Roster cuts for NFL 53-man rosters are due today to the league office this afternoon by 4 p.m. ET. A strong training camp for the Green Bay Packers ended this week, and after the first round of cuts and transactions, general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy will have some tough decisions to make.
With these decisions looming, we wanted to give some insight on which two position groups improved the most by the end of camp, and also give our thoughts on which units will be the hardest to cut today.
Hardest to cut: quarterbacks, tight ends
The strong play from Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien have forced Thompson and McCarthy to make a tough decision on whether to cut a quarterback, or decide to keep 3 for the upcoming season. The Packers haven't kept three quarterbacks on their roster since 2008 (Flynn's first year in the league actually). Thursday Tolzien went 12-of-18 and passed for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. Flynn threw for 102 yards and tossed a pair of touchdowns himself.
One of the issues Tolzien had in the past that held him up from passing Flynn on the depth-chart was his non-existent command of the Green Bay's offense. After going through his first full off-season with the Packers, he has shown outstanding improvement in that regard and command of the huddle. His throws and mechanics have also cleaned up better. Even though he's practice-squad eligible, he wouldn't last long with a quarterback-needy team such as St. Louis lurking ... he went 10-of-15 through the air on his way to passing for 107 yards against the Rams two weeks ago.
The tight end position is also another unit that unfortunately will have to be trimmed down. It's looking like Richard Rodgers will be the starter Thursday in Seattle with Brandon Bostick sidelined. That's where things get interesting. Ryan Taylor has been a valuable special teams player for the Packers since he's arrived in Green Bay, meanwhile Jake Stoneburner came along strong toward the end of camp. Andrew Quarless might be the cut Thompson and McCarthy make, and based on his preseason performance, I wouldn't fault them. Quarless hasn't been bad, but Rodgers and others have outperformed him.
Although the Packers don't have a clear-cut starter for the entire season, the group in general has different players that can bring elements to the field.
Improved the most: linebackers and safeties
The reason I picked the linebacker unit is obviously not because of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers - two players who are already established and don't need much improving. Jayrone Elliott has been the talk of the entire preseason and deservedly so. After going undrafted, he appears to be a lock to make the 53-man roster. If somehow he were to fall short, he'll instantly be snatched up.
Another player who I think played much better - especially in the first two games against Tennessee and St. Louis - was Sam Barrington. A play that is stuck in my mind from training camp practice was one I was able to observe from the sideline when covering camp for WTMJ. It was a play Barrington made by stuffing running back James Starks at the line of scrimmage, followed by him pushing Starks through the backfield to the ground. Barrington leveled him, and I'll just also note that that play had a lot of noise involved. He made some really good run-stuffing plays that were similar to that against the Titans and Rams, and I've always felt he's been the most underrated of the linebacker group.
If I had to pick, though, I'd definitely give the edge for this topic to the safeties. A year ago it was a position of weakness, and now it's one of the team's strengths. With the league being so pass-happy, this is a huge advantage for the Packers considering they can now implement a big nickel formation with three safeties. After all, all the cool kids are doing it.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has definitely gotten more adjusted to Dom Capers' defensive unit along with getting up to game speed. You can certainly see the playmaking ability that he displayed at Alabama. I think there are some fans who are already sold on him being the starter, while others see the talent, but feel he should wait before being inserted into the lineup. That's fair.
Micah Hyde has played well as the starter. Being the best tackler among the group and having a good understanding of the system has given him a pretty good advantage. Hyde is officially prepared to begin his first season at a new position, and he's made a smooth transition.
Sean Richardson made a lot of plays in camp (turnovers especially), and along with his improvement in pass-coverage, he's healthy. Chris Banjo has delivered on special teams, too. Overall, this unit has made a complete turn-around in one off-season and made the biggest improvement. Bravo.
The Packers (despite all of their unfortunate injuries) had a pretty encouraging camp with the players who were on the field. Players like DuJuan Harris and Davon House reestablished themselves while Elliott made people actually remember his name and not just his jersey number.
If there's any particular unit you feel made the biggest improvement through camp, or if you feel another position is going to be cut with difficulty, let us know in the comments below.