Packers Thoughts 9-3-09
The Green Bay Packers have been the talk of the NFL in not only NFL circles, but also NFL reporters for all the right reasons. There is no controversy over who should be the starting quarterback or protests because they signed a controversial player. Infact it has been a rather uneventful training camp allowing the team to focus on what needs to be done to bring the Lombardi trophy back home to Green Bay.
That focus the team has has allowed the Packers first team offense and defense to be hotter then the California summer. The first team offense has yet to punt and have looked sharp in every aspect of their game.
Aaron Rodgers leads the offense and the Packers. As Rodgers continues to ascend to super star status, he game is already there. Rodgers play this pre season is nothing short of amazing. He has thrown 6 touch down passes to zero interceptions, a QB rating of 151.1 and a 71% completion percentage.
Not bad for a guy who just a year ago had the weight of the Packer universe on his shoulders.
Unfortunately his back-up situation is not as secure as many Packers fans would hope. The two 2nd round picks from a year ago are still on the roster with Matt Flynn, who looks to be the top back-up and Brian Brohm.
Brohm needed a strong showing this week at practice and in the final pre season game to secure a spot on the Packers many people think. He did have a really good week at practice, maybe his best ever, and will the guy replacing Rodgers after the Packers take the starters out after the first series when they play the Titans. Flynn will make the team, but his shoulder injury has some Packer brass nervous because of the lack of debth behind Rodgers.
Keep an eye on the veteran QB’s that get cut or lose out in a quarterback battle. The names I have heard are Luke McCown, Josh Johnson, Joey Harrington and Tavaris Jackson as possible targets.
The Packers running game will be led by Ryan Grant, who looks to bounce back from a sub-par season in which he ran for over 1,200 yards, but a 3.9 yards per carry average. The debth behind Grant is better then the Packers could have even hooped. Brandon Jackson will be the top back-up but DeShawn Wynn, Tyrell Sutton and Kregg Lumpkin are battling for the third and forth running back spots.
Sutton has made the biggest splash and has that “wiggle” that the coaches feel no other back has on the roster. He also can return kicks and that adds to his value. Wynn has also looked good and seems to have shook the “lazy” label that dropped him into the 7th round of the draft two years ago. Lumpkin, last years training camp star, has an up hill battle and looks to be the odd man out from what I hear.
I would expect the back that is the odd man out to either be traded or, if the Packers are lucky, resigned to the practice squad.
The battle between John Kuhn and Kory Hall to go down to the wire. The Packers love what Quinn Johnson brings to the table and feel he could be a Lorenzo Neal clone. Hall and Kuhn will be battling tonight for the final fullback spot. Both are skill special teamers and the loser will be dealt. I think Hall will make it since he has a defensive background and was a pick by Thompson and McCarthy.
The Packers wide receiver position is looking just as strong as many feel it is. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Ruvell Martin all will make the team and continue with the “Fab 5” tag, but keep an eye on 2nd year player Brent Swain. He was a player Ted Thompson liked coming out and has shown a knack for making a play in special teams. He will get a long look against the Titans.
The Packers tight end position is looking better and better every day with the emergence of Jermichael Finley. Finley has been one of the most impressive players in training camp and is pushing Donald Lee for the starting position. That is not a knock on Lee, just how good Finley has been. Look for more two tight end sets and for Finley to be a red zone threat.
Evan Moore and Spencer Havner are battling for the back up spot and I would say Havner has the advantage because he can also play line backer and special teams. The Packers like Moore so he may be added to the practice squad if he is not signed away.
The offensive line will have three new starters at the center, right guard and right tackle positions. Allen Barbe, Josh Sitton and Jason Spitz will join Darryn Colledge and Chad Clifton. Scott Wells, T.J. Lang, Jamon Meredith, Breno Giacomini should be the back-ups with Tony Moll as the odd man out.
Moll and Wells very well could be dealt before the start of the season too. There are whispers that the two lineman are in the market, with Seattle as a possible team of interest.
The Packers defense has to be the other big story of training camp. Dom Capers was brought in to over haul a defense that was boring, bland, non inventive and predictable. Boy has he done that! The Packers have taken to his defense like ducks to water. They have created 10 turnovers in 3 preseason games and have put constant pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, and according to Capers, has only ran the base packages.
The defensive line has played extremelywell with Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, Cullen Jenkins, first round pick B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn. Justin Harrell has had back issues, again, and hopes to play for the Packers this season, but time will tell. Mike Montgomery has also played well and also looks to make the team after showing he can indeed play in the 3-4.
The Packers have a problem at linebacker. Nick Barnett is the starter and leader of the defense. AJ Hawk has led the team in tackles two of his three years with the Packers but Demond Bishop and Brandon Chillar have been the top two inside backers in training camp. This is a good problem to have and the Packers coaching staff will find a way to get all four players on the field.
The outside linebacker positions are far settled. Aaron Kampman will be the left outside backer. He is doing better then most people had thought in his conversion from defensive end to outside backer. The right side backer spot is far less settled. Brady Poppingawill open as the starter after having another solid camp, but the Packers want to get their other first round pick Clay Matthews on the field as soon as possible. They feel he is stronger, faster, more athletic and has better instincts then Poppinga. Jeremy Thompson has looked good when he has been able to practice and will back-up Kampman.
Keep an eye on Brad Jones. I hear the Packers really like what they see with him and think he can be a player down the road.
Charles Woodson says the Packers will be a Super Bowl team. He also believes that the Packers secondary is the best in the NFL. Since Woodson has arrived in Green Bay he has played at a Pro Bowl level andbeen the ball hawk many thought he would be when he was drafted by Oakland. Al Harris is coming off an injury and some question whether he is a good fit for Dom Capers system. Tramon Williams has the look of a starter and gives the Packers maybe the best group of corners in the NFL.
Will Blackmon will be battling Pat Lee and Brandon Underwood for the dime spot. Blackmon is a standout returner and will make the Packers, but the oft injured Lee and Jarrett Bush both are playing for roster spots against Tennessee. Underwood has the rare opportunity to get a start tonight and make an impact, and Capers thinks he is gonna be a player that will have an impact in his system.
Rumor is the Packers will deal either Lee or Bush before the start of the season.
At safety Nick Collins returns as the ball hawk the Packers envisioned when they drafted him out of Bethune-Cookman. He is coming off his Pro Bowl and wants a new contract. Look for Collins to have another big year. The other safety spot is still up in the air. Atari Bigby entered camp as the starter, but has not shown the same explosivenesssince his ankle surgery that made him a force in the box in 2007. Anthony Smith was brought in from the Steelersto compete with Bigby, but also add some understanding of the 3-4. Smith however has been a play maker in secondary and is now pushing Bigby for playing time.
The Packers are expected to keep four safeties, so Aaron Rouse and Charlie Peprahare now battling for the final safety spot. The Packers will most likely trade the loser of this battle since the Packers depth in the secondary is one of the best in the NFL.
Mason Crosby and Jeremy Kapinos return as the kicker and punter. Crosby is one of the better young kickers in the NFL and the Packers feel he is going to have a huge year. Kapinos however has to continue to prove to the Packers that he is capable of being the punter for an entire season.
Blackmon will return punts and may be joined by Sutton on kick off returns. If Blackmon can remain healthy he has Pro Bowl type return skills. Nelson and Wynn also can returns kicks, while Nelson and Williams will back up Blackmon on punts.
If a better punter becomes available, look for the Packers to try him out. They would love to upgrade over Kapinos, but it is slim pickings right now.
The Packers have the look of a team that can go deep into the playoffs barring injury. They are the most talented and deep team in the NFC North which includes having the most stable front office in the division. Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy work extremely well together and are on the same page, 99.9% of the time.
Packers fans should be excited!