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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The View of the Packer Nation as we approach the June minicamp:

by Mark Quarderer
PackerChatters Staff

On Ted Thompson: TT has been on the job for only 5 months and has already made some tough choices and put his stamp on the team. He put lowball offers on all his RFAs and didn’t lose a single one. He let Wahle, Sharper, and Rivera go without trying to overpay to keep them. He put the transition tag on Bubba Franks and essentially deterred any teams from making a run at Bubba. He resigned Aaron Kampman when the Vikings tried to pull a maneuver and steal him. He didn’t try to stop the departure of some slow defensive backs like Hawthorne, or a poor tackler like Jue. He has signed some bargain type free agents like O’Dwyer, Klemm, Freeman, Franz, and Raynoch Thompson. None of these are top tier guys, but all were available at bargain rates.

In short, TT has done a pretty solid job out of the blocks. Now he needs to deal with the Walker and Bubba situations. Hey….nobody said this was going to be a walk in the park.

On the Draft: We got some good players in this draft. Collins, Underwood and Hawthorne are a desperately needed infusion of fast tacklers...as is Poppinga. Murphy and Bragg are solid additions as returners and receivers; Coston is a versatile and athletic lineman who has the luxury of being able to develop under Beightol. Of course, the crown jewel here is Rodgers, a guy that we never would have thought we had a shot at going into the draft. This guy could very easily have been the #1 overall pick of the draft and he fell into our laps. God IS a Packer fan!!

On Sherman: Able to concentrate exclusively on coaching now, Sherman has an opportunity to quiet his critics. The man’s record speaks for itself. His star player has endorsed him. But it would be human nature for TT to want to remove the guy who headed the old regime, and if the Packers don’t advance to the Championship game, he’ll have his opportunity to make a change if he so desires. Nobody could fault TT if he made the switch and mumbled something about “Lack of playoff success….new direction….blah, blah, blah.”

Personally, I think Sherman deserves an extension. He came into this job with no head coaching experience. He made some mistakes. He surrounded himself with some mediocre assistants. But he may have learned something from this experience…hiring Bates was certainly a good step. These people who denounce Sherman as an incompetent and a bumbler are simply not on target. I think it’s pretty hard to argue that he hasn’t been one of the better coaches in the league over the last five years…and that should be rewarded with a new contract

On the Offensive Line: We return a great pair of starting tackles in Clifton and Tauscher. Bedell certainly seems to have the inside track at backing up the left tackle spot and Barry and Curtin will be competing for the backup right tackle spot. Mike Flanagan returns as our starting center and will be backed up by Scott Wells who played pretty well last year when thrust into the starting lineup.

We’ve lost Rivera and Wahle. I don’t think the loss of Rivera hurts on the field very much (the locker room may be different). Essentially, last year we had Reugamer and Rivera in the interior of our line; this year, we’ll have Reugamer and Flanagan in the interior of our line. I think that’s a wash. Rivera was on the wrong side of 30 and had an injury history. There is no way he was worth the kind of money it would have taken to keep him.

Wahle is a little different story because he’s a quality lineman entering what should be the prime years of his career. I don’t really see how we could have paid him what it would have taken without having to lose somebody else as a result. We’re going to miss Wahle—how much will depend on Adrian Klemm. If Klemm stays healthy and plays well, it’ll take a lot of the sting away. But if Klemm is hurt and plays poorly...we could have a weak link on the offensive line. O’Dwyer and Morley figure to be in the mix for backups at guard. Look for the rookie Coston to end up on the practice squad.

Beightol is a very good coach and I’m pretty confident we’ll have a good line, but I think it would be unfounded optimism to conclude that it’ll be better than last years…and it could be worse.

On Walker and Franks: The Bubba thing is easy, in my mind—you sign him to a five year contract that includes a $10 million signing bonus and is worth about $17 million overall. The guy never misses a game, keeps his nose clean, blocks his man, and is a consummate threat in the red zone. We should lock him up for the long term…it’s much more difficult to draft a quality TE than a quality WR and we’d have a hard time replacing him if he left. Almost certainly we’d have to spend a first round pick and even that might not be enough.

Walker is worth a lot more than he’s scheduled to get, but I just don’t think the Packers can afford to establish a precedent of negotiating with a holdout who still has two years left on his contract. The Packers should tell Walker they’ll talk after the season and then be prepared to move on without him. It’d be interesting to see what some team might offer in trade.

On the defense: New defensive coordinator Jim Bates has unequivocally stated that the Packer defense "will be vastly improved this year”. I concur. Look, despite what some people on the fans board have said, the Packer defense did not suck rocks last year and has not sucked the big one during Sherman’s tenure. Before last year, the Packers had been a Top 5 defense in 2001, an above average defense in 2002, and a Top 10 defense in 2003. In 2004, we slid to the bottom half of the league in some key categories, like plays over 20 yards (32nd, dead last) 23rd in points, and 25th in yards. We were also dead last in takeaways. In my opinion, the scheme, the rookies in the secondary, and the problem at nose tackle were the three biggest factors. When Grady was in the lineup we went 10-2, without him we went 0-4, partly because his backups, Lee and Washington, were also out with injuries.
Despite the hole at nose tackle and the confusion in the secondary, the Packers held 8 opponents to 14 or less and 10 opponents to 20 or less. This is not terrible defense…in fact, three teams with defenses every bit as ineffective actually made the playoffs…and some even advanced!!!

There was nothing wrong with this defense that can’t be fixed with a simpler scheme, better coaching, and an infusion of a few players in the secondary and nose tackle. All of those things are in place. Mark my words: This defense is going to be MUCH, MUCH, improved this year.

On Green, Davenport, and Fisher: Reportedly, Green has been working out hard and is eager to put his rocky domestic life behind him and play football. Green has been one of the top backs in football for the last several years and if he’s healthy the Packer running game is going to be good. But staying healthy on that job isn’t easy, which is why you need a quality backup who can fill in to keep you rested or when you’re dinged.

Last year, that didn’t happen. Davenport was injured early and often and as a consequence Green carried the ball way too many times early in the season and was beat up by the halfway point. Davenport is a real key to the success of the Packers this year; if he can stay healthy and play well…and help keep Green healthy…then the Packers are going to roll on the ground. With the acquisition of Murphy and Bragg in the draft it’s probably that Davenport will be relieved of his kickoff return duties. While I think that Davenport is a good kick returner, I think he has more value to the team as the guy who can keep Ahman healthy.

Both Green and Davenport are quite possibly entering their last year in Green Bay. Unless they can stay healthy and hang onto the rock, the Packers aren’t going to want them back. If they do stay healthy and hang onto the rock, they’ll probably attract offers from other teams in free agency that the Packers won’t want to match.

Tony Fisher is one of the better third down backs in the league. He catches, runs, blocks, and even passes. He is assignment sure, he hangs onto the rock, and he stays healthy. I don’t foresee any changes at this position.
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