More Opportunities for Darnell Savage in the Slot this Season?

Is Darnell Savage in line for more snaps as the Green Bay Packers 'star' cornerback this season under Joe Barry?

The 'star' cornerback position, also known as the slot corner, is going to be one of the more intriguing positional battles to take place this summer. Recently, defensive backs coach Jerry Gray told us that the team was evaluating four or five players for that role, and they would like to whittle it down to one or two by the time the regular season rolls around. 

Chandon Sullivan was the team's primary nickel corner in 2020, and it was clear that he was a target of both Jared Goff and Tom Brady in the playoffs. Now, that isn't to say it was all bad--because it wasn't. But that doesn't mean the position can't be upgraded either, and that is what Green Bay is trying to do by looking at a handful of players. 

As Joe Barry recently noted, this is a position where versatility is a must. The player must be capable in both man and zone coverages, effective against both the run and the pass, as well as be able to get after the quarterback:

“It's a unique position because you've got to be able to play man, you've got to be able to play zone,” said Joe Barry to reporters. “And when I say zone, you've got to be able to play like a linebacker almost. You've got to be involved in the run game and the run fits. We'll ask our nickel to be involved in the pressure package, so it's a unique position, but we've got a bunch of guys that are learning it just like they're learning every aspect of the back end.”

One of those four or five players competing for more playing time in the slot is likely Darnell Savage. Although, yes, he is a safety, lining up in the slot is not foreign to Savage whatsoever. During his final two seasons at Maryland, he took 337 snaps as the nickel in 2017 and 322 snaps there in 2018, according to PFF. Both Kyle Crabbs of The Draft Network and Lance Zierlein of NFL.com noted Savage's ability from the slot in their pre-draft reports.

With the Green Bay Packers, playing from the slot hasn't been Savage's main responsibility, but he's still seen a fair amount of playing time there. In 2019 he took 230 snaps as the nickel, and last season 229. When looking at Savage's 2020 season, in particular, he was quite effective in that role. 

Savage allowed one reception for every 20.8 slot snaps per PFF, which ranked fourth out of all cornerbacks and safeties. His 9.6 snaps per target from the slot ranked ninth, and his 58.0 passer rating when targeted was fourth out of 85 eligible players. Savage also brings that playmaking ability, with seven interceptions over his final two seasons at Maryland and four interceptions during the 2020 season. 

It's not a coincidence that Savage started making a greater impact last season when he was tasked with playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Of his four interceptions and seven pass breakups, all took place either Week 9 or later, right about the time he began seeing more snaps from the slot. 

If Savage does, in fact, see more snaps in the slot, that means someone needs to take his place next to Adrian Amos. Two names to keep your eyes on this summer are Vernon Scott and Christian Uphoff. In this Joe Barry defense, we are going to see a lot of two-high safety looks, and coming from TCU, Scott is very well versed in that role. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated would call Uphoff an "ideal two-high safety" at the NFL level.

If we go back and look at what Barry asks of his nickel corners, Savage certainly fits the mold. While admittedly, he needs to play with more control as a tackler, he's shown that he's very willing. He has the skill-set and mentality to get after the quarterback when asked to, and as we saw in 2020, he can be very effective from the slot in coverage.

Savage's speed, burst, versatility, instincts, and really his overall skill-set shines when he's in the mix playing closer to the line of scrimmage, muddying things up. With all that said, I certainly don't see the slot being his lone responsibility in this defense, but let's give him the opportunity to make more of those big plays for this defense.

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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10 points

Comments (53)

Fan-Friendly This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.
BuckyBadger's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:08 am

I would think the talent you have on Defense would mold the scheme rather than trying to mold the players to the scheme. Asking players to be to something they are not leaves your defense vulnerable.

8 points
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PeteK's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:51 am

Very true , but at this point the coaches will probably make do with what they have. Finding the best fits and then coaching it up will probably help this relatively young unit.

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 14, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Well said, I also think one has to ask what the downside is to moving him from safety. Occasionally to confuse is one thing ( the same is true of Alexander and others), but if the net positive doesn’t outweigh the negative at their normal position then it actually weakens the D overall.

I also think Savage is just coming into his own at S. While it’s true he may excel elsewhere, I lean towards letting him perfect one position first, maximize his talent. What I’d do with a Woodson when he was here is very different than the seemingly best tactic with less experienced ascending players.

0 points
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Leatherhead's picture

June 14, 2021 at 02:35 pm

If we have somebody else to play deep safety, Savage is useful near the LOS. On pass plays. On runs, he’s going to be outweighed by a lot.

What 11 guys do you want on the field on 3rd and 5 or more? Definitely Savage. I remember seasons in the past where I didn’t think we could put 11 good defenders on the field, but unless we take injuries we should be able to this year. Savage, Amos, Alexander, King, Stokes, Smith, Smith, Gary, Clark….that’s a real good start. Others might emerge during training camp. We have several dependable, experienced veterans and youngsters to round out the roster.

This could be a pretty good defense and Savage is going to help. He’ll play every snap that he’s healthy.

6 points
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greengold's picture

June 14, 2021 at 03:49 pm

This is close to the deepest secondary I can ever recall in Green Bay.

There are some serious talents many have yet to even hear about. That Safety group is LOADED, and I believe Will Redmond is going to have his hands full trying to keep a position on this Packers roster.

Last year we kept 5 Safeties. I could easily see this year's group look more like this:

Adrian Amos 6-0 214
Darnell Savage 5-11 198
Vernon Scott 6-2 202
Innis Gaines 6-1 202
Christian Uphoff 6-3 209

Plenty of size, speed, range, tackling ability and ball skills with all 5 of these players. I'd be happy with any one of those last 3 running deep Safety with Amos.

On a side note, in a pinch, they could run Ray Wilborn at Safety if need be if he makes this team as well as the others. He's a ILB/S hybrid. 6-3 230. Camp battles should be big.

3 points
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dobber's picture

June 14, 2021 at 03:21 pm

Certainly once Raven Greene got dinged, Redmond was usually the 6th DB in Pettine's rotation, but a new DC will have his own preferences and predilections. Remember, too, that Black and Scott garnered a smaller number of defensive snaps, but were ST stalwarts (as was Redmond). Given that STs were not good, that isn't necessarily a ringing endorsement for those guys, but it makes it more than a little harder for Gaines and Uphoff to climb into a roster spot.

4 points
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greengold's picture

June 14, 2021 at 03:46 pm

I know both Uphoff and Gaines play STs, Uphoff really excels there too. Seems this year Gutekunst is going to clean house on the backend of his roster, and will infuse new talents there for Maurice Drayton to work with.

Our STs were abysmal. They needed to change out the coach, but also the players. It's not like any one of them lit it up in their respective positions, much less on STs.

Neither Greene nor Redmond have length. Both Gaines and Uphoff do, and they both know how to tackle.

Gaines is an interesting player. He looks to me like someone who is PERFECT for the star position:

https://youtu.be/KiqLMpfmUY0

1 points
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Leatherhead's picture

June 14, 2021 at 05:08 pm

Our special teams were abysmal? We didn’t miss a single field goal, and we didn’t lose a single game because of a special teams breakdown.

We gave up two long punt return TDs. I don’t think we had a punt blocked. A high% of punts were inside the 20. We didn’t give up any fake punts and nobody had a successful onside kick against us. I believe we fumbled one punt, and one kick, but I could be wrong on some details.

If we didn’t return punts, we wouldn’t turn it over. If we punted out of bounds, that would take care of those returns against us.

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greengold's picture

June 14, 2021 at 06:17 pm

I looked this up not long ago for another discussion, but we were the absolute worst in the NFL, or close to the worst, in KR (31st), PR (32nd), KR coverage (32nd) & PR coverage (25th) yards per game.

Gave up 2 TDs in PR coverage with a long of 91, as you mentioned.

Our 2pt. Conversion D tied with 4 other teams for last in the NFL, giving up 5 conversions.

I’d call that abysmal.

Agree our FG unit is solid. 59/63 PAT, which is good.

3 points
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Leatherhead's picture

June 14, 2021 at 06:54 pm

You should look deeper. A difference of 3 yards makes a quite a difference in these rankings. Where did we rank on turnovers and penalties

Somebody can look this up, but we haven’t lost a game because of special teams miscues since LaFleur arrived. The previous season saw Mason Crosby fail in Detroit and Montgomery’s Boner play a huge role in our loss to the Rams.

Abysmal? As my friend Inigo Montoya might say “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

We agree on the FG unit, and we agree on our coverage unit

1 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:35 pm

You want a playmaker at Star, not a scrub udfa. Think Charles Woodson. It a position you want and need a playmaker in for the D to excel. Savage is as close to being that as anyone we've had since Woodson. His varied skill set, his athleticism make him a great player in that capacity!

4 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:31 am

Agree, but also don’t gain by taking an ascending player from one position if that he left is weakened. There is nobody on this Roster that I see being close to where Savage is as a safety. That’s a position that takes time to master and one where he seems to be coming into his own. In a sub package maybe, but I don’t like weakening safety and I don’t like putting the smaller Savage into a position to take a beating. This makes very little sense to me. Woodson was 210 pounds and took a beating, Savage is under 200.

-1 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 16, 2021 at 04:37 am

Redmond is on thin ice.

0 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:07 pm

On run plays Woodson was outweighed by alot, but it didn't matter he still made plays. Savage isn't afraid to attack a ball carrier, and Woodson was fearless. at it. Savage thrived closer to the LOS last year and also in college. It fits his skill set perfectly in the way that playing deep zone doesn't fit his skill set.

I'v e made no bones about it. Savage is easily the best choice to play the Star position, just like Woodson was when he won DPOY while playing the star in caper scheme. He's not HOF material like Woodson obviously, but of the Packer DB's he is by far the best in the slot. And playing deep zone or in cover 2, He's not as good. He would always be my 1st choice to play Star, Alexander can take some if he needs to match the opponents best reciever in the slot. Down in and down out, Savage makes many more plays and the Star CB slot is a position that you have the most opportunity to make plays, much more than Safety.

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 16, 2021 at 04:39 am

As LeRoy Butler advocated, Savage should be your Star guy. Why keep his talent in the hinterland trying to cover for whiffs by over-matched CBs. The CBs have to improve and as the playoffs showed Sullivan is a dime at best.

0 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:50 am

It sure is nice to have a player is so good that he can play at a high level in both positions. Too bad we can't clone him and have a "Savage" in both positions.

4 points
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PeteK's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:55 am

Don't fear, with your Ferrari and my Hemi Challenger we can get the job done. LOL

2 points
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Ferrari-Driver's picture

June 14, 2021 at 01:11 pm

I always liked the Challenger and would have loved one when I was younger, but like most of us, I had to buy cheaper used cars because of the lack of money.

3 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 14, 2021 at 12:10 pm

The slot CB position can be somewhat of a meat grinder - especially for smaller players. Chandon Sullivan played the position last year but I saw his play decline as the season wore on. I would be leery in having players like Savage and Alexander - smaller, lighter players - play the Star with any frequency. Perhaps, occasionally and on a rotational basis. It would be ideal if a bigger, stronger player (Scott, Uphoff or...?) could emerge as the primary slot CB. Jean-Charles could also be in the running, but once gain, he's undersized (5'10"- 184 lbs.) - although he's smart, feisty, sticky and strong (19 reps bench press). This is shaping-up to be one of the better competitions at training camp. Certainly on the Must Watch list.

6 points
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PatrickGB's picture

June 14, 2021 at 01:22 pm

Yes, I too, worry about undersized safety’s in the role of MLB. Greene done it and he was feisty. But we saw what happened to him with his injuries. Yet when the team doesn’t have LB’s that can cover then the defense it has to do what it has to do. There is no doubt that the CB’s and safety’s are willing and often able to do that but I cringe every time one of them makes a tackle on a bigger player.

2 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:32 pm

It didn't seem to bother Woodson and he was about 200 lbs. Savage was 198 so really not a difference to speak of. Alexander is well put together at 195 - 200. The best player in the Star position is a playmaker! That is Savage, particularly when in the slot and close to the LOS. Reminiscent of Woodson, tho obviously not HOF material.

2 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:55 pm

Actually Woodson was 6'1", 210 lbs. - so 2"-3" taller than Savage and Alexander and 10-15 lbs. heavier. That's a significant difference.

2 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 11:42 pm

Woodson wasn't 210. More like 6 205 at most. Size isn't the important characteristic at Star! Athleticism and playmaker ability are what's needed along with some physicality. It perfectly suits Savage, and playing him in 2 deep coverage is a complete waste of Savage!

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:39 am

Charles Woodson was consistently listed at 210 and 6’1” throughout his NFL career. Savage might not even be 198 as currently claimed.

The most likely outcome is that we play most of the year without Savage at either position. This is the great on paper, but utterly foolish in practice type idea I hope is nothing more than a rare situational gimmick, if that.

-2 points
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Handsback's picture

June 14, 2021 at 12:19 pm

I personally think Savage can be as good as Collins...this position may frame his opportunities into an All Pro player.

2 points
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jont's picture

June 14, 2021 at 04:59 pm

Well, this is a pretty optimistic take... but I agree with you.
This past season Savage showed good anticipation pretty often. He read the play and moved without hesitation. "Football instincts" the announcers all said.
I hope he continues to grow. Has the physical and mental tools to be a real star.

5 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:40 pm

Collins didnt play slot/Star CB. He was great in deep coverage. Woodson was the Star CB who won DPOY while playing the Star CB position. Collins and Savage have different skill sets. Savage's ability in the Star and close to the LOS suits the Star position, as does his playmaking ability. In that way he's more like Woodson, tho not HOF level.

You need a playmaker in the Star CB role for the D to function best. Safeties that can play cover 2, are easier to find and it doesn't require the skills and athleticism of the Star CB.

3 points
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stockholder's picture

June 14, 2021 at 12:50 pm

I'm ready for another shell game. I Say if they move him. He is a failure. Regardless.

-6 points
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PackerAaron's picture

June 14, 2021 at 02:13 pm

Mike Wahle was a terrible tackle and an All Pro guard. Sometimes guys need to move. But you obviously aren't happy unless you're out in front of the misery parade, so carry on.

6 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 14, 2021 at 04:24 pm

The irony here is that with stockholder, CHTV is actually a better forum. Is the the WWF not better entertainment because of it's heels? So I proffer that CHTV is as well. Sure he is provocative and acts as antagonist on almost all subjects. Personally, I think that he writes his comments in between chasing kids off his front lawn. But he is a loyal subscriber, Packers fan and is unwavering in his beliefs. And with stockholder there is the rare treat that he says something 'agreeable'.

So if stockholder is indeed leader of the misery parade - so be it. Sometimes it's as much fun to boo as it is to cheer.

2 points
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stockholder's picture

June 14, 2021 at 05:45 pm

Sometimes it does work out. Good luck.

3 points
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greengold's picture

June 14, 2021 at 06:25 pm

I remember Mike being a highly touted Supplemental Draft pick by Ron Wolf out of Navy. R2?

HEYYYYYY! YES!!! Just checked it, and my brain still works... whew.

2 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 16, 2021 at 04:47 am

I Do not catch your dissociation Stockmeister.

0 points
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LambeauPlain's picture

June 14, 2021 at 01:07 pm

It would be nice surprise if Uphoff would show he can be the star. A lot to ask of a rookie, though. Although Sullivan was coached up by Gray and performed OK.

Another option would be to try Jackson at S. He excelled at IA playing zone. He could take Savage's spot deep.

But you cannot overlook the stats Savage put up in the slot the last two years were impressive.

4 points
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Alberta_Packer's picture

June 14, 2021 at 01:24 pm

I think there is little doubt that Savage can be an impressive slot CB. My question is how much do you want him doing it because of the physical nature of the position? Also who fills-in at his safety position? Could it be somewhat "robbing Peter to pay Paul?"

As for Jackson, I think they wanted him to audition last year for the position. However, a slot safety has to be able cover tight, on man-to-man - which is not Jackson's forte (without grabbing something).

2 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:50 pm

You need a playmaker in the Slot and you need a high end athlete. Savage is both of those! Its not robbing if he makes more plays at Star, as mentioned in the article that is when he started making more plays end of last year, closer to LOS and the Star. A cover 2 safeties is much easier to find and Savage struggles in deep coverage. Its a no-brainer IMO!

2 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:44 am

I need my playmakers on the field. If we learned nothing from using the fractionally larger (than Savage) Greene as a quasi linebacker, this would be the type of idea we’d come up with.

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 16, 2021 at 04:52 am

If they want to run at you, meet them in the backfield, don't form the picket line to be blasted off your mark.

0 points
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CoachDino's picture

June 14, 2021 at 03:21 pm

Solid article, easy to talk about moving savage but our guy stepped up by then considering the safety impact.
CHTV has by far the best posters. So many good points / considerations.

From Scheme fit to injury consideration.

IMO Pettine never was able to implement his ideal scheme due to lack of personnel. Over the last few years its has been worked on through player development, draft and FA's. Barry has the best yet to work with but will need a few guys to step up to really be able to take advantage of the the scheme. great points with Scott and Uphoff, reaching due to age and potential (not highly touted players) yet they do show ability.
Stokes will take some time to develop as well. Still need a covergae ILB, the new guy has been declining there, the highlights I watched were all about blitzes and opass rush. A new twist?

It's still an Offensive league where good D's give up 24-31 points to good O's. I thought other than KK's worst game of his career the D's was never the issue in the NFCCG (as a whole).

encouraged on how much everyone is reporting Pettine and Barry schemes are similar. Should make for a less painful learning curve.

3 points
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stockholder's picture

June 14, 2021 at 06:10 pm

Scheme Fit? I heard that when they they drafted him. Which is why this is becoming confusing.

1 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 08:05 pm

What's confusing? The plays he made last year where when he was playing closer to the LOS and in the slot! He did next to NOTHING when he was stuck in deep coverage. Barry's safeties are buried deep. Savage was at his best not playing Safety but more like the Star position! It fits him best. And playing cover 2 and deep doesn't fit his skills.

You Clearly didn't read the damn article! You need to pay attention! For the Love of God!

0 points
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Leatherhead's picture

June 14, 2021 at 08:39 pm

Ok, I have to ask a question. If you play your safeties deep to prevent long plays, and they do that, does that count as making a play? I mean, if you do what you’re supposed to do, isn’t that just as valuable?

We played Savage deep so that our corners could play press coverage knowing they had deep help. It worked. Putting him closer to the LOS had him making some different kind of plays, but you still need a deep safety.

1 points
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Johnblood27's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:19 am

Where was that deep safety help for KK just before half?

1 points
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Coldworld's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:45 am

Close to the line of Scrimmage as per Pettine’s call according to Amos.

0 points
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Stroh's picture

June 16, 2021 at 10:32 pm

A Playmaker is a when a player consistently creates a turnover or loss of yardage type for the most part. Sure it's important to prevent big plays downfield, but a role player doing the right thing, per his responsibilities is what's necessary as a cover 2 Safety.

Playing in deep coverage just isn't Savages Forte. To make the best use of his ability he really needs to be in the action more. Savage can create turnovers in the Star role much more than in deep coverage.

0 points
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jannes bjornson's picture

June 16, 2021 at 04:55 am

It was an issue until the second half of the NFC CH game when LaFluer told Pettine to bring the heat.

0 points
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calabasa's picture

June 14, 2021 at 05:11 pm

I think Savage is a complicated fella.

7 points
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Lare's picture

June 14, 2021 at 05:47 pm

I'm just thrilled to see an article that isn't about Rodgers or Love.

4 points
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VinceL's picture

June 14, 2021 at 06:19 pm

Now that you've mentioned them, I agree. What a relief, eh?

2 points
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greengold's picture

June 14, 2021 at 07:37 pm

Super refreshing! There are SO many other great player stories on this roster. Great talents all around.

ILB, S, CB, OLB, OL, RB, WR all look to have intriguing battles. We can easily count 10-12 new players with legit shots to make the final 53 man roster.

1 points
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Stroh's picture

June 14, 2021 at 08:08 pm

Every year the Packers have about 15-20 player different from the previous year. But your excited about ouly 10-12?

0 points
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Johnblood27's picture

June 15, 2021 at 08:20 am

some players are just not exciting... like some posters1

0 points
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nygary's picture

June 15, 2021 at 06:45 pm

Stockholder your a natural born piece of shit. Enjoy your day asshole.

-3 points
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