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10th anniversary Tailgate Tour set for April 14-18

Feb 26, 2015 -- 3:59pm
 
Photoo/ESPNWisconsin.com 
The Packers annual Tailgate Tour celebrates its 10th anniversary this spring.
 

GREEN BAY – While Brett Favre won’t be one of the bus riders for the Green Bay Packers’ 10 th anniversary Tailgate Tour – maybe next year, after the prodigal quarterback returns to the fold and has his No. 4 retired – the guest list is an impressive one for the team’s annual goodwill tour.

Scheduled to join Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy are current players Andrew Quarless, Micah Hyde and Casey Hayward, prominent Packers alumni Gilbert Brown, Antonio Freeman and Bill Schroeder and two of the team’s most distinguished alums from the Lombardi Era, Dave Robinson and Jerry Kramer.

The tour is set for April 14 through 18 and will include stops in Menomonie, (April 14), Prairie du Chien (April 15), Baraboo (April 16), Elkhorn (April 17) and Sheboygan (April 18), with tailgate parties held in each city to support a local non-profit organization. There are always a few surprise stops as well.

A local non-profit organization will host each tailgate party, which features food, giveaways, question-and-answer sessions and autographs. Tailgate party tickets cost $30. General admission tickets also will be available for $5 for the Menomonie and Baraboo tailgate party locations, which includes access to the Q-and-A sessions as well as tailgate party activities. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

“The Packers are very excited to embark on the 10th annual Tailgate Tour,” Murphy said in the team’s announcement. “Thanks to the loyalty of our fans, we are celebrating 10 successful years of this event. We are looking forward to visiting several areas throughout the state of Wisconsin, and we are proud to be supporting great organizations during the tour.”

Packers release Hawk after nine seasons

Feb 25, 2015 -- 4:42pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
A.J. Hawk’s nine-year tenure with the Packers came to an end with his release Wednesday.
 

GREEN BAY – A.J. Hawk wasn’t blindsided by the news. And how could he have been? After having his playing time sharply reduced during the second half of last season, the now ex-Green Bay Packers inside linebacker knew his release was a possibility.

So when the Packers informed the 31-year-old Hawk last week of their plans to cut him – a move that they officially announced Wednesday afternoon – Hawk was ready for it.

“The Packers were awesome about it,” Hawk said in a conversation he had with his brother, Ryan, on his personal video podcast. “I have no bitterness and no animosity toward anyone.”

Hawk, the Packers’ first-round pick (No. 5 overall) in 2006, is the second veteran inside linebacker the Packers have released in the past week. The team cut Brad Jones on Friday after six seasons.

Hawk’s release saves the Packers $3.5 million in salary-cap room, and along with the $3.75 million they saved by cutting Jones, they’re poised to be more than $30 million under the salary cap once the cap is officially set. The NFL Players Association predicted last week at the NFL Scouting Combine that the cap would be $143 million.

Hawk departs as the Packers’ all-time leading tackler with 1,118. He made one Pro Bowl in his nine seasons, during the Packers’ 2010 Super Bowl XLV championship season – a year he began on the bench in the opener at Philadelphia, when he was only seeing action in the base defense.

That’s where Hawk found himself at the end of the 2014 season, as well, as the Packers moved outside linebacker Clay Matthews inside on some downs and expanded the role of second-year linebacker Sam Barrington.

"You could almost feel it in the air throughout the second half of the season," Hawk said of his release after his role was reduced. "I've been preparing for it for a while now mentally, but now it's real."

Packers general manager Ted Thompson, in a statement released by the team, said: “A.J. is a consummate Packer and we are grateful for all that he has given and how he represented the organization over the past nine seasons. He was a durable and consistent contributor to our success, but more importantly, he is a great person and teammate. The Packers are grateful for all that he has done on the field and in the community. We wish A.J., his wife Laura, and the rest of their family all the best."

ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reported last week that Hawk played through bone spurs in his ankle last season, an issue that required surgery after the season ended – even though Hawk repeatedly insisted he wasn’t playing hurt, even while his friend, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, said publicly that he was.

Hawk’s official designation on the NFL transaction wire Wednesday was waived/failed physical. He said in his conversation with his brother that he intends to keep playing.

“I'm ready for some new opportunities,” Hawk said. “I feel good. Hopefully I get a chance somewhere else.”

Sharp dressed men: Packers can wear new alternate third uniform in 2015

Feb 24, 2015 -- 10:57pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
The five-year window for the Packers having to wear their 1929 throwbacks has closed, so the team can wear a different third jersey in 2015.
 

GREEN BAY – The Cleveland Browns’ logo didn’t exactly undergo an extreme makeover.

One of the NFL’s most storied franchises – even if it hasn’t experienced much success in recent years – the Browns altered their color scheme and tweaked their logo, unveiling the changes Tuesday. They have yet to unveil their new uniforms.

The Green Bay Packers’ iconic G won’t be changing, and the last time the organization made any noticeable changes to their uniforms was when coach Forrest Gregg did so in the mid-1980s. So the Packers won’t be undergoing any sort of uniform renovation anytime soon.

That said, the Packers are free to create a new alternate third uniform this season. According to NFL rules, because they selected their 1929 throwback uniforms as their alternate unis in 2010, it was the only alternate uniform they could wear for a five-year period. Now that that time has expired, the Packers are able to choose a different third uniform. The Acme Packers gear is on clearance at the Packers Pro Shop, so it seems unlikely that the Packers would commit to those get-ups for another five-year period.

The Packers’ 1929 replicas were navy blue jerseys with a gold circle on the chest, tan pants, and brown (to mimic leather) helmets until the NFL required teams to wear their regular helmets whenever wearing alternate uniforms. The Packers then wore their gold helmets with the decals removed. The Packers won the first of their 13 NFL championships in 1929.

The league allows for teams to wear their alternate jerseys a maximum of three times per year, although the Packers chose to only wear their alternate uniforms for one game each year.

The Packers haven’t announced any plans for an alternate third jersey in 2015, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll have something planned for this season. Perhaps it’ll even be something with a futuristic look instead of a historic one.

One thing seems certain: Their regular uniforms won’t be changing. Retired GM Ron Wolf learned early on in his tenure, before rebuilding the team into a Super Bowl champion, how resistant Packers fans are to changing uniform fashions when he suggested the Packers go back to the navy blue color they had back in the Acme Packers days -- an era that the team now celebrates with its throwback uniforms.

Nonetheless, it might be fun to imagine what an updated Packers uniform might look like.

The folks at Baker Branding and Design, a Twin Cities-based company that has done design work for many familiar everyday products, took a stab at redesigned Packers and Minnesota Vikings uniforms two years ago. The group actually provided three different Packers concepts, shown below. The last of the three harkens back to the team's historic uniforms while delivering a modern twist.

 
 
Photos/Baker Branding and Design  
Tags: Uniforms

McCarthy: 'I've never had an offense this good'

Feb 21, 2015 -- 8:40pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Packers coach Mike McCarthy thinks the 2014 offense was the best of his head-coaching tenure.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – Not only did Mike McCarthy think he had the best team in the NFL at season’s end, the Green Bay Packers head coach also thought the offense was the best he’s ever had.

That’s quite a statement given how good the Packers offense was in 2011, when the team posted a 15-1 regular-season record and set the franchise scoring record. But McCarthy is grading on a curve because the Packers had so many blowouts that backup quarterback Matt Flynn saw extended mop-up time action with NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers on the bench at the end of gams.

“You’ve got to be realistic. We scored the most points in the league but our starting quarterback didn’t play five quarters,” McCarthy said at an informal session with beat writers at a hotel restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’ve never had an offense this good.”

McCarthy, who is entering his 10th year as head coach, said the Packers use a grading formula that consists of “16 principles of championship offense and defense.” While he refused to divulge specifics, he said the offense hit on 13 of the 16.

“And the three that we didn’t get, I think we were like one play or two plays off,” McCarthy said.

Both the 2011 and 2014 teams were the league’s highest-scoring, and Rodgers won the NFL MVP award. Rodgers played 1,004 snaps in 2014 and 980 snaps in 2011, as he didn’t play in the meaningless regular-season finale that season against Detroit.  

In 2014, Rodgers came out of blowout victories over Minnesota on Oct. 2, Carolina on Oct. 19, Chicago on Nov. 9 and Philadelphia on Nov. 16.

“You know,” McCarthy said, “if we could play at this level of offense from here on in, it will be the best offense pro football has seen.”

Here’s a look at the 2011 and 2014 numbers:

Packers offense by the numbers:
 
Category
2011
2014
Points
560
486
Yards
6,482
6,178
Passing yards
4,924
4,261
Rushing yards
1,558
1,917
Plays
988
1,001
First downs
353
356
3rd down eff.
48.1
47.2
Red zone eff.
66.2
57.8
Turnovers
14
13
 
Aaron Rodgers by the numbers:
 
Category
2011
2014
Completions
343
341
Attempts
502
520
Completion pct.
68.3
65.6
Yards
4,643
4,381
Touchdowns
45
38
Interceptions
6
5
Passer rating
122.4
112.2

 

Office space: With altered duties, McCarthy may get new workspace

Feb 21, 2015 -- 7:26pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Mike McCarthy’s workday didn’t get any lighter with his decision to give up the play-calling duties, but he may start using a new office at Lambeau Field.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy would be thrilled if his decision to hand off the Green Bay Packers’ offensive play-calling to Tom Clements meant that his workload would go down significantly.

But the Packers coach expects to work just as much as he always has – meaning he won’t have free time to get massages and drop some pounds.

“I wish my workload would go down. I’d be in great shape, I’d be down hanging out with [strength and conditioning coordinator Mark] Lovat,” McCarthy joked during an informal session with beat writers at a hotel restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine. “I’d take play-calling off, show up Sundays and throw a red flag. Hell of a gig, right? That’s not the way this will go.”

The change has been the talk of the offseason thusfar, but McCarthy said he’ll keep doing what he has always done, moving among the offensive, defensive and special-teams meetings. He’ll just be able to spend more time with the defense and special teams than before.

“As far as my day, it’s not going to change,” he said.

And as far as quarterback Aaron Rodgers, McCarthy said, “To be honest, I might be around him more.”

McCarthy said one of his goals with his altered responsibilities will be to do a better job of planning out his day – and he hinted that he might be relocating his office, or at least start using an auxiliary office that’ll be closer to the team’s CRIC indoor practice and teaching facility at the other end of monstrous Lambeau Field.

The CRIC was part of McCarthy’s overhaul of the team’s practice schedule, which utilized the facility for more jog-through and walk-through teaching sessions as actual practice time was scaled back.

“There are some things I need to change,” McCarthy explained. “For as great as an impact the new facility’s made on our program – I thought we hit a home run on the number of things that we changed, better than I even anticipated – it might sound silly, but the stress of having your office at that furthest point of the building and everything you need is down there, I have to change. There’s going to be an office change.

“I’m changing my whole outlook of how I attack the day when the players are [at the stadium], both in the off-season and in-season. That’s something that I felt from the first week [of the new schedule].”

McCarthy said he was sometimes late to get to where he wanted to go because various assistant coaches would want to meet with him and he’d stop at their respective offices. McCarthy’s main office is on the third floor of the administration area adjacent to the Lambeau Field atrium, and with another stadium construction project underway, it’s feasible that he could have another office built closer to the CRIC.

“You’re walking down the hall and the receivers coach or special teams coach or the video director or the assistant strength coach, they need to talk to you. I think the worst thing you can do as a leader is say, ‘I can’t, I’ll have to get you later,’” McCarthy said. “You have to build that into your job responsibility, and you have to build that into your daily planner.

“The more responsibilities you have as a leader, the more flexibility you have to have for your people. When they need you, you have to be able to talk to your people. … Coordinators and play-callers, to me, that’s the toughest job in football. The coordinating or calling the defense or calling the offense, that’s the hardest job in football, in my opinion. As a leader, you have to be accessible to people that you’re responsible for.”

Packers dump Brad Jones

Feb 20, 2015 -- 3:40pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Brad Jones’ up-and-down career with the Packers ended with his release Friday.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday, Mike McCarthy acknowledged that the inside linebacker position was an issue for the Green Bay Packers.

Less than 24 hours later after the head coach admitted that, the team released veteran inside linebacker Brad Jones after a disappointing 2014 season.

“We thank Brad for his contributions and dedication to the Packers over the past six years,” Packers general manager Ted Thompson said in a statement released by the club. “We wish him all the best.”

Jones was set to earn $3.75 million in base salary and bonuses in 2015, the final year of a three-year, $11.25 million contract he signed in March 2013. Jones received a $3 million signing bonus as part of that deal, meaning the Packers will save $3.75 million in cap room but have $1 million in dead money as the unamortized portion of his signing bonus.

A seventh-round pick from Colorado in 2009, Jones began his career as an outside linebacker and moved inside after his rookie season. He played in 83 regular-season and postseason games (41 starts) during in his six seasons with Green Bay.

Jones appeared in 13 games with one start during the 2014 regular season and played in both postseason contests. In six seasons, he had 293 tackles, 10 sacks and 33 special teams tackles.

Jones started the regular-season opener Sept. 4 at Seattle but played poorly and then missed the next three games with a hamstring injury. He never got his job back, although he did play on defense in sub packages later in the season, finishing the year having played 211 snaps on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. His overall defensive grade from PFF was minus-11.4, third-worst on defense.

It was also Jones who was the key to the Seattle Seahawks’ fake field goal for a touchdown in the NFC Championship Game, as the Seahawks called the play when they saw Jones on the field, knowing his penchant for over-aggressively going for the block.

Another longtime starter at inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk, could also be released after losing his starting job and seeing his playing time diminish significantly during the second half of the season, but the Packers had not told Hawk’s agent of their plans for his client.

Zimmer on Bostick: 'We'll try not to put him on the onside kick team'

Feb 20, 2015 -- 1:07pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Brandon Bostick’s botched onside kick recovery against Seattle in the NFC Championship Game will follow him for awhile.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – While Brandon Bostick is getting the fresh start he needs with the Minnesota Vikings. The ex-Green Bay Packers tight end’s new head coach still had a little fun at his expense.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, in a group interview with Minnesota beat writers, was asked about Bostick, whom the Vikings claimed on waiver earlier this week after the Packers cut him in the wake of his critical special-teams mistake in the NFC Championship Game.

Bostick was supposed to block during the Seattle Seahawks’ onside kick attempt with just over 2 minutes left in regulation, but he instead tried to recover the kick and ended up mishandling it. The Seahawks recovered and ended up taking the lead, then won the game in overtime.

“He’s  an athletic guy that did well on special teams,” Zimmer told reporters. “I’m going to try to improve the roster however we can do that. I mean, I wish we could bring in 200 guys and let them go.

“But it’s good. We all make mistakes. So, we’ll try not to put him on the onside kick team.”

Tolzien wants his iPad, which probably means he's coming back

Feb 20, 2015 -- 9:16am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Mike McCarthy is expecting backup quarterback Scott Tolzien to return to the Packers.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Tolzien makes a much better backup quarterback and teammate than he would an agent.

The former University of Wisconsin quarterback and soon-to-be NFL free agent’s work ethic is unparalleled. When he joined the San Francisco 49ers a couple of years ago, he spent his first two weeks sleeping in the players’ lounge at night because he figured it’d be a waste to get a new apartment while trying to cram for a new offensive system.

And when the Green Bay Packers picked him up before the 2013 season, he took a similar approach – although he at least lived in a hotel instead of pitching a tent in the Don Hutson Center.

Now, as he’s set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 10, Tolzien apparently is thinking more about improving within the Packers’ system than finding a new team where he could compete for a starting job.

Speaking at an informal session with beat writers at a hotel restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine Thursday, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he is hopeful Tolzien will return – and based on the approach Tolzien has taken already this offseason, that sounds likely. Veteran backup Matt Flynn is also a free agent.

“I don’t want to say confident, but I feel good based on my conversations with Scott,” McCarthy said. “Scott, he’s already got his [individual] offseason program.”

McCarthy said Tolzien and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, his teammate with the Badgers, have made plans to drive down together from Green Bay to Madison for workouts each week on the UW campus while also working out together in Green Bay.

“Him and Jared, they’ve already got their plan on how they’re going to do it [this year]. I thought it was a pretty good sign that he wanted to be here,” McCarthy said. “He [also] asked for his iPad back. Our video guy said, ‘Hey, Scott Tolzien wants his iPad.’ I said, ‘Awesome. Tell him to sign his contract.’”

Seattle loss led to McCarthy's changes ... but not the loss you'd think

Feb 20, 2015 -- 7:59am
 
Photo/Getty Images 
The Packers’ loss in Seattle did prompt Mike McCarthy’s staff changes – but not the game you might assume.
 

INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy admits that it was his team’s performance in its disappointing loss to the Seattle Seahawks that led the Green Bay Packers head coach to relinquish his play-calling duties on offense in order to focus more on other areas of his team, like special teams and defense.

Except, it wasn’t the loss to the Seahawks that you’re thinking of. It was the Packers’ 36-16 season-opening loss in Seattle on Sept. 4, not their gut-wrenching 28-22 overtime loss in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 18 that did the trick.

Speaking in a less-formal interview session with beat writers at a hotel restaurant near Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine, McCarthy eluded a point-blank question as to whether he believed the Packers would have won the NFC title game had he not been the offensive play-caller.

From two crucial special teams gaffes – including a momentum-shifting fake-field goal touchdown that happened with the Packers leading, 16-0, and in a foolish block call – to the defense melting down late in the game after dominating the first 55 minutes of action, to McCarthy not being clear on why star linebacker Clay Matthews wasn’t in the game for the final three defensive series of regulation, it certainly seemed as though McCarthy’s decision to relinquish play-calling was tied to those non-offensive problems in that game.

But when asked if he thought the Packers would have advanced to Super Bowl XLIX had he not been as focused on the offense, McCarthy replied: “I don’t know. I think it’s great – is this literature we’re participating in? I think it’s great writing, it’s a great story. I don’t know how you can think like that. I think it makes a great story but that’s not reality.”

Told that it’s natural to think about what one could have done differently when a situation doesn’t go his or her way, McCarthy said it was the season-opening loss, in which there were a series of miscommunications between the coaching staff and the players, that he thought about when he considered the play-calling change.

“Being very frank about it – and I haven’t told anybody this – if there was a Seattle game that made me make a change like that, it would have been the first one, not the last one,” said McCarthy, whose team had only 10 defensive players on the field during one of running back Marshawn Lynch’s two touchdown runs that night. “The things that went on in that game were very frustrating to me. Think about it.

“I tell the coaching staff, ‘Your job is to teach, demand and communicate.’ They’ve got three responsibilities. Players are to prepare, perform and communicate. So when one of your three key responsibilities is not at the level it needs to be, then as the leader, you better have an issue with that.

“I don’t really have an issue with the last game as much as everybody. You see things. In a game, everybody has a job to do, everybody’s supposed to be watching their area. There’s communication that goes on the headsets. Was the communication 100 percent accurate? No, it wasn’t. [But] our communication and our ability to players in position to make plays in the NFC Championship Game was pretty damn good, and I think it was a strength of our staff.

“Those things that went wrong, they’re big play opportunities. We were way ahead of the game there throughout the game, but they not only made the big plays, they made the big plays at critical times. And that was the difference in the game.”

McCarthy expects 'big step' from fan-favorite Janis

Feb 19, 2015 -- 7:34pm
 
Photo/Getty Images 
Seventh-round pick Jeff Janis made a preseason splash but saw virtually no regular-season playing time as a rookie.
 
 
INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy understands why a certain segment of the Green Bay Packers fan base loves wide receiver Jeff Janis so much. After all, the Packers head coach likes the 2014 seventh-round draft pick’s talent and potential as much as anyone.

But, McCarthy said Thursday at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, although Janis certainly made a splash in preseason, he needs to make a jump in the offseason and develop his raw football talent in order to be a contributor in 2015.

And McCarthy believes that’s going to happen.

“I think Jeff is going to take a big step,” McCarthy said during a nearly hour-long session at a hotel restaurant with reporters who regularly cover the team. “He’s got a big catching radius, and he needs to utilize it. Obviously, I think we all saw his vertical speed. He’s an extremely physical young man. He’s an Olympian in the weight room. He’s got a lot of raw skill, and I look for him to make that jump.”

Janis became a fan favorite during training camp by making a play almost every day in practice after his debut was delayed by shingles. When preseason games began, he again made an impression, catching only two passes which both went for touchdowns (a 33-yarder against Kansas City and a 34-yarder against St. Louis). Nevertheless, he was active for just three of 18 regular- and post-season games and finished with two catches for 16 yards.

Asked why Janis didn’t play more – especially after demoted No. 3 receiver Jarrett Boykin fell off the map at midseason – McCarthy cited special teams and intimated that he “toyed with” the idea of making Janis the kickoff returner.

“I wouldn’t say he was not ready,” McCarthy said. “When you hit that third quarter of the season, you like to get those guys [young] going because you don’t want them coming up at the end of the year with the youngest guys playing the most important games. Because, Lord knows, we had way too much of that here in the past. We had all those injuries [in past years], and then you’re playing with really young guys at the end of the year.

“I thought probably after Thanksgiving, I thought Jeff really picked it up [in practice]. He was more comfortable, and so I look for him to take a step. He’s got to play with extension. That’s the one thing he has to do a better job of. But you can see it on the scout team, and at the end of the year he was running some really good routes. Really good routes.”

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