The NFL lockout still remains after the players opted not to vote on the owner’s proposed labor deal. However, that short window when it looked as though the 2011 season would be underway shortly has this author excited to begin breaking down the 53-man roster.
The Packers, who currently stand approximately $62,000 under the salary cap, are not expected to make any big splashes in free agency. However, the Packers kept three undrafted rookie free agents on their roster in 2010 (Sam Shields, Nick McDonald, Frank Zombo), so this projected 53-man surely could change once free agency gets underway.
Here is the first (of many) 53-man projections for the 2011 Packers:
QB (2): Aaron Rodgers, Matt Flynn
Why: Graham Harrell should be back in 2011 as an emergency quarterback, but the Packers have gone with two quarterbacks ever since Rodgers took over as the starter. Flynn is an above average backup who could have trade value next year.
RB (4): Ryan Grant, James Starks, Brandon Jackson, Alex Green
Why: Jump aboard the Brandon Jackson bandwagon. The Packers will have to take one less lineman (in this projection) to keep Jackson, but he’s worth it in the long run. Expect Grant to be the “starter” but to split carries with Starks.
FB (2): Korey Hall, Quinn Johnson
Why: John Kuhn was a great success story in 2010, but Hall’s ability on special teams and Johnson’s use in the run game helps them make the roster.
WR (5): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver, Randall Cobb, Brett Swain
Why: Jermichael Finley is basically a wide receiver, but Swain has earned a spot on the roster and will fill a depth void left by the departure of James Jones. Randall Cobb will be used all over the field.
TE (4): Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, D.J. Williams, Tom Crabtree
Five members of the Green Bay Packers have been selected for the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews, cornerback Charles Woodson, and safety Nick Collins were selected as starters for the NFC, while wide receiver Greg Jennings and left tackle Chad Clifton will come off the bench as reserves.
The Packers also had five alternates selected, including first alternates Aaron Rodgers and cornerback Tramon Williams. Wide receiver Donald Driver, inside linebacker A.J. Hawk, right guard Josh Sitton, and defensive tackle B.J. Raji will also serve as alternates.
Here’s a breakdown of each player and how they earned their spot on the NFC roster.
Clay Matthews (starter): Early in the season Matthews looked like the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year with 11.5 sacks in his first nine games. While that pace has slowed, he still has 12.5 sacks on the season and has played a huge role in the Packers’ late playoff push. He is constantly garnering double teams on passing downs, freeing up lanes for other blitzers and has played well against the run as of late, showing he has more than one dimension in his game. He has forced two fumbles and intercepted a pass for a touchdown on the season as well, making him an easy selection for voters.
Charles Woodson (starter): For those who claim Woodson was voted solely on name recognition, take a closer look. Tramon Williams may be having a better season but Woodson is no slouch. He has recorded 86 tackles, forced five fumbles, intercepted two passes, and returned one for a touchdown on the year and is the emotional leader of a Packers defense that ranks second in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed. His value on the field goes far past numbers, making Woodson’s seventh Pro Bowl bid a worthy one.
Nick Collins (starter):
With just six days remaining until Super Bowl XLV, it’s time to start comparing both teams to see where advantage lie on the rosters. The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the Super Bowl after taking down the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets as the AFC’s No. 2 seed. They used a balanced attack on offense and a swarming defense to get where they are, as they look for their third Super Bowl title in the last six seasons under head coach Mike Tomlin.
Answering for the NFC are the Green Bay Packers, who enter the Super Bowl as the hotter of the two teams. Road wins over the Eagles, Falcons, and Bears as the No. 6 seed has proved they can play with anyone. That’s exactly what Mike McCarthy and the Packers will have to do when they face Pittsburgh. Just two players have Super Bowl experience, Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett, while John Kuhn holds the lone S.B. ring, when he was a practice squad member with the Steelers back in 2005.
Here’s a comparison breakdown of each offensive position and which team will hold the edge come Super Bowl Sunday. Teams will either have a neutral edge, a slight edge, or a substantial edge.
Wide Receiver: Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antwaan Randle El vs. Green Bay’s Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson
While the Steelers may hold a slight advantage at quarterback Sunday, the guys catching the ball will have a substantial advantage when Green Bay has the ball on offense. As much of a storied career as Hines Ward has had, Greg Jennings comes into Sunday’s game as the best receiver on either team, and maybe the league. After catching just one ball for eight yards against the Eagles, Jennings has gone for 101 and 130 yards through the air the last two games. While he hasn’t found the endzone in the playoffs this year, his big play capability is undeniable.
Answering in the big play department will be Mike Wallace, who has exploded onto the scene for the Steelers. Wallace averaged a ridiculous 21 yards per catch in 2010 and had 26 catches of 20+ yards. To put that in perspective, that’s five more than Jennings had, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch.
Ward has been on the big stage before, picking up MVP honors in Super Bowl XL. Emmanuel Sanders has become a deep threat as well and Antwaan Randle El is versatile, but the quality and depth the Packers’ receivers have gives them a huge advantage. While Donald Driver has slowed some, James Jones and Jordy Nelson are both No. 2 receivers from a skill standpoint, meaning Aaron Rodgers will have plenty of open targets to throw at. Pittsburgh’s receivers aren’t bad in any sense, but the Packers’ receivers are tops in the league and playing very well right now.
Tight End: Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller vs. Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless
Well there goes the season. OK, only kidding. The Cleveland Browns defeated the Packers 27-24 Saturday night in Lambeau Field as the two teams kicked off their 2010 preseason. It was a laid back night for the most part, with starters playing the first quarter before reserves took over,and depsite the loss there was still plenty to be happy about on the Packers’ side of the ball.
First and foremost, Aaron Rodgers seems to already be in mid-season form. The third-year starter completed his first nine passes and finished the night 12-13 for 159 yards, including a 25-yard strike to Greg Jennings for a touchdown. Rodgers looked poised in the pocket as always and had solid protection (which we’ll get to later) and found six different receivers on the night.
Yes football fans, it’s that time of the year again. The world’s most popular fantasy sport, although I’d beg to differ on what’s actually the best, is sending out their initial draft packages, mock drafts, and fantasy advice to get ready for the 2010 season. I have to admit I don’t spend much time on fantasy football because of my love for the Packers, so why not put a Packers’ spin on ESPN.com’s first fantasy football mock draft?
The Packers had six players and a defense represented in the draft (the Vikings had seven and a defense), and my fanhood believes there could have have been one or two more in there. Standard rules applied when making selections, so no individual defensive players (IDPs) and only 10 teams (most fantasy leagues will have 12 or even 14).
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB: Drafted in 2nd round, (12th overall)
ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote a blog last Wednesday on broken tackles from this past season. He received his information from Football Outsiders, a website that tracks all kinds of stats, and revealed some pretty interesting numbers on NFC North tackling.
The first stat, percentage of tackles offensive players “broke,” slotted the Packers worst in the league at 3.3 tackles broken out of every 100 attempts. In comparison, the Vikings ranked second (7.6) while the Lions finished 29th (3.8) and the Bears 31st (3.5). The Carolina Panthers led the league with 8.4 percent.
Last season the Packers struggled to a 6-10 season and, as a result, only sent three players to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. All three came from the defensive backfield as Charles Woodon, Al Harris, and Nick Collins made the trip after posting the 12th ranked pass defense and combining for 14 interceptions and 41 passes defended. Collins made his first trip while Harris filled in as an injury replacement for Woodson, who passed on his fifth career pro bowl due to a toe injury.
Outside of the defensive backfield it was a rough season for the 2008 Packers, but the Packers might need to buy a few extra tickets for the 2009 Pro Bowl in Miami this season. At 7-4, the Packers have a boatload of players who are putting up career numbers or close to it. Because of this, they ought to be well represented on January 31st for the 39th AFC-NFC Pro Bowl.
Leading the way for the Packers is quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In just his second year starting, Rodgers ranks third in the NFC in passer rating (104.9), first in yards (3136), third in touchdown passes (22), and has thrown just five interceptions while begin sacked a league-high 44 times. He also leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. He didn’t prove to be a winner in his first season and took some heat because of it, but he now has the Packers on the verge of the playoffs and has taken over the leadership role in Green Bay.
Drew Brees has put together another ridiculous season passing and has the Saints at 11-0 and has to be considered a shoo-in for the Pro Bowl, while Brett Favre will not need to get in on the fan vote like he did last season as he has had a(nother) rejuvenated season and is playing some of his best football. After those two, Kurt Warner and Eli Manning are the closest to Rodgers stat-wise and the lovable Tony Romo is sure to garner votes based on his fanbase and celebrity status.
What makes Rodgers pretty much a sure thing is the fact that the Pro Bowl will be played in between the NFC Championship Games and the Super Bowl, meaning Super Bowl participants from the AFC and NFC will not be eligible to play in the game. If Rodgers isn’t playing in the Big Game, it’s looking like one of Brees or Favre will.
Favre isn’t the only one having a rejuvenated season as Donald Driver is posting some of the best numbers of his storied Packers career. Eleven games in, Driver is 13th in receptions and third in yards to go along with five touchdowns and 38 first down catches. Name recognition is huge for the wideouts and there are some darn good receivers in the NFC, meaning Larry Fitzgerald and Roddy White are sure to be in. Also, New York’s Steve Smith and other youngsters Miles Austin and Sydney Rice are putting up great numbers.
Four wide receivers will go to Miami so Driver is not a sure thing, but the Super Bowl rule could come into play with Rice or Fitzgerald, so a Pro Bowl trip could still be in the cards for Driver.
Two longshots for the Packers offense include running back Ryan Grant and right guard Josh Sitton, who are both quietly putting up very nice seasons. Grant is fourth in yards but has only five touchdowns and Sitton has been a true bright spot on an otherwise awful offensive line, so neither are likely to be voted in.
Asante Samuel leads all cornerbacks in Pro Bowl voting, but it would be absolute highway robbery if Charles Woodson was not voted to his second consecutive Pro Bowl. Two corners are voted in so Woodson will get the nod as the Defensive Player of the Year candidate is having his best season as a pro.
Through the first 12 weeks, Woodson has 54 tackles, including seven for a loss, four forced fumbles, 11 passes defended, seven interceptions, two sacks, and two touchdowns. Not bad for a guy in his 12th season as a pro going up against each team’s best receiver week in and week out. Those numbers are sure to go up as the season goes on, making Woodson a lock to visit Miami in January.
The 3-4 defense makes it difficult for defensive linemen to rack up stats but Cullen Jenkins deserves at least a look. For the season he has 25 tackles, he has 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception and has been key in opening holes for linebackers. Expected to have a huge year in the 4-3 defense, Jenkins has been just as disruptive under Dom Capers and is having a Pro Bowl-type year.
Minnesota’s Jared Allen falls in the same category as Woodson and is sure thing to get in, while Will Smith, Trent Cole, Julius Peppers, and Andre Carter are all having excellent seasons as well.
With Brian Dawkins leaving the conference, Nick Collins is in line to make his second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He has played consistently well and has 36 tackles to go along with four interceptions. New Orleans’ Darren Sharper is having a fantastic season and should get in, while Adrian Wilson will receive some votes as well. Collins playing in the Pro Bowl last season should help his cause during the last three weeks of voting and Sharper could very well be playing in the Super Bowl, making him a no-go for the Pro Bowl.
Other longshots on the Packers’ roster include wide receiver Greg Jennings, who has name recognition on his side, as well as Clay Matthews, and Nick Barnett. Then again, let’s hope that no Packers are eligible to play in the Pro Bowl as they prepare for Super Bowl XLIV the next week.
No one knows what head coach Mike McCarthy will say at his Thanksgiving Day dinner table, but you can bet that Charles Woodson and Donald Driver will be on his short list. The two veterans feasted on the young Detroit Lions Thursday as the Packers won their third straight game, 34-12 at Ford Field.
It was the same story for the Packers once again, who used Driver and Woodson on both ends of the field to lead their team to victory.
For Woodson, the task of shutting down Calvin Johnson was not going to be an easy one and looked to be a problem after Johnson scored from one yard out on a back shoulder route from quarterback Matthew Stafford. However, Johnson caught just one other pass for nine yards, finishing the game as a non-factor on offense.
Shutting down Johnson did not show in the box score for Woodson, but what did show up were Woodson’s seven tackles, two interceptions, forced fumble, fumble recovery, sack, and touchdown. It was a great performance for the 12-year veteran who now finds his name in serious contention for Defensive Player of the Year.
What made the performance even more impressive was the fact that Woodson was playing without his cornerback counterpart Al Harris, who was lost to a torn ACL the week before against San Francisco. The thought was that the Lions would stay away from Woodson and pick on Tramon Williams on the other side, but Johnson was targeted 12 times on offense and Woodson limited him to just the two catches.
On the season, Woodson has recorded 54 tackles, ranked third on the team, forced a team-high four fumbles and six interceptions, and also has two touchdowns to his name. A trip to Canton might be in the future for the former Heisman Trophy winner, but a DPOY trophy would sure help the resume.
Someone who might not make it to Canton but is a shoo-in for the Packers Hall of Fame is Donald Driver, who made the most of his Thanksgiving with a seven-catch, 142 yard performance that included a touchdown catch as well. Awarded the Golden Gobbler by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the 11-year veteran continued his outstanding season that has him leading the seventh-ranked passing offense in all major receiving categories.
It was Greg Jennings who received a major payday in the offseason and while some of Driver’s success can be attributed to the double teams and attention other teams pay to Jennings, Driver has made things happen on his own and has created his own success.
Known as one of the toughest players in the league, Driver ranks sixth in the NFC in receiving yards at 34 years old. The five players in front of Driver average 24.6 years in age, and as Driver put it, “I may be old, but I play young”.
The win put the Packers at 7-4 and on top of the NFC Wildcard, but the road does not get any easier from here on out. The last five games for the Packers include matchups against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Arizona with an NFC North rivalry game against Chicago in the Windy City.
General Manager Ted Thompson might live and die with building through the draft and having young players grow during the year to contribute, but this year has been the story of Woodson and Driver, two veterans doing everything they can to ensure the Packers play in January.
The Packers’ 2009 regular season is officially half way over and it is time to hand out grades for the 53 players currently on the active roster.
Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers has been under some scrutiny for his inability to get rid of the ball and throw to check downs, resulting in some sacks, but he is a huge reason the Packers have four wins to their name. GRADE: A-
Matt Flynn: He has seen little time but rumors flew around that while Rodgers was held out of practice, Flynn played exceptionally well with the first team. It’s too early to tell, but Flynn could still be something more than a back-up quarterback in the NFL. GRADE: INC
Ryan Grant: While he has done the majority of his damage on poor teams, he is still a serviceable running back that has a few more years of mileage in him. GRADE: B-
Brandon Jackson: Some people forget that Jackson was a second round draft pick. Regardless of where he was drafted, all he has done this year is pick up the blitz decently for a team that leads the league in sacks allowed. GRADE: D
Ahman Green: Saving Jackson’s behind somewhat this year has been Ahman Green, a fresh of breath air when Grant comes out of the game. He also passed Jim Taylor as the Packers’ leading rusher this season. GRADE: C+
Greg Jennings: It’s a fact that teams have doubled Jennings on most plays and Donald Driver’s successes can be attributed to that somewhat, but Jennings really needs to improve on getting open. GRADE: B
Donald Driver: By far the Packers’ MVP on offense half way through the season, Driver has come up in big situations and showed no signs of slowing down at age 34. GRADE: A
James Jones: Jones has filled in nicely for the injured Jordy Nelson and caught a long touchdown pass last week in Tampa Bay. He seems to be progressing back towards his rookie season. GRADE: B-
Jordy Nelson: Nelson was expected to be the third wideout in the Packers’ deadly passing attack, but a knee injury has limited him. GRADE: C
Jake Allen: Allen was put on the roster when Brett Swain went down for the year. He does not have a catch in the two weeks he has been on the roster. GRADE: INC
Biren Ealy: Ealy was signed to the roster due to Nelson’s injury and the questionable status of Allen and Driver last week. GRADE: INC
John Kuhn: One of the pleasant surprises for the Packers this season, Kuhn has established himself as the “skill position” fullback with three touchdowns. GRADE: B+
Korey Hall: Hall has not been used as much as he was last year but has still blocked well and played decent special teams. GRADE: C
Quinn Johnson: The bruiser of the three fullbacks plays the least, but when he is in he crushes linebackers. Also had a nice catch against Minnesota. GRADE: INC
Chad Clifton: Clifton has not been able to stay healthy, and when he is in the results have not been good at all. This could be Clifton’s last year in Green Bay. GRADE: D
Daryn Colledge: The experiment of Colledge at left tackle is officially over, but improvements can be made at left guard as he has struggled over the last few weeks. GRADE:C-
Scott Wells: Wells was not expected to see much playing time this season (rightfully so), but he has stunk up the place since taking over for Jason Spitz at center. GRADE: D
Josh Sitton: Finally! The bright spot in the offensive line has been Sitton, who has pass protected very well for the Packers and is arguably their best run blocker. GRADE: B
Allen Barbre: For as bad as he was against Chicago and Cincinnati, he had a span of a few weeks where he played very well. Unfortunately, he has been back to his old ways lately. GRADE: C-
Jason Spitz: Spitz’s injury really hurt the offensive line, and his future in Green Bay is now in question with a season-ending back injury. GRADE: B-
Mark Tauscher: Tauscher got his first start in 2009 against the Buccaneers but was injured and is expected to miss a couple of weeks. GRADE: INC
T.J. Lang: Lang has been another bright spot for the Packers on the offensive line. In his brief stint at left tackle, he handled his own for the most part and is the potential left tackle of the future for the Packers. GRADE: B-
Evan Dietrich-Smith: EDS has not seen any playing time this season but provides good depth on a shaky, injury-prone offensive line. GRADE: INC
Breno Giacomini: One has to wonder just how poorly Giacomini must have played in the pre-season to not have warranted a start after Barbre’s first two starts. GRADE: INC
Jermichael Finley: A knee has forced Finley to the sidelines the last couple of weeks, but he is clearly the future at tight end and has become a favorite target of Aaron Rodgers down the seam. GRADE: B
Donald Lee: Lee has taken a back seat to Finley as the go-to guy, but still finds himself on the field in blocking situations and has recorded a reception in all but one game. GRADE: B-
Spencer Havner: “Duct tape” has done it all this year and has really come on as a tight end that can make things happen. He’s not half bad on special teams, either. GRADE: B+
It sounds cliche to say, but the Green Bay Packers’ bye week is coming at a perfect time. The Packers will have week five of the NFL season off and will use that extra week to pick up the pieces to a very shaky start to the season. While bye weeks never really come at a bad time for any team, the Packers need it now more than ever.
For starters, the injury bug has hit the Packers in two of their most shallow positions on the field, offensive line and safety and is becoming not only a weak spot on the field, but rather a liability. Entering the season, the Packers put rookie tackle Jamon Meredith on the practice squad, but he was picked up by the Bills in late September after Buffalo had injuries of their own on the offensive line when Brad Butler went down for the season.
The injury left the Packers with three roster players that were capable of playing left tackle in Chad Cliton, Daryn Colledge, and rookie T.J. Lang. When Clifton suffered a high ankle sprain in week two against the Bengals, Colledge had to move to left tackle from left guard, shifting the entire line around. Colledge then suffered a knee sprain against the Vikings, leaving the rookie Lang to play out of position, going up against All-Pro Jared Allen nonetheless.
With the bye week coming, Clifton expects to be healthy enough to suit up against the Lions in week six and Colledge will get extra rest on his knee. Had the bye not come this week, there’s a chance the Packer faithful would have been subjected to T.J. Lang round two, something no one wants to see.
The Packers’ offensive line is hardly tops in the league this season, but getting Clifton back and moving Colledge back to his natural left guard position will do wonders for the line. It will move Jason Spitz back to center and presumably bump Scott Wells out. The bye week also gives the Packers the opportunity to evaluate former tackle Mark Tauscher. Currently a free agent after ACL surgery last season, the Packers have worked him out and will now get an extra week to evaluate him and see if he can help the line out more than the inconsistent Allen Barbre.
With the bye week coming, safety Atari Bigby is expected to use that week to get ready for his return in week six. After a knee injury forced him out of the Packers’ home opener against the Bears, he is hoping to get back on the field after the bye week. His return can not come soon enough as recently-acquired Derrick Martin and Jarrett Bush have, to put it nicely, done a less-than-stellar job manning his position the last three weeks.
The Packers have had to use five-linebacker sets, called the “Big Okie”, where Brandon Chillar plays in the box as a safety. With the return of Bigby, there should be an improvement in the pass defense, where the Packers currently rank 20th in the league.
Other players who have battled injury such as B.J. Raji will also get a full week of rest away from football activities to get their bodies back in healthy shape.
More so than the injuries that will be helped out by the bye week, the week off will help the Packers regroup after four weeks of football that saw them all over the place on many accounts. The offense has had many opportunities to succeed this season, and while pass protection can account for some of those issues, chemistry and timing has been off as a whole. Greg Jennings has failed to break out of his “ugly” slump, posting just five catches and no touchdowns the last three weeks.
Hopefully Dom Capers will go back to the drawing board and film room and realize that a weak pass rush has gotten the Packers defense nowhere. Something needs to change defensively so that the big plays are extinguished and the Packers can get a better pass rush on the quarterback to force errors, much like they did against the Bears in week one.
There is reason to believe the Packers will right the ship with a very favorable schedule coming up. There is a chance the Packers could win their next four games or, at the very worst, three of four. Dates with Detroit, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay are in the near future and it looks like now is the time for the Packers to bust out.
As a whole, the Packers are in good position to re-group as a whole, players and coaches alike, and get back to their winning ways with an offense that is clicking and a pressure-filled defense. They will be as healthy as they have been since week one heading into their matchup with Detroit, and hopefully a big win against the Lions will light a match underneath the Packers that propels them into November and December with some confidence.
Ask just about any media outlet who the breakout team of 2009 would be before the season started, and odds were you were going to hear the Green Bay Packers. After all, they had absolutely dominated all four preseason games and looked pinpoint accurate on offense. Their defense had stayed pretty much vanilla on the playcalling yet still forced turnovers left and right.
Everyone was ready to crown the Packers kings of the NFC before the season had even started and one got the feeling that there was no way this team could be stopped. Their defense was now healthy, the offense had too many weapons then it knew what to do with, and the special teams was starting to rise up to an average standard.
After Week one, fans cited a tough, grind-it-out game against a solid Bears defense as the reason the Packers did not put up 30 points. However, they still won the game and did so by making good on the one thing they failed to do last season: win the close game.
A week later, the Packers had just been defeated by a suddenly resurgent Bengals team that should be 2-0 (see Stokley, Brandon) and all of a sudden the majority of Packers fans were seen heading for the nearest bridge to jump off or seeking shelter due to the sky falling. As is typical with most sports fans early in the season, good outcomes are overvalued and bad outcomes are undervalued (Jay Cutler, anyone?).
The fact of the matter is the Packers are a better team than what they trotted out last Sunday afternoon against the Bengals, but aren’t as good as what they showed in the preseason.
The Packers finished their 2008 campaign with a 6-10 record which slotted them in the ninth spot in the draft. Say what you will about the close losses and how they were in just about every game they played in, you are what your record is and the Packers were plain bad last season.
In the offseason, they brought in Anthony Smith, a former back-up safety from the Steelers that was known more for his smack talk to Tom Brady than his on the field play. The Packers also drafted a slough of defensive players that included first-rounders B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews III. Raji has yet to play in a game and Matthews III has seen limited time, but looked good.
The Packers also instilled a 3-4 defense with new coordinator Dom Capers that was expected to take time to work. Running the scheme with players used to set up a 4-3 defense was not the most ideal of situations, and a learning period was going to need to occur.
After an outstanding preseason, optimistic Packers fans seemingly threw that learning curve out the window and expected results right away. So when the defense struggled against the Bengals and everyone wondered why all of a sudden the 3-4 wasn’t working, it didn’t make any sense.
Any way one slices it, the Packers still have the exact same personnel that won them six games last season and have not made a huge improvement or change in a big part of the system that would expect immediate results. Last season, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan came in and took over the helm at quarterback along with brand new coaches and saw results.
That’s not to say the Packers need to fire head coach Mike McCarthy and trade Aaron Rodgers, but what it means is the process is going to take time. Everyone knows that Rodgers is going to be just fine this season with all the weapons he has, but the defense is still getting their feet underneath them.
Unlike the situations of the Ravens and Falcons last season, a whole new scheme is taking place on defense that is going to take more time than an NFL-ready quarterback does.
In a way, their performance against the Bears was like a pitcher making his first start in the major leagues. He has made starts in Double-A, Triple-A, just as the individual players on the Packers’ D have played the 4-3 defense their whole careers. Once that pitcher comes to the big leagues, there is a huge change in how you approach batters and how fast the game moves.
The one caveat is that when that starting pitcher makes his first start in the Bigs, no team has a good enough scouting report to figure out what is going to come. The first time through the order he torches the offense who have never seen him before. As the season progresses, teams will pick up scouting reports but that pitcher will also become better.
Much is the same for the Packers defense. True, they have been with Capers since July and have been working on the defense, but there is no replacement for the real thing and the Packers are still figuring out the defense at game speed.
There are going to be growing pains with the Packers this season, but the hope is they figure it out at a fast pace so they can continue to win football games. The offensive line is extremely young and inexperienced for the most part, and has struggled to date. Experts who chose the Packers to win the NFC might have been pre-mature because they looked at it with Fantasy Football goggles on. The Packers have the skill positions on offense and defense down pat.
But the little things like fluidity on defense and consistency on the offensive line are going to take time, so being confused as to why the Packers had a bump in the road against the Bengals is nonsense. Dom Capers did not make the Packers the second coming of the Steelers in one night, and Aaron Rodgers is not Tom Brady just because he led one fourth quarter comeback.
All the pieces for the Packers to be successful are in place, but this isn’t Madden 2010. Give the team some time and let them work out the kinks as the season moves along. For what it’s worth, the Packers are again the youngest team in the NFL, and it has shown to some extent.
As long as they stay healthy and keep progressing under Capers, there’s good reason to believe the Packers will be in contention come December. However, the preseason made the Packers out to be the 2007 Patriots before they had even taken one snap in the regular season, so the Bengals game came as a shock.
It’s how the Packers respond to them that becomes important. Take Allen Barbre, for example. He had a very rough game against the Bears, allowing two sacks and constant pressure from the right side. Against the Bengals, he fared much better and was stellar in the running game again.
The Packers are a much better, more disciplined, and better coached team than they were last year so it’s not as if six wins should be expected again, but growing pains and inexperience are going to creep up during times this year, and Packers’ fans need to understand that they are there.
There’s a quote that says “luck is when preparation meets opportunity”. If this is the case, Greg Jennings is making a real habit out of being extremely lucky. With the Packers down two points in the final minutes of their home opener against the Bears last Sunday night, Jennings hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to put the Packers ahead for good.
But his good fortunes did not start there. Throughout his career, the rising star has improved his game in just about every aspect. Just last offseason, he worked all summer with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and wideout legend Jerry Rice to work on his route running and speed. Just one game into the season, the results are already showing as the fourth year man from Western Michigan caught six balls for 106 yards and the decisive touchdown.
Back in 2006, the rookie Jennings went for a 75-yard run-and-catch touchdown against the Detroit Lions, marking Brett Favre’s 400th career touchdown pass. That next season, 2007, Jennings caught Favre’s 420th touchdown pass against the Chargers, which tied Favre with the great Dan Marino on the all-time touchdown list.
That next week, Jennings caught a 16-yard slant from Favre to put the Hall of Famer past Marino on the all-time touchdowns list. Amazingly, his milestone catches did not end that season, either. Believe it or not, Jennings caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass against the Dallas Cowboys after Favre went down with a hand injury.
All these milestone catches have been the result of Jennings’ hard work off the field, which has allowed him to be on the field and have the opportunity to catch passes. But even more so than the historic catches, Jennings has been clutch throughout his entire career.
In 2007, his touchdown reception against the Chargers (Favre’s 420th) came from 57 yards away and with two minutes to go in a tie ballgame. The touchdown ended up being the game winner that would put the Packers on top for good. Five weeks later, Jennings found himself on the receiving end of 82-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in overtime against the Broncos.
A week after that, the Packers found themselves down six points with three minutes to play in Kansas City before Jennings caught a 60-yard pass from Favre to put the Packers up for good in that game as well.
In 2008, the Packers had a hard time winning games due to the inability for the defense to stop teams in the fourth quarter, but Jennings did all he could to keep the Packers in games. Against Seattle, he hauled in the eventual game winning touchdown pass, a 45-yarder from Aaron Rodgers. In their 35-31 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Jennings’ fourth quarter score put the Packers ahead before the defense failed to hold the lead.
Another way to tell that Jennings is on his way to becoming a true star is the way he performs at night. Under the lights, Jennings’ averages go up in receptions and yards per game, and his touchdowns per game are nearly identical. In his short career, Jennings has played at night (national televison) nine times and has averaged 5.5 catches, 82 yards, and 0.54 touchdowns. Compare that to his overall numbers per game of 4.2 catches, 67 yards, and 0.57 touchdowns and you have a true clutch performer.
It makes it even more impressive that part of those totals include a game where Jennings caught just one pass for two yards in his rookie season.
Throw in his six reception, 71-yard performance against the Seahawks in the 2007 Divisonal Playoffs and those numbers would increase even further. He also scored twice in the game, where the passing conditions were less than stellar. He brought the Packers out of an early 14-0 hole in a game they would end up winning 42-20.
Clearly the favorite target of quarterback of Aaron Rodgers, Jennings is well on his way to supplanting himself as a top five wide receiver in all of football. What he lacks for in size (5’11″), he makes up for in crisp route running and some of the softest hands in all of football. You’d be hard pressed to find a time where Jennings let the ball touch his shoulder pads, but rather catching the ball with his hands before doing wonders after the catch.
Preparation has never been an issue for Greg Jennings. He has himself in tip-top shape, works out with some of the game’s best, and does it all with a big smile. He is an outstanding teammate who loves to see his fellow wideouts do well, and has never once demanded the ball. His opportunity has finally arrived as the number one receiver for the Green Bay Packers and a franchise quarterback throwing to him. But both of those factors together, and Greg Jennings is one lucky guy.
Saturday will officially begin the 2009 Green Bay Packers season as players show up for the first day of training camp. Coming off a lackluster six win season in 2008, the youngest team in football is ready to rebound and prove that they can win without a certain number four behind center (don’t worry, that’s the last he will be mentioned in the article).
As it is for most teams entering training camp, the next two weeks will prove who belongs on the final 53 man roster and who does not. Players will step up, some will flop, and others will look to improve their skills and make the Packers a playoff team come 2010.
With a new scheme in order and many draft picks looking for roster spots, headlines are sure to be everywhere on this football team. Here are the top five to watch for heading into tomorrow’s camp.
Packers Transition to the 3-4 Defense
Easily the biggest story heading into camp this year is the overhaul of the Packers’ defense. Ranked 20th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed, defensive coordinator Bob Sanders was fired and replaced with veteran coach Dom Capers.
At 58, Capers is as experienced as they come with over 30 years of coaching, including three defensive coordinator stints and two head coaching jobs with the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans.
Along with Capers came former Panthers defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac to coach the defensive line and former All-Pro Kevin Greene who will coach the outside linebackers.
The 3-4 defense that Capers is installing this summer is the first change to a Green Bay Packers’ scheme in 15 years. The change may be a bumpy one but it looks as though most of the pieces are there for the Packers.
Just about every player involved in the front seven will be changing roles and the big question is whether or not progress can be made in just one off-season.
Newcomer B.J. Raji, who specifcally played defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme at Boston College will rotate between both line positions in the new alignment.
Former tackles Justin Harrell and Johnny Jolly will both move to defensive end positions, something neither have done their whole careers. While the end positions in the 3-4 are similar to the tackle spots in the 4-3, new terminology and assignments will make for a challenging camp.
Cullen Jenkins, who was having an outstanding year at defensive end before suffering a season ending injury, now moves to the end position in the 3-4. The same goes for Mike Montgomery as well.
Ryan Pickett looks to man the ever-important nose tackle position in the 3-4 after spending his first five seasons as a tackle in the 4-3.
At the lineback position, Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga will man the left side as rush linebackers. Kampman’s transition has been a bumpy one in the media, but all signs point to him having a successful season. He is a hard worker and has never been one to pout, and while his stats may be down his production on the field will not.
Jeremy Thompson has the perfect body for a 3-4 linebacker and is showing great signs in his transition to the two point stance. He will battle the latter of the Packers’ first-round selections, Clay Matthews III, for the starting outside linebacker spot.
In the middle, A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett will hopefully make a smooth transition to the new defense. Barnett has been on in the inside his whole career and Hawk showed promise inside when Barnett went down with his injury last year.
The Packers will need a solid rotation on the defensive line and will need to be quick at linebacker. Battles for the right outside linebacker spot as well as at defensive end will showcase the preseason, but even bigger will be the mental aspect.
A new coordinator means new schemes and terminology and just two weeks to figure it all out. While OTA’s seemed to go smoothly, real football starts when the pads come on and the players go full speed.
Third Wide Receiver Spot Up for Grabs
Greg Jennings has solidified himself as a number one receiver in the league and was rewarded with a huge contract extension this off season. The extension will keep him in Green bay for the next four years and will continue to burn defenses with passes from Aaron Rodgers.
Donald Driver is becoming the definition for an “ageless” wonder and has shown no signs of slowing down despite being 34 years old this coming year. While he did not go deep as often as he had in the past, he has become an excellent slot receiver perfect for the Packers’ West Coast offense.
Past the top two positions on the depth chart, the rest of the unit is a mystery. James Jones and Jordy Nelson will compete against each other over the coming month to see who will step up and become the third option for the Packers.
Jones had an excellent rookie season and showed tons of promise for the future before struggling in his sophomore season. Slowed by injuries, he appeared in just ten games and catching just 20 balls.
Fully healthy this year, he looks to get back in the swing of things and become a flanker opposite of Jennings. With decent size at 6’1″ and 218 pounds and a whole lot of toughness, he will probably get the first look in camp.
Aiming for the third spot on the depth chart right behind Jones will be second year receiver Jordy Nelson. In his rookie season, Nelson finished with 366 yards and a couple of touchdowns as the third option in the offense.
Head coach Mike McCarthy loves to spread the field use a ton of different packages so both should see ample playing time this year, but it would help the offense if one of the two would step up and become the more reliable option.
My money is on Jones because of experience, but Nelson has all the physical tools. If one of them can step up and deliver on the flanker position, it will keep Driver in the slot where he is best.
Questions Regarding the New(er) Offensive Line
Last year, the Packers’ offensive line gave quarterback Aaron Rodgers very little time to throw and even less time for Ryan Grant to get through holes.
This year, the line will look somewhat different with acquisitions of Duke Preston and draftees T.J. Lang and Jamon Meredith.
Like most linemen on the Packers last year, left tackle Chad Clifton had a below average season as he gave up 6.5 sacks. That number ranked 21st amongst left tackles but the position is his to lose.
Daryn Colledge may be the future at left tackle, but he will continue to shine at left guard as long as Clifton is on the roster. Newcomer T.J. Lang has the versatility to play multiple positions and will back up Colledge if he does not win a spot outright.
The progression of Josh Sitton has allowed Jason Spitz to see time at center. He will battle Scott Wells for the job and has the upper hand to start camp.
Sitton or free agent signing Duke Preston will be relegated to the right guard duties, with Sitton expected to come out on top.
Right tackle will be the biggest battle on the offensive line, with Allen Barbre and Breno Giacomini battling it out. Meredith and Lang might also see time there, but their true positions are at left tackle and guard, respectively.
The unit will need to improve in a huge way if the offense is going to get anywhere, but a younger and more athletic line this year should get the job done. Experience will still be an issue but there is a lot of promise and this unit could be the highlight of camp if a few players step up in a big way.
All Three Quarterback Must Improve Their Play
For the second consecutive season, Ted Thompson and the Packers will head into camp with three young quarterbacks with very limited experience. Outside of the seven games back-up Matt Flynn appeared in, Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback with any NFL experience.
True, another year of film study, practice, and Mike McCarthy quarterback coaching will do wonders for Flynn and Brian Brohm, but they both must improve from what they did last year.
In the Tampa Bay game, Flynn looked completely lost and many wondered how ugly next week would have been had Rodgers not played. Despite starting all 16 games last year, AA-Rod will have his nicks and bruises all year and Flynn will need to prove he can manage a game.
As for Brohm, this camp will be huge for him because he needs to start living up to his second-round billing. Once thought of as a first overall pick, he has not shown any indications of being a future quarterback anywhere in the league.
Patience will be key with both young quarterbacks, as even Rodgers looked terrible his first couple of years. The difference is Rodgers was playing behind The Ironman (OK, sorry I mentioned him again) and Flynn and Brohm are not.
As for Rodgers, he had a great first year as the true starter for the Packers, but his late game decisions left a lot to be desired. Yes, the defense put him in terrible spots and he was forced to try to make plays, but his fourth quarter numbers were terrible and if he wants to make the jump to the elite quarterbacks in the league, he needs to find ways to win games on his own.
The Future of the Secondary is Now
While veterans Al Harris and Charles Woodson will enter this year as one of the league’s best duos at cornerback, the future is uncertain and this year’s training camp could go a long way in getting a sneak peak at what is to come.
At 32 and 34, Woodson and Harris are on the later stages of their careers and will need to soon be replaced.
Last year, Tramon Williams stepped up in a huge way and proved he is ready to step in for either of the two, whenever that is. Last year, it was for Harris and he did an exceptional job. The sky is the limit for Williams as he looks to be one of the heir apparents for the starters.
Aside from Williams, former second rounder Pat Lee looks to improve on an injury-ridden rookie season that saw him play in just five games, primarily on special teams.
He has good size and played his college ball in the rough and tough SEC and will be asked to step up as the dime back in this year’s system.
Will Blackmon has become an above average punt returner that will guarantee him a spot on the roster, but if he can work on his skills as a cornerback and become a viable option there, his value would increase even more.
My prediction is that Lee’s progression is going to take longer than just this year. Losing time your rookie season is the worst time to lose and it will take him longer to get into a rhythm.
At the safety position, Nick Collins will enter camp unhappy but will be there. This shows a lot to Ted Thompson that, despite his desire for a new contract, he is still a team-first player that wants to win.
If he goes out and repeats his performance early in the year, I could see him getting a contract extension worth big money.
On the other end, Atari Bigby will be coming back from a season-ending injury that limited him to seven games. Battling with him for a spot will be Aaron Rouse who looks to be more of a special teams specialist than anything else.
This year will be important for the secondary and could determine how it looks two or three years from now.
Heading into the 2008 season, many wondered how Aaron Rodgers would fare in his first season as the man in charge of running the Green Bay Packers’ offense. After the off-season fiasco that was Brett Favre, Rodgers knew that if he did not produce quickly the Packers faithful would have very little patience.
Lucky for Rodgers, his offense sported the best receiving corps in the NFL and only got better as the year went on. The 24-year-old from California would finish his pressure-filled season with 4038 yards, 28 touchdowns, just 13 interceptions, and a passer rating of 93.8, that ranked him sixth in all of football.
While his late-game production was disappointing to many, and the Packers’ 6-10 record did not impress, Rodgers got his first year as a starter under his belt and gained experience that will only make him better this upcoming fall. Along with the experience he has gained, the guys he will be throwing to also make things a little easier.
Leading the way for the Pack, fresh off his contract extension, is Greg Jennings. Entering his fourth year, the 25-year-old from Western Michigan, has already shot into the top ten discussion when it comes to receivers. Over the last two years, Jennings has racked up over 2200 yards and twenty one touchdowns to lead the Packers.
After signing a contract extension this summer, he went and trained in Minnesota at a camp hosted by Larry Fitzgerald. Chris Carter and Jerry Rice were two of the highlights of the camp and there is no doubt Jennings learned some valuable tidbits while attending.
Outside of his talent, Jennings is everything you could ask for in a star wide receiver. He doesn’t have his own show on VH1 and he has no plans, that I know of, to change his last name to a spanish number. When he scores a touchdown, he finds his teammates instead of a cell phone hidden in the goal post. When another receiver scores a touchdown, he is the first to congratulate him instead of asking for the ball more.
He does things the right way and the fact that the combo of Rodgers and Jennings is signed for the next four years means good things are about to happen for the Packers offense. A large part of why Jennings is the way he is can be attributed to his friend and teammate who lines up away from him every Sunday.
Donald Driver will be entering his eleventh season as a Green Bay Packer and has showed little signs of slowing down. Seemingly ageless, Driver was on the right side of his fifth straight 1,000 yard season despite handing over the reisngs of a number one receiver to Jennings.
After the Alcorn State grad was a surprising no show at the voluntary mini-camps, many wondered whether or not he was happy with his contracts. I wrote on why Driver was wrong if he thought he deserved a pay raise, and clearly so did Driver as he explained the matter was family, not contract, related.
With the depth at wide receiver the Packers have this year, it would not be a shock to see Driver’s numbers decrease from last year. Mike McCarthy has explained he would like to run the ball more and the aforementioned depth is a good problem to have. Don’t expect Driver to slack on effort or pout if he doesn’t see the ball enough. He is the epitome of a guy that straps on his helmet and goes out and plays the game.
While Jennings and Driver will be holding down the one and two spots on the depth chart, the third option is wide open and the Packers will have two very solid players fighting for the position.
In my eyes, the front-runner to win the job is last year’s second round selection Jordy Nelson. In his rookie campaign, the 24-year-old from Kansas State, racked up 366 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns in the limited time he saw on the field.
His blocking skills were also a very positive note from Nelson’s rookie season and it is a trait that should give him even more playing time this year. When I watch him play, I see a younger Brandon Marshall. He goes up and fights for balls with his huge frame at 6′3″, 217 lbs. and fights like a tight end to gain extra yards.
If Nelson does not win the job, James Jones will be the reason why.
After an outstanding rookie season that saw him haul in 47 passes for 676 yards and a couple of touchdowns, injuries slowed his second year to a screeching hault. Combined with rumors of him falling out of favor with the coaching staff, his season was limited to ten games that saw him catch just 20 passes and score once.
In week 15 against Jacksonville, Jones racked up 132 yards on five catches and began to show his old form from two seasons ago. Early returns have been all positive for him, and even if he does not beat out Nelson he will be a heck of a fourth wide receiver.
The front-runner to grab the fifth and probably last wideout spot this year is Ruvell Martin. Despite just thirty one catches over the last two years, Martin has been a clutch target for his quarterbacks and is an above average blocker.
Brett Swain and undrafted free agent Jamarko Simmons both have shots at making the team and it would not be crazy to think the Packers would keep six receivers on their roster if someone warranted in a spot. As it goes for these five, they make up the deepest corps in the league.
They have great chemistry with each other and love whenever someone succeeds. No one in the group has an ego bigger than the team and they all strive for greatness. They work hard at their craft and are developing with Rodgers every day.
Training camp will tell a lot of the story on just how good this group can be along with running back Ryan Grant and tight ends Donald Lee and the rising Jermichael Finley, but all signs point to this group having another stellar year for the high-powered Packers offense.
Wednesday, the Green Bay Packers and wide receiver Greg Jennings announced a three-year contract extension that will make Jennings one of the highest paid wideouts in the game. Let’s see how he got there….
The year was 2006 and the Green Bay Packers had just completed their first day of rookie camps. First year Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was asked how the Pack’s latter second round selection, Greg Jennings, had fared in the team’s camp. McCarthy simply replied, “Oh, we didn’t miss on that one”. The rest is history.
Coming out of college, Jennings entered the draft after breaking just about every receiving record for the Western Michigan Broncos. He was projected as a second-to-third round pick behind the likes of Santonio Holmes, Chad Jackson, Derek Hagan, and Sinorice Moss.
His great route running and even better hands made him a perfect fit for the Packers’ West Coast Offense where he would later thrive. The two knocks on Jennings going into the draft were his lack of size (just 5’11″) and his speed (4.42 forty at the combine). Fast forward three years and you’ll find a guy that has as much game speed and quickness of anyone else in the league and a guy that can go up for a jumpball with the best cornerbacks in the league.
Like McCarthy said on that first day of camp, Jennings was everything but a miss. In his first season, he caught 45 balls for 632 yards and three touchdowns. In that season, he caught Brett Favre’s 400th touchdown and was named to the AP’s All-Rookie Team. Over the next two years, Jennings would amass 133 catches, 2302 yards, and 21 touchdowns as one of the most productive receivers in the league. In Dallas two years ago, he also caught Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown pass ever.
Maybe even more importantly than all that Jennings has done on the field, it has been his actions off the field that make his contract extension that much sweeter. In a world full of Chad Johnson’s, T.O.’s, and wide receivers that care more about the box score than the standings, Jennings is truly a breath of fresh air.
Not once has he called out a quarterback, demanded the ball more, or showboated after showing. On the contrary, the first thing Jennings does after a score is find his wide receiver counterparts and celebrate with them.
During interviews, Jennings sports a huge smile and talks about how exciting it is to play with Rodgers, get better, and watch his teammates get better as well. He is everything that you could ask for in a wide receiver.
It’s only a matter of time before veteran Donald Driver hangs his cleats up and passes the wide receiver torch to Jennings, but with the way he holds himself there should not be much of a drop off. It is very easy to see the effect that Driver has had on Jennings.
In that same sense, Jennings will now focus his attention to breeding young receivers like Jordy Nelson and James Jones, making sure they play to their full potential and do it the right way.
The Packers now have the potential to create one of the best scoring tandems in team history with Rodgers and Jennings now signed for at least the next four years.
Jennings reminds me a lot of Larry Fitzgerald who doesn’t have the size of a Terrell Owens or the speed of a Chad Johnson. Still, he puts in his time week in and week out, works his tail off, and most importantly has fun playing the game.
All these things combined equaled a big pay day for Jennings, and it could not have happened to a better guy.