GREEN BAY – It was time.
The deadline has been set for Dec. 7, Al Harris’ 40th birthday. But midway through his second training camp as the Kansas City Chiefs assistant secondary coach, the former Green Bay Packers two-time Pro Bowl cornerback decided to do it.
“I got a haircut about two weeks ago. All gone,” a laughing Harris said of his signature dreadlocks, which he sported beneath his Packers helmet for eight seasons, from 2003 through 2010. “You’re not even going to recognize me.
“I just felt that it was just time to separate the player, as far as presentation, from the coach. You’ve got to embrace these things fully.”
And Harris is embracing coaching fully. Sitting in the Chiefs’ team hotel in downtown Appleton in advance of Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Packers at Lambeau Field, he said Wednesday evening that while he didn’t initially plan on getting into the business before his 14-year, 194-game playing career was over, he is glad that he did.
Some of his other old teammates have joined the “corporate world” – something he joked he could easily do now with his new ‘do – but that football was simply in his blood.
“I love it. Honestly. Because I’m learning every day,” Harris said. “You play the game, and you think you know the game, but once you get around guys who have studied the game longer than you’ve played it, it puts it all in perspective. I love it. I love it.”
When the Packers released him during the 2010 season after the catastrophic knee injury he’d suffered the year before, Harris spent three games with the Miami Dolphins before joining the St. Louis Rams for the 2011 season. When he reinjured the knee that year, then-Rams defensive coordinator Steve Spagnolo piqued Harris’ interest in coaching by bringing him to staff meetings while on injured reserve. Harris then interned for the Miami Dolphins in 2012 under head coach (and former Packers assistant Joe Philbin) before signing on with the Chiefs last year, when his old coach in Philadelphia, Andy Reid, came in.
The job does have its drawbacks, though. On Thursday night, while Harris is coaching his cornerbacks, his son, Al Jr., will be making his college football debut for South Carolina against Texas A&M. Like father, like son, he’ll be starting at cornerback – as a true freshman. Dad will have to wait until he gets back to the Chiefs’ facility late Thursday night to see how his son did.
“I’ll watch the tape of the game and then I’ll pull it up at work just so I can see the coaches’ view,” Harris said.
Before that, though, there’s his return to Lambeau Field. He came back once before, with the Rams in 2011, but every trip back is special.
“I’m there to work, of course, but I don’t care who it is, once you’ve been a part of that place and experienced Lambeau Field as a Packer, that never leaves you,” Harris said. “Whenever you come back, you’ll feel something. I have nothing but good memories of Titletown, USA.”
Harris insists that his favorite Lambeau Field memory isn’t his overtime interception return for the game-winning touchdown against Seattle in the 2003 NFC Wild Card Playoffs, in part because the play was too elementary. (“You knew with the all-out pressure we were bringing, there were only certain routes they could run,” he said.) He does remember his second regular-season game at Lambeau Field as a Packer, against Detroit in 2003, when he also had an interception for a touchdown.
Back then, of course, he was the new guy with the long dreadlocks who the Packers had acquired from Philadelphia for a second-round draft pick. With his unique look and his play, he’d go on to become a fan favorite.
Which is why fans might have to look twice to find him on the Chiefs’ sideline.
“I hadn’t cut it since Andy’s first year in Philly (1998), and I grew it right back,” Harris said. “It’s so funny. When I cut it [two weeks ago], Andy, he just laughed and laughed. I was like, ‘Thanks, Coach.’
“I would have never imagined it. You see all these guys nowadays with their hair hanging out of the back of their helmets? I was the first guy. No one’s ever seen me up there without hair.”
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers got down to the 75-man roster limit Tuesday without having to cut anyone.
Instead, the team placed six players on season-ending injured reserve to reach the limit: Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, offensive lineman Don Barclay, running back Rajion Neal, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, linebacker Joe Thomas and guard Andrew Tiller.
Abbrederis and Barclay each suffered season-ending knee injuries during training camp and both have undergone surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments, while Neal and Joe Thomas were playing well in the preseason opener at Tennessee before each suffering knee injuries themselves. Raji tore his right biceps during Friday night’s game against Oakland while Tiller suffered a calf injury in that game.
According to the league’s official transaction wire, Neal, Thomas and Tiller were waived/injured and will revert to the Packers’ injured reserve list once they clear waivers. That means they'll likely receive injury settlements and be removed from IR at that point.
On Sunday, the Packers released wide receiver Chris Harper, safety Charles Clay, cornerback Antonio Dennard, linebacker Korey Jones, fullback Ina Liaina, quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard. All seven players made it through waivers unclaimed and are eligible for the 10-man practice squad, which will be established after the final cutdown to 53 players on Aug. 30.
Meanwhile, the Packers reached an injury settlement with tight end Colt Lyerla, whom they had waived/injured last week. Agent Vinnie Porter told ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky that the injury settlement will take Lyerla through Week 8 of the regular season, meaning the Packers could bring him back after Week 14 if they so choose.
GREEN BAY – Rajion Neal hears the clock ticking. And with only one more practice and one more preseason game left before final cuts, the Green Bay Packers rookie running back realizes he’s out of time.
After bursting onto the scene in the preseason opener at Tennessee, where he ran five times for 39 yards and a touchdown, Neal has been shelved since by a knee injury he suffered during the Packers’ loss to the Titans. An undrafted rookie free agent from the University of Tennessee, it looked like he might challenge for a roster spot in the Packers’ deep backfield, but now he will be fortunate to land on the practice squad – if he’s healthy enough to do so.
“It definitely is in the back of my mind that time is dwindling away, but at the same time, it’s almost out of my hands now,” Neal said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment, enjoy the process and enjoy being here for the time that I am.”
After the injury, Neal vowed to play the following week at St. Louis, but that didn’t happen. Now, he’s spent every practice as a spectator and hasn’t been able to build on his solid start.
“The initial [reaction] was his excitement and wanting to play and so forth, but it’s going to be a couple weeks,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “The optimism’s low.”
While the injury has derailed his roster bid, Neal said he believes he’s proven – to himself more than anyone – that he can play at the NFL level.
“I think I’ve done some things that have definitely solidified to myself that I can play here, but I don’t think I’ve done enough just yet to prove to the organization to take a bid on me just yet,” Neal said. “I know I’ve still got some things I need to do and some things I need to show.”
GREEN BAY – With the Sept. 4 regular-season opener fast approaching, Aaron Rodgers is apparently worried about the readiness of some of the youngsters the Green Bay Packers will be counting on this season, starting with the NFL Kickoff game against the defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks.
Taking the unusual step of speaking out publicly about teammates, Rodgers left very little room for interpretation with his comments Monday. While he didn’t name names, it’s clear that the 10th-year quarterback is ratcheting up the urgency meter with the preseason winding down.
“You know what? They need to catch up,” Rodgers told a large group of reporters at his locker Monday. “I think some of them are playing the right way, and some of them have got to catch up. They’re going to need to if they want to be on the field.”
Although he didn’t say it, Rodgers seemed to be referring to rookie wide receivers Davante Adams and Jeff Janis, who could be counted on to contribute immediately in the Packers’ high-powered up-tempo offense. Neither has exhibited the consistency a young wide receiver like Greg Jennings showed upon his arrival as a rookie in 2006. The Packers also figure to start rookie third-round pick Richard Rodgers at tight end, where Brandon Bostick (leg) is unlikely to play against the Seahawks and veteran Andrew Quarless has shown some rust after missing the entire offseason.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy has made it clear that he wants to increase the speed of the offense and try to manufacture more offensive snaps this season by expanding the use of the no-huddle offense. The Packers ranked 11th in total offensive plays last season with 67.
“We’re going to play the best guys, whether that’s putting an extra tight end on the field or putting an extra receiver on the field or taking a couple of those guys off and going with some two-back stuff with [fullback John] Kuhn out there,” Aaron Rodgers said. “Mike’s done a great job of really putting our best players on the field, regardless of the personnel set, whether it’s three receivers [with] two backs or two tight ends and one back or our zebra personnel (three wide receivers, one tight end, one back) that we run a lot of no-huddle stuff out of, it’s going to be the best players on the field. The best players are going to be the guys who are most prepared and do it in practice every single day.”
Asked to expound on his comments, Rodgers replied, “I think there’s a professionalism that we’re not quite at yet as far as production on the field and preparation. I think production is equal to the preparation that you put in during the week with your film study, with your practice habits, with your practice reps, with the conversations that we have and being able to carry those on the field. There’s walls that the young guys will hit … but you’ve got to push through that. You’ve got to find a way to improve. We’re ready for those walls and we can help the guys out, but at some point you need to start playing like a professional if you want to see significant game time action.”
Asked he was frustrated by the young players entering Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City, Rodgers said no.
“There’s no frustration; it’s just an expectation,” he said. “We’re into the last preseason game. We’re less than two weeks from the opener, and things pick up after this final game, after the cut down and guys will feel it. They’ll be less opportunities in practice and the opportunities in the game will be fewer until you make the most of them. It’s just a call to those guys to start stepping up their play because it’s going to start mattering here really quick.”
GREEN BAY – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 18th practice of training camp from Monday: (Sunday’s practice was closed to the public.)
Thumbs up: After missing the first month of training camp with a hamstring injury he suffered before camp began, veteran defensive tackle Letroy Guion was activated from the non-football injury list and took part in his first practice. And it was not a moment too soon.
Having lost veteran nose tackle B.J. Raji to a torn biceps, the ranks are thin on the inside of the defensive line, so Guion’s return was vital. There was a school of thought that he might not be cleared in time for the season and start the year on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he would miss at least the first six games. Now, he’ll join Josh Boyd and Mike Pennell as options at nose tackle with Raji sidelined.
The coaches didn’t exactly ease Guion back into it, either. He was in pads and very active both in drills and 11-on-11 work.
“It’s always an urgency when a man goes down. It makes me have to step up, having to be that guy,” Guion said. “So I’m going to take all my steps forward to do what I’ve got to do to get prepared.”
Thumbs down: Normally sure-handed Myles White had a pair of drops Monday, the second time he’s had that kind of day in a little over a week. While White has history in the Packers’ offense and doesn’t have a long history of dropping passes, it was exactly the kind of day he can’t be having with cuts looming. One wide receiver who was on the roster last season, Chris Harper, is already gone, and with rookie seventh-round pick Jeff Janis squarely in the mix and 2013 seventh-round pick Kevin Dorsey playing extensively on special teams (a sign that he might be kept as the sixth receiver), White needs to be making big plays, not dropping balls. On a third play, he had a very difficult pass across the middle that he tried to make a diving catch on but had bounce off his hands. A grab there might have made up for the earlier drops.
Play of the day: Serving as the scout team quarterback for most of practice given that he’s almost certainly not going to play on Thursday night, Aaron Rodgers makes for a challenging look-team QB. On his best play of the afternoon, Rodgers rolled to his left, near the sideline, then – while still on the move – threw back across his body toward the back right corner of the end zone, where he connected with Jarrett Boykin for a touchdown. The ball traveled roughly 50 yards in the air and the throw, nearly impossible for most mortal QBs, looked easy for him.
Camp confidential: The Packers certainly sound committed to Corey Linsley as their starting center now that JC Tretter has been lost for up to six weeks with an impaction fracture in his left knee, but just to be on the safe side, they had All-Pro guard Josh Sitton working at center in 11-on-11 drills as well as the half-line drill and individual quarterback-center exchange work.
Last year, when starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith left two games with a knee injury, it was right guard T.J. Lang who slid over to center, not Sitton. Now, it appears Sitton is the backup plan if Linsley were to be injured or ineffective.
"Josh Sitton has the ability, experience to play center," McCarthy said. "He has played center for us in the past."
Nevertheless, despite pretty extensive work in practice Monday, it appears Sitton’s work at center would only be in the case of emergency.
“Typically every year, I take a few [center snaps] here and there. I’ll probably end up doing a little bit more this year, just based on the situation as of right now,” Sitton said. “We’ll see. Don’t know how the roster is going to shake down and all of that but, as of right now, I’ll take some.”
Packers Playlist: "Buffalo Soldier" by Bob Marley & The Wailers, "Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen, "Say I Won't" by Lecrae and "Dream Police" by Cheap Trick were the four songs played during regeneration periods. "The Kill (Bury Me)" by 30 Seconds To Mars and "Rockstar" by Nickelback were among the songs played during 11-on-11.
Injury report: While Guion made his debut, still sidelined were CB Demetri Goodson (concussion), ILB Brad Jones (quadriceps), G Andrew Tiller (shoulder), C JC Tretter (knee), NT B.J. Raji (biceps), TE Brandon Bostick (leg), RB Rajion Neal (knee), LB Joe Thomas (knee), T Don Barclay (knee) and WR Jared Abbrederis (knee). Some of those players could be placed on injured reserve as part of the roster reduction to 75 players on Tuesday.
They said it: “Frankly, if I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t have gone about it the way I did. We had a little bit too much going on. We had Kansas City Chiefs preparation going on there, we had some competitive segments with the 1s vs. the 1s.” – McCarthy, admitting that he wasn’t pleased with the quality of Monday’s practice, much of which was spent with starters on scout teams in anticipation of Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Chiefs.
Practice schedule: The Packers do not practice Tuesday. Their final open-to-the-public practice of training camp is set for Wednesday at 10:15.
GREEN BAY – Carl Bradford had been a member of the Green Bay Packers for, oh, about five minutes before he was asked. He’d just been taken in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, and already, there were questions about whether he might be better suited for inside linebacker instead of outside linebacker in the Packers’ scheme.
On Monday, those incessant questions were finally answered in the affirmative.
Undersized and so far ineffective at outside linebacker in camp and three preseason games, the 6-foot-1, 252-pound Bradford was moved inside during Monday’s practice, less than a week before the team must pare the roster down to 53 players. (The Packers’ roster currently stands at 81, with six roster moves still needing to be made to reach the 75-man limit by 3 p.m. Tuesday.)
“He’s been able to pick up the playbook, but what we’re looking for is just being able to transfer that on the field as far as production. I know there’s a high concern for that,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said after practice. “I’m pretty sure he’s aware of that, and I’m pretty sure he’s had to address it as well. But he’s a great guy. He’s working hard and he’s trying to take it all in and trying to be effective.”
With Bradford, who played most snaps with his hand in the dirt at Arizona State, the Packers coaches were insistent after the draft on May 10 that he would begin his career outside. But in camp, Bradford found himself behind Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Nick Perry, Andy Mulumba, Nate Palmer and undrafted rookies Jayrone Elliott and Adrian Hubbard until the switch was made Monday. Palmer also spent time inside Monday.
Asked why they waited so long to move Bradford, defensive coordinator Dom Capers replied: “I think this: You want to give guys, especially young guys, a chance to look at them on position, so you give them a fair opportunity. If you start [experimenting] too early, then they’re kind of 50-50 and you aren’t quite sure. I think with both, with Carl Bradford, and even Nate Palmer — both those guys, we felt like this would be the time to get a look at those guys inside, to see how they respond.”
It’s hard to imagine the Packers giving up on Bradford after five weeks of training camp, especially given his draft status. In 10 drafts as the Packers’ general manager, Ted Thompson has released only one fourth-round pick following his first training camp: In 2005, he cut TCU wide receiver Cory Rodgers after picking him in the fourth round.
Still, Bradford knows that he must prove himself worthy of a roster spot, whether that’s inside or outside. For his first day, and for having gotten the news of the switch that morning, he felt he did OK.
“I liked it. I like coming downhill and opposing those tackles and guards and smashing those running backs,” said Bradford, whose first inside snaps were during the half-line run drill. “Wherever, man. Inside, outside, I’ll play wherever. I believe I’m versatile enough to play either position.
“I’m kind of their chess piece and moving me around, seeing what I can do. I like it. It allows me to understand more and gain more knowledge of the game.”
GREEN BAY – B.J. Raji’s season is over.
The Green Bay Packers veteran nose tackle, who was having what coach Mike McCarthy believed to be the best camp of his career, tore the biceps muscle in his right arm during Friday night’s preseason victory over Oakland.
McCarthy said Raji would undergo surgery to repair the biceps in “the near future.” Raji was not in the Packers’ locker room after practice during the time reporters were allowed inside.
When asked if Raji might be a candidate for being placed on injured reserve with the designation for possible return, McCarthy replied simply, “I would say no.”
Raji, who re-signed with the Packers on a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal that contained incentives that could have driven the value up to $6.5 million, will be a free agent after the season.
With Raji out, second-year man Josh Boyd worked with the No. 1 defense during Sunday’s closed practice. Undrafted rookie free agent Mike Pennel and veteran Letroy Guion, who is currently on the non-football injury list with a hamstring injury, are also options at nose tackle.
Raji attended Sunday’s practice and after having his right arm in a sling initially, he removed the sling while watching the remainder of the 1-hour, 40-minute session.
“When I heard the news, it was a shocking thing,” Boyd said. “But for him to still be there and talking to us, words can’t describe how much I appreciate him doing that and how much I appreciate him still helping me.”
GREEN BAY – JC Tretter’s knee injury is not season-ending, although the Green Bay Packers first-year starting center will be sidelined for the Sept. 4 regular-season opener at Seattle and could miss up to six weeks, according to an NFL source.
Tretter injured his left knee during the Packers’ preseason victory over Oakland. He was examined on the sideline by the team’s medical staff but was able to stay in the game. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday that Tretter suffered a “significant” knee injury and that he would be sidelined “multiple” weeks.
Tretter played 49 snaps with the No. 1 offensive line against the Raiders.
“Once the ones went out of the game, and once he settled down, that’s when it started bothering him,” McCarthy said. “It was bothering him at halftime, then when I got back in here after the game [the medical staff] ended up putting him on crutches.”
According to the league source, Tretter did not suffer any sort of ligament damage in the knee, which would have meant missing anywhere from six to 10 weeks. Instead, the feeling is that he will miss five or six weeks, the source said. The injury is similar to a stress fracture.
Tretter, a fourth-round pick from Cornell last year, missed his entire rookie season after breaking his ankle in the first organized team activity practice in May. He has worked with the No. 1 offense since the first day of the offseason this year and won the starting center job easily over rookie fifth-round pick Corey Linsley and former practice-squad center Garth Gerhart.
The Packers already lost No. 6 offensive lineman Don Barclay to a season-ending knee injury. Barclay underwent successful surgery last week to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“I don’t know how long J.C.’s going to be out – hopefully, it’s not too long,” right guard T.J. Lang said. “It’s a bummer, man. We felt like we were doing a lot of good things as an offensive line. It hurt when Donny went out and this one hurts, too. Like we’re always saying, there’s nothing you can really do about it. You’ve got to move on.
“Corey’s been taking a lot of reps today and he’s a guy who’s come a long way since OTAs started. Hopefully we get J.C. back, but until he comes back, we’re going to have to find a way to fill the spot.”
GREEN BAY – Chris Harper’s offseason performance seemingly had him squarely in the mix for one of possibly six wide receiver spots on the Green Bay Packers roster.
Released on Sunday, the second-year wide receiver didn’t even make it through the first round of cuts.
In advance of Tuesday’s deadline to trim the roster to 75 players, the Packers released seven players Sunday: Harper, safety Charles Clay, cornerback Antonio Dennard, linebacker Korey Jones, fullback Ina Liaina, quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard. All seven players are eligible for the 10-man practice squad, which will be established after the final cutdown to 53 players on Aug. 30.
The Packers still must make seven roster moves to get down to the 75-man limit. Tackle Don Barclay (knee), wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (knee) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (biceps) all appear ticketed for season-ending injured reserve, so that would further reduce the number of players who’d have to be released to reach the limit.
Harper, a fourth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks a year ago, was cut at the end of training camp and signed off the Seahawks’ practice squad by the San Francisco 49ers. When the 49ers subsequently cut him, the Packers claimed him on Oct. 18 in the wake of injuries to wide receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones. He played four games without a reception last season.
After catching the coaches’ eye during OTAs, Harper was limited by a hamstring injury during the second half of the offseason and then did little to impress during training camp.
Rettig, the fourth quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, saw his playing time dip with each passing game in preseason and it appears the Packers want to get extended looks at Flynn and Tolzien in Thursday’s preseason finale against Kansas City before deciding on Rodgers’ top backup.
Dennard spent the final four weeks of the regular season on the Packers’ practice squad last year, while the Packers picked Sheppard up at the start of camp after he was cut by Baltimore.
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers are in need of nose tackle help after learning Saturday that veteran nose tackle B.J. Raji suffered a torn right biceps during Friday night’s preseason game against Oakland.
Raji, who was having a resurgent training camp after signing a one-year, $4 million prove-it deal this offseason, could miss the rest of the season. An NFL source confirmed multiple reports Saturday morning that the Packers were afraid Raji had torn his biceps, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein reported, citing a league source, that the Raji’s biceps is indeed torn. That could be a season-ending injury, depending on if the biceps is completely torn or only partially torn.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter later reported that an NFL source told him that the injury is indeed season-ending.
If that turned out to not be the case, the Packers would have the option of keeping Raji on the 53-man roster following the Aug. 30 final roster reduction to 53 players, then placing him on injured reserve with the designation for possible return. Teams are only allowed to designate one player that way, however.
Raji left the game after two series Friday night, his last play being a 1-yard Darren McFadden run. He did not appear to be in pain at the end of that play, and the Packers went to their dime defense on the ensuing third-down play. When the defense returned to the field for the next series, Josh Boyd was at nose tackle in Raji’s place.
Raji stayed on the sidelines and appeared to have a black neoprene sleeve on his arm while watching the game. He was not wearing the sleeve during the time he was in the game.
The Packers’ options behind Raji, as of now, are Boyd and undrafted rookie free agent Mike Pennel, who has been one of the pleasant surprises of camp. Veteran Letroy Guion, signed as a free agent this spring after being cut by Minnesota, has yet to see action because of a hamstring injury sustained before training camp. He remains on the non-football injury list.
Former Packers nose tackle Ryan Pickett, who was not re-signed as a free agent, would be available, but ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky reported that Pickett is nowhere near the top of the team’s emergency board.