With the last official training camp in the books and the preseason finale now only a day away, let’s take a look at the defensive players on the roster that either took a step forward or a step back last Friday night. With the team’s final roster cuts this Saturday, we will also take a look at what these players need to do Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs to push for a spot on the Packers final 53-man roster.
Nick Perry - Perry showed some life on Friday for the first time this preseason. He got consistent pressure on Russell Wilson, beating former Packer Breno Giacomini on several occasions. Perry’s strength is that he pushes the pocket, but he’s also played well against the run, holding the point of attack and not getting overpowered by bigger lineman.
Perry’s best play Friday night was when he got his hands up on a pass rush and tipped a Russell Wilson pass at the line which was picked off by Casey Hayward. Perry finally had a game that showed he can be a reliable starter at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews.
Nate Palmer – The sixth-round rookie outside linebacker had a slow start to training camp. He seemed a bit lost on the field and slow in processing the game. This often seems to be the case when college defensive ends convert to linebacker in the NFL. However, Palmer showed some pass rush ability against St. Louis in the Packers second preseason game, and he had a strong performance against Seattle on Friday.
Palmer got additional looks at outside linebacker in the game with Andy Mulumba out and Dezman Moses seeing limited reps because of a toe injury. Friday night, Palmer showed some of the quickness he was known for as a pass rusher at Illinois State. On a critical second down, Palmer blitzed off the edge and flew right past the Seattle back to sack Brady Quinn. Palmer also registered a few other pressures during the game and is now situating himself for a roster spot amongst a deep outside linebacker group.
Chris Banjo - Banjo was one of the few players that stood out in the Packers preseason opener against Arizona. He registered four tackles, but against St. Louis, he seemed to disappear. Banjo has had a good last couple weeks of practice, and he’s moved up the Packers’ depth chart. The undrafted rookie came in and played safety early in the second quarter when starter Morgan Burnett left early with an injury and Jerron McMillian moved to the dime back position on third down.
On a key third-and-five, Seattle’s Luke Wilson caught the ball over the middle of the field and Banjo closed in on the tight end to stop him one yard shy of the first down with a textbook tackle. Banjo also recorded a tackle in the open field working on the punt coverage team. Banjo is a young safety who can hit and has the speed to close in on receivers. The Packers may only keep three safeties on their final roster, but if they keep four, the final spot at the position has to go to Banjo. He’s been the only young safety that has made an impression in the preseason.
Young Defensive Linemen- C.J. Wilson, Mike Daniels, and Jordan Miller all had good nights against a stout Seattle offensive line. All three recorded sacks in the game and played well against the run, specifically Wilson and Daniels. Both Wilson and Daniels look like improved players this year and could really factor into the team’s plans on defense. Miller is a practice squad-holdover that showed some good burst and pressure against Seattle and may push for a roster spot with another good performance against Kansas City.
Even fifth-round rookie Josh Boyd looked good at times. The second defensive line unit was a bit inconsistent in defending the run, but both Miller and Boyd showed some promise. With Johnny Jolly also having a good camp, it will be tough for the Packers to decide who are their best six or seven defensive linemen. This is definitely an improved group from previous years.
Loyce Means – Means had a rough night against Seattle, to say the least. He had two key penalties on back-to-back plays on the punt coverage team. He was called for a personal foul on a late hit that negated a roughing the punter call against the Seahawks on Masthay’s first attempt. He was then flagged for running out of bounds and not returning to the field of play soon enough.
Means’ night only got worse when he took a bad angle on a receiver running a crossing route over the middle of the field, giving up a big gain and the first down. Means also missed a key tackle on a Christine Michael 18-yard run, and then later, gave up a 42-yard touchdown when he was out-muscled by the Seattle receiver on a jump ball. At this point, Means is a long shot to make the roster, but he could help his chances for the practice squad with a strong performance in Kansas City.
Jamari Lattimore - Lattimore has had a really quiet camp. He hasn’t made the splash plays he did at inside linebacker last preseason. He took a bad angle and got swallowed up in the line on a 43-yard Christine Michael touchdown run, and hasn’t really showed up during games. The third-year linebacker is pegged as the top reserve linebacker behind A.J. Hawk on the depth chart and is still a key special teams contributor, but second-year linebacker Terrell Manning had a nice game against Seattle and may push past Lattimore on the depth chart.
I don’t believe Lattimore is in danger of being cut, but he needs to show a little more on game day, specifically when the second team defense takes the field in Kansas City, in order to keep his top reserve spot.
Jarvis Reed - Reed was already at the bottom of a deep outside linebacker position, but the undrafted rookie played poorly on Friday night, specifically against the Seattle rushing attack. Reed failed on numerous occasions to seal the edge against the run. He got sucked into the middle of line either on a play fake or was overpowered by stronger offensive linemen. Reed gave up some big runs on his side of the field and didn’t offer much as far as pass rush. Reed left the game with an injury and was placed on the team’s injure reserve on Tuesday, but it was also reported that Packers will release Reed with an injury settlement soon.
Micah Hyde - Hyde continued to make plays on the field on Friday night. He’s been arguably the Packers standout performer in the preseason. He’s proven especially effective defending the run and blitzing from the slot. Hyde forced an intentional grounding on one quarterback pressure, and he also had a great play where he burst into the backfield on a blitz and tackled the running back for a one yard loss.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Hyde when the Packers have all their corners back and healthy. With his strong play in camp, it will be hard for them to keep him on the sideline.
Datone Jones – The Packers first-round pick saw his first extensive game action on Friday night. The rookie defensive end didn’t do anything on the field to stand out. He had two offsides penalties and got some push at the line, but didn’t record any pressures. Jones got his feet wet against Seattle, but let’s take his performance with a grain of salt. He was playing on an injured ankle and many thought he wasn’t even going to be ready to play on Friday. The Packers really won’t know what they have in Jones until they are well into the regular season.