The State of the Packers
The Packers season has now been over for a month, and I find Iím finally able to write about it with without too much disgust, and with some objectivity. Thatís probably a lot harder for the younger of us who donít remember a time when the Packers stank, but for those of us who can still picture Lindy Infante, Randy Wright, Brent Fullwood, Perry Kemp, Ed West, Vinnie Clark and a host of others, itís really not all that difficult. The worst part of it all is the prospect of Favreís retirement and the years of truly terrible football that could quickly ensue. The season was horrible, but the one positive was that the injuries and losses gave us a chance to see who really belongs on the team and who needs to go. So without further ado, hereís my take:
The Packers fired head coach Mike Sherman and for me it was two years too late. Lots of people think the firing was unjustified, and lots of others think he should have been fired after the 4th and 26 debacle. Iím from the school of he should have been fired DURING the 4th and 26 debacle. The Packers lost that game because they tried to run out the clock starting with the second half kickoff; and that sums up Shermanís coaching style nicely. Sherman never learned to be aggressive, he never learned to pile on the points when you have a team down, and he never learned that you have to take risks to win. The Packers would never have won the Super Bowl with him. Mike McCarthy is the new coach, and it remains to be seen what he will do.
The unit that took the most blame for the Packers fall from grace was the offensive line. Management was blamed for letting guards Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera go, but some poor personnel decisions from the past really made it impossible for the Pack to resign them. At guard, Will Whitticker, a rookie 7th round draft pick, was widely condemned for being the worst of the bunch, and while I thought his play was spotty, he got better towards the end of the year. If he continues to improve, he could become a solid starter. Those wishing for the return of Wahle and Rivera might remember their first couple of years in the league. As a rookie, Wahle was the worst offensive lineman Iíve ever seen. The Packers tried him at tackle, then on the bench, and finally at guard where he eventually became a good player. Rivera sat on the bench his first few years as a Packer. Blaming the offensive linesí woes on a seventh round draft pick is unfair. The other guard was Grey Ruegamer who has been in the league for several years and should obviously no longer be starting. Replacing him needs to be a priority.
At tackle, the Packers were supposedly set with starters Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, and backup Kevin Barry who comes in for the U71 three tackle formation. While the guards took all the heat for the linesí poor play, Clifton was quietly having his worst season as a Packer. He consistently missed blocks, especially in pass coverage where ends and linebackers frequently went around him. With the Packers constantly behind and not running the ball, saving Barry for the special formations meant that he played hardly at all. Tauscher had another solid season, but was hardly a dominant player. If these guys donít return to form, the offensive line could actually be worse next year.
At center, Mike Flanagan returned from an injury and did not play well. His replacement, Scott Wells also was unspectacular. One of these two will have to step up big time for the Packers to have any chance in 2006.
With the quality of the starters, it goes without saying that the team has no depth at all on the offensive line.
The only thing consistent about the running backs was that they couldnít play three games without getting hurt. The Packers went from Ahman Green to Najeh Davenport to Tony Fisher to Samkon Gado and finally to Noah Herron. Green is a free agent and while I would be hesitant to sign him for big money because of the injury, heís been so good over the years and I hope the Packers find a way to bring him back. When heís healthy, he is obviously the Packers best back. Najeh Davenport has been hurt every year as a Packer, and as an unrestricted free agent should be let go. Tony Fisher was average as a pass catcher, ineffective as a runner, and useless as a blocker. As a free agent he should also be let go. Gado was the revelation of the year for the Packers. While he needs to learn a lot, he was smart and showed improvement in the few games he played. If Green canít go, Gado will be the starter and I think he will work out. Herron was OK and will probably stick around, if only as a backup and special teams player.
At fullback, William Henderson is on his way out. While he might return next year, heís obviously not the player he once was. He had a lot of good years as a blocker for the Pack and his level of play is missed. The unfortunate part of Hendersonís decline is that replacement Vonta Leach is nowhere near the player Henderson was. If Wisconsin's Matt Bernstein is healthy and available in the middle rounds, I hope the Packers draft him.
The Packers paid big bucks to bring back Bubba Franks at tight end, and that was a mistake. At his best, Franks is an above average tight end. At his normal level of play, he is a below average tight end. Having made some bad personnel decisions in recent years, the Packers can no longer afford to pay above average salaries to below average players. Late in the season a TV announcer actually said the Favre was missing one his ďweaponsĒ when David Martin was hurt. In 59 games, Martin has caught 66 passes for 568 yards. That works out to an average of 1.1 catches for 9.6 yards per game. Its time to admit the David Martin experiment was a failure. If the Packers can find a promising tight end in the draft, they should take him.
With Javon Walker and rookie Terrence Murphy out with season ending injuries, 2005 was a chance for the rest of the receivers to show what they had. Donald Driver, who was my least favorite of the Packers receivers, had his best year in the league. He got open despite being constantly double teamed and didnít drop an excessive amount of passes. Robert Ferguson was a huge disappointment. With an opportunity to start he did nothing and should be gone next year. Antonio Chatman is at best a 4th or 5th receiver. Were it not for his return skills, he too should be gone next year. There is, of course, no depth to the receiving corps.
Brett Favre looked liked he was a rookie again, and thatís not good. Favre routinely threw some god-awful passes into double and triple coverage and it hurt the team at times. While all the injuries to the offense certainly hurt his play, he made more bad decisions than is acceptable. If he returns next year and the Packers are healthy, he will need to step up his play. The big question, of course is whether Favre will return. While he can certainly still play, Iím not sure heís really into it anymore. There were times last season when he looked like he didnít really give a damn. If thatís the case he should retire. If he does retire, Packer football will be boring to watch for a while. The only reason I watched some of the games the past couple of seasons was to see Favre. We all knew the day would come eventually, but the prospect of watching the Packers without Favre will make it easy to find alternative activities for a Sunday afternoon. Aaron Rodgers could find himself starting next season, and he is, of course, a completely unknown quantity.
Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson, Mike McKenzie, Chris Akins, Gary Berry, Marques Anderson, Chris Johnson, Ahmad Carroll, Joey Thomas, Nick Collins, Marviel Underwood, Mike Hawkins. If you still donít know why the Packers secondary stinks, that is a list of all the DBís and safeties the Pack has drafted since 1999. That list gets even more depressing when you realize McKenzie was traded to obtain the pick used to draft Collins. If you still need a reason to cheer Mike Shermanís departure, look no further than Ahmad Carroll. Had my father lived to see Carroll play, he would have concluded that Carroll must be the bastard son of Terrell Buckley. Changing Carrollís name and number might eliminate a few of the penalty flags thrown against him. Nothing can be done about all the TD passes thrown against him. The new regime will have no loyalty to Shermanís old draft picks, which means Ahmad Carroll can finally be gone. In addition to Carroll, Mark Roman must also be replaced. Iíve said before that a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood stood upright anywhere in the defensive backfield would defend more passes and make more stops than Carroll and Roman combined, and I stand by that claim. The other half of the secondary is actually good. Al Harris is the Packers best defensive player. Without him, this team would have struggled to win two games last year. Rookie Nick Collins played well his first year, and actually looked like he knew where the ball was most of the time. Not since Leroy Butler has a Packer safety shown that ability. The only thing we know about the backups is that they couldnít beat out Carroll or Roman.
No unit is harder to judge than the linebackers. There are times when Nick Barnett and Naíil Diggs look like All-Pros. There are other times when they you donít even realize they are in the game. 2006 will be a make or break year for these two. If they donít become consistent performers, the Packers will have more holes to fill. Paris Lenon and Robert Thomas also started, and the Packers will probably have to replace them before another playoff run is in the making. Once again there is no depth to the line backers.
The ongoing theme of a lack of depth to this team is a direct consequence of the Packers love of drafting by position. Ron Wolf was great in the later rounds of the draft by not drafting by position. (Although, truth be told, he stunk in the first two rounds of the draft by drafting by position or supposed ĒneedĒ.) When you draft by position, you miss out on all the diamonds in the rough that wind up becoming good players 2 years down the road. You also make stupid decisions like the one that led to the trading of Hasselbeck and subsequent drafting of Jamal Reynolds. (Thanks for the going away present Ron). Only by trying to improve the team everywhere will the Packers once again compete.
The defensive line showed a lot of promise this past season. Aaron Kampman greatly improved, was a good against the run and provided some pass rush. His resigning should be the Packers number one free agent priority. The Packers used a committee at defensive tackle consisting of Grady Jackson, Corey Williams and Colin Cole. All these players played well for the entire season. The ability to get Jackson off the field at times was probably the biggest factor in his staying healthy all year. As a free agent, he will want big money. The Packers will be careful not to overpay for him, so donít be surprised if he winds up elsewhere in 2006. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was the big disappointment on defense. He is a liability against the run, and his pass rushing days are over. Donít believe me, believe the rest of the league. Nobody playing the Packers saw the need to double team Biamila. Instead they were careful to put a back, tight end, or tackle/guard double team on Kampman, making it obvious who they perceived as the real threat. Cullen Jenkins and Michael Montgomery also saw quite a bit of playing time on the defensive line and the level of play did not drop when they were in the game. All in all, this is probably the Packers best unit, and the only one that has significant depth. On the other hand, a big defensive end to replace Gbaja-Biamila would be the player who could most quickly have an impact on the team. If a large, fast defensive end is available, donít be surprised if the Packers take him with their first pick.
The Packers had the worst special teams in the NFL last year. With Sherman gone, punter BJ Sander will also be gone. The only thing worse than trading up to draft him was playing him long after it was obvious he shouldnít be playing. The magnitude of this debacle can be summed up in the fact that when Sander got hurt at the end of the season he was replaced by a guy the Packers picked up in a bar. For those who care, note that Josh Bidwell, the punter Sander was drafted to replace, was 3rd in the league in net average last year. Sander was 30th.
At kicker, Ryan Longwellís (Shortbad to those who watch him) days are numbered. His kickoffs are sub-par and his 6-10 on field goals from between 30-39 yards was awful.
For returns, Chatman returned one punt for a touchdown. The Packers also had the lowest kick return average of any team in the league.
So thatís the state of the Packers; lots of holes, no depth. What will 2006 bring? The first step is the draft. The Packers need help everywhere, so trading away their 5th overall pick might be a good idea, especially if Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart or Vince Young is still available and some team is willing to trade the farm for them. After that, the Packers need to go for the best player available regardless of position. The second step will be the free agents. Aaron Kampman and Ahman Green need to be the big priorities. If the Packers can sign them, they should step back and see what offers their remaining free agents get before making any decisions. The last step will be convincing Favre to come back for another year. If Favre returns, and players are healthy, the Packers could make the playoffs. Also, one more year on the bench would probably benefit Aaron Rodgers. If Favre retires the Packers will be lucky to break 4 wins, regardless if everyone is healthy.
Finally, my prediction: Seattle 31 Ė Pittsburgh 13.
Posted by BVBigBro at February 2, 2006 01:08 PM
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|# February 2nd, 2006 1:37 PM kris|
|It's hard to pinpoint exactly why the Packers were so awful last year. They had 1 decent receiver and terrible special teams, but I guess I'm hoping that Sherman and his staff were the main problems.
I seems like Hawk from Ohio State, some defensive lineman and D'Brickashaw (love the name) Ferguson on the O-line are the Packers mostly likely first round picks. Any of them would be fine with me. I'm more concerned/intrigued by what they do in the later rounds.
|# February 2nd, 2006 3:15 PM james|
|i'm not too concerned about rodgers and think he'll do just fine. just look at the long list of QBs whove studied under favre, playing only in pre-season: Hasselbeck, Brunell, Brooks, etc. even those who never got a real chance (burris) and those who got their chances too late (pederson) would be capable of piloting a mediocre team to an 8-8 season. one thing that Rodgers has going for him is that he (ostensibly) has more talent than any of those guys, at least according to draft pick order.
while i do believe that a good defense is what wins championships, i'm also a firm believer that a quality O-line is what makes a champion. i've said it a bazillion times- letting adam timmerman go is probably the second-worst decision the packers front office has ever made, second only to the hiring of lindy infante.
this draft season, we've gotta hang on to the offensive stars that we can (favre, green if the $ works, and walker) and build the o-line & secondary. and by god, dont f-up and let harris go, like they f-ed up and lost sharper to the vikes.
it's the best move for the future, and it's the best shot we've got of favre going out on top. (and that's not a good shot, i know -- but it's the best he has.)
|# February 3rd, 2006 8:12 AM KVBigSis|
|Wow, BV, that was quite the summation of the Packers' season, especially for someone who lives in Kansas!
One of your predictions has already come through - I heard this morning that the Packers signed a punter from the CFL with a 50-yard average. Bye, bye, BJ.
I've never been as anti-Sherman as you, but I think it's a good thing he's gone. He does not have a winner's mentality. I agree with most of the rest of your points, except I'd let Ahman Green go. He was great for a few years, but an aging running back coming off a major injury? Avoid that like a land war in Russia.