8

April

Cory’s Corner: Aaron Rodgers equals a capable Jarrett Boykin

The equation was proven when Greg Jennings left for Minnesota. And it’s going to be proven again when James Jones suits up for Oakland for the first time.

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He's ready because of one person.

Jarrett Boykin will be slotted into the coveted No. 3 wide receiver next season. He’s ready because of one person.

I’ve heard many say that Jarrett Boykin is a question mark and cannot be counted on to truly be a No. 3 wideout in the NFL. Those are true and warranted sentiments.

However, don’t be like Jennings and Jones and forget about the most important part of the equation: Aaron Rodgers. Jones is a capable receiver but he has a tendency to grow alligator arms and forgets what route to run.

But this isn’t about Jones. It’s about how Rodgers made Jones and basically got him a three-year deal in 2011. It’s also about how Rodgers found Jones for 14 touchdowns in 2012.

Boykin has only played two seasons and only started in eight games. When the Packers open next September he could very well get the deer in the headlights and look completely confused.

However, the odds of that happening are quite slim. Why? Well, Scott Tolzien made Brandon Bostick look superhuman last year for a possession. I think it isn’t out of Rodgers’ realm to make Boykin look pretty good.

But in Boykin’s defense, he’s not that bad. He runs routes hard and has shown a willingness to learn. He will have to continue that inquisitiveness by peppering Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb — arguably the best wide receiving tandem in the game.

Wide receivers are even more critical now that NFL offenses resemble a seven-on-seven passing drill.

Yet, it all comes back to the quarterback. A subpar quarterback will make even Pro Bowl receivers look average as opposed to a preeminent quarterback that makes average pass-catchers good.

Boykin will be fine, but when you boil it down it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of warm bodies with pass-catching experience that could be slotted into the Packers’ No. 3 job and succeed. It’s pretty hard to fail when the ball is placed on a platter and is in a tight spiral nearly every time.

This is the year that Boykin must learn and make strides. He must process plenty of information during training camp so that he can be called upon if Nelson or Cobb go down with injury.

7

April

Xs and Os: Packers Running Game from Substitution Packages

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Packers running back Johnathan Franklin had a career day against the Cincinnati Bengals while running out of substitution packages.

The key to the Green Bay Packers’ offensive success is having the ability to run or pass out of any personnel grouping and formation, especially with multiple wide receivers on the field.

This means, in order to achieve offensive balance, the Packers must be able to run out of passing formations with substitution packages.

A substitution package is when the offense deploys different personnel than their base 21 group (2 running backs, 1 tight end, and 2 wide receivers. The Packers like running the 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers) and the 10 personnel groupings (1 running back, 0 tight ends, 4 wide receivers) on any down and distance.

Obviously, not having an extra running back (the fullback) or tight end (or H-back) on the field could pose a schematic disadvantage in the running game by having fewer bigger bodies on the field.

However, with the use of well-designed blocking packages and willing blocks by the wide receivers, the Packers had good success with running the ball from substitution groups.

Under the tutelage of wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett, who was a former running back, the Packers receiving corps has developed into a solid group of blockers who contribute immensely to the running game. This is one of the most underrated aspects of the Packers’ offensive success.

Let’s take a look at some of the staples of this deployment.

Disclaimer 1: You know the drill by now. #YKTDBN. I have never seen Mike McCarthy’s playbook. #IHNSMMP.

Disclaimer 2: #YKTDBN. This is an oversimplification for illustrative purposes. #TIAOFIP. Different formations and defensive fronts will change the blocking rules.

11 Outside Toss Strong: This play is frequently run from shotgun 11 personnel with an offset running back to the strong side of the formation. The key to the play is to get the ball outside and away from the defensive end and Sam linebacker.

Slide1

The outside wide receiver blocks down on the slot cornerback ($) and the slot receiver kicks out and sets the leverage on the strong side cornerback. Notice that the slot is further off the line of scrimmage to allow the outside receiver more time to block down.

5

April

Cory’s Corner: Solidify backup QB job and sign Matt Flynn

Last year proved just how important a backup quarterback is not for just the Packers but for any football team.

Having a bona fide star quarterback is an advantage that coach Mike McCarthy may have gotten a little too comfortable with. He got used to the 50-yard rollout passes on a dime and being able to whistle a fastball into tight windows.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum $715,000 by the Packers.

Matt Flynn finished with a 2-2 starting record for the Packers last year. He is an unrestricted free agent after earning a prorated veteran minimum of $715,000 by the Packers.

They say you never really know what you have until it’s gone. Well, that couldn’t have been truer for the Packers last year. With Aaron Rodgers shelved for seven games, the Packers nomadically spun their wheels until Matt Flynn was able to play good enough to fix the leaks and right the ship.

Now I realize Flynn doesn’t exactly strike anything resembling fear into opposing defenses. But he is a six-year NFL veteran and more importantly, he’s a 4½-year vet of the Packers.

Which is exactly why I am surprised that the Packers haven’t signed the unrestricted free agent yet. His 3-4 career starting record may not be anything to brag about but his ability to win over a huddle and lead a team — especially when your No. 1 option goes down — are things you want in a substitute.

Flynn turns 29 this summer and even he must realize that his days of being a starting quarterback are over. After having dreams of leading the Seattle Seahawks, he was upstaged by Russell Wilson. To make matters worse, he was upstaged by Terrelle Pryor in Oakland and the Bills barely kicked the tires before sending him on his way after just 21 days.

The opportunity to become a starting quarterback in the NFL is ever-shrinking, especially with all the dynamic college quarterbacks that are now bursting on to the scene.

The only sticky point could be money. Flynn was paid a pro-rated veteran minimum salary of $715,000 last year for Green Bay. With that money, he salvaged a 16-point deficit against Minnesota, which ended in a tie. And he orchestrated comeback wins vs. Atlanta and the thriller at Dallas.

4

April

Brett Favre’s Return To Packers: Are Fans Ready?

Brett Favre

This is how most Packers fans prefer to remember Brett Favre

It only took me 18 months before I broke down and wrote about Brett Favre.  I joined Jersey Al’s team in August of 2012 and until recently, it was pretty easy to avoid the topic altogether.

Over the past year, however, Favre’s name has been tied more closely with the Green Bay Packers and a return to Titletown is not far off for old #4.  During that span, our team has penned a few pieces about Favre, most recently of which was done by Kris Burke last year in June.

Favre retired after the 2010 season and three seasons removed from being the Packers starting quarterback.  For many fans, those three years seemed like a decade.  The year in New York with the Jets was kind of like being at a preseason game.  The game is going on and it looks like football, but who really cares?  The last two years of Favre’s career were a much different story.

For those with some time to spare, about an hour and twenty minutes, to be exact, here is a link to the film “Last Day at Lambeau“.  It chronicles the time between Favre’s first retirement from the NFL and the Packers to his last game at Lambeau Field as a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2010.

I remember Favre’s signing with the Vikings in August of 2009.  Whether he orchestrated his departure from New York in order to land in Minnesota or if the stars just aligned that way, I hated the football Gods.  It wasn’t that I was worried about Favre beating up on the Packers, because I honestly didn’t think he could.  I just didn’t want to deal with all of the attention and build up.

2009 came and went and the Vikings got the best of the Packers in both games that season.  Favre and the gang were within his merely falling forward to give themselves a chance to go to a Super Bowl that year.  But in true Favre fashion and almost as if it were scripted, a vintage interception ended the Vikings’ run and 2010 would turn out to be a disaster (literally, as Mall of America Field was rendered inoperable by massive snow build up).

4

April

Packers Cannot Gamble At Safety

Micah Hyde

The Packers need to finally find a solution at the safety position.  Micah Hyde is one of a few options

The Green Bay Packers have already made some moves in free agency to help bolster their roster and chances in 2014.  The addition of defensive lineman Julius Peppers made big headlines a few weeks back and indicated a shift in the team’s approach to improving on the past few seasons.

With the  addition of Peppers, the Packers Super Bowl odds dropped from 16-1 to 10-1, according to sites like FootballBettingCenter.com.

But will the addition of Peppers really have that much of an impact on this Packers team? With just one playoff victory since winning Super Bowl XLV in 2011, the Packers have lacked that spark and edge that got them over the hump during that incredible run over three years ago.

With Aaron Rodgers and quarterback and a solid stable of receivers, Green Bay has been able to maintain its production on the offensive side of the ball.  The addition of Eddie Lacy last season (NFL Rookie of the year) rounded off the offense and took it a step closer to being more complete.

The defense has been the point of emphasis in looking at the most glaring needs that the Packers have had and continue to have.  In 2011, defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins departed in free agency and the Packers struggled to get consistent production from the defensive line.  Jenkins was replaced by Jarius Wynn, and I use the term “replaced” very loosely there.

The Packers D-line has seen flashes of production since, but not consistently.  The addition of Peppers will hopefully help that unit make more of an impact on Sundays.

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, the Packers lost inside linebacker Desmond Bishop to a season-ending injury and the team released him prior to the start of the 2013 season.  Bishop’s spot has since been replaced by a combination of DJ Smith, who is no longer with the team and was released last offseason, and Brad Jones.

Jones has spurred debates about whether he is the future at inside linebacker, was worth the contract that he received last offseason (three years, $11.75 million), and most importantly,  whether he still has room to turn into the player the Packers need him to be.  That remains to be seen but there have been many rumblings that inside linebacker should be addressed relatively early in this upcoming draft by Green Bay.

3

April

Packers Re-Sign Kuhn

John Kuhn

The Packers return John Kuhn on a one-year deal

Fullback and Green Bay Packers cult hero John Kuhn is returning to the team in 2014.  Kuhn has agreed to a one-year deal worth just over $1 million with incentives included.

Kuhn has been with the Packers since 2007 and has become one of the stable veterans on a perpetually young roster.  While Kuhn reportedly had some conversations with other teams, Green Bay seems to be the best fit for him over anywhere else.

Similar to quarterback Matt Flynn, Kuhn flourishes in the Packers offense where he is needed and seems to max out his value potential.

Case in point is last season’s week 17 season finale against the Chicago Bears, when it was Kuhn’s block on defensive end Julius Peppers that allowed Aaron Rodgers to escape the pocket and find receiver Randall Cobb downfield for the go-ahead and game-winning score.  That win helped the Packers secure their third straight NFC North division title.  Now that Peppers is with the Packers, the two can likely share a laugh or two over that monumental play.

The fullback position has changed quite a bit in the NFL overall.  Gone are the days of the I-formation and the need for a bruising fullback to pave the way for the tail back.  With running backs becoming bigger and more versatile and athletic, the traditional fullback is a dying breed.  Green Bay’s offense is no exception.  With the addition of Eddie Lacy in last year’s draft, Kuhn had just 10 rushing attempts in 2013.  In 2010, Kuhn had his career high in carries with 84, mostly due to injuries to other running backs at the time.

Still, keeping Kuhn is valuable for depth purposes and also insurance that there is a wily veteran that can come in on passing downs and help keep Rodgers on his feet.  Kuhn is said to be a great presence in the team’s locker room and will surely assist in bringing the young running backs along as they mature in their early careers.

Of the current Packers backs other than Kuhn, James Starks is the most senior member with four seasons under his belt.  DuJuan Harris, Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and Michael Hill all have just one season to their credit.  Harris was with the team last year but did not play after being placed on season-ending injured reserve during training camp.

3

April

Character Still Matters for the Green Bay Packers

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Johnny Jolly is proof that Green Bay is a very special place to play.

Another week, another story about an NFL player (allegedly) engaging in shady off-field activities.

This time it’s former Philadelphia Eagles and now-current Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson and his supposed affiliation with a gang. Jackson denies such activity, but the fact the accusation has even been made stains his reputation.

This is just the most recent in a string of stories over the past several seasons involving NFL players and criminal activities. Aaron Hernandez, currently awaiting trial on miser charges, is probably the most severe but there have been so many other instances this entire article would just be a list if all were to be mentioned.

Drunk driving, drugs, domestic violence, assault and the aforementioned murder are just some of the charges levied against NFL players the past several seasons. The league has an image problem and commissioner Roger Goodell has his hands full trying to fix it.

This is why NFL fans, regardless of what team colors they wear on Sundays, should be thankful for a team like the Green Bay Packers.

Since general manager Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy arrived in 2005 and 2006, respectively, the Packers have been able to avoid the off field issues so many other teams have had to deal with over and over again.

The one potential exception to this for the Packers, the past drug arrests of defensive lineman Johnny Jolly, was turned into a positive this past year when Jolly was reinstated by the NFL and was named the team’s Ed Block Courage Award recipient for how he has turned his life around and became a locker room leader (per Aaron Rodgers himself) in the process.

How has Green Bay been fortunate to avoid the distractions a good chunk of the rest of the league often encounters?

Well, for one, character sometimes has to trump talent in the eyes of Thompson and McCarthy and it should. This is why the Packers have passed on players such as Randy Moss and Terrell Owens in the past, despite lobbying by fans and a certain former MVP quarterback.

They might be uber-talented on the football field, but if they cause distractions off the field or disharmony in the locker room, what’s the point? McCarthy and Thompson value a united locker room above all else and they won’t introduce any element that risks upsetting this.