The depth of the Green Bay Packers secondary was severely tested last season once Al Harris and Pat Lee went down with season-ending knee injuries. Losses to Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, in particular, were noted for opposing veteran quarterbacks taking advantage of an inexperienced cornerbacks and safeties.
Saturday’s Family Night scrimmage was only one practice that lacked the urgency of a regular season NFL game, but it was a step in the right direction for a young defensive backfield.
“I thought the secondary was aggressive and active and that’s what you want, because when the ball is in the air, as we have demonstrated in the past, we have playmakers on defense that when they get their hands on the football they are able to do something with it,” said head coach Mike McCarthy following the practice. “That’s a trait that you always look for in our defense and I thought they exhibited that tonight.”
On the second possession of the night that featured the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense, second-year cornerback Brandon Underwood intercepted third-string quarterback Graham Harrell and raced to the endzone for a diving touchdown. He also had solid coverage on two incomplete passes in the two-minute drill against the first-string offense.
Underwood had a tumultuous offseason in which he continues to be at the center of an investigation in which two women have accused him of sexual assault. But he hasn’t let his off-field issues impact his play during this training camp.
“The No. 1 defense I thought played extremely well,” said McCarthy. “When you go out and have four three-and-outs, that is exactly what you are looking for, especially with the one turnover by Brandon Underwood for a touchdown. I thought that they did a very good job of jumping the underneath routes, the three-step drops, I thought they did a very good job of closing in on the ball.”
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has said Underwood and Lee will rotate as the team’s nickel cornerback with Al Harris out with injury and on the team’s Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. But Underwood has gotten the first opportunity and hasn’t done anything to suggest he couldn’t handle that role.
In the two-minute drill that featured the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense, rookie safety Morgan Burnett teamed up with A.J. Hawk on a three-yard loss of running back Quinn Porter in which Burnett knocked Porter’s helmet straight off.
Dating back to the draft, observers have wondered if Burnett could challenge for the starting safety job opposite Nick Collins. And with Atari Bigby out for several weeks having had ankle surgery and on the PUP list, it’s all but a given that Burnett will be in the starting lineup in the regular season opener barring injury.
Undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields also continued to flash potential when he intercepted a Matt Flynn pass intended for Chastin West near the endzone and raced back for 100-yard touchdown.
It’s difficult to say how motivated the offense was to chase down Shields in a meaningless scrimmage, but his ability to protect against offensive score was impressive on its own.
Two-minute struggles: Aaron Rodgers and the first-string offense is now 0-4 in the two-minute drill since the beginning of training camp after another unsuccessful drive on Saturday.
The offense was impressive starting on their own 35 yard line by driving down all the way down to the defense’s five-yard line highlighted by two catches each by Jermichael Finley and James Jones. But that is where the offense stalled.
On third-and-1 from the five, Ryan Grant was stuffed for a loss of three yards. Rodger’s fourth-down pass then fell incomplete on a pass to Brett Swain.
The prevailing sentiment is that the defense is ahead of the offense at this early juncture of the season. Even head coach Mike McCarthy said he wasn’t concerned by the performance of the offense of the two-minute drill during his post-practice press conference.
“I know from my perspective to not get too caught up in statistics in the installation process of camp,” said McCarthy. “As I said, that goes until this Tuesday. But also two-minute and no-huddle in my view are the same.
“Aaron has been very productive in the no-huddle, but the defense did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone tonight. It is all part of the process. I felt the two-minute was a major emphasis going into last season. I think we definitely answered that bell. I definitely rank Aaron as one of the better two-minute quarterbacks that I have coached, even this early in his career. The statistics may not illustrate that, but having the opportunity to work with him on a daily basis, I am very confident with him handling our two-minute situations.”
Rookie mistake: Fifth-round draft choice Andrew Quarless failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity when he dropped a potential touchdown pass on a pefectly placed throw from Flynn.
Quarless had been doing a solid job throughout a week of training camp, but missed his chance to take his first Lambeau Leap under the bright lights and big crowd of his first Family Night.