Author Archives: Kris Burke | About Kris Burke:

3

March

The Green Bay Packers Are At A Fork In The Road

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson

What Ted Thompson is currently looking at–metaphorically speaking.

Imagine this scenario: you’re traveling with your family on a vacation.  You mapped out the route you would take and foresaw smooth travels ahead.  What actually happens, however, is road filled with bumps and potholes and you suffer some damage and keep getting detoured from your ultimate destination.

For Ted Thompson, with perhaps his legacy as general manager for the Green Bay Packers in the balance, such a moment is at hand.

Ever since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, Thompson’s ultimate destination has been a return trip to the title game.  Many, including Thompson himself, thought the Packers were in prime position for multiple Super Bowl runs and some even uttered the word “dynasty” when looking at Green Bay’s long term prognosis.

Instead, Thompson’s team has suffered through multiple injury plagued seasons while the defense continues to suffer blowout after blowout like a cheaply made tire on an RV.  The offense is the engine that keeps the vehicle moving at a decent speed but what good does that do with consistently flat tires on defense?

Heading into the 2014 offseason, Thompson has to put solid rubber underneath the Packer vehicle in order to take some pressure off the offense and keep that engine from overheating. The defense must get better (and fast) if the Packers want any chance of returning to the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers was dead on when he said one window has closed for the Packers and another has opened.  The franchise quarterback is 30 and will turn 31 late in the upcoming season. The clock is ticking.

Thompson has relied heavily on drafting talent and developing it along to replace aging stars.  This method has worked well in spots, the wide receiver position is a case in point.

It has been an utter disaster on defense. The Packers have yet to find a suitable replacement for Nick Collins and also haven’t fully replaced Cullen Jenkins either. After both these players left the team via injury and free agency, the performance of the Green Bay defense has gone into a tailspin.

That is why this off season is crucial for the Packers. The Packers managed to stay afloat without Rodgers for half of 2013 but they’d have been in even better shape had the defense even resembled competence. Thompson has not been the best in terms of drafting defensive talent and that was on display for all to see in 2013.

3

February

Jamari Lattimore 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

1) Introduction:  You know how the backup quarterback is the most popular player on a bad team? Angry fans want the bum of a starter bench and are convinced that the backup QB can come in and save the season. Lattimore was the backup quarterback of the Packers defense for a stretch this season. Fans thought the starters stunk, and Lattimore was the answer.

2) Profile: Jamari Lattimore

  • Age: 25
  • Born: 10/6/88 in Miami, FL
  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 237
  • College: Middle Tennessee State
  • Rookie Year: 2011
  • NFL Experience: 3 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Play on special teams. If you’re judging Lattimore only on his special teams contribution, he had a good season.But he was forced into the starting lineup after Brad Jones got hurt in October and the results were mixed. Lattimore did look a savior early, but faded late.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: According to Pro Football Focus, Lattimore totaled 13 “stops” over a five-game stretch in October. He only managed three stops the rest of the season. Lattimore looked explosive rushing the passer and one of the few Packers defenders who could lay a hit on a running back in October. Come November and December, Lattimore looked slow to react and not nearly as explosive. He did deal with some injuries later in the season, so maybe that slowed him down.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: When Lattimore filled in for Jones in October, you never even knew Jones was gone. He looked like another Ted Thompson “who is this guy?” success story. That optimism faded later in the season, but maybe it’ll return again in 2014.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Lattimore didn’t play any snaps from scrimmage in the playoff loss to San Francisco and assisted on two tackles on special teams duty.

Season Report Card:

(C+) Level of expectations met during the season

(C) Contributions to team’s overall success.

(C-) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: C

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Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke

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31

January

Brad Jones 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Green Bay Packers, Brad Jones, Brad Jones Packers, Brad Jones Report Card, Packers Report Card1) Introduction: After Aaron Kampman left the Packers following the 2009 season, it was thought that seventh round draft pick Brad Jones could be a suitable replacement.   Jones had four sacks his rookie season in relief of an injured Kampman and that showed the Packers enough that maybe he could be a decent linebacker. However, thanks to the emergence of Clay Matthews and Desmond Bishop, Jones was relegated to the bench in 2010 and 2011.  However, in 2012 Jones started 10 games and was rewarded with a three-year $11.75 million contract.  Bishop was released this offseason following a hamstring injury, so the Packers were all in with Jones as one of their inside linebackers.

2) Profile: Nate Palmer

  • Age: 27
  • Born: 04/01/1986 in Lansing, MI
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 242
  • College: Colorado
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 5 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: With Bishop gone and signing a big new contract, Jones had to perform this season.  The release of Bishop was met with a lot of skepticism at the time as was the contract Jones signed.  GM Ted Thompson had to have been convinced Jones could a difference maker at the inside linebacker spot. Jones moved to the inside spot in 2012 and had a little bit of a learning curve to go with it.  Thompson obviously was convinced Jones had the ability or he would not have offered Jones such a juicy contract.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Jones had a forced fumble and recovery in the Week 3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and had a 12-tackle and one sack effort in a loss to the New York Giants in Week 11.  Jones’ low-light was that he missed four games due to a hamstring injury that nagged him throughout the season.  In a year where the Packers were decimated by injuries, none were hit harder than inside linebacker where AJ Hawk was the only player healthy for all 16 games.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Jones had some good moments, but he was a major liablity in coverage and was a definite downgrade from a healthy Desmond Bishop. Jones’ tackling also left a lot to be desired and he often was a liability in the run game as well.  Thanks to his hamstring, the Packers were forced to shuffle people all around in the linebacker unit and that affected how well the defense played.  Did Jones live up to the contract that was given to him before the season? No, but that was in some ways due to the hamstring injury that hindered his speed.

30

January

A.J. Hawk 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Green Bay packers, A.J. Hawk, A.J. Hawk Packers, Packers report card1) Introduction:  A.J. Hawk, the player most Packers fans love to hate. Ever since he was taken in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, fans have come to either appreciate or despise him.  As a player taken in the top five of the draft, Hawk was immediately slapped with a label of being an immediate contributor and someone who would be a superstar in years to come.  Unfortunately,those expectations never did quite pan out for Hawk and some fans have resented him ever since.  All Hawk has become however is a consistent linebacker who comes to work every day and plays all around solid football.  Many hoped he’d become what Clay Matthews is, but Hawk doesn’t need to be that.

2) Profile: A.J. Hawk

  • Age: 30
  • Born: 01/06/1984 in Kettering, OH
  • Height: 6’1″
  • Weight: 247
  • College: Ohio State
  • Rookie Year: 2006
  • NFL Experience: 8 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Entering his eighth season in the league, people finally knew what to expect from Hawk.  He won’t be a stud linebacker who will put up double digit sacks every year and make the Pro Bowl year after year, but he will be someone who answers the bell every day and gets the work done as the quarterback of the defense.  Hawk has missed only two games in his entire career and with the release of Desmond Bishop during training camp, all eyes were on Hawk to anchor the middle of the linebacker unit.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: As stated above, Hawk is the model of consistency.  There was not really one game where Hawk made you want to pull your hair out.  For a unit that was basically wiped out by injury, particularly at the inside position, that’s a good thing.  He did drop off a bit after his stellar start the year had people whispering Pro Bowl, but he still was not a liability despite being surrounded by inexperienced players.  Hawk’s best game came against the Baltimore Ravens where he sacked Joe Flacco three times.  For a player who never made flashy plays, this was a huge eye opener on Hawk.

30

January

Clay Matthews 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers, Clay Matthews headshot, Clay Matthews Packers.1) Introduction:What else can be said about Clay Matthews that hasn’t already been said?  With the departure of Charles Woodson, Matthews officially became the heart and soul of the Green Bay Packers’ defense.  Aside from Aaron Rodgers, Matthews is the one player the Packers can ill afford to lose to injury.  For the past few seasons, he has been pretty much the entire Green Bay pass rush though GM Ted Thompson selected players in the past two drafts to try and alleviate some of that pressure on the Claymaker.  Unfortunately, Matthews is also usually good for one or two injuries a season, and it’s probably his hamstring.  With a brand new contract in hand that he signed before the 2013 season, Matthews is clearly the MVP of the defense and big things were expected in 2013.

2) Profile: Clay Matthews III

  • Age: 27
  • Born: 05/14/1986 in Northridge, California
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 255
  • College: USC 12.
  • Rookie Year: 2009
  • NFL Experience: 5 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Now that he is the richest linebacker in NFL history, Matthews was expected to carry the defense on his back.  Though Thompson had brought Nick Perry in 2012 and Datone Jones this season to aid the pass rush, Matthews still was the center of the defense. Another double digit sack season and Pro Bowl appearance is in order every year for a player of his caliber and 2013 was no different.  In fact, thanks to the presence of Perry and Jones, it was expected to be an unleashed Matthews that was on the field in 2013.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Matthews had one of his best games of the season in the 26-26 tie against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12 which was his only multiple sack game of the season. He also had two forced fumbles in the loss to the Bengals in Week 2 and had eight tackles and a sack against the 49ers in Week 1.  It was arguably Matthews who kept the Packers in position to win the season opener at San Francisco.  His biggest low-light of 2013 was his thumb which he managed to break twice during the season.  His missed Weeks 6-9 and then broke the same thumb again in Week 16, causing him to miss the regular season finale and the wild card game against the 49ers.

29

January

Mike Neal 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Green Bay Packers, Mike Neal, Packers evaluations, Packers report card, Mike Neal report card1) Introduction: Eyebrows were raised during training camp when it was revealed that the Green Bay Packers were giving Mike Neal, formerly a defensive end in their 3-4 defense, a shot to perform at outside linebacker.  After years of showing potential only to be derailed by some sort of an injury, Neal was a man on a mission in training camp and was determined to prove what everyone thought about him (when healthy) was justified.  Moving Neal to outside linebacker seemed like a crazy move but given how badly the Packers needed a pass rush, they were willing to try anything

2) Profile: Mike Neal

  • Age: 26
  • Born: 06/26/1987 in Gary, IN
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 285
  • College: Purdue
  • Rookie Year: 2010
  • NFL Experience: 4 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Even before the news about moving Neal to outside linebacker, this was shaping up to be a make-or-break year for him.  He missed all but nine games his first two years in the league and was considered by many to be an injury risk.  2012 was much better as Neal saw action in 11 of the 16 games but he still missed time but this time because of a substance abuse suspension.   If he could just stay healthy, he could be the missing piece in the Packers finally establishing a consistent pass rush.  However, as he adjusts to his new role as an OLB, it was unclear how successful the move might be and what growing pains Neal might encounter.  The initial plan was to have Neal split time between linebacker and subpackage lineman.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Neal notched his first career interception in Week 2 against the Redskins and forced a critical fumble in the Packers’ come from behind 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14.  Neal struggled against the Vikings in the 26-26 tie in Week 12 and not stopping Adrian Peterson was a big reason the Packers couldn’t get the win against the lowly Vikings.

29

January

Nate Palmer 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

Packers, Nate Palmer, Green Bay Packers, Nate Palmer evaluation1) Introduction:When the Green Bay Packers selected Nate Palmer in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the team saw something.  Palmer was not projected by many to even be drafted but the Packers thought highly enough of him to make him a sixth round selection this spring. Illinois State is not exactly known as a football powerhouse, but Packers GM Ted Thompson hoped he found a diamond in the rough in Palmer.  The defense Palmer played in had similarities to what the Packers run under Dom Capers and that must have played a role in Green Bay selecting him.

2) Profile: Nate Palmer

  • Age: 24
  • Born: 09/23/1989 in Chicago, IL
  • Height: 6’2″
  • Weight: 248
  • College: Illinois State
  • Rookie Year: 2013
  • NFL Experience: 1 years
  • Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Not was expected out of Palmer in 2013.  He was expected to sit, watch and learn from Clay Matthews and at some point perhaps evolve over the next few seasons into a decent pass rusher for the Packers. Kevin Greene picked out Palmer when he visited Northern Illinois along with coaches from other teams and Greene was going to try to shape Palmer in the image of Matthews.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Palmer only saw minimal action, seeing the field in only eight of the team’s 16 regular season games. He failed to record a sack, which is a definite low-light for a player trying to be more like Matthews. On a positive note, Palmer recorded six tackles in both the loss to the Bears as well as the home win over the Cleveland Browns.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Palmer provided much needed depth for a team that was decimated by injuries at the linebacker position. For a player that very little was expected from in 2013, Palmer did the best with what he could being thrown into the fire as suddenly as he was.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Non-existent. Palmer did not register a tackle in the playoff loss to the 49ers.

Season Report Card:

(B) Level of expectations met during the season

(C) Contributions to team’s overall success.

(N/A) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: C