When the injuries started compounding for the Green Bay Packers this year, fans didn’t seem to flinch. Too fresh in their memories was the story of 2010, when the Packers overcame several key injuries to become Super Bowl champions. “Next man up” became the rally cry for the team, its fans, and the media.
The motto’s resurgence in 2012 showed the confidence of Packers Nation in Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy’s ability to add and develop depth throughout the team. While concerns still brewed in the back of our minds, they were overshadowed by what we’ve come to expect from Green Bay’s second string players.
No more Desmond Bishop? Bring in D.J. Smith. Now Smith goes down? Get Brad Jones in there. Lose Cedric Benson, James Starks, and Brandon Saine? Promote Alex Green and DuJuan Harris, then re-sign Ryan Grant from free agency. Even undrafted rookie Don Barclay surprised us with his ability to take over for Bryan Bulaga and not get Aaron Rodgers killed.
The specific team building philosophy of Thompson and McCarthy have allowed the Green Bay Packers to succeed even when some of their best players end up on injured reserve. Many other teams would struggle to handle such losses, whereas the Packers push through, fill in the holes, and still win their division.
Unfortunately, with all this confidence in the “next man up” mentality, we tend to lose sight of the fact that Green Bay’s offensive, defensive, and special teams units still lose some of their effectiveness from these starters going down.
In 2012, the position group that suffered the most was by far the linebacker corps. If you compare this season’s final roster to last year’s, the differences are striking. Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk didn’t go anywhere, despite Matthews missing a few games; however, the losses of Desmond Bishop and D.J. Smith were huge.
Yes, Brad Jones filled in admirably, but he is not the playmaker that Bishop is. (Nor is Smith.) Desmond Bishop is perhaps the biggest playmaker on the defense outside of Clay Matthews. His tough and ruthless attitude brings a punch that helps to balance out the lack of plays made by Hawk. While the “assignment sure” Hawk has been a perennial disappointment to many fans, he and Bishop complement each other extremely well. Without one, the other suffers.