23

August

Packers Fans – Do We All Think Like Ted Thompson Now?

Let’s change the pace a little bit, let’s talk about you.

Let’s talk about you the fan.

Now that General Manager Ted Thompson has won a Super Bowl using the “Thompson Method ™”, he can apparently do no wrong in the eyes of the fans.  People who had been clamoring for years to get more veteran free agents and big name signings have quieted down, ready to admit the error in their ways and venerate the white-haired one.  Even the most staunch Thompson hater is now ready to board the “draft and develop” bandwagon that Thompson preaches.

One interesting fact that I’ve noticed is that almost as adamantly as fans were criticizing him before he won a Super Bowl, fans are now just as adamantly supportive of him now that he has won one.  Fans now seem to think the same way as Thompson now, which brings up a interesting question: are Packers fans now psychologically predisposed to think like Ted Thompson?

It’s an interesting thought.  If you are a Packers fan right now, you couldn’t be happier and you’d like status quo to continue (repeat anyone?).  Obviously Ted Thompson did something right to win a Super Bowl (right?), so it makes sense that people are following in Thompson’s rationale now.

For example, currently one of the big stories in the news is how long veteran wide receiver Donald Driver is going to remain a Packer.   Jason Wilde and Bill Johnson at Green and Gold Today have argued that if you took Driver’s name out of it, he’s one of those players that Thompson typically likes to cut and fans seem to echo that sentiment.  What I think people have forgotten is that Driver beat out Jordy Nelson and James Jones for the #2 wide receiver spot behind Greg Jennings last year and appears to still be the #2 wide receiver in training camp this year.

It’s not like the Packers gave him the spot because of his name either, he’s had to hold off every other wide receiver for that spot just like everyone else.   One other thing to consider is that the only way they will cut Driver (or any player for that matter) is if they get a player with more upside.  Do players like Brett Swain, Shaky Smithson, Tori Gurley etc. have more upside than Driver?

25

July

Packers Sign South Carolina WR Tori Gurley

The Green Bay Packers signed South Carolina wide receiver Tori Gurley Monday night, following up their acquistion of Utah kick returner Shaky Smithson.

Gurley didn’t make an official visit to the Packers before the draft. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Gurley is an imposing receiver who surprised some by coming out after just his redshirt sophomore season. At the NFL combine, Gurley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds, the 20-yard dash in 2.67 and the 10 in 1.62. He also benched 225 pounds 15 times and had a vertical leap of 33.5 inches. He chose not to run at his pro day in March.

College summary

Gurley certainly didn’t light up the stat book in his two years at South Carolina. He caught just 31 passes for 440 yards and two touchdowns in his redshirt freshman season, and he followed that up with 44 catches for 465 yards and four touchdowns the next season. Joe Schad of ESPN did state that Gurley was “one of the most sure-handed receivers in the nation with no drops the entire season.”

During the 2010 season, Gurley had one of the best games in South Carolina’s receiving history. He caught 13 passes (one short of the school record) for 109 yards and a touchdown. But for most of his career at South Carolina, Gurley was stuck behind likely 2012 first rounder Alshon Jeffrey and his production lagged behind.

Commentary

From a purely physical standpoint, Gurley looks the part of a NFL receiver. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, Gurley would appear to be a size mismatch for any cornerback and a legitimate red zone threat. He’s trimmed down from his playing weight of 233 pounds, and at the combine, he told reporters that the lost weight helped him increase his speed. If that’s the case, he could be a scary option down the road.

But even with the physical traits, it’s hard to look past the lack of production at South Carolina. He had one of the premier receivers opposite him, and he wasn’t able to take advantage of the mismatches that likely created for him. And though he’s almost 24 years old, Gurley had just two years of playing time with the Gamecocks.

30

June

Despite Success, Packers Empty Backfield Formations Will Always Make Me Nervous

Aaron Rodgers needs to get rid of the ball quickly in empty-backfield formations.

Whenever the Packers lined up in an empty backfield formation last season, I got nervous.

Could Clifton and his creaky knees keep a speed rushing defensive end out of the backfield? Could the Colledge/Wells/Sitton interior combo handle a middle blitz without the safety net of a running back? Could Aaron Rodgers make his reads quick enough and get rid of the ball ontime? Could the ancient Mark Tauscher or the young Bryan Bulaga hold up the right side?

These are thoughts that raced through my head whenever Rodgers broke the huddle and set up behind center, all by his lonesome.

“That’s the franchise quarterback standing there all alone,” I would yell. “Somebody go stand next to him and protect him!”

If Julius Peppers or Ndamukong Suh broke through, there’s nothing Rodgers could do besides curl up and hope no major bones shatter while he’s driven to the turf. I resumed yelling: “Do we really want to alter the course of the franchise just so we can get Brett Swain in the game or line up a running back as a receiver?!”

Turns out, I shouldn’t have worried so much. The Packers were good in empty backfield sets.

Football Outsiders charted each team’s success in empty backfield formations last season. The Packers used an empty backfield 11 percent of the time (second most often in NFL) and averaged 5.5 yards per play (11th overall). Their DVOA with an empty backfield was 29.6 percent, ninth best in the league.

These are good numbers. Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much.

Even though the evidence points to empty-backfield success for the Packers, I’ll likely always shudder when Rodgers lines up without at least one partner in the backfield. It’s my nature, I guess.

Whenever I play Madden on the PS3, the Packers are almost impossible to stop with an empty backfield, five wide-receiver set. Somebody gets open, and Rodgers just zips him the ball.

Sophisticated offenses, feakishly athletic receivers/tight ends and rules that favor the passing game are making real-life football more like Madden every season. We’re probably going to see the use of empty backfields increase in the coming years.

That’s not good for my blood pressure. Hopefully it’s good for the Packers.

6

April

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Wide Receivers

In this next installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the wide receiver position currently stands. Strengths, weaknesses, depth, and uncertainties will all be examined to determine the urgency of need in regards to next season.

This series is meant to help us figure out the needs of the team and how the draft could be used to improve the weaker areas. While Ted Thompson largely uses the “best player available” (BPA) approach, his decision to trade up or down the board is affected by what position players he would prefer to have. Additionally, the picking up of players in the later rounds and in undrafted free agency is often based on need, since the talent is less defined.

CURRENT PLAYERS:

#80 Donald Driver
36 yrs. old / 12 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#85 Greg Jennings
27 yrs. old / 5 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2012

#87 Jordy Nelson
25 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#11 Chastin West
23 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract

#17 Antonio Robinson
25 yrs. old / 1 yrs. exp.
Signed to reserve/future contract

#16 Brett Swain
25 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Restricted Free Agent

#89 James Jones
26 yrs. old / 4 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

It’s no secret why Mike McCarthy runs a pass-heavy offense. As fellow blogger Adam Czech recently pointed out, “the Packers receivers are among the most dangerous in the NFL.” Combined with the arm of Aaron Rodgers, this unit is easily one of the best in the league.

At the top is Greg Jennings, the vertical threat who runs some of the best routes in the game. He has put up over 1,100 yards in each of his last three seasons. Behind Jennings is Donald Driver, the dependable veteran who fights for every ball and every yard – a man whose motor never stops running. He is the Green Bay Packers’ all-time leader in receptions with 698 and sits only 41 yards behind leader James Lofton in career receiving yards.

13

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Brett Swain

1) Introduction: Brett Swain wears the underdog crown very well. A seventh round pick in 2008, Swain spent the entire season on the practice squad.  In 2009, Swain beat out Ruvell Martin for a roster spot, but played only six games  before blowing out his knee. More of a contributor on special teams than a receiver, Swain nonetheless would be more active than most teams’ #5 receivers, given the Packers’ Air McCarthy offense and the injury to Jermichael Finley.

2) Profile:

3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: While Swain was the favorite to hold on to the #5 receiver spot, there were serious doubts if he could be even be ready to start the season. He struggled with the leg injury rehab early in camp, but improved dramatically as the preseason progressed. Despite a host of undrafted receivers challenging him, Swain held on to his job, mostly due to his value on special teams. Swain would be expected to continue being steady on coverage teams,  be the emergency fill-in at receiver, and occasionally step onto the field when the Packers went to five wideouts.

4) Player’s highlights/lowlights: Swain caught the first pass of career against the Jets, filling in for an injured Donald Driver. In the Packers’ regular season loss to Atlanta,  Brett Swain saw his most extended action of the season. The Packers went into their “big five” receiver set 15 times in that game, with Swain catching two passes. One was a slant for 31 yards, which was easiest the longest reception of his career. Swain’s lowlight would easily be his drop of  what would have been a key first down on a third and 10 pass in the Super Bowl.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Swain did see action in all of the Packers’ games, mostly on special teams. Swain had a pass thrown his way in six regular season games plus the Super Bowl. He finished with 6 receptions on the year for 72 yards.  On special teams, Swain was credited with three coverage tackles during the regular season.

6) Player’s contributions during the 6-win end-of-season run: Other than the Super Bowl, Swain as a receiver over the last six games was  pretty much invisible.  After letting one pass slip through his fingers and the big third down drop, he probably wished he were.  On the other hand, Swain played well on special teams, recording 6 tackles over the Packers’ four postseason games.