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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: What are the keys vs. the Saints in Week 1?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered fan questions in his first weekly live chat of the 2021 season.

New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston
New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston

Hey everybody, welcome to the first live chat of the 2021 season. Thanks for logging on. Go ahead and start sending in some questions and we'll get going.

Hi Mike, can you refresh my memory on rules for the PUP list? Does David Bakhtiari have to wait 6 full weeks to practice, or can he practice before the 6 weeks are up?

He cannot practice for the first six weeks of the season. The first time he can practice is after the Oct. 17 Bears game. There's a grace period built into the PUP rules where he can start practicing but doesn't have to count on the 53-man roster right away, so they could ease him back in and make the roster decision when he's fully ready.

Hi Mike! I'll be flying to Sunday's game. Should I pack a 'HOME" jersey even though we'll be the visiting team? I'm thinking the Saints will opt to wear white in the hot Florida sunshine. GO-PACK-GO!

That's what I'm thinking they'll do, too. I know the Packers wore their green jerseys for the '16 opener in Jacksonville vs. the Jaguars.

If the new punter is so great why isn't he still on the Bills?

Mostly the cap crunch, as far as I can tell. Corey Bojorquez had a strong 2020 and was a restricted free agent after the season. The RFA tender was a little rich for Buffalo's cap situation, so they went another direction, and he signed for about half the tender money with the Rams, who used the competition with Hekker to get Hekker to take a pay cut to stay. It's all to the Packers' benefit the way it worked out.

You might have answered this in Inside Inbox so apologies if it's been talked about. What are your thoughts on the alternate uniforms this year? I think they're awesome. Very sharp.

I think they're pretty cool, and the best alternates produced to date in my opinion. It sounds like the players are pretty fired up about them, too. I know the '50s isn't exactly an era of Packers football to celebrate, but I'm glad the organization broke the mold a little in that regard to model something from the past that's different but not so drastically different, if you know what I mean.

One more question if I may: Jameis Winston is a MUCH better QB than a lot of people realize and he'll likely feel right at home Sunday. What are the keys to stopping him from having a big day?

He is a very talented QB with a strong arm. His issue has been the turnovers, but that doesn't make him any less dangerous. The Packers will have to guard against the deep ball, and against his scrambling ability. He can sling it, but you have to be smart about how you pressure him because he can run away and make things happen.

Mike how many seasons is this for you you must be the longest time employee at this point wow. Whats been your best opener game to cover and do you have any funny stories?

This is my 16th season in this job, and I'm far from the longest-tenured employee in the building, but I have been here longer than anyone associated with the website. So far, I would say my most memorable openers have been '07, '10 and '11. The first two were both against Philly, and Mason Crosby's rookie year ('07) he hit a game-winner at the end. In '10, the Eagles lost Kevin Kolb to injury, Michael Vick stepped in and it completely changed the game. Turned into a very unpredictable contest with the Packers hanging on thanks to a fourth-down stop late. The '11 opener vs. the Saints was a shootout with the long Cobb KO return TD as a rookie, and all that, plus the goal-line stand at the end.

Good morning, Spoff. You talked about Jace Sternberger in this morning's Insider Inbox and how it isn't guaranteed he would be activated after he serves his two-game suspension. What circumstances would need to happen for the Packers to not activate him? After Kamal Martin was released so soon in his NFL career, I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers decided to release Sternberger, but I was just curious on your thoughts. Thanks!

They've got four TEs on the active roster right now, and Sternberger wasn't a lock to make the roster coming out of camp in that position group. That's why I said there's simply no guarantee, but we'll just have to see what they decide after Week 2 and what arises between now and then regarding injuries, other roster concerns, etc. A lot can change quickly in this league.

It sounds like CB2 (and beyond) is a question mark for the Saints. Could be a big day for MVS, Lazard, and others

Lattimore is clearly their top corner, but I don't think those other guys are weak links or anything. That's a pretty good defense overall. But it won't have the benefit of crowd noise in that dome, and last year we saw what the Packers did to them without the noise, 37 points despite no Adams.

Do you think the week 1 starting o-line will remain the same until DB returns, barring injuries? It doesn't seem like it's really set in stone.

Performance will dictate that. With Josh Myers and Royce Newman both rookies, you never know. The wouldn't be in those spots if the Packers didn't think they could handle it, but there are options if things don't work out. The guard competition was pretty robust most of camp.

What are you most interested in observing once the baloney stops?

Can the Packers' offense stay at or close to the level it was last year? They were first in the league on third down, in the red zone, in total points. I don't know how you repeat that, but they've got the pieces to do it, as long as the changes up front work out as intended.

Have heard many of the players talking about having their goals posted as reminders/motivation. Any interesting ones that you have seen for this season, or over the years?

Players rarely if ever share their personal goals publicly. They keep those to themselves, understandably, because once you announce something specific, you're measured by that the rest of the way, fair or unfair.

Not Packers related, but excited just to be watching real football again. What do you think of the opener tomorrow?

There's a lot of intrigue, more so with Dallas frankly than with the defending SB champs, because Prescott is returning, and Dallas is in a wide-open division but needs to make big strides on defense to contend. It's a whale of a test for them right off the bat.

What about the '18 opener?

Amazing game, for sure. As incredible as the comeback was, that game felt different to me, though, because it felt like it went back and forth between both teams just playing terrible football. Kizer was awful stepping in for Aaron Rodgers, and then when Rodgers came back, the Bears defense just folded. I mean, the long winning TD was a simple stop route and then Randall Cobb turned around and nobody was there to tackle him for 70 yards. It was kind of ridiculous, really.

Hi Mike, Do you think people are making too much of the heat issue for Sunday? Wisconsin is warm and humid in the summer too. I think this would be a much bigger issue if the game were being played in Nov/Dec.

That Florida heat this time of year is no joke. I was down on the field before the '16 opener in Jacksonville, and that was a heck of a lot hotter than anything we experienced in training camp up here. That said, I'm seeing highs only in the mid-80s now for Sunday, not 90-plus. It'll still be about which team has enough left in the tank in the fourth quarter. None of these guys has played a four-quarter football game for 8 months.

A group of us (7) are staying 2 blocks from Lambeau for the Monday nighter in two weeks. Where can we get the best IPA, within walking distance?

Can't help you there. As much as I like beer, IPAs are not my thing.

I miss the dual locker room interviews with the Smith Brothers! There are many other combinations I would love to see as well. How about Amari Rodgers & Randall Cobb? Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kenny Clark? Bahktiari and Dennis Kelly or even Rodgers would be entertaining as well! Any chance we might see locker room interviews again this year?

At this point there is no locker room access for the media, and that's an NFL protocol, not up to the individual teams. Unfortunately, I don't see that changing this fall based on the current virus statistics and trends.

Mike, in your time here, where would you rank the overall roster of this 2021 team?

It's as good as any at the start of the season. Not having Bakhtiari until late October at the earliest is unfortunate, but it's still awfully strong. I don't know how to rank 'em. But I think this roster is as deep as last year's if not better.

Mike, I get the feeling that NO will move the ball, but the key to me is making Winston pay for his mistakes. Is it really that simple on defense?

We'll have to see how Winston plays. No guarantee he'll turn it over at the same rate he has in the past, but it'll be up to the defense to force a few mistakes and throw their offense out of whack. They don't have Thomas, but they do have Kamara, and he gave the Packers all they could handle last year.

Really excited for this season! What are your expectations for this year?

I've said in Inbox I think the Packers are the best team in the NFC North and I'd expect, health willing, they'll win the division. Where that would put them in the playoff seeding and what the matchups would be in January, who knows? But they have an awfully tough schedule, which will make getting the 1 seed and only bye very tough. But they're the team to beat in the North, hands down.

I know in the Inbox you're discouraging "all in or SB or Bust" talk but considering what they've done in the offseason and next years cap situation not to mention the AR uncertainty can we just call this what it is "SB or Bust" 2021.

I understand all the reasons for feeling that way, and I'm not saying it's wrong or incorrect. It's just a dangerous mentality that rarely works out in this league. It's still about embracing the grind, start to finish, and being healthy and playing well at the right time.

Any insight into the energy in the building?

I'm sure it will grow as the week progresses. The players were off yesterday and they practice today around 1 p.m. as they truly begin their regular-season routine.

Do you (the media) still have access to practice?

In the regular season, the media can watch roughly the first half-hour of practice, when they're doing position drills. Then practice is closed once the 11-on-11 periods start. We only get to watch practice from start to finish during OTAs and training camp.

Glad to have you back on the live chat! You look cold with your hands in your pockets. Is it already fall weather in Green Bay?

Ha, no. It's actually really nice around here right now. I just wasn't sure where to put my hands for the photo, and the pockets seemed like the only natural spot. I like the new zip-up hoodie for this year, though.

Any talk about requiring masks or proof of vaccination for home games?

I have not heard anything along those lines. There are mask rules in place for the indoor spaces around the stadium.

Regarding special teams, the pre-season wasn't very you think our new punter brings better energy to the squad?

I think he's just a better punter, period, based on his track record. They were trying out a ton of guys on special teams during the preseason games, a lot of guys who didn't make the team. I'm not going to judge anything until we see the real game results.

What's your over-under on when Kevin King will get injured and Eric Stokes will have to step in and step up? Four weeks?

I think everyone's hoping it's 2019 again for King, when he missed only one game and lead the team in INTs. He's shown he can have a healthy year, but obviously one out of four in his career thus far is not ideal.

The offense catches a break not having to deal with the noise in NO but I think the Saints coaches will do everything they can to confuse Meyers to make the right line calls. Will AR step in to correct the wrong ones? Missed blocking assignments could wreck this game.

Those calls are always managed by both the C and QB, and Rodgers will correct what he sees if necessary.

In II it was mentioned there is no limit on coaches or their salary. Do you think that will ever change?

Not really. It's up to any owner/team how much they want to spend in that area of football operations. The coaches aren't unionized like the players so it's not about collectively bargaining rules or anything like that, either.

Hi Mike, any idea why WR Reggie Begleton didn't make the practice squad ? Did he go back to the CFL ?

All I know is Begelton is a free agent. I don't know if the Packers offered him a PS spot and he declined, or if they just felt better about Juwann Winfree, Equanimeous St. Brown and Chris Blair, and felt three WRs on the practice squad were enough.

Follow up on line calls, should the O try to get to the line quickly so AR has enough time to make adjustments to blocking assignments?

I think getting in and out of the huddle quickly will be encouraged, yes. That got much better last year compared to LaFleur's first season in '19.

Has the team elected team captains yet?

I don't know. If they have, the selections haven't been announced. I would imagine we'll find out sometime this week.

Why doesn't your jacket have a C on it?

Ha, good one.

Did LaFleur announce who's starting where at guard? Or is he keeping that a secret until game day?

The Dope Sheet put out by the team's communications department yesterday listed Newman and Lucas Patrick as the starting guards on the unofficial depth chart. That's all we have to go on at the moment.

How does Za'Darius Smith look on the practice field?

He was only doing individual drills in Monday's practice, and the OLBs were a ways away from the media, so it was difficult to glean anything. We'll see how much he practices here these next three days.

Who is a player on defense and offense we should watch to make a jump in production this year?

I think the most obvious answers are AJ Dillon on offense and Rashan Gary on defense, but I also would be surprised, health permitting, if MVS didn't have his best season statistically this year. He had his best training camp for sure.

Do you think we will be able to notice a difference in the defense under Barry vs Pettine?

We're all waiting to find out. I've been saying all along, based on LaFleur's comments through the process, that he's aiming for a different approach defensively in certain situations. So situationally, we might see some more aggressive calls perhaps. But schematically, they have pretty much the same personnel packages we've seen previously.

All right, folks, I've got to get downstairs for LaFleur's next meeting with the media, so I'm going to sign off there. Glad we're off to a good start with the weekly chat, and we'll keep it going from here. Thanks for the participation. Talk again soon. Best, Mike

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