By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Roster grows younger, but Green Bay’s 30-year-olds still hold critical positions
GREEN BAY, Wis. – All eyes will be on the rookies when the Green Bay Packers’ first of three public OTA’s (organized team activities) kicks off at noon Tuesday on Hinkle Field.
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What roles are in store for Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage? Will interior offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins line up at center? How does running back Dexter Williams catch the football out of the backfield?
So many questions and it’s just the first public practice.
Then there are the veterans.
The Packers’ current roster lists seven players who are in their thirties. In the urban dictionary, they’re called “tricenarians.”
In the NFL, they’re called “old.”
In reality, they’re essential to a team’s success and that includes the Packers. The catch-all phrase “veteran leadership” is often used to describe older players. In fact, veterans aren’t always the leaders they’re supposed to be.
So where are the Packers’ seven thirty-somethings at this stage of their careers? Here’s a look:
** Tramon Williams, DB, 36 years, 2 months
The good news is that Williams started 16 games for the first time since 2014. The bad news is that he didn’t have an interception for the first time in his 12-year career.
Williams, who split time at corner and safety in 2018, registered 64 tackles (47 solo) with four passes defended and a fumble recovery. His numbers were decent, especially for a player trying to hold together a patchwork defense.
Williams can still run, which means he can still play.
Until further notice, he is the starting cornerback opposite Jaire Alexander. If Kevin King lives up to his potential and Savage teams up with Adrian Amos at safety, Williams’ job could be in jeopardy. Either way, he’s a quality insurance policy.
** Aaron Rodgers, QB, 35 years, 5 months
Rodgers’ numbers (25 touchdown passes, 2 interceptions) last season would be amazing by most standards, except he isn’t just another quarterback.
Rodgers’ completion percentage (62.3) was his lowest since 2015, due in part to being sacked a ridiculous 49 times. Is it any wonder they drafted an offensive lineman in the third round?
If the sack total doesn’t go down, Rodgers most assuredly will.
A new head coach, new offense and fresh outlook should be rejuvenating for Rodgers. Packers’ fans better hope so.
On the surface, Rodgers appears to be on track for a strong season, in part because of GM Brian Gutekunst’s roster moves and in part because of coach Matt LaFleur’s striving for balance.
** Marcedes Lewis, TE, 35 years, 1 month
Lewis signed late (May 25) last offseason and never really became part of the offense. It suggests ex-coach Mike McCarthy may not have been a fan of the acquisition.
At any rate, Lewis caught a measly three passes for 39 yards in his first season here. His inactivity was a real head scratcher. It’s an indication Green Bay wasn’t really sure how to use him.
LaFleur should rectify that problem.
Lewis remains a strong in-line blocker and reliable receiver. I can’t imagine the Packers bringing him back without a clear plan for his role in the offense.
** Mason Crosby, K, 34 years, 5 months
Crosby made 30 of 37 field goals (81.1 percent) and 34 of 36 PATs last season. He matched his career high with five field goals of 50-plus yards in a season. He also ranked 10th in the NFL in scoring with 124 points.
Crosby’s leg strength, work ethic and nerve remain strong.
Still, he struggled at times. In the Week 2 overtime loss to Minnesota, Crosby missed a 52-yarder that would’ve won the game at the end of regulation. He also was a disastrous 1-of-5 at Detroit on Oct. 7.
The Packers signed kicker Sam Ficken, 26, to push Crosby during training camp and the preseason. My guess is Crosby fends off Ficken and remains for at least another season.
** Jimmy Graham, 32 years, 6 months
Graham had the quietest 55-catch, 636-receiving yards season in recent memory. His two touchdown catches fell far short of what was expected when Green Bay signed him in free agency.
Graham, like Lewis, never seemed to be a part of the offense. It appeared as if McCarthy lost interest in relying on the tight ends, especially in the red zone.
LaFleur, unlike McCarthy, seems intent on making the tight ends a key component of the attack.
The presence of rookie tight end Jace Sternberger might limit Graham’s snaps. That depends on Sternberger’s growth and Graham’s desire to contribute in a significant way this season.
** Bryan Bulaga, 30 years, 2 months
Bulaga is a warrior.
He has spent much of his career either starting and playing well or sitting while rehabbing yet another injury. Mentally, it has to make him one of the NFL’s oldest 30-year-olds. Physically, it begs the question: His mind is willing, but is his body able?
Ideally, Bulaga is blessed with health this season.
If anyone has earned a break, it’s Bulaga. If that’s the case and he can start 16 games, the Packers’ sack total will go down and the offensive production should go up.
** Mike Daniels, 30 years, 1 month
Daniels is an enigma.
He can be borderline dominant when he’s in the mood. It just doesn’t seem like he’s always interested in going at full speed. He played in just 10 games last season (nine starts), and even then there were times he was inconsequential if not invisible.
Daniels had 26 tackles and two sacks in 2018.
This is a contract year for the 2017 Pro Bowl defensive tackle. With that in mind, and the addition of Za’Darius and Preston Smith and the healthy return of Kenny Clark, Daniels is set up to have a strong season and an extension in Green Bay.