22

May

Packers Coaches Campen, Slocum Out of the Fire?

James Campen

Is James Campen finally off the hook in the eyes of Packers fans?

There’s been something missing this offseason, and I’ve finally figured out what it is: the annual tirade of Packers fans against special teams coach Shawn Slocum and offensive line coach James Campen. What once was a common occurrence has quietly but certainly escaped from our foremost thoughts. They have only been mentioned in mere passing in recent news stories, and even the most rabid of fans have barely even whispered their names.

All of this, evidently, must be a good thing.

Just about 11 months ago, our own Zach Kruse wrote a post detailing five areas in which the Packers could improve in 2011, despite having won a Super Bowl title the previous year. Three of those areas were Kick and Punt Returning, Kick and Punt Coverage, and Pass Protection. In revisiting those now, we’ve seen some noteworthy improvements.

In first looking at Special Teams, the addition of Randall Cobb as a punt and kick returner was huge. Not only did he win the NFL Honors Play of the Year for his 108-yard kickoff return against the New Orleans Saints, but he made a significant mark on the statistics sheets. In yards per punt return, Cobb ranked third in the NFL (13.4), and he ranked seventh in yards per kickoff return (27.6).

While a lot of this is due to the athletic talent and vision that Cobb possesses, these plays would not have been possible without the blocking of the special teams units. And for that, we have to give credit to Slocum. If we are going to blame him for the failures, then it would only be right to praise him for the successes.

In fact, if you go by the advanced statistical measurements of Football Outsiders (FO), the Packers special teams unit ranked 8th in DVOA (3.5%) across the league in 2011. Last year they ranked 26th (1.6%).

Now how about that offensive line?

Well, to look at it statistically, they actually slid back a little bit. Their 41 sacks allowed last year numbered three more than the year of their Super Bowl run, and according to FO, their Adjusted Sack Rate rose from 7.2% to 7.4%. But if this is the case, why haven’t we heard the rallying cry against Campen lately?

Personnel changes have the most to do with it. The first big move of the year was inserting T.J. Lang into the left guard position as a starter, where he played just about all of the offensive snaps. After a couple missteps to begin the season, Lang has proven to be a significant upgrade over Daryn Colledge, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals.

The most important shift, though, was at the left tackle spot. Chad Clifton, recently released by Green Bay, was a big cornerstone of the offensive line in 2010 (and of course for many years prior). His injury against the Falcons in Week 5 shook up the offensive line in a big way. Marshall Newhouse, who was then filling in at right tackle for the injured Bryan Bulaga, slid over to left tackle while first round draft pick Derek Sherrod filled in the hole.

Bulaga started the next week against St. Louis, but Newhouse remained at left tackle and became the starter for the remainder of the regular season.

Having that much shifting around take place with the tackle positions is often a recipe for disaster, yet somehow the Packers were able to fight through it. Marshall Newhouse, though not without flaws, performed admirably at left tackle. And that, perhaps, is why offensive line coach James Campen seems to be getting a passing grade from fans this year.

Whether it’s being more lenient in the face of injuries, or giving credit for having Newhouse ready to take over, Campen wasn’t nearly on the hot seat as much as in previous years.

All that said, these two coaches are still under the microscope. Any misstep by them or their units will surely open the floodgates for past failures to come screaming back into our memories.

Truth be told, it could be something as simple as a lack of improvement. If there’s no noticeable improvement by Tim Masthay or Randall Cobb in the punting game, there will surely be some disappointment in falling short of their potential. Likewise, if Aaron Rodgers starts getting sacked like he was in 2009, then there’s no telling what fuming curses will be spewed at Coach Campen by the fans.

But for now, we must give credit where credit is due. Shawn Slocum and James Campen have silenced the critics for at least one year, and for good reason. Special teams has been perhaps the most improved unit in 2011, and the offensive line was able to manage the loss of one of its best players.

Slocum and Campen get the benefit of the doubt going into 2012, but as with every player, coach, and GM, they still must earn their worth from year to year.

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Chad Toporski, a Wisconsin native and current Pittsburgh resident, is a writer for AllGreenBayPackers.com. You can follow Chad on twitter at @ChadToporski

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13 Responses to “Packers Coaches Campen, Slocum Out of the Fire?”

  1. pointerjeff says:

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    • Rick Racic says:

      I agree. Campen is average at best and Slocum has no clue. It is amazing what some talent can do for both O-line and ST. Maybe the players can figure it out and those coaches can stay out of the way.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

      • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

        You can’t have a good Special Teams unit without at least a decent coach. He might not be helping them reach their full potential, but to say he’s the “worst ST coach in the league” is just unnecessary hyperbole. Player talent has its role, but so does coaching.

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    • Chad Lundberg says:

      I can see where you guys are coming from, but there were far fewer mistakes on special teams last year than there had been in the past before that.

      70+ yard kick returns allowed, missed field goals, penalties, and even nondisciplinary issues were the norm, but that drastically changed last year.

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  2. Smeefers says:

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    • BubbaOne says:

      So the three of you must think MM is an idiot. He thinks these guys are worth being on his staff but you know better.
      Since the D was ranked 32nd last year does that must mean Dom Capers is incompetent and should be fired?

      Instead think of it as good players make good coaches. Improve the player stock and the coaches look better. Have injuries like in the secondary last year and someone gets the blame from fans. They like to find what they perceive as the weak link (player or coach) and attack.

      If you’re Packer fans show some of the intelligence we’re known for. It’s okay to be critical w/o going stupid.

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      • cow42 says:

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        • Oppy says:

          Cow is right.

          It’s a performance based league.

          TT gave Dom Capers his first six draft picks.

          If the defense doesn’t improve, Capers must own that failure. He was given a talent shopping spree. Produce or he has to answer for it.

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  3. Ron LC says:

    One big thing that helps the ST image – The New KO Rule. That has made an area of key weakness less impactful when viewing overall performance. More toucbacks and less room to setup returns didn’t hurt overall performance.

    In additon, the kickers performed at high levels last year adding to coverage performance. Can this be attributed to Slocum? Much has to do with personnel decisions. Certainly some credit goes to Slocum and hopefully his trend of improvement continues.

    Campen is another story. He is tasked with developing an LT that can protect AR’s back. Newhouse had a critical weakness in 2011. He can’t handle speed rushers. Proof? See the KC game – See the NYG playoff game. His inablilities created the ineffective Offense in both those games. If Campen can develop Newhouse this year, his status should and will rise.

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    • PackersRS says:

      I think it’s unfair to peg speed as weakness when it was JPP and Tamba Hali rushing the passer. Those are perennial all-pros.

      But you are right. To me those two remain below-average coaches, at best, given their track record (only measurable available to fans, and the most important one IMO).

      However, since there are other important factors in evaluating their work (ability to teach, ability to inspire and demand, ability to devise and properly implement schemes), I can’t call for their heads. The recent track record isn’t terrible enough to overcome those other factors.

      There’s also the issue of continuity…

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      • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

        As I said, they’re still under the microscope. If they can continue this success given the players they have, then I’d say it was worth keeping them around. I think this past year was a start to turning around their reputation, and we’ll see where it goes from here.

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  4. CSS says:

    Adjusted sack rate and sacks don’t tell the entire story, nor can the regression be solely on the offensive line. McCarthy is a great coach, but he still insists on adhereing on 5-7 step drops and slow developing routes when the defense dictates otherwise. Rodgers also regressed from time-to-time by sitting at the top of said 5-7 step drop.

    I’m nitpicking, but both are contributing factors with offensive hits, pressures and sacks (yes, they were prolific, but it was still a factor).

    Very talented overall line. Very talented/athletic special teams core. Quite frankly, neither coach has any excuse for a regression or stagnation in 2012.

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    • Chad Toporski Chad Toporski says:

      You’re right that those stats don’t tell it all, but I wasn’t really planning on going deep into the conversation. My basic point was just to show that fans have been on Campen’s case less this season, despite a similar result to last season.

      I think the talent has definitely improved, but I also think it’s a weak excuse to say Slocum and/or Campen are still lousy coaches just because there might have been some better players in the mix.

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