By Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; April 24th, 2013
~GREEN BAY – Ted Thompson doesn’t dabble much in free agency. Trades are a rarity for Green Bay’s general manager.
Instead, Thompson puts most of his chips on the NFL draft. And Thompson’s eye for selecting young talent is the overriding reason the Packers won Super Bowl XLV and have reached the playoffs four straight years.
Thompson enters this year’s draft with eight picks. And coming off a 12-6 season (including postseason), the Packers have a surprisingly large number of holes and question marks.
With the draft fast approaching, here are five burning questions surrounding Thompson and the Packers.
1 . Will the defensive overhaul continue?
A year ago, the Packers used their first six picks on the defensive side of the ball. That marked the first time Green Bay opened with six straight defensive players since the draft began in 1936.
From that group, Casey Hayward looks like a definite keeper. But the jury remains out on Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Jerron McMillian and Terrell Manning.
Green Bay took baby steps on defense a year ago, allowing 336 points (21.0) after giving up 359 in 2011 (22.4). The Packers also jumped from No. 32 to 11 in total defense.
But Green Bay was obliterated by top offenses and allowed 32.3 points per game in its six losses. In the Packers’ final three defeats (San Francisco, Minnesota, New York Giants), they allowed 40.0 per game, including 45 in a playoff loss to the 49ers.
Clearly, defense remains the No. 1 concern. It’s unlikely Thompson will use his first six picks on defense again. But Thompson figures to use the majority on that side of the ball.
2. Running on empty?
Since Mike McCarthy arrived in 2006, Green Bay has ranked 23rd, 21st, 17th, 14th, 24th, 27th and 20th in rushing. That’s an average of 21st.
DuJuan Harris came on strong at the end of 2012 and was the team’s top rusher down the stretch.
“He did a good job,” Thompson said of Harris during February’s NFL combine. “And we’re looking forward to having him here for the whole thing.”
But is Harris an every-down back? And both James Starks and Alex Green have been disappointments.
The Packers haven’t taken a first-round running back since Darrell Thompson 23 years ago. If Alabama’s Eddie Lacy is on the board when the Packers first-round pick at No. 26 comes up, will Thompson pull the trigger?
3. Will Aaron Rodgers get more weapons?
When Donald Driver retired and Greg Jennings left for Minnesota in free agency, the Packers lost a combined 1,168 receptions, 114 touchdowns and nearly 17,000 receiving yards.
Granted, Driver was on his final legs in 2012, and Jennings has had consecutive injury-plagued seasons.
The Packers still have three quality receivers in James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. But depth is an issue and Jones is an unrestricted free agent after 2013.
It would make sense to bring in at least one youngster, and Thompson’s history suggests he could do so early. In five of Thompson’s eight drafts in Green Bay, he’s taken a wideout in the first three rounds.
“I think you still look for big, fast guys,” Thompson said. “But guys that catch the ball, guys that are instinctive, guys that have the ability to run after the catch. All those things are the same as they were in 1992, when I first started scouting.”
4. Can the lines of scrimmage be upgraded?
Green Bay needs to get better on both lines of scrimmage, and Thompson is likely to provide McCarthy some more ammunition.
Defensively, an end with some length is almost mandatory. With tackles B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett entering contract years, another inside player also could be targeted.
Offensively, Green Bay still has reservations about Marshall Newhouse at left tackle. Tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, are both coming off injuries.
Inside, there’s little depth, and no one is sure if center Evan Dietrich-Smith is much more than a stopgap.
The offensive guard and tackle groups in this draft are excellent. There are terrific interior defensive linemen, as well.
On multiple occasions, the best player on Thompson’s board could be an offensive or defensive lineman.
5. Will other voices be heard?
Since January 2010, Thompson has lost three key cogs of his management team.
John Schneider was the first to leave, taking the general manager job in Seattle. Reggie McKenzie took the GM job in Oakland in January 2012, and John Dorsey became Kansas City’s GM in January. All were terrific scouts, and people who Thompson trusted immensely.
The draft has always been Thompson’s baby, and the draft room has never been a democracy. But with so many of Thompson’s key lieutenants elsewhere, will their replacements have much of a voice on draft weekend?
“That’s a good question. That’s pretty sharp,” Thompson said. “Those people that we’ve put in those positions are mandated to question and to challenge from time to time – not for the sake of an argument but to make sure we’re doing what’s right for the organization.
“Yeah, those three guys (Schneider, McKenzie and Dorsey) did that a lot. We have other people here that are doing that as we speak. The coaches have their say, the other guys have their say and the people that ask the tough questions do their stuff, so it’s good.”
Full story here
By Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Press-Gazette
~D.J. Smith started the first six games of the season for the Packers last year.
Now, he’s out on the street.
The inside linebacker, who was a sixth-round pick in 2011, was released today in the midst of his rehabilitation from reconstructive knee surgery. Smith sustained a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 14 at Houston. He was the second player the Packers released today that was coming off an ACL tear. The other was running back Brandon Saine, whose injury also came against the Texans.
Both players failed their physical, but neither would have been expected to pass it at this point in their rehab.
“I can only tell you what they told us, and that’s they needed to create some space for things they thought was coming,” said Smith’s agent, Lamont Smith. “From our perspective, he was ahead of schedule. If you watched the rehab and the conditioning, he was running and lifting. It was curious to us what caused this.”
Smith said the Packers left open the possibility that they could bring his client back at some point.
“But the phone has been ringing off the hook for him,” the agent said. “They did say there’s a possibility that once he’s healthy, that they could bring him back. They just indicated there was something they needed to create some space for.”
Smith, who took over the starting job after Desmond Bishop tore his hamstring in the preseason, was still playing under his rookie contract and was scheduled to earn $550,000 this season. His salary cap number was just $580,788. The Packers expect Bishop back and also re-signed Brad Jones and agreed to a restructured contract with A.J. Hawk. Jones and Hawk finished the season as the starting inside linebackers.
Saine, an undrafted rookie, was scheduled to make $550,000 this season, which was the same as his cap figure.
Original story here
By Bob McGinn, Journal-Sentinel
~It’s not something any coach or general manager would care to admit publically. Namely, they’re responsible for a team that’s gone soft and small. But some people close to Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson say the Green Bay Packers’ football leaders have freely acknowledged that perception in private over the past three months, and now are bound and determined to do something about it.
Finding bigger, more physical players for their 53-man roster should be the overriding theme for what the Packers attempt to accomplish in the upcoming draft. One look at the schedule should tell you that.
Heaven help the Packers if they think their finesse offense and underpowered defense will enable them to win road games against San Francisco, Baltimore and the New York Giants in the first 10 weeks of the season. There’s just one way to beat those teams. You either get bigger, get stronger and get tougher, or you take your whipping and head back home.
It was no surprise that the Packers did little to their roster in the off-season. But two of the players they did add, and another they appeared to want but weren’t able to secure, suggest that McCarthy and Thompson are serious about making changes.
In early March, defensive end Johnny Jolly’s suspension was lifted by the league and the Packers took him back for the one-year minimum. Three years away from football is an eternity, especially for a player who’s 30 years old. Long shot though Jolly might be, his physical dimensions and characteristics make him a gamble worth taking. Jolly, 6 feet 3 inches and 325 pounds when seen last, had his best season in 2009 before his drug demons knocked him from the game.
The Packers haven’t stopped the run worth a darn in the last three years, but in his 835 snaps at left end in the first year of the 3-4 defense Jolly played an integral role in the team’s No. 1-ranked run defense.
For too long, Dom Capers has been asked to operate with too-short defensive linemen. The Packers still need five-techniques stretching 6-4 or 6-5, but Jolly is a giant compared to the squatty likes of Ryan Pickett, Mike Daniels, Jerel Worthy and B.J. Raji.
Equally as important, Jolly brought attitude. He was fierce on Sundays, an unsmiling butt-kicker with a snarling demeanor that his old defense seems to have lost along the way.
Two weeks ago, McCarthy flabbergasted me by agreeing to add a base-blocking tight end in Matt Mulligan. Now Mulligan might not even make the team. It’s a crowded field, and he probably wouldn’t be needed if Andrew Quarless’ rebuilt knee holds up and he can regain his aggressive run-blocking form of 2010. But kudos to McCarthy for giving a non-athletic tight end like Mulligan an extended look.
The coach probably got sick of seeing his sleek tight ends get beat in short-yardage and some base runs. He also is more than aware that a key reason why the offense took off late in the year was the rise of the run game. There are few, if any, true blocking tight ends in this draft. It’s much more difficult than you might think to find a tight end that can block the defensive end one-on-one, but that’s what Mulligan (6-4, 260) has done.
There’s nothing more invigorating for an offense than to smash-mouth it successfully on third and 1. On the other hand, there’s nothing more deflating than getting stuffed on a short-yardage run or having to admit weakness and line up in spread every other time. Just one or two plays decide so many games.
Needing a foot on the goal line at Candlestick Park in September or M&T Bank Stadium in October, a brute like Mulligan can help transform a soft team into a hard team.
Finally, on Wednesday, the Packers made an extraordinary move by getting a visit from nose tackle Steve McLendon of the Pittsburgh Steelers. McLendon (6-3, 325), a free agent from Troy in 2009, made the Steelers in 2010 but played sparingly behind Casey Hampton.
His snap counts were 19 in ’10, 171 in ’11 and 135 last year. In other words, there wasn’t much tape on him. The cap-pinched Steelers gambled, placing the lowest restricted free-agent tender on McLendon rather than protecting him with the more expensive second-round tender.
Just two days earlier, the Steelers matched a restricted offer from New England on wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sensing the timing was right, the Packers zoomed in for a look-see. The Steelers reacted instantly, and on Thursday signed McLendon to a three-year, $7.25 million contract that contained a $1.675 million signing bonus. He will start this year.
Like Jolly and Mulligan, McLendon possessed the bulk to help a team that ranked 27th in average weight a year ago start getting bigger. It would be difficult to criticize Thompson for not striking immediately with an offer sheet, and McLendon obviously was worth more to the Steelers.
Still, it was a sign that the Packers aren’t just going to pay lip service to their shortcomings. In the draft, Thompson should and probably will be looking for bigger, tougher players. Just in the last two years, the Packers have made too many draft choices that were shorter and lighter than desired.
There was a 6-2 tight end (D.J. Williams) and a 5-10½ inside linebacker (D.J. Smith) in 2011, and a 6-2½ defensive end (Worthy) and a 6-0½ defensive end-inside pass rusher (Daniels) in 2012. One exception, perhaps two, might be acceptable, but compromising height-weight standards that often has led to the Packers’ size disadvantage against the power teams.
Fortunately for Thompson, the team’s primary needs – the offensive line and the defensive line – correspond to two of the strongest areas of the draft. “It’s an O-line, D-line draft,” said Howie Roseman, general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles. “It’s not the traditional draft where you see the quarterbacks and the skill-position guys go.”
Roseman sees a separation between the first eight or nine players, then little or no separation among the next 20 to 25. Another personnel man with more than two decades in the profession sees almost no difference between the No. 1 player and the No. 22 or No. 23 player on his team’s draft board. “This is the most unique draft I’ve ever been in,” the scout said. “All those guys are about the same.”
If that executive and others are right, Thompson can sit tight in his No. 26 slot and draft a player of almost equal ability to those taken several hours earlier, and at a bargain price. “They need another big body on both sides of the line,” another personnel man said, referring to the Packers.
“I think they’re on life support now up front (on defense). If I’m prioritizing this, I’m looking at both lines.” The Packers were punched in the mouth by the bigger, stronger, tougher and altogether better 49ers twice last season. Now some personnel people are saying that another bruising NFC entry, the Seattle Seahawks, might be the best team in the league. At least the Packers’ brain trust has seen what’s needed. Now the real litmus test comes Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Original story here
By Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk
~The champions of Super Bowl XLV chased their title run with a 15-1 regular season and a pair of division-round playoff losses. To get back to the Super Bowl and win it once or more times during the remaining career of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need to address multiple needs, sooner rather than later.
Running back: The Packers seem to need a running back every year. The bigger question is whether the Packers would fully utilize a great one, if the team had him. Coach Mike McCarthy uses the pass to set up the pass, with running backs mainly catching the ball and blocking for Rodgers.
The versatile Johnathan Frankin of UCLA would be an intriguing fit in a later round, since he can stay on the field for three downs and run, catch, and block.
Nose tackle: Their interest in nose tackle Steve McLendon, who re-signed with the Steelers, shows that the Packers think they need a nose tackle. Ryan Pickett, 33, and former first-rounder B.J. Raji each have one year left under contract; the Packers need to be ready to replace them. Without a good nose tackle, their 3-4 defense won’t work very well. (Then again, it currently isn’t.)
Linebacker: Beyond Clay Matthews, the Packers need help. Nick Perry, a first-rounder in 2012, had his season shortened with a wrist injury. A.J. Hawk could be getting toward the end of his run in Green Bay.
They need to get better at this position.
Offensive line: The Packers have done fairly well with a subpar line. But they’ve taken chances on left tackles who end up playing other positions. They need to draft a left tackle who will stay at left tackle, and who will play well there. (Unless they’re serious about moving Bryan Bulaga to the left side.)
Tight end: The tattoo man Tom Crabtree bolted to the Bucs and Jermichael Finley has one year left under contract. They need to be thinking about the future of this position.
Quarterback: With Graham Harrell serving as the backup, the Packers have put all eggs in Aaron Rodgers’ basket. If he gets hurt, they’re done.
Original “story” here
Sep 8 – at San Francisco, 3:25
Sep 15 – Washington, noon
Sep 22 – at Cincinnati, noon
Sep 29 – BYE ALREADY
Oct 6 – Detroit, noon
Oct 13 – at Baltimore, noon
Oct 20 – Cleveland, 3:25
Oct 27 – at Minnesota, 7:30 NBC
Nov 4 – Chicago, 7:40 ESPN (Monday)
Nov 10, Philadelphia, noon
Nov 17- at NY Giants, 7:30 NBC
Nov 24 – Minnesota, noon
Nov 28- at Detroit, 11:30 Thanksgiving Thursday
Dec 8 – Atlanta, 7:30 NBC
Dec 15 – at Dallas, 3:25
Dec 22 – Pittsburgh, 3:25
Dec 29 – at Chicago, noon
Interesting, Good, and Bad parts of the schedule:
-Tough to start at San Fran.
-I hate the bye being after only 3 of 16 games.
-I do not like playing at Detroit on Thanksgiving again.
-Getting RG3 early into his ACL recovery.
-Only 1 Monday Nighter.
-3 NBC Football Night in American games. But 2 can be flexed out.
-Packers never play 2 road games in a row.