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What We Learned: Week 1, at Jacksonville

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Seeing the Packers run out onto the field for the first time since the loss to Arizona in the playoffs, which feels like it was about 34 months ago, was certainly a sight for sore eyes. The same can’t be said for the product that was on the field, but Week One in the NFL can be pretty goofy, and the only thing that matters is the Packers will bring a 1-0 record to Minnesota next Sunday.

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What We Learned: Damarious Randall is going to be a Pro Bowl Cornerback sooner than later.

In a game that was probably more down than up for the Packers Secondary, Damarious Randall was the clear star of the defensive backfield. While Sam Shields suffered a concussion, Quentin Rollins was benched, and Morgan Burnett had numerous penalties, the second-year Randall was steady as can be. He was not victimized for any of the 20+ yard plays that plagued the defense on the afternoon, and his tight coverage against a dangerous (and tall) Jacksonville Receiver group was noticeable.

Other than elite size (Randall is average for a CB at 5’11), Randall has everything you look for in a starting CB. He has rarely been beaten deep in his short career, as he has shown the ability to stay with Receivers on deep sideline routes. He certainly does not lack for confidence. He has a knack for turning his head at the right moment when the ball is coming in, which allows him to play a bit more physically than maybe he should, as refs are willing give the benefit of the doubt when a CB plays the ball and not the man. Charles Woodson was a master of this.

Any reservations about Randall’s ability to transition from college Safety to boundary CB in the NFL have been put to bed. Although the Pro Bowl nominations often start coming a year or two late for young players, the rest of the league will soon take notice of a burgeoning star at CB in Green Bay. Ted found another good one.

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What We Hope We Learned: The sky will not fall with Lane Taylor instead of Josh Sitton at Guard.

Josh Sitton was an excellent player and a huge presence in the locker room. A player of his stature will be missed, no matter the circumstances of his departure or who replaces him. However, Sunday’s game showed that losing Sitton will not be the determining factor in whether the Packers offense gets back to where it needs to be in 2016.

Pro Football Focus graded Lane Taylor’s performance as the 8th best among guards around the league on Sunday (Sitton was 27th). While you have to take PFF’s grades with a grain of salt, they do a pretty good job grading Offensive Linemen. I locked in on Taylor on a number of plays and did not notice any negative plays, but it is reassuring to see that the PFF crew who watched every play of his would concur.
Mike McCarthy made clear in his press conference following Sitton’s release that the Packers organization does not view Guard as a premier position. Lane Taylor will probably never be a Pro Bowler, but it was reassuring to learn that he should at least be serviceable at a position where that is all the team should need.

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What We Hope Isn’t True: Concussions will be an ongoing issue for Sam Shields.

Sam Shields has now suffered the third concussion of his career, including two in the last two seasons. His concussion last year was particularly severe, causing him to miss four games. While the severity of this most recent concussion remains to be seen, and his reaction this time did not seem to imply that this one was as bad as last year’s, this is now a major concern for Shields.
The biggest unknown in the situation is how much more Shields is willing to take. Some players, such as Chris Borland, who retired even though he had not even suffered any concussions in college or the NFL, view the risk of long-term effects as too great of a risk. Others will view concussions as being part of what they signed up for, and will keep on playing as long as possible. Where Shields falls on this spectrum is anyone’s guess, but he seems to play with a passion and sense of fun that speaks to a genuine love of football. Plus, his $10 million per year salary would be a lot tougher to walk away from than Borland’s rookie deal.
Of course, we all hope Shields does not suffer any more concussions and never needs to seriously consider retirement because of them. But, when players start having multiple concussions in short order, especially ones that knock them out for a month, they need to ask themselves some tough questions. This will be a story to follow this year and in the coming seasons for Shields.

 

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By Mark Darnieder

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