1

August

Free Agent Status of Former Green Bay Packers

Tracking the free agent status of Packers released this offseason, with the exception of Al Harris, who was released during the 2010 season.

 

 S Derrick Martin: SIGNED WITH GIANTS  

UPDATE: Martin and the New York Giants agreed to a one-year contract on Monday, August 15. 

The Packers released Martin on March 3.

Despite being an important special teams contributor, the Packers let go of Martin early in the offseason. Injuries likely played into the decision, as Martin suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Washington Redskins.

Little has surfaced about team’s potential interest in Martin, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t find a team for 2011.

LB Brady Poppinga: SIGNED WITH ST. LOUIS RAMS 

The Packers released Poppinga on July 29.

UPDATE: Poppinga has reportedly agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Rams and was observing Rams practice on Tuesday night. He should get a chance to start at outside linebacker for St. Louis.

Much like Tauscher, Poppinga had similar factors working against him.

At 32 years old and coming off an ACL injury, Poppinga was due $2.34 million in 2011. For a guy that was going to be a backup and play primarily on special teams, that price tag was way too rich for the Packers liking.

He was also miscast in the Packers 3-4 defense, and he’ll likely look to team that runs the 4-3 as his next destination. Poppinga visited the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, but there was no word if a contract had been put in place.

LB Nick Barnett: SIGNED WITH BUFFALO BILLS

The Packers released Barnett on July 29, saving $5.9 million in cap room. Barnett then signed a three-year, $12 million deal with Buffalo Bills on July 31.

The Bills got a serious upgrade at linebacker, as Barnett averaged almost 110 tackles in his first seven seasons with the Packers. He’ll bring a veteran presence to a team that needs leaders on defense.

Barnett was expendable to the Packers after Desmond Bishop had a breakout season in his absence. Green Bay signed Bishop to a four-year, $19 million contract in January, putting the writing on the wall for Barnett’s eventual release.

TE Donald Lee: SIGNED WITH PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

The Packers released Lee on March 3. On July 29, Lee signed a one-year, $850,000 contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

19

July

The Packers New Evolutionary Chart: From John Kuhn to D.J. Williams

One of the little quirks that set the Packers apart from any other team in the league at the moment is the Packers’ extensive use of fullbacks.  Where else but Green Bay can a fullback have the fans screaming his name every time he gets on the field?  Last year, the Packers turned some confused heads by keeping three fullbacks on the roster when some teams only keep one, that’s something straight from the Vince Lombardi and Jim Taylor era.

The Packers use the fullback position as something of a jack-of-all-trades player; for instance, John Kuhn alone played the role of blocking fullback, wing-T fullback, short yardage back, halfback, blitz pickup 3rd down back, personal protector on punts, kickoff jammer and to add to that he was a threat on the red zone as a receiver.

Unfortunately, in the Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers era, this plan backfired a little. In essence, the 3rd fullback stole a roster slot from the halfbacks, and when starter Ryan Grant went on IR after the season opener, the Packers were left scrambling for depth behind Brandon Jackson. The Packers managed to hide the issue with a late surge from James Starks and consistent short yardage from fullback turned folk hero John Kuhn. But the problem still remained, the Packers running game was never the same.

But lessoned learned, and probably in a way that many might not have considered; in the 2011 NFL draft, the Packers selected tight end DJ Williams from Arkansas in the 5th round and Ryan Taylor from UNC in the 7th round.

DJ Williams is an interesting prospect because other than the fact that he lacks the prototypical height and size of an elite tight end, he has the skills to be very successful in the NFL and save for his height probably would have been drafted considerably higher.  The winner of the Mackey Award and Disney Spirit Award in 2010 left the collegiate ranks as the leader in catches and receiving yards for tight ends and translates best in the NFL as a “move” tight end or H-back in a west coast offense.

Ryan Taylor, while not as accomplished a receiver as Williams is also a H-back; he set a single-season record at UNC for a tight end with 36 receptions and is also known for his special teams prowess as a former linebacker and special teams captain while at UNC.

16

May

Was Andrew Quarless a Big Disappointment for the Packers?

There seems to be a sea of sentiment floating amongst those who follow the Packers that Andrew Quarless was a disappointment in his rookie season. To those who say that I ask, what exactly were your expectations?

We are talking about a kid that was only 21 years old when the season started. He was a fifth round draft pick on a team that already had four tight ends. It would have been perfectly reasonable to expect Quarless to land on the practice squad.

Instead, the Packers cut the all-purpose Spencer Havner, a key special teams contributor, to keep Quarless on the roster. As the low man on the tight end totem pole, Quarless was slated to see mostly special teams action, much like Jermichael Finley did during his rookie season.

So how can you call a season where Quarless had more snaps than any other Packers tight end a disappointment? No doubt, he had some drops in key moments, especially in the NFC Championship game and the Super Bowl. But what does it say that the Packers’ coaches and Aaron Rodgers were comfortable going to Quarless in big spots in those games?

Not to pick on Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette, but I’m going to use something from one of his recent articles because it’s pretty representative of what I’ve been reading;

“… the addition of two tight ends could be because of Quarless’ slow development. He had almost no impact as a rookie and worse, made repeated mental mistakes.”

First let’s take the “repeated mental mistakes.” I need some clarification on that. Is that something Rob has noticed? Something he was told by a coach?  Without knowledge of Quarless’ assignments nor the time to sit and grade Quarless, I can’t really agree or disagree with that assertion. So let’s move to the other part of Rob’s statement, “He had almost no impact as a rookie.” Now this I can talk about.

According to Pro Football Focus, Andrew Quarless took 518 snaps for the Packers last season. Tom Crabtree took 395 and Donald Lee 300.

Jermichael Finley saw only 97 snaps in 2008, when he was a 21 year old rookie on a 6-10 Packers team. Finley didn’t have a pass thrown to him until game nine of that season and finished with 6 catches and a 12.3 ypc average. Quarless finished 2010 with 21 catches (over 4 more games) and a 11.3 ypc average.

30

March

2011 Draft Prep: Green Bay Packers Needs by Position – Tight Ends

In this third installment of our 2011 Draft Prep series looking at the Green Bay Packers’ needs by position, we are going to analyze how the tight end 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:

#88 Jermichael Finley
24 yrs. old / 3 yrs. exp.
Signed through 2011

#81 Andrew Quarless
22 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2013

#83 Tom Crabtree
25 yrs. old / 1 yr. exp.
Signed through 2012

#41 Spencer Havner
28 yrs. old / 2 yrs. exp.
Free Agent (tender offered)

* Contract information acquired from RotoWorld.com

POSITION STRENGTHS:

Jermichael Finley could be the best receiving tight end in the league right now, and his case for this distinction would be much stronger if not for his season-ending knee injury. In the first four games of 2010, Finley had 21 receptions for 301 yards and a touchdown, which would have put him on pace for a 1,000 yard season.

But beyond the numbers, Finley is just a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. Mike McCarthy has lined him up as both a tight end and wide receiver, trying to take advantage of his height and his speed. He is also a big red zone target, not only because of his size, but also because of his great hands.

Behind Finley, the Packers have picked up two promising, young tight ends in Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree. Though neither player was stellar in his role this season, each one has shown the potential to be solid cogs in the offensive machine.

For a position that McCarthy likes to utilize in his offense, he has a great group of talent and depth to work with next season.

POSITION WEAKNESSES:

5

March

Green Bay Packers 2010 Player Evaluations — Offense — Donald Lee

1) Introduction: A fifth round pick by the Miami Dolphins in 2003, Donald Lee was signed in free agency by the Green Bay Packers in 2005. His career hasn’t been as bright as some other tight ends in Green Bay history; nevertheless, he did serve his role well in the Packers’ “transition” from Bubba Franks to Jermichael Finley. From 2007-2009, Lee had a combined 124 receptions for 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Donald Lee2) Profile:

Donald Tywon Lee

Position: TE
Height: 6-3    Weight: 255 lbs.

Born: August 31, 1980 in Maben, MS
College: Mississippi State   (school history)    (Lee college stats)
Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 5th round (156th overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft.

3) Expectations coming into the season: With the emergence of superstar Jermichael Finley, Donald Lee’s role this season fell significantly. In fact, the only thing keeping Lee on the roster seemed to be his veteran experience. After the Packers drafted Andrew Quarless and signed Tom Crabtree, the tight end position suddenly became more crowded. Lee was still expected to perform to his previous level of play, but it was clear the younger players were taking over quickly.

4) Highlights / Lowlights: Donald Lee finally made an impact on the offense in Weeks 16 and 17 after a long dry spell going back to the very beginning of the year. He scored two goal line touchdowns (one in each game), and the one against Chicago ended up being the only Packers touchdown all game. Lee’s most glaring lowlight of the season was his early fumble against the Washington Redskins in Week 5. Not only did it give up possession, but it was the play in which Jermichael Finley suffered his season-ending injury while trying to make a tackle after the recovery. While Finley’s injury can’t really be blamed on Lee, he did serve as a nice scapegoat for thousands of frustrated fans.

5) Contributions to the overall team success: As I noted in an earlier article this year (“Packing the Stats: Packers Tight Ends Forgotten with Finley Gone”), the tight end position was all but forgotten after Finley’s injury. Donald Lee had arguably the worst season of his career with the Green Bay Packers in 2010. He dropped eight of 55 passes (14.6%), the worst drop rate of his career and on the team. Two of the drops were in the red zone. Even his blocking seemed to lack in effort. While the young guys (Quarless and Crabtree) were rising, Lee was definitely falling.

13

January

Packing the Stats: Packers Tight Ends Forgotten with Finley Gone

In each of the past three games, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense have done something they have only done once since Week 5: thrown a touchdown pass to a tight end. Donald Lee accounts for two of those touchdowns, and we just saw Tom Crabtree score his first NFL touchdown in Sunday’s NFC Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

All of the touchdown passes came from near the goal line, and both of the scoring tight ends had fewer than 10 total yards of production in each game.

After the final regulation game against the Chicago Bears, frequent commenter “Ron LC” made an interesting note about Mike McCarthy’s use of the tight end this season. He wrote: “Lee’s TD last week has identified an area where MM seems to have given up. The TE as a key player in getting the 1st down and controlling the ball.”

In response to this, I decided to do some research to see if it was an accurate assessment. What I found was interesting, but not totally surprising.

The following chart and graphs present the data I uncovered (click on the chart for full resolution):

KEY

TARG% = TE Targets / Total Pass Attempts
YDS% = TE Yards / Total Pass Yards

TD% = TE Touchdowns / Total Passing Touchdowns
First Down TE% = TE First Downs / Passing First Downs


LOSING FINLEY HURT PRODUCTION . . .

Without even realizing it, I made one big assumption before even starting to collect the data: the injury to Jermichael Finley in Week 5 against the Washington Redskins was responsible for the decrease in production from the tight ends.

And I was right.

If you will notice in the chart, I separated the data into three sections. The first section encompasses the four weeks in which Finley was healthy and active. Though limited in sample size, this gives us a baseline to work with when analyzing the rest of the season.

The second section is only one game – the one in which Finley was injured. I separated this from the others, because I felt it was unique to the situation. Finley practically didn’t play at all in that game, since he was injured early and was never targeted. But Mike McCarthy had still made the game plans with him in mind, which means he still intended to utilize the tight end a significant amount. In fact, rookie Andrew Quarless pretty much replaced Finley in that game, as he accounted for 4 receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.

24

August

Packers vs. Seahawks: Film Study Observations (Preseason 2010)

In this next installment of Film Study, I select a few plays from the Packers – Seahawks preseason game that show something interesting upon review that might have been missed on first watch.

Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers are committed to doing whatever possible to keep QB1 un-sacked and upright. In just his limited preseason action, Rodgers has already shown the ability to more quickly recognized his checkdowns and not hold onto the ball too long. McCarthy, for his part, seems committed to giving the offensive line more pass protection help when needed, something I felt was lacking last season.

On Aaron Rodgers’ first play, 56 yard completion to Greg Jennings, Donald Lee was used in pass protection, and seemingly left to Rodgers to decide how. As you watch the play, you’ll see Rodgers look at Lee, who is lined up on the left side. He then glances to the right and sees the Seahawks have overloaded that side. He looks back at Lee, and most likely calls a protection change. Lee goes into motion and lines up on the right side, where he can help in the protection.

It works beautifully, as the Packers now have four players to Seattle’s three, the play action gets Seattle moving left, and Rodgers has plenty of time to roll right and complete the pass.

Bryan Bulaga, who was a film study subject last week for kicking out to pickup a blitzing DB on the edge, again showed some great awareness for a rookie, this time on the sack allowed by Allen Barbre. Although he ultimately wasn’t able to get back in time to help Barbre, it was for the right reasons. It’s hard to see this from the angle this video was taken from. On the NFL Network feed, which I have on DVR, but can’t transfer to my computer (arghh!), you can see exactly what Bulaga is looking at.

As the play starts, Bulaga’s primary responsibility is the linebacker in front of him. Bulaga keeps his eye on him until he sees that he’s going to drop back in coverage. With no one to block, Bulaga next looks over to Barbre. At that moment, Barbre is squared with the rusher, and appears to have it under control. So Bulaga then looks to his right to help inside, but there’s nothing for him to do there. He looks back at Barbre, but Barbre in a flash has inexplicably let a rookie 7th round draft pick blow by him like he’s the second coming of LT. Too late for Bulaga to get there, but again, he did all the right things.