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Hayward, McMillian bright spots for Packers

Posted Aug 16, 2012

In an otherwise forgettable 35-10 preseason loss to Cleveland, a couple of the Packers’ defensive draft picks took another step forward.

Cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian both got extensive playing time with the first units on Thursday night at Lambeau Field and showed they’re very likely to contribute to Green Bay’s defense as rookies.

Hayward (pictured), a second-round pick from Vanderbilt who is in the hunt to start in the base defense while fellow corner Davon House (shoulder) is out of action, held up well amidst repeated challenges. He surrendered a few completions, but he nearly made the play of the game in the second quarter when he broke on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden’s quick out to the left for receiver Josh Gordon and got his hands on the ball.

Had he snagged it, it would have been a 60-yard pick-six, but apparently he was spared the typical rookie razzing on the sideline afterward.

“We don’t have to razz him about it. He knows it,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We’ve seen him make that play many times at practice, and there are going to be opportunities out there, so he’ll get it.”

Hayward sounded just as confident.

“No doubt, I should have had the pick-six,” he said. “But it happens. It’ll come back to me. If I keep playing the way I play, it’ll come back to me.”

Hayward also had a tackle on special teams, and he just missed getting receiver Rod Windsor down short of the first-down marker on third-and-9 in the third quarter. Windsor was just barely able to stretch the ball out to get the first down.

It was a solid tackle, nonetheless, but perhaps the more impressive tackler was McMillian, who was playing a lot of “in-the-box” safety, up close to the line of scrimmage.

In a span of five plays on one second-quarter drive, McMillian got into the backfield to stop former Packers running back Brandon Jackson for a 2-yard loss, and then stoned Jackson again for just a 1-yard gain.

“I read the line, I felt the run and I just went with it,” McMillian said of his tackle for loss. “I let the instincts take over and made the play.”

Drafted in the fourth round out of Maine, McMillian was known for his physical presence in college and it is showing up already. He’s battling with fellow safeties M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine for playing time in the nickel and dime packages.

“I was making sure I was in the right place and making sure I was doing everything 100 percent,” McMillian said. “I feel as though I’m a strong tackler, so I take pride in that. Being able to come out and secure a tackle I make is a big thing to help out.”

These rookies may be needed to help right away. That seems to be a given.

"Some of these guys are going to have to come in here and make some plays, and that's what they've been doing," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "A lot of pressure is put on them to get up to speed, and hopefully by Week 1 they'll be up to speed with the vets."

On offense, one potential bright spot was running back Alex Green, who was productive on his four first-quarter carries, gaining 16 yards. Green is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery and has been on a snap count, but he showed no hesitation in rushing for 3, 3, 5 and 5 yards.

“I think I took a step today toward getting better, getting back to 100 percent,” Green said. “I took a couple of hits to the knee, cut off the left side a little bit more today, and it was a pretty fast tempo, so that’s a good thing for me.”

On his fourth and final carry, Green slipped through the left side but was tripped up after a 5-yard gain. He slammed the ball between his hands as he got up, knowing he was an eyelash from breaking it.

“Yeah, I have to see it on film, but I thought I probably could have came out of that one,” he said. “It was one of those things, took my legs out from under me. It happens. Sometimes you get frustrated because you want to break every run.”

Backup quarterback Graham Harrell and the No. 2 offense took over early in the second quarter. Stymied by poor field position much of the night, Harrell struggled, going 12 of 24 for 100 yards with two interceptions (one on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half).

He threw a pick-six on the opening drive of the third quarter when tight end Ryan Taylor fell down on his route, and Harrell was called for intentional grounding in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, giving the Browns a safety. It wasn’t the performance the Packers were looking for after Harrell led two TD drives last week in San Diego.

Harrell finally got something going later in the fourth, hitting back-to-back passes to undrafted rookie receiver Jarrett Boykin for a total of 49 yards, leading to a field goal. Those were the Packers’ only points following a TD on the opening drive by the No. 1 unit.

“Those last couple to Boykin, he did a great job on that,” said Harrell, who refused to use the constant player shuffling and the youth of the No. 2 offensive line as excuses for the struggles. “That’s well-executed football. As a second unit, that’s what we have to do more often. The protection was good on that, we ran good routes, and I threw a good ball.

“The more we can do that, the better we’ll be, I think. That’s what we have to do no matter who’s in there.”

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