If you’re expecting for some sort of major personnel shakeup with the Green Bay Packers amid their five-game winless streak, well,
The release of second-year safety Jerron McMillian could be it.
McMillian, a fourth-round pick in 2012 who has been a keen disappointment after being demoted to being a special teams-only player, was cut to make room on the 53-man roster for running back Kahlil Bell Tuesday.
“Anytime you have a young player you bring into your program, you obviously have expectations,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “As far as his individual performance, it just wasn’t quite what it needed to be this year.”
But McMillian, who went into training camp fighting for a starting job, started in place of an injured Morgan Burnett early in the year and was benched from the defense entirely after a pair of late-game gaffes against Baltimore, isn’t the only one whose performance could be described that way.
While certainly injuries have again been a factor for the Packers, who enter Sunday’s game against Atlanta at 5-6-1 after going 0-4-1 since quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his left collarbone on the opening series of the team’s Nov. 4 loss to Chicago, a lack of talent at key positions has also been exposed.
Not only does it appear that the team overestimated its talent at safety – where McMillian was a disappointment, M.D. Jennings has the job by default and Burnett hasn’t been the impact player his contract dictates he should be – but the team lacks quality depth at inside and outside linebacker and on the offensive line, where injuries have hit. In addition, the defensive line that seemed so deep early in the year has crumbled, with many players set to hit free agency in the spring.
And yet, McCarthy didn’t sound like a man with many options to shake things up.
“We’re staying true to who we are. We study the film, we correct the things that we’ve done, maybe get some people healthier,” McCarthy said. “Coming back, there’ll be more competition for playing time in certain packages. So, some of that’s going to change, but I’m not going to get into specifics on that. That’s why you play the game.”
Truth be told, McCarthy can’t make many changes. He could give Jamari Lattimore more playing time at inside linebacker in place of Brad Jones; he could give Sean Richardson or Chris Banjo an opportunity in place of Jennings; he could alter the defensive line rotation and give first-round pick Datone Jones and fifth-round pick Josh Boyd, who was active Thursday ahead of Jerel Worthy, more work; he could give some of Andrew Quarless’ reps at tight end to Brandon Bostick (or Ryan Taylor or Jake Stoneburner); and on the offensive line he could move 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod and undrafted rookie guard Lane Taylor ahead of Marshall Newhouse, who has been the first man off the bench.
But none of those moves could be called drastic, which is what some are clamoring for after the 40-10 Thanksgiving Day embarrassment in Detroit.
“I’m not going to sit up here and make excuses,” McCarthy said. “I’ll just tell you the Detroit report card was the offense had zero positives, all negatives; defense had four takeaways, the rest of it was negative; and the special teams, Mason (Crosby) had the long field goal but other than that it was negative. We didn’t play very well as a football team.”
McMillian’s release also brings attention to some of the draft picks over the past five years that haven’t panned out. While the team is starting four players from the 2009 class (B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, T.J. Lang and Brad Jones) and all seven picks from 2010 remain with the team (Bryan Bulaga, Mike Neal, Burnett, Quarless, Newhouse, James Starks and C.J. Wilson), only Sherrod, Randall Cobb, Davon House and Taylor remain from the 2011 class.
From McMillian’s 2012 class, Nick Perry has battled injury for the past two years as he learns outside linebacker; Worthy blew out his knee at the end of last season and was just activated from the physically unable to perform list last month; cornerback Casey Hayward’s wasted season ended after three games when he was put on IR with a hamstring injury; and McMillian and inside linebacker Terrell Manning have been released. Of the six defensive players taken in the first six picks, only Daniels has been able to stay healthy and blossom in his second season.
That’s why wholesale changes are unlikely.
“We look at everything every week. You set your roster and your board to win the game. That’s no different this week for us,” McCarthy said. “We always create competition when you have healthy players. We haven’t really had a very hard time getting down to 46 but now that people are coming back, they’re getting healthy.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.