NGSC Sports

Rookies Battling in the North

When NFL rookies enter their respective mini-camps,  many egos will be humbled and some may actually exceed their own expectations.  It can be an uncomfortable situation for someone drafted in the first or second round bringing in high expectations.  These are the guys who are looked at by many general managers and coaches to be able to start by week one.  A lot of pressure comes with this expectation for kids who were just brought out of a world where they were the “big men on campus.”  The later round rookies have a different type of pressure – they are here to simply earn a spot on the rotation and make the team.  Early picks, late picks and un-drafted rookies all need to make an impression not only on the coaching staff but the veteran players as well.  The veterans who have bled and bruised their bodies for this league and in particular the organization they are tied to, know all too well that if a rookie makes the squad – one of them are out.  At the end of the day, most are professional about it – but emotions run on high as the new blood tries to work their way on to a roster.  Some new faces in the NFC North have very interesting battles ahead of them once they enter mini-camps.

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The Green Bay Packers came into this year needing to fill voids left at the center and tight end positions. With Evan Diedtrich Smith and Jermichael Finley both no longer part of this high powered offense, it was imperative for Green Bay to make moves.  Andrew Quarless was drafted by Green Bay in 2010 and really hasn’t shown that he can be a starter in this league. So it was no surprise that the Packers went and drafted another Rodgers out of the University of California.  This time it was athletic tight end Richard Rogers.  He’s a big target who can pose match up threats against line backers especially considering that he once played wide receiver.  The Packers believe in giving this team a “spirit of competition” by invited undrafted rookie tight end Colt Lyerla to minicamp.  Colt last played a full season at Oregon in 2012 for Chip Kelly.  The mentioning of “last played a full season” is no mistake.  He was suspended in 2013 for violation of team rules and a few weeks after that he was arrested for possession of cocaine. Needless to say, his character questions kept him at the very bottom or completely off of most teams’ draft boards.  The Green Bay Packers are taking a chance on the kid who for his size at 6’4″ 241 pounds – ran an impressive 4.61 at the combine.  This is a battle to keep an eye on as the two rookies, one who comes in with praise and the other trying to shake off a past – fight for a position in which it’s obvious the Pack are not ready to hand over to the veteran Quarless.

The Detroit Lions made their tight end position a topic of discussion right in the first round by drafting Eric Ebron out of UNC.  Many thought the Lions would use this pick to help out their secondary but instead opted to go for the prospect who many saw as the best tight end in the draft.  Although he isn’t the most sure-handed tight end, he does have a very high ceiling in terms of his potential.  All of this sounds way too familiar though. People have said this for years about Brandon Pettigrew, who Detroit drafted with the 20th overall pick in the 2009 draft. Pettigrew has been good and that’s all.  Not that good is bad – but for the athlete that he is and considering the offense that has been put into place at Detroit, most find him underwhelming.  Now, this is where it gets confusing.  Detroit retained the services of Pettigrew this year to the tone of a 4 year $16 million deal ($8 million guaranteed) — yet they still decided to draft a tight end in the first round.  This is sooo Detroit.  Why not make things difficult for Pettigrew who’s been in the locker room for some time by adding the pressure of a first rounder to the mix.  As stated earlier, first rounders are expected to start. This is a situation that’ll develop under the cloak of some being split for Pettigrew and others just wanting what’s best for the team.  Detroit didn’t make this situation easy for either one of these men who will be battling for the starting nod at the tight end spot.

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The Chicago Bears went where Detroit should’ve by drafting secondary help in the first round. Although where most thought it would be one of the premier safeties in the draft, it ended up being cornerback Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech.  As a Bears fan I was initially taken back by this pick because the Bears had just re-signed veteran and fan favorite Charles Tillman to a one year deal and before that, gave Tim Jennings a contract extension.  Maybe the Bears have no faith in the health of Tillman or Jennings or maybe the secret has been let out the closet that the extension for Jennings was just a mistake.  A “reach” perhaps.  If Fuller is half of what he’s supposed to be, then the rookie may find himself in the starting line-up, moving Jennings to a nickel position that I personally don’t think he can handle.  The Bears made a move trying to find a back up to Matt Forte in drafting Ka’Deem Carey out of Arizona (personally this pick confused me as well because the Bears could’ve taken Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas or Wisconsin’s James White instead of Carey – but I digress. . .).   It might seem that with Michael Bush now out of the picture in Chicago that Carey should have the back up spot locked up, but the Bears made the competition interesting by bringing in undrafted Senorise Perry out of Louisville into minicamp.  Perry adds something in the backfield that the Bears absolutely do NOT have – speed.  Perry is a six-foot back who can do a little bit of everything and in today’s game – those multifaceted players become must-haves on a roster. If Carey doesn’t watch himself, he could lose that back up spot to a kid that went undrafted.

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The Minnesota Vikings went into this draft and were NOT playing games when it came to their secondary – unlike the Bears and Lions.  The Vikings used back-back sixth round picks and a seventh round pick all on cornerbacks. This is a Minnesota defense that already had what many thought would be their 1,2 and nickel corners in Xavier Rhodes, Shaun Prater and Captain Munnerlin. Now with the addition of rookies Jabari Price (UNC), Kendall James (Maine) and Antone Exum (Virginia Tech) one can say there are definitely too many cooks in the kitchen.  Why would the Vikings keep on loading up on a position that they weren’t in NEED of?  Seems like greedy depth to me.  Or maybe, the Vikings realize the division that they’re in.  Going up against three strong arm quarterbacks who are all equipped with pro bowl level wide receivers – the Vikings have to do something in order to stop these teams aerial attacks.  Although the Vikings just drafted quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and although they do have some nice complementary pieces for the rookie to start with, their is no question that the running game led by “Mr Everything” Adrian Peterson will continue to be the focus of this offense.  Minnesota does not want to get into a gun fight with a rookie quarterback against offenses who have proven to be able to put up points. Instead the only way to help their rookie QB is to keep the game as close as you can for four quarters.  Bringing in this much secondary help with assist the coaches in finding out what kind of players are best suited in which situations. For the rookies, this is going to be a tough battle to win.  In these mini-camps they need to prove that they are at/or at least very near to the caliber of players already in this secondary.  Antone Exum is the one I’d keep onan eye on out of the bunch though.  There is already talk of just taking a look at him at safety just because of his 6 foot 213 pound size, which doesn’t make him the biggest of safeties, but add that size with the athleticism of one who a few years ago was looked at as a top prospect before a knee injury.  If Exum can prove he can hang in that safety mode he has a better chance of playing alongside Harrison Smith, the Vikings star safety than his other two rookie counterparts even have at making the practice squad.


G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio


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