Packers Injuries: Bishop’s Pass Rushing Tough to Replace

Desmond Bishop

Packers LB Desmond Bishop is helped off the field after huring his knee Thursday in an exhibition game against the Chargers.

As the Packers wait for (hopefully good) news about the seriousness of Desmond Bishop’s injury, let’s take a quick look at where the linebacker will be missed most if he’s out for an extended period, or (gulp) the season.

Bishop was one of the few defensive players who made plays in 2011. That’s a vague phrase, but if you watched every Packers game you know what I’m talking about.

Very few Packers defenders flew to the ball last season and actually made something happen at the point of contact. Bishop did, and if he’s out, that playmaking ability will be sorely missed.

D.J. Smith likely will fill in for Bishop. I think Smith has the skills to replace a good chunk of Bishop’s playmaking ability beyond the line of scrimage. If Smith is around the ballcarrier, odds are he’s going to bring him down. He’s a tackling machine.

If you’re a sound tackler, you’re bound to make a few higher impact plays as well. Cause a fumble, lay out a TE going for a catch over the middle, tip away a would-be TD pass. Those types of plays tend to happen for guys who are fundamentally good at football, and I think Smith is fundamentally good at football.

It’s in the other team’s backfield where Bishop will be tough to replace.

Bishop is a good pass rusher. He’s not  known as a pass rusher, but he got after the QB when asked to blitz last season. His five sacks were second on the team and he added a number of QB pressures as well.

When Smith filled in for Bishop in the latter half of 2011, he had no problems tackling. If Smith was around the ballcarrier, the ballcarrier ended up on the ground.

But Smith looked lost when blitzing. He wasn’t a factor at all and usually got swallowed up by a lineman or easily discarded to the outside and away from the play.

If Bishop is out, and Nick Perry or Jerel Worthy don’t immediately help the pass rush, the loss of Bishop is a serious blow. It puts even more pressure on a secondary that struggled to cope with a nonexistent pass rush a season ago.



Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sunday with no Packers football.

Surviving Sunday with no Packers Football

It’s already July, but football and the Packers first game still feels like it’s a long ways away. Good thing it’s never too early to talk some fantasy football.

Here are my way-too-early top five at each position, along with a darkhorse candidate and some random thoughts.

1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Tom Brady
3. Drew Brees
4. Matthew Stafford
5. Michael Vick

Darkhorse: Jay Cutler

Drafting a running back early in your fantasy draft is so 2006. I’ll take Rodgers, Brady or Brees over any running back. High-end, modern-day QBs put up ridiculously good fantasy numbers, and, most importantly, they’re consistent. Thanks to injuries, you can’t make the consistency argument for Stafford or Vick, but man, it’s going to be hard to pass those guys up for a running back if either remains on the board.

1. Arian Foster
2. Ray Rice
3. Maurice Jones-Drew
4. Chris Johnson
5. Lesean McCoy

Darkhorse: Roy Helu

Running backs are a lot like closers in fantasy baseball. You can usually find good value at the end of the draft or on the waiver wire during the season. That said, it’s so hard to pass them up early in the draft. If you guess right, and pick a RB that remains healthy and gets plenty of carries near the goal line, you’re set. Picking a running back with your first selection used to be a no-brainer. Thanks the rise of the quarterback, running backs are no longer the safest bet.

1. Calvin Johnson
2. Larry Fitzgerald
3. Andre Johnson
4. A.J. Green
5. Greg Jennings

Darkhorse: Demaryius Thomas

The deepest position group in fantasy football, and it’s not even close. There’s no reliable way to project touchdowns, but I tend to stick with bigger WRs who are capable of going up in traffic in the end zone and making the catch. My top five, maybe with the exception of Jennings, fits that mold.

1. Jimmy Graham
2. Rob Gronkowski
3. Jason Witten
4. Jermichael Finley
5. Antonio Gates

Darkhorse: Brandon Pettigrew

Yes, I have Graham over Gronk. Graham was targeted about 25 percent more than Gronk last season. The Saints also have fewer weapons than the Patriots, which makes me think Graham will again be targeted more than Gronk in 2012. Also, Gronk has to regress a little bit, at least in the touchdown category, right?



How Much Longer Can A.J. Hawk Remain a Packers Starter?

D.J. Smith

Could D.J. Smith take A.J. Hawk's job in 2012?

Since being drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, A.J. Hawk has consistently been one of the most criticized players for the Green Bay Packers.  In fact, it would be safe to say that the former No. 5 overall pick has been widely considered somewhat of a bust during his tenure in the league.

It seems that every year Packers fans are wondering whether or not this will be the last time that Hawk remains a starting inside linebacker for Green Bay.  However, every year before the start of the regular season they inevitably see Hawk’s name in the starting lineup without a possible replacement challenging him.

That may no longer be the case for Green Bay and Hawk.  According to a report from Gregg Rosenthal at NFL.com, Hawk could lose playing time to second-year player D.J. Smith.  Rosenthal does state that it is unlikely that Smith will completely replace Hawk, but could definitely begin taking away snaps from him.

However, the most interesting quote in Rosenthal’s article is the comment from defensive coordinator Dom Capers that basically states that Smith will be competing for Hawk’s job.  It is one thing for a reporter to say Smith could take Hawk’s job, but it is another thing entirely to have the head-honcho of the defense saying the same thing.

Smith became a fan favorite while filling in when Desmond Bishop injured his knee last year.  One reason why fans in Green Bay loved Smith so much was due to his passion for the game.  He played every snap at 110 percent and was widely effective during his time on the field.

While no one would ever say Hawk doesn’t give his all on the field, you have to wonder what happened to the dominant linebacker who ravaged offenses at Ohio State.  Whereas  Hawk seems to have reached a ceiling that is lower than anyone expected, Smith appears to be capable of becoming much better.  He looks like he could become an exceptional player in this league, and that type of talent simply can’t sit on the bench.

The only question that remains is how long does Hawk have before he stops losing snaps to Smith and simply loses his job completely?



Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sunday with no Packers football.

Surviving Sunday with no Packers Football

The NFL recently announced that the all-22 coaches’ film will be made available to fans through the league’s Game Rewind package on NFL.com this season.

The all-22 film is something hardcore football enthusiasts and blogger-types like me have been clamoring for for a long time. It gives us access to the same footage that coaches use to evaluate games and players on a week-by-week basis. Theoretically, it should improve football analysis by leaps and bounds.

But will it? The more I thought about it, the more I questioned whether I should be so enthusiastic.

My main worry is that too many people will think they’ve suddenly become football experts because of this new access to coaches’ film. There are plenty of idiots calling themselves football experts already. Might the all-22 film cause even more idiots to come out of the woodwork? Or might the current idiots become even more idiotic and insufferable because of this access?

The answer is probably ‘yes’ to both of those questions.

But in the end, who cares?

Coaches’ film or no coaches’ film, there will always be idiots. Once the all-22 is available, we need to handle the idiots the same we handle them now: Try to tune them out and focus on the analysts and experts that we respect and think do a good job.

The beauty of the barrage of modern-day NFL coverage is the ability to pick and choose who you read/watch/listen to. If you don’t like analyst A, then you can try blogger B. If you can’t stand listening to TV talking head C, then maybe podcast D is more up your alley.

Yes, the all-22 film might mean more idiots, but smart NFL fans will have no problem finding smart coverage.

Packers Links and Other Stuff

  • Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote about Jim Bob Morris, a Packers DB who was a replacement player when regular NFL players went on strike in 1987. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it. I also wrote about Jim Bob, and several other Packers replacement players, in last year’s Maple Street Press Packers Annual. You can view that story here. I talked to Jim Bob for over an hour for the story and the guy had some amazing stories. Well, they all had some amazing stories, but Jim Bob probably had the most colorful. It’s good to see he’s still doing well.


DJ Smith Needs to Tackle His Way into Starting ILB Job

Green Bay Packers linebacker D.J. Smith

D.J. Smith needs to show he's a better tackler than A.J. Hawk to win the starting job.

I had a 900-word post drafted about what D.J. Smith has to do to overtake A.J. Hawk as the Packers starting ILB alongside Desmond Bishop, but I scrapped most of it.

Why? Because what Smith has to do to win the job is simple.

He needs to tackle.

If I’m D.J. Smith, I wouldn’t even wait until tackling drills in training camp to start tackling people. If Smith is standing on the field waiting to stretch and an undrafted free agent RB is walking by with a ball, Smith should tackle him.

If the equipment manager is moving a bag of footballs from one part of the field to another, Smith should run him down, wrap him up and take him to the ground.

If Smith’s best friend is walking to the fridge to eat the leftovers from dinner, Smith should light him up.

Only starters and immediately family members should be off-limits. Otherwise, Smith needs to tackle anybody that comes into his line of vision between now and the start of the regular season. Player or non-player. Big or small. Male or female. If they have a football, Smith is tackling them.

It’s not going to be anything fancy that helps Smith overtake Hawk. All he has to do is prove that he’s a vastly superior tackler.

We’re all tired of watching Hawk bouncing off ballcarriers or getting dragged for extra yards whenever he does make a tackle. I’m sure the coaches are tired of it too. It’s time that the job went to the player who can make the greatest impact through the most basic and fundamental part of football — tackling.

The general consensus is that Hawk is favored because of his leadership, intelligence, and familiarity with the Packers defense. That’s all fine and good, but Smith didn’t exactly look like a deer in the headlights when forced into action last season. He also seems smart and more than capable of becoming familiar with the defense.

What’s wrong with getting some production and playmaking ability to go along with leadership and intelligence?

Obviously, Smith is far from a sure thing. He shouldn’t be penciled in as an automatic replacement for Hawk.



What Holes Remain on Packers Roster After the Draft?

Packers Draft Pick Jerel Worthy

New Packers D-lineman Jerel Worthy should help the team's feeble pass rush.

So all those holes on the Packers defense are patched now, right?

Someone to get after the quarterback opposite Clay Matthews? We got Nick Perry for that.

A defensive lineman to fill the void left by Cullen Jenkins? Say hello to Jerel Worthy.

Defensive backs that can cover and won’t shy away from making a tackle every now and then? Welcome to Green Bay, Casey Hayward and Jerron McMillian.

If only it was that simple. Unfortunately, none of the Packers shiny new toys acquired in the draft have played a snap in the NFL. As excited as Packers fans are to have so many new faces — especially on defense — there’s no guarantee that they’ll make the team any better.

Right now the only tangible asset these draft choices provide is hope. What else does a football team have to sell in April?

But let’s be extra positive and assume that the Packers aced this draft and everyone they selected in rounds 1-4 does what they’re supposed to do and makes the Packers better.

Even if all the rookies fit right in, what other holes remain on the Packers roster?

Inside linebacker
Desmond Bishop is fine, but it’s going to be tough getting through the upcoming season without hurling a brick through my TV if A.J. Hawk doesn’t play better than he did last season. Yes, D.J. Smith and Robert Francois showed promise when they filled in, but it’s still fair to call one of the two inside linebacker positions on this team a hole if Hawk doesn’t bounce back.

Backup interior offensive line
Evan Dietrich-Smith did fine when pressed into action at guard in 2011, but I’d rather not see him snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers in 2012. Thompson didn’t find a backup center or a center for the future in the draft, which means Dietrich-Smith is likely next in line if Jeff Saturday gets hurt (Sampson Genus also could factor in).

There’s more to playing center than snapping the ball and blocking guys. Centers are usually in charge of setting the pre-snap pass protection, calling out blitzes and acting as the quarterback of the offensive line. Is Dietrich-Smith or some other inexperienced player ready to fill that role on a Super-Bowl caliber team? I’d rather not find out.



A.J. Hawk vs. D.J. Smith: Who Starts for the Packers in 2012?

A.J. Hawk

Packers LB A.J. Hawk

A.J. Hawk vs. D.J. Smith:

(Michael Buffer voice)

Ladies and gentleman, welcome to tonight’s main event!

In this corner, standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 245 pounds; a six-year starter with 593 career tackles who finally got a haircut, from Ohio St. University: AAAAAAAAA. JAAAAAAAAAAAY. HAAAAAAAAAAAAWK!!!!

In the other corner, 5-foot-11 and a lean, mean 239 pounds, he’s young and hungry, he wants to prove himself, he thinks his future is now, all the way from Appalachian St.: DEEEEEEEEEEE. JAAAAAAAAAAAAY. SMIIIIIIIIIIITH!!!!


Now that Michael Buffer has finished his introductions, this fight can begin. Hawk finished a distant second to Jermichael Finley in our most frustrating Packers player poll, and I’m actually surprised it wasn’t closer. A.J. Hawk makes Packers fans angry.

And it’s genuine anger. Finley gets under fans’ skin because he has a big mouth. We’re not used to big talkers in Green Bay. We prefer our players to keep quiet and not say anything out of the ordinary. Hawk isn’t a big talker, so when people get mad at him, they’re mad because of what he did on the field, or in most cases, what he failed to do.

Smith had a nice little run at inside linebacker when Hawk and Desmond Bishop got hurt late last season. Naturally, many fans thought Smith should’ve remained the starter when Hawk returned. Many of these same fans also think Smith should be the opening day starter in 2012.

Is that a realistic demand? Does Smith really have a shot to take over for Hawk right away? Maybe. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why Hawk will be the starter, and a few reason why Smith will get the nod.

A.J. Hawk

  • Experience. Coaches often praise Hawk for his command of the defensive calls and ability to “quarterback” the defense.
  • Reliable. Hawk has missed just two games in his six-year career. You know he’ll be on the field every Sunday and you know he’ll line up where he’s supposed to, and help others do the same.
  • Attitude. Hawk plays with emotion and never shies away from sticking his nose in the middle of the action, even if he’s a step or two late in getting to wherever the action is occurring.