5

February

C.J. Wilson 2013 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

1) Introduction: It was another underachieving season for the big and athletic Wilson. After a good rookie season in 2010, Wilson hasn’t been able to take the next step.

Packers DE C.J. Wilson

2) Profile:

C.J. Wilson

  • Age: 24
  • Born: 3/30/1987 in Bellhaven, NC
  • Height: 6’3″
  • Weight: 305
  • College: East Carolina
  • Rookie Year: 2010
  • NFL Experience: 4 years

Career Stats and more

3) Expectations coming into the season: Get back to the promise of his rookie season. The piano-playing Wilson looked like a big run-stopper who was quick enough to get after the quarterback during the Packers Super Bowl season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to follow it up.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Wilson has missed significant time each of the last two seasons and only played in eight games in 2013. He also went from playing 355 snaps last season to just 123 this season. Wilson made the most of his 27 snaps against the Vikings in week 12. But after hurrying Christian Ponder a few times and having some success corralling Adrian Peterson, he left with an injury.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: He was another body to throw in on the defensive line. Unfortunately, there’s not much more to say than that. I don’t think Wilson is done in Green Bay — he’s big enough and quick enough to be effective and the Packers d-line is up in the air for 2014 — but he’s going to have to start producing.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: In 19 snaps, I don’t remember Wilson doing much of anything.

Season Report Card:

(D-) Level of expectations met during the season

(D) Contributions to team’s overall success.

(D-) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade:  D-

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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4

May

Packers Defensive Line Entering Big Contract Year

Packers defensive linemen Neal, Wilson, and Pickett are all set to become free agents in 2014.

Packers defensive linemen Neal, Wilson, and Pickett are all set to become free agents in 2014.

In the wake of the Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews contract extensions, many of us have been wondering how the Green Bay Packers will utilize their remaining cap space. How they use it will depend a lot on the current players who will be free agency following this season. Not counting the recent restricted free agent tenders and offseason signings, there are a total of fourteen Packers players entering their final year of a multi-year contract.

One of the major concerns, though, is that four of those players – or over a quarter of them – are defensive linemen. And not just any defensive lineman. They accounted for 38 starts, 51 total games played, and 2,108 defensive snaps in 2012. Take a look:

  • Ryan Pickett, DT, 33, 13th yr.
    (2012: 16 starts, 16 games, 658 snaps – 2nd DL, 3.8 PFF grade – 2nd DL)
  • B.J. Raji, DT, 26, 5th yr.
    (2012: 14 starts, 14 games, 768 snaps – 1st DL, 6.5 PFF grade – 1st DL)
  • Mike Neal, DE, 25, 4th yr.
    (2012: 0 starts, 10 games, 323 snaps – 5th DL, 3.4 PFF grade – 3rd DL)
  • C.J. Wilson, DE, 26, 4th yr.
    (2012: 8 starts, 11 games, 359 – 4th DL, -2.1 PFF grade – 6th DL)

Obviously, Pickett and Raji are the two biggest names to be worried about. They are the workhorses of the defensive line and pretty much have been since their first years in Green Bay. Neal and Wilson aren’t every-down players, but they’ve proven their worth and could still show some improvement.

Unfortunately, the contract situations of these players are being pressured by multiple forces. Ted Thompson has drafted four defensive linemen in the past two drafts, who could each be major players: Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Josh Boyd. (There’s also Jordan Miller and Gilbert Pena looming in the shadows.) But in addition to the performance pressures, there are also going to be financial ones. Some other big-name players are going to be hitting the market in 2014, as well. Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless, James Jones, and Marshall Newhouse are all going into their final contract year, plus Evan Dietrich-Smith and Sam Shields are currently on restricted free agent tenders that last just a year.

25

May

Green Bay Packers Taking Shotgun Approach to Improving the Defensive Line

Phillip Merling

Veteran free agent DE Phillip Merling became the twelfth defensive lineman on the Packers' offseason roster.

Call it the “shotgun approach.” Ted Thompson added his twelfth defensive lineman to the roster on Wednesday with his signing of DE Phillip Merling, who spent the last four years with the Miami Dolphins. Of the four (non-Packer) veteran free agent signings by Thompson this offseason, three have been defensive lineman: Daniel Muir, Tony Hargrove, and now Merling.

There’s obviously been some emphasis by the Packers on bolstering the talent and depth across the unit. The drafting of Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels take the total number of new linemen up to five, meaning almost half of the group will be new faces in training camp.

Is this a case of desperation in response to the horrible performances of last season? No, that’s taking it a bit far. Ted Thompson is not spending beaucoup money on these free agent players, which one would tend to do when desperate.

But he is stockpiling the talent pool in a variety of ways, and hoping a good number of them stick.

The three free agent signings are not superstars. Tony Hargrove is the most well known of the group, but he’s probably not going to be a game-changer. His career has been up and down, playing with four different teams over eight years and racking up just 19.5 sacks and 16 run stuffs in the process. Hargrove hasn’t started a game in two seasons, and he only has 25 starts to his name across his entire career. Those numbers aren’t meant to discourage anyone – they’re certainly not the whole story – but they’re not indicators of a guy who’s going to “tilt the field.”

Then there’s Daniel Muir, whose career contrasts with Hargrove’s. Both are 28 years old, but Muir has 3 years less experience in the league and a slightly less impressive resume. Unlike the travelling Hargrove, he spent most of his years with the Indianapolis Colts after his rookie stint with the Packers. Muir’s numbers aren’t as flashy (just a half a sack in his career), but he is also an inside tackle player rather than a defensive end, so his role is considerably different.

4

May

Brass Balls and the Packers Defense

Frank Zombo

Frank Zombo is one Packers defender that could be on the chopping block.

If using almost all of his draft picks on defensive players wasn’t enough of a warning, Ted Thompson could re-enact Alec Baldwin’s brass balls speech from Glengarry Glen Ross on the first day of training camp if he feels the Packers defense hasn’t gotten the message.

Replace Cadillac with a spot on the roster. Replace steak knives with a spot on the end of the bench. Replace getting fired with getting cut.

Message received.

Of course, this message doesn’t need to be delivered to everyone on defense. Clay Matthews is probably the Alec Baldwin of the Packers D. He can point to his $975,000 watch and automatically command respect. Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson can point to their own watches, which aren’t quite as big as Matthews’, but are impressive nonetheless.

Because of their ineptitude last season and infusion of new blood for the upcoming season, the following defenders who received regular playing time in 2011 could be on the chopping block. They’ll have to prove during training camp that they have the “brass balls” to play in the NFL.

Jarius Wynn
After a strong start, Wynn disappeared and became just another guy (who couldn’t get to the quarterback) on the defensive line.

C.J. Wilson
Did Wilson make any memorable plays last season? He’s another guy you can add to the just-another-guy list.

Charlie Peprah
When Peprah was paired with pro-bowler Nick Collins, he did what needed to be done at safety. Without Collins, Peprah couldn’t keep up in coverage and looked a step behind on most plays.

Frank Zombo
It seems like the Packers want to give Zombo a chance, but he can’t stay healthy. Of course, when he’s been healthy, he hasn’t exactly set the world afire.

Erik Walden
Walden was adequate last season before dropping off after being arrested. The Packers resigned him this offseason, which makes me think he’s got the inside edge in making the squad. Of course, I’m sure it’s a minimal deal and the Packers wouldn’t be hurt much if they cut him, but why go through the through the trouble of resigning a replacement-level player with legal issues if you don’t think he has a shot at getting better?

17

February

Could Packers Trade Up in 2012 NFL Draft to Pick a Pass Rusher?

Ted Thompson Packers

Packers GM Ted Thompson traded back into the first round to take Clay Matthews in 2009.

The day was April 25, the Saturday of the 2009 NFL draft, and Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson had a franchise-altering decision staring him in the face.

As he sat in the Packers’ war room, having already acquired nose tackle B.J. Raji from Boston College with the ninth overall pick, there was a name he couldn’t shake and a need he knew he needed to fill.

The name was Clay Matthews, and the need was 3-4 outside linebacker.

Matthews, a wavy-haired overachiever with Hall of Fame bloodlines, remained available as the first round came to a close. A walk-on at USC who didn’t play full-time until his senior year, Matthews was an ideal pass rushing outside linebacker for his new defense. And Thompson knew that if there were two positions most important to making the Packers’ new 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Dom Capers work, it was nose tackle and outside linebacker. Raji was the answer inside, Matthews could be the same on the edge.

In his hand was a weapon he rarely held, and uncharacteristically, Thompson pulled the trigger.

A man notorious for trading back in the draft to stockpile picks, Thompson sent a second and two third-round picks to the New England Patriots for the No. 26 pick in the first round and a later fifth rounder.

Shortly after, Roger Goodell announced Matthews as the Packers’ pick, and the rest, as they say, was history. Matthews turned into a superstar, registering back-to-back 10-sack seasons while helping lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win over the Pittsburgh Steelers just less than 22 months later. Along with sticking with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, Thompson’s decision to move up and get Matthews remains a defining moment in his building of a championship puzzle.

Fastforward to this April, and you could argue Thompson is in a similar state of need that he found himself in 2009.

Just a year after reaching the NFL’s peak, Thompson’s defense shattered in 2011. Better yet, it collapsed after under the weight of Thompson’s failure to find a starting-quality outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews and his decision not to re-sign highly productive but aging defensive end Cullen Jenkins, who bolted to the Philadelphia Eagles but was entirely open to returning to the Packers. Green Bay won 15 games during the regular season despite giving up more passing yards than any other team in NFL history, then threw away their opportunity to repeat as Super Bowl champions with an undisciplined effort on both sides of the football.

24

January

C.J. Wilson: 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

C.J. Wilson

C.J. Wilson

1) Introduction: Wilson is another Packers defensive lineman that was just another guy in 2011. It’s tough to distinguish Wilson from Jarius Wynn, Howard Green and Mike Neal because nobody in the grou did much of anything to stand out.

2) Profile:

Clifford James Wilson

Position: DE
Height: 6-3
Weight: 290 lbs.
AGE: 24

Career Stats

3) Expectations coming into the season: Capable backup. Wilson was expected to fill in if a starter got injured and give regulars like B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett a breather when needed. Wilson ended up getting some starts later in the season when Wynn’s production fell off.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Like the rest of the Packers D-linemen, Wilson could not pressure the quarterback. According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Wilson averaged one pressure every 113.4 snaps. Yikes. I can’t think of many individual plays that stand out as highlights for Wilson, but if he moved into a starting role, he must have been doing something right.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Every team needs role players and Wilson was definitely a role player this season. Unfortunately, the D-Line had plenty of role players and needed someone to step up. Wilson has the athleticism to be more than a role player, but we’ll see if he ever elevates above the status of a role player.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Howard Green was inactive and C.J. Wilson got the start. However, he never generated any sort of a pass rush as Eli Manning and the Giants knocked the Packers out of the playoffs.

Season Report Card:

(D) Level of expectations met during the season
(D) Contributions to team’s overall success.
(F) Contributions to team during the playoffs

Overall Grade: D-

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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23

December

Packers DLs Ryan Pickett Out, Mike Neal Questionable Against Bears

Ryan Pickett was ruled out for the Packers on Sunday. (Photo: Jim Biever, Packers.com)

The Green Bay Packers could very well be without two of their most heavily used defensive lineman against the Chicago Bears, as coach Mike McCarthy ruled out Ryan Pickett and made Mike Neal questionable for Sunday’s game.

Pickett suffered a concussion against the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 and hasn’t played since. McCarthy made it sound early in the week like they were holding him out of practice just to be cautious, but Pickett obviously hasn’t shown enough improvement to give it a go on Sunday. His situation is worth monitoring now that this second concussion has caused him to miss two straight games.

Neal, who has dealt with shoulder injuries throughout his brief career in Green Bay, hurt his shoulder against the Kansas City Chiefs and has been limited this week in practice. It’s 50/50 whether he’ll play on Sunday. He’s been ineffective since returning from a knee injury suffered in training camp.

If neither can go, the Packers will be relying on a rotation of B.J. Raji, Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Howard Green as down lineman on Sunday. Even Green was listed with a foot injury but is probable to play.

A matchup to watch on Sunday will obviously be the Packers’ injury-plauged defensive line against Chicago’s much-maligned offensive line.

McCarthy also ruled out Chad Clifton (hamstring, back) and Greg Jennings (knee) on Friday. Neither were expected to play. McCarthy also said Jennings will be challenged to play against Detroit, but remained confident that Jennings would be back for the postseason.

Everyone else listed on the injury report, including James Starks, Brandon Saine and Desmond Bishop, are probable to play.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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