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The Biggest Enigmas on the Packers Roster

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The Biggest Enigmas on the Packers Roster

With only one preseason game remaining on Thursday evening before the cutdown to 53 players occurs on Saturday Aug. 31, it's the final opportunity for players to impress as their roster lives hang in the balance.

For a variety of circumstances, the players listed below are among the biggest question marks on the team and would appear to be on the roster bubble.

They're all in need of boffo showing against the Kansas City Chiefs, which would boost their chances of sticking around in Green Bay beyond the weekend.

Running Back James Starks

From all accounts, Starks has had a terrific training camp, and better yet, has stayed largely healthy. A clean bill of health has always been the biggest stumbling block for Starks, but kudos to him for holding up his end of the bargain in that department.

Starks had worked with the starters for most of the summer, in particular the Family Night scrimmage and the team's first preseason game. While he wasn't spectacular, he didn't do anything to hurt his stock either. And then came the team's second preseason game against the St. Louis Rams.

Following a rush of negative-two yards, Starks fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Rams. It was the only glaring blemish on Starks' record this summer, and to be fair, he didn't get much blocking in front of him on that particular play.

The next week against the Seahawks, Starks didn't see any action until the final minutes of the game. Perhaps he was in the doghouse, or perhaps it's because the coaching staff already knows what they're getting in Starks, now in his fourth season, and want to see more from the younger players on the team.

With DuJuan Harris lost for the season with a knee injury, a door may have been opened for Starks, but he's no lock for a roster spot. Behind Eddie Lacy, he's competing with Johnathan Franklin and Alex Green for playing time, and the odds aren't good that the Packers have four halfbacks active on regular season game days.

Wide Receiver Jeremy Ross

Mike McCarthy has said on multiple occasions that he'd like to relieve Randall Cobb of his special teams duties so as not to be exposed to injury, and he can concentrate on offense. But the Packers aren't going to take Cobb off returns just for the sake of doing so. They need to trust the player they trot out on the field to handle kicks and punts.

In an ideal world, the Packers would like Ross to be that player. But Ross also needs to needs to show consistency and a sure pair of hands. Fair or not, a cloud still hangs over him as a result of his muffed punt return in the loss to the 49ers in the playoffs last season.

It's perhaps surprising that the Packers haven't shown more faith in Ross, at times having him work behind Micah Hyde on punt returns and behind Alex Green on kick returns during practice. Maybe it's just a case of keeping him hungry and not wanting to hand the job to him outright.

There's a spot for Ross on the roster if he can fill a dual receiver/returner role for the Packers, but he's also competing with other promising young receivers like Tyrone Walker, Charles Johnson and Myles White. None of them are going down without a fight.

Tight End Andrew Quarless

The uncertainty surrounding Quarless has less to do with his talent and more about his ability to come back from injury.

After suffering a severe knee injury with multiple torn ligaments in 2011, his comeback was delayed by a quad injury early in training camp that kept him out of the team's first two preseason game. Quarless is now back healthy, but is there a roster spot for him?

What might be perceived as Quarless' weakness could actually be a strength. He's not as good as receiver as Jermichael Finley and definitely not as fast or fluid. And he's probably not as good a run blocker as Matthew Mulligan. Those grim realities will make it a challenge for the Packers to find playing time for Quarless.

But Quarless might be the most well-rounded tight end on the team. He's a better blocker than Finley and a better receiver than Mulligan. When Mulligan is on the field, it might indicate that the Packers are going to run the football. With Quarless, he's a dual threat. The Packers may not be tipping their cap when he's on the field.

Offensive Lineman Greg Van Roten

Simply from an experience and size standpoint, you'd like to see Van Roten become the Packers' primary backup interior offensive lineman. He's entering his second season in the NFL, and according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he's 6-3 and 314 lbs.

Van Roten, however, is a converted college tackle. He just doesn't have the experience at center that a guy like Patrick Lewis provides.

The mistakes have been evident from Van Roten both in practice and in preseason games, either popping snaps over the quarterback's head or not getting them high enough. An NFL center should only be allowed to have one of those mistakes an entire season, not once every game.

Lewis, meanwhile, has been the center for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M in 2012 and now Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill before that. He's comfortable at center and it shows.

While Lewis isn't huge at 6-1 and 305 lbs. (again, according to McGinn), the Packers were in good hands with a center of similar size in former Pro Bowler Scott Wells. Van Roten is going to have to be be reliable with both his snapping and his blocking if he's going to gain the Packers' trust.

Outside Linebacker Dezman Moses

A year ago, Moses was the darling of training camp, coming in as an undrafted rookie and winning a roster spot after exceeding expectations in just his first year in the NFL.

One season later, Moses has been largely invisible thus far through training camp and hasn't separated himself from this year's rookies. That's a scary prospect considering that Moses was thought to be the No. 3 outside linebacker on the team behind Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, just an injury away from being a starter.

There's perhaps two jobs available between three players––Moses, Nate Palmer and Andy Mulumba. Moses has the edge in experience but both Palmer and Mulumba have shown flashes that the can be good defenders.

Who makes the roster could literally come down to who plays the best on Thursday evening, or who stays healthy.

Inside Linebacker Jamari Lattimore

Is special teams enough to keep Lattimore on the roster for the 2013 season? Remember, this is a player that was voted a playoff captain by his teammates last season in just his second year in the NFL.

Lattimore was out for the coin flip in the postseason last year along with the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. He's respected that much.

While Lattimore might be a core special teams player, for my money, he's probably the sixth best of six inside linebackers on the team with Brad Jones, A.J. Hawk, Robert Francois, Terrell Manning and Sam Barrington all ahead of him.

Lattimore actually entered the NFL as an outside linebacker, where he spent his rookie season. Perhaps he might have more value if he got back to his roots and became a hybrid inside and outside linebacker, able to back up either position in a pinch.

Certainly, Mason Crosby is an enigma too, but right now, he's in a category all his own.

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (50) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

packsmack25's picture

Now you're just trolling me.

Brian Carriveau's picture

Haha, it was yesterday's discussion that prompted me to dig into Quarless a little more.

The question still stands, though. Would you rather have Mulligan on the field when it's a run because he's a better blocker? Maybe bringing an extra defender in the box when Mulligan is in the game might even open things up for Rodgers.

Just curious. I can see the argument made either way.

murphy's picture

If Finley gets h*rt, do you want defenses to have to prepare for Mulligan running routes, or Quarless?

packsmack25's picture

I don't know that Mulligan is a better blocker than Quarless. There just isn't any evidence to prove that. And Mulligan isn't meant to come in for the 2 TE packages that I think the Packers would like to run in the passing game. I think Mulligan is a strictly situational tight end, whereas Quarless is possibly Finley's replacement as the starter next season. I think Mulligan makes the roster, no question, but I also think Quarless is far more valuable to MM and the team.

Jamie's picture

The general consensus and grading from PFF heavily favors Mulligan being a better blocker than Quarless. That you haven't personally seen or heard recent analysis to support Mulligan being a better blocker than Quarless doesn't negate all prior analysis.

What I find most interesting about this Mulligan vs Quarless discussion is each side considers the prospect of their guy making the team mutually exclusive to the other.

Fortunately, I don't see the Packers being so short sighted to think they can't have two good blockers, one also being a solid receiving threat, to team with Finley.

In short, barring injury (or injury concerns), it's very likely both Mulligan and Quarless make the team...not sure what the extended back and forth is all about.

packsmack25's picture

Heavily favors Mulligan? They have no data on Quarless! Please, enlighten me with your comparative data. There is none. Just because Mulligan rated well as a blocker last season doesn't mean that he's been so much better than Quarless in camp that Quarless is now behind him on the depth chart.

And I don't think Quarless OR Mulligan will be cut, but the notion that Quarless is on the bubble is ridiculous. Mulligan, however, could very well be. Again, I doubt it, but of the two, Mulligan is definitely the more likely cut.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Good Article Brian. I completely agree...

mossdog427's picture

walker is the better receiver but a healthy cobb means he barely sees the field.

Mojo's picture

Enigmatic may work in the arts and some entertainment worlds, but in the NFL the coaches want known quantities.

They're have been a lot of enigmatic players in the NFL over the years who were probably quite talented but had very short careers. I could easily see every one mentioned above out of the NFL altogether in three years if they don't get it going now.

Cole's picture

Ross is clearly the best returner. I think he's even better than Cobb. Cobb did not look dangerous the 2nd half of last year. Not sure if he was scared or hurt or just didn't want to be out there or what.

That's like the Lions having Calvin Johnson return kicks. Just dumb.

Alex Green? Really? He's never broken a single tackle in his career and you want him as a return man?

One fumble that killed us, but other than that Ross has done nothing to not deserve to be the return man. Our 5th receiver isn't going to see the field, so who gives a damn if he can dominate at WR.

What if Cobb get's hurt? Then you have no one on the roster than can return kicks and be a threat.

Makes no sense.

Ryan's picture

Ross also fumbled the pass from Cobb on a trick play against the Bears. Granted, it wasn't a perfect throw, but worst case should have been covering the ball up...not turning it over.

Phatgzus's picture

That throwback pass will likely not happen again in Ross' career, it still wasn't his fault, as you mentioned-the throw was at his heels. Besides that one play he's had one fumble, he is a young player, that tends to happen with inexperience, particularly in pressure situations. Remember the fumbles Cobb had as a rookie? Ross may be a more explosive returner than Cobb, he's been a shoestring tackle away from breaking to huge returns this preseason.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I wasn't going to do a roster prediction, but I decided to. This is my pre game 4 prediction. (likely to change after tonight based on how players play)

QB(2): Rodgers, Young
RB(5): Lacy, Green, Franklin, Starks, Kuhn
TE(4): Finley, Mulligan, Bostick, Quarless
WR(6): Jones, Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, Ross, Johnson
OL(7): Bahktiari, Sitton, EDS, Lang, Barclay, Newhouse, GVR
DL(7): Raji, Pickett, Wilson, Jones, Jolly, Daniels, Neal
ILB(5): Hawk, Jones, François, Barrington, Manning
OLB(4): Mathews, Perry, Mulumba, Palmer
CB(5): Williams, Shields, Hayward, House, Hyde
S(4): Burnett, McMillan, Jennings, Banjo
ST(4): Masthay, Crosby, Goode, Bush (I put bush here to say he is a special teams player first and backup CB/S second).

This is based on what I think might happen tonight. I think Ross will show enough in the return game to stay, and Johnson will show why they drafted him and stay.

I am going lighter on OL then I want, but I don't know if anymore stands out more then other positions to be on the 53. I think Pat Lewis has a real shot of being the backup G/C over GVR, tonight will determine that. If not I see Lewis on the PS.

Hardest decisions for me were cutting Lattimore (a very good special teams player), and which TE to go with.

Evan's picture

Exactly my thinking as well.

L's picture

Nearly my thinking too.

@TE - 3 or 4? Mulligan, Bostick or Williams? ...probably between Bostick & Williams with 4 kept.

@WR - 5 or 6? Ross, Johnson, Walker, or White? ...or some combination of two, or one and another player from another team? I think the Packers will certainly be checking the wavier for a Kick Return/Punt Return specialist which makes Ross's position for making the team quite unstable; he has to really impress in that regard tonight.

@OL - 7,8 or 9 players? GVR, Lewis, Datko, or L.Taylor? ...or some combination that might also include a player from another team?

@DL - Boyd or Wilson? ...or dare I say both are kept. I think Boyd making it onto the 53 depends on the team's belief of him reaching their PS. Crazy thought, but is Pickett a bit expendable if they think Wilson can adequately replace him this season as a key cog in run blocking?

@LB - ILB: Barrington or Lattimore? OLB: what two between Palmer, Mulumba, & Moses? ...or does having Neal available at OLB along w/ Lattimore's versatility mean that only one LB spot is available between Barrington, Palmer, Mulumba, & Moses?

@DB - Banjo(S) or Bush(CB/S)? ...Bush is a proven leader on STs, but Banjo has potential on his side and is likely a much better Safety which could be quite important given Burnett's situation.

Stroh's picture

How is Wilson going to replace Pickett? Pickett is the NT on run downs more than Raji, and Wilson certainly isn't good enough or big enough to play NT. Jolly on the other hand is big and powerful enough to play some NT IMO. Just another reason Jolly makes the team and Wilson doesn't. Unless your putting Wilson on and taking Boyd off and putting him on PS. That might work, but it depends on how willing you are to open Boyd to being claimed before the Packers get him on PS.

Either way Wilson is NOT a replacement for Pickett in any way shape or form.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Postgame update.

I think Johnson only makes the 53 if they really like him and fear they would lose him. (they have kept a lot of players that way in the past).

Ross made the team tonight. His ability as a WR really improved.

I don't think Palmer made the roster. I will move Neal to OLB, and I will put Lattimore back in. My final roster spot before was between Lattimore and Palmer, I thought Palmer had a little more upside, but I didn't see enough tonight, so I think he ends up on the Practice squad.

Mr.Bigg's picture

Dez Mo had/has? a toe injury that has slowed him down. That is a factor-I think?

Franklin Hillside's picture

+100 for using "boffo", Brian.

treg's picture

I think Lewis is a better blocker than GVR, especially downfield. GVR has to get some velocity on his snaps....

RC Packer Fan's picture

Lewis to me is by far the better center. I just don't know if he could fill in at guard like GVR could.

Evan's picture

I wonder if they'll be forced to keep both...if they can't find someone better on the waiver wire.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I am wondering that as well... Lane Taylor really disappointed me. I think Lewis has a real shot at making the roster.

redlights's picture

What if they kept Lewis, and had him play center if a guard went down; EDS would slide to guard.

Evan's picture

That could work (and would fit with the Packers history of o-line shuffle - though I always hated that).

Tundrabum's picture

May none of our enigmas become enemas. (Pretty sure that's an Irish proverb.)

Jamie's picture

Wow, PACKSMACK25, your argument is that no information negates actual information. Not only is that extremely flawed, it's not an accurate assessment. There is information on Quarless' blocking, and he was a solid and improving blocker (until his major injury). How good is he now? Who really knows other than the team. Point is that Mulligan was specifically brought in to be a blocking TE (to replace Crabtree, not hedge on Quarless, which you were also wrong about)...because he is a very good blocking TE. The PFF analysis also supports this, but NOOOOO...let's go with 'Quarless is better' because he was pretty good at it two years ago.

And you keep pushing this meaningless point on whether or not Mulligan has leap-frogged Quarless. Guess what, who really knows, and WHO really cares...other than you?? They are both likely to make it, yet both have a marginal chance to get cut. What's the point of continuing to argue who's #2 and who's #3? They are two different players that will share some responsibilities and not share others.

packsmack25's picture

My argument is that everything we've seen and heard from McCarthy shows that Quarless is a damn good tight end and likely the number two guy on the depth chart. I don't care about PFF's blocking numbers when talking about Quarless, but for you to use them to show that Mulligan is vastly better than Quarless is comical. It's meaningless, because there is no actual way to compare the two as blockers.

There is absolutely no way Quarless is cut. Period.

Jamie's picture

Again, you are claiming that no quantifiable information (i.e. Quarless didn't play in '12, thus PFF couldn't evaluate him) either trumps or is equal to Mulligan's very good blocking grade in '12...along with the FACT that Mulligan was signed to be our blocking TE.

This based on a few comments from MM on Quarless' return from injury, which you've largely over-exaggerated.

WTF kind of bizarro world do you live in??

packsmack25's picture

My claim is that comparing players using data requires comparable data. It would be like using Vince Young's win-loss record in an argument for signing him over Andrew Luck last season. The data has to be available for comparison, or you're just spouting numbers.

I don't know why or what you're even arguing here? I said Quarless is a lock, and is the number two TE. I've yet to see any evidence otherwise.

packsmack25's picture

I haven't over-exaggerated a damn thing. McCarthy is on record multiple times saying that Quarless is the most complete tight end on the roster. He's also said he's the only tight end able to be a part of the entire playbook. There's nothing to exaggerate. You're acting like I'm calling for Quarless to catch 50 balls this year or something.

packsmack25's picture

And signing Mulligan was to replace Crabtree, sure, but also to hedge against Quarless. They wanted more TE bodies. I'm not wrong there.

Evan's picture

For the sake of accuracy, yesterday in response to the "Mulligan was signed as a hedge against Quarless" argument, Nagler said "I can tell you that Mulligan was a straight up replacement for Crabtree. Nothing to do with Quarless. And that is from pretty high up the Packers’ personnel tree.

To which you replied, "Exactly, he was even paid exactly what they offered Crabtree."

You seem to be going back and forth a bit on this.

packsmack25's picture

The point being that without Quarless last season, Crabtree had a larger role than normal.

Jamie's picture

But yet you are...but yet you aren't.

Look are.

packsmack25's picture

I'm wrong that they signed a tight end in the offseason as a hedge against the availability of a tight end already on the roster? How? They wanted to make sure they had someone on the roster other than Finley and Williams that could be counted on as a tight end in an NFL game. How is that so hard to understand? They had Quarless, but just in case, they signed another Crabtree.

Sir Cheese's picture

better check your unofficial depth chart you posted yesterday to be is the packers bible after all.

packsmack25's picture

I trust it more than I trust random commenters with subjective opinions.

Sir Cheese's picture

I personally think AQ is the number 2 tight end, but I don't need an unofficial depth chart ( which you quoted as official) to tell me that. It sounds like you're the one being subjective. You have to use as much info as possible to predict a depth chart, not just one source.

packsmack25's picture

Well, I wasn't purely basing it on the depth chart. It was just a simple way to show what is probably the TE pecking order. The fact that God's Gift was in with the 1s the other night is a better example of why he's clearly #2 and on the roster already.

hayward4president's picture

Good article Brian. I hold my breath every time Ross gets the me that's a bad sign. Let Hyde do the returns.

Cow42's picture

This is the least confident I've felt about a Packer roster in probably 4 years.

There are giant question marks, even at the top end, with just about every position group.

Is it possible that all of the stars align for this team? Sure. But the lack of depth makes it extremely unlikely.

Jamie's picture

Nobody gives a shat what you trolltard.

FITZCORE 1252'S EVO's picture

Well put.

Cow42's picture

Even if I'm right?

Sir Cheese's picture

Yes Cow, even if you're right (which is not very often).

Most of the people that comment on this site are here because they love the Packers and enjoy intelligent conversation in regards to our team. We enjoy having a positive outlook on the season instead of spreading doom and gloom over every little thing. We buy into the next man up philosophy when someone gets hurt because the only other alternative is to become a joyless, ignorant troll such as yourself. You have lost all credibility and anyone with half a brain can see you for what you are.

Cow42's picture

But you still have to agree that I'm right.


I mean this team is hanging by a thread.

Guys like...

MD Jennings
B. Jones
T. Williams

...are actually STARTERS.

Not to mention that 4 rookies are going to have to start or play prominant roles... Good luck with that.

Sir Cheese's picture

Wrong, you make extremely ludicrous predictions ( 6-10)?) with nothing to back it up. We have a number of younger players that you listed who are expected to take a big step in their development this year, and I prefer to wait until they actually play this season before writing them off. I am not a huge fan of Hak so I won't fight you there, but I think Brad Jones has all of the tools to be a 3 down player. T. Williams played pretty good outside of 2 very bad games.

My overall point is that you only focus on the negative, when there are so many positives on our team. We have the best QB in the league, 3 top tier WR's, lots of young defensive talent including one of the best pass rushers in the league in Clay Matthews. Are the Packers perfect? No. Will they go undefeated? Unlikely. Are the rookies going to play perfectly? No, but that's what draft and develop is all about. Are they always competitive regardless of adversity? Yes. Are they a championship contender year in and year out? Definitely. I choose to focus on realistic goals while being positive. You have never had anything positive or hopeful to say about a team that is generally considered a legitimate contender.

You're just a troll, with no love for the Packers whatsoever.

Phatgzus's picture

Dude, Cow, have you Even seen the depth charts of the other 31 teams? The probability of having a top tier player at every position is about as likely as being struck twice by a moody Zeus while water skiing with a pair of great whites strapped to your feet.

Phatgzus's picture

Even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day-in this comparison you're the broken clock, if you didn't pick up on that.

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