Mike McCarthy couldn’t help himself.
It was late last week, in advance of his team’s second preseason game, at St. Louis. The Green Bay Packers coach had just been asked about standout rookie cornerback Micah Hyde, and in a stark departure from general manager Ted Thompson’s repetitive, say-nothing He’s doing fine response, McCarthy made his excitement clear.
“Micah Hyde is a good football player,” McCarthy said of the fifth-round pick from Iowa. “I go back to the rookie orientation minicamp that we has here, and we were testing out all the players that were in the camp that day. If you remember the one drill we were doing, we had 21 guys going through the kickoff return and punt return drill, and really challenging them with the ball placement. Just to see his ability to catch the ball on the run and do different things – hell, I was tempted to put him on offense. I think he has that type of ball skill ability. He’s doing some really good things as a young player.”
A few minutes later, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt doused those enthusiastic flames a bit by pointing out that while Hyde had undoubtedly been one of the breakout stars of training camp, he’d yet to do something very important.
“He does not have an interception in an NFL game yet, so I don’t know if he can catch one because he hasn’t done it yet. He has to show me he can do it,” Whitt said. “I’ve seen him do it in practice, but I need to see him do it in a game.”
Two days later, Hyde went out against the Rams and – you guessed it – dropped what should have been an interception late in the fourth quarter.
“And he still hasn’t caught an interception in a game,” Whitt said with an I-told-you-so smirk Wednesday.
Interception or not, though, Whitt is just as excited about Hyde as his boss is. Why? The recurring theme about the Packers’ two most consistently impressive rookies – Hyde and new starting left tackle David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick from Colorado – entering Friday night’s third preseason game against Seattle is this: They’ve proven they belong.
While second-round pick Eddie Lacy looked terrific in the Family Night Scrimmage on Aug. 3 and against the Rams last week, he also missed a week (and the preseason opener against Arizona on Aug. 9) with a hamstring injury and still must unseat incumbent DuJuan Harris for the title of starter. And while first-round pick Datone Jones could very well be a defensive difference-maker this season, the rookie defensive end has played exactly one snap of preseason football, injuring his ankle against the Cardinals on Aug. 9. He then reinjured the ankle in practice Wednesday and is likely to miss Friday night’s game.
Hyde and Bakhtiari, meanwhile, have practiced every day and consistently impressed. They haven’t been perfect – Hyde gave up a 57-yard completion against the Rams, and Bakhtiari let Aaron Rodgers get sacked by defensive end Robert Quinn – but they’ve steadily improved and appear headed for big things.
“The thing about him, nothing is too big for him,” Whitt said of Hyde. “When I told him, ‘You’re going to be starting (against the Rams),’ he was like, ‘OK.’ It was nothing for him. When we told him, ‘Hey, you’re going to go back there and return punts,’ (he said) ‘OK.’ The guy, you don’t shake the guy. When he gave up that big play, he didn't care. He went out there and made plays. He played football. It was good to see because at our position, you’re going to get beat. Now how do you respond to it? He responded with a very, very solid performance and a very good game in many different levels.”
Bakhtiari, of course, assumed the starting left tackle job when Bryan Bulaga was lost for the season to a knee injury suffered on Family Night. But even before Bulaga went down, Bakhtiari was making a run at the starting right tackle job, and he probably would have been the starter there had Bulaga stayed healthy.
“He’s not a surprise, if that’s what you’re asking me,” offensive line coach James Campen said.
Of last season’s eight player draft class, six players – outside linebacker Nick Perry, defensive end Jerel Worthy, cornerback Casey Hayward, defensive tackle Mike Daniels, safety Jerron McMillian and inside linebacker Terrell Manning – made the 53-man roster.
Perry (211 snaps) saw his season end after six games because of wrist surgery, but Worthy (467), Hayward (769) Daniels (280) and McMillian (614) all played at least 1 /5 of the team’s 1,260 defensive snaps in 18 games (including playoffs). Only Manning, a sixth-round pick, failed to play a defensive snap.
Now, McCarthy is expecting at least as many contributions from this year’s 11-player class.
“It looks great right now,” McCarthy said of the class. “You go off of last year’s draft class, and how many reps the defensive group played last season was a huge help for us. And it looks like this year’s draft class is probably headed down the same road. That’s always encouraging because, like I told the team, to win a championship it takes a lot of people. It took 77 players in 2010. So we’re going to need everybody.”
Or, as Thompson put it, “I think they’re doing fine, as a group. It looks like they’re a representative group. We don’t know what tomorrow brings but they look pretty good so far.”
With that in mind, here’s a player-by-player look at where the 2013 draft picks stand entering Friday night’s game against the Seahawks:
Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
First round (No. 26 overall)
Jones’ ankle injury isn’t his fault, and he’s not the first first-round pick the Packers have had miss time in training camp. Four years ago, the same thing happened to No. 9 overall pick B.J. Raji, who suffered an ankle injury in the preseason finale and missed the first two weeks of the regular season. Still, it’s disappointing that Jones, who came in with a leg up on the rest of his draft class because the UCLA defense is a lite version of the Packers’ scheme, hasn’t been on the field. He was injured on his first snap against Arizona and had just come back to practice this week before aggravating the ankle injury in practice Wednesday. While it’s not considered serious, it’s still a setback.
“Obviously, it’s not good, but it’s kind of similar to B.J. he kind of did his ankle in the last preseason game (in 2009). He’ll be OK,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said. “Obviously it’s not the best situation to miss practice time, but everything within the realm that he can do right now, he’s doing. You know, speaking from a guy that had some ankle injuries in my career, it just takes time. You just have to fight through it.”