INDIANAPOLIS – Mike McCarthy said heading into Friday’s preseason game that he still needed to see a lot of the young players play.
He had to like what he saw out of two rookies in particular – outside linebacker Vic So’oto and tight end Ryan Taylor – in the Packers’ 24-21 triumph at Lucas Oil Stadium.
So’oto, bidding to make the team as an undrafted free agent, had a sack that forced a fumble on the opening series of the third quarter, played stout against the run and even showed up on special teams.
Taylor, the seventh-round pick from North Carolina, had three catches for 24 yards on the game-tying drive in the final minute, including an 11-yard touchdown grab on fourth down. He added a reception on the two-point conversion that tied the game with 35 seconds left, setting the stage for an onside kick and game-winning 50-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.
“When you have an opportunity in this league to make a team and you take advantage of it and you make the plays you need to make, that says a lot about you as an individual and as a player,” veteran cornerback Charles Woodson said.
Making the conversion from college defensive end to pro outside linebacker, So’oto has put together an impressive camp and went out and played his strongest game to date on Friday.
The Colts still had their starters in the game when he came off the edge to sack quarterback Curtis Painter and knock the ball out. Teammate Jarius Wynn recovered, leading to a Green Bay field goal.
“I just did what (position coach) Kevin Greene has been trying to coach – take him upfield and hit him in the mouth,” So’oto said. “I’ve been good at that in practice and it’s good to have something you drill every day finally pay off.
“I’m just trying to take everything that’s been coached and been taught to me. I’m sitting in a room with Kevin Greene, one of the best players to play the position, ever, and then Clay Matthews, one of the best players right now playing the position. All you can do is soak it in and just listen.”
It also helps to make an impact right away upon entering the game. With Frank Zombo, who coincidentally made this team as an undrafted rookie at the same position last year, out with a broken shoulder blade, So’oto was the fourth outside linebacker to play following Matthews, Erik Walden and Brad Jones.
He immediately teamed with Jones to stop running back Joseph Addai for a gain of just one yard. Later, he corralled running back Darren Evans in the backfield for a 4-yard loss, and he would have had a second forced fumble when he chased running back Delone Carter down from behind and stripped the ball, but replay ruled Carter was down.
“I thought he ran around with a lot of energy and made some plays,” Woodson said.
For good measure, So’oto was also the first player downfield on Tim Masthay’s final punt of the evening, forcing a fair catch by returner David Gilreath. Special teams are often the deciding factor in the final roster decisions, so So’oto helped himself there, as well.
“I wasn’t blocked, so I’d better be the first one down there if I’m not blocked, right?” So’oto said with a shy smile. For a BYU product who didn’t get an invite to a college all-star game or the scouting combine – adding a layer of irony to his strong showing in Indy – So’oto is doing everything a player in his position must do to get noticed.
“This is kind of my Super Bowl these past three games, and this next one coming up,” he said. “I might have had more tackles in the other games, but this was definitely my best game so far. I’m just trying to get better and hopefully show the coaches something they don’t want to let go.”
On the other side of the ball, Taylor showed his sure hands that have been on display at practice. During the game-tying drive, he held on to an 8-yard reception despite a spear to the back from the Colts’ Chip Vaughn that drew an unnecessary roughness flag.
Two plays later he had a 5-yard catch to get the ball inside the 10. Then, after a sack, Taylor was the receiver third-string quarterback Graham Harrell found in the end zone on a fourth-down scramble as Harrell rebounded nicely from an interception earlier in the fourth quarter.
“The original play called didn’t end up working out, Graham started scrambling, and that’s something that’s big in our offense is you have to know where you’re going in the scramble drill,” Taylor said. “I ended up staying still and everybody ended up running in front of me and Graham ended up finding me, which was nice.”
Described by tight ends coach Ben McAdoo as “raw” at the position, Taylor certainly looked the part on that hurry-up drive. His special-teams prowess already has given him a strong chance to make the team, and in a deep group of tight ends, he showed he belongs.
Taylor said he wasn’t sure if he made any kind of statement with his play on Friday, but at least one of his teammates did.
“To him and a few other players out there tonight, they got it done,” Woodson said, “so hat’s off to them.”
Notes: On offense, the Packers tried a number of screen passes on Friday, including two in a span of three plays late in the second quarter that were both executed well. Running back James Starks took the first one for 11 yards and the second for 15 more. “The line did a great job blocking the guys they’re supposed to, and it was wide open for me,” said Starks, who caught five passes for 38 yards in the game but had just one carry on the night, for 2 yards. “I like screen passes. They leave you in the open, you get to crate stuff and make a person miss. You could take them to the house. You never know where it will go.”…In addition to So’oto, another undrafted rookie outside linebacker had a sack, Jamari Lattimore. He sacked Dan Orlovsky on the final play of the third quarter on third down, forcing a punt…A couple of depth chart items are worth noting. Cornerback Jarrett Bush entered this game with the lead for the No. 4 or dime spot, as he was the first corner off the bench to replace Woodson in the nickel defense. Also, in a crowded group of interior backup offensive linemen, the No. 2 line had undrafted rookie Ray Dominguez at right guard, sixth-round pick Caleb Schlauderaff at left guard, and second-year man Nick McDonald at center…Masthay continued his impressive preseason with a third consecutive standout game. He boomed his third 60-yarder in three games, placed two of seven punts inside the 20, and had a gross average of 49.1 with a net average of 43.4. He even made the tackle on his only sub-par punt, a low 58-yarder that Gilreath returned 30 yards. Without that, his net on the other six punts would have been approximately 46 yards.