarless can’t get healthy and return to the field before preseason ends.
Cornerback is another position on the roster with a lot of young talent. Bush will have a hard time beating out the top five corners: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Micah Hyde. So will the Packers keep six cornerbacks this year, and if they do, will that sixth corner be Bush?
That’s the dilemma Bush faces this year. He’s a great special teams ace and leader and he works fine as a reserve defensive back, but Bush has never been a great cover corner and young corners James Nixon, Brandon Smith, and Loyce Means are all close on his heels for a roster spot.
Bush played well in the preseason opener. He had three pass breakups in the game and outplayed the younger corners on the roster. However, Bush enters 2013 set to make just under $1.5 million and will be the fourth highest paid player in the Packers secondary. Green Bay may decide to go with a cheaper player who shows more potential in coverage, like Nixon, with the sixth cornerback spot.
Neal is a bit of a mystery at this point. He has sat out most of camp with an abdominal injury, so his potential impact on the team is still undetermined at this point. Neal offered some pass rush from the defensive line last year with 4.5 sacks, and with Capers experimenting with Neal at outside linebacker this offseason, I thought the fourth-year defensive end was a lock to make the team.
But does the Neal experiment at linebacker mean the team values his skillset and wants to utilize him on the field as much as they can, or does this position switch mean the Packers can’t quite figure him out as a player?
The Packers have some good depth at defensive line this year, and at only 275 pounds this year, Neal might be too undersized to offer anything more than being a situational pass rusher.
At this point, it appears B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, and C.J. Wilson are all good bets to make the roster. Green Bay has typically entered the season with six defensive linemen, so that would only leave one roster spot between Neal, Johnny Jolly, Jordan Miller, Gilbert Pena, and rookie Josh Boyd.
The problem here is that Raji, Jones, and Daniels are already good nickel rushers and have the size to hold up better in the base than Neal. The Packers might want to use the sixth defensive line roster spot on another big body that can hold up against the run, like Jolly, Boyd, or Miller.
Neal’s pass rush ability might be enough to keep him on the team, but he has a lot of ground to make up in the next three preseason games to prove his worth on the team.