Who are these Guys? Robert Francois, D.J. Smith and Evan Dietrich-Smith

Aaron Rodgers has hogged most of the highlights for the 11-0 Green Bay Packers this season, and rightfully so. The frontrunner for NFL MVP had to make a little room for some newcomers in Thursday’s win over the Detroit Lions, however.

Offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith and linebackers Robert Francois and D.J. Smith stepped in after injuries to starters and left their mark on the Packers latest victory. Unknown players stepping up when needed has become a trend for the Packers over the last two seasons.

Who are these latest unknowns and where did they come from?

Evan Dietrich-Smith

How he got here:
Cut by the Packers at the end of training camp in 2010, Dietrich-Smith resigned with Green Bay in Week 17 and remained on the roster throughout the postseason. The Packers originally signed Dietrich-Smith as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State in 2009. He was the only undrafted player to make the team.

Why he’s here: Dietrich-Smith has the athleticism to play all three interior OL positions. He can also handle a zone blocking scheme. At Idaho State, the 6-2, 308-pounder started 44 games and received All-Conference honorable mention four times.

Memorable moment: The kick heard ‘round the Midwest. Dietrich-Smith replacstandout G Josh Sitton in the second quarter of Thursday’s game against the Detroit Lions and was immediately matched up against Ndamukong Suh. Dietrich-Smith held his own against Suh. After taking Suh to the ground on a 3rd and goal play, Suh repeatedly drove Dietrich-Smith’s head into the turf before getting up and kicking the Packers backup in the arm. Suh was ejected and likely will get suspended.

Future outlook: If Sitton remains out, it will be Dietrich-Smith’s time to shine. He won’t come close to filling Sitton’s shoes, but with the way Aaron Rodgers and this offense is going, he doesn’t have to. Looking further down the road, there’s an outside shot Dietrich-Smith could enter a competition to start at center next season if the Packers don’t resign Scott Wells.


Robert Francois

How he got here: A teammate of B.J. Raji at Boston College, Francois entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted rookie with the Vikings. The 6-2, 255-pound LB was on the Packers active roster twice and the practice squad three times in 2010.



Green Bay Packers Show Value of Teamwork in Statement Win

Going into the Thanksgiving showdown between the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions on Thursday, my prediction for a Lions upset victory was admittedly tenuous. I knew the Packers had more skill, more talent, and more depth; nevertheless, I was wary about Detroit’s ability to stun opponents with their comeback play. Green Bay has consistently been unable to drive the dagger deep into most of their opponents, and I thought that would come back to bite them against an emotionally-driven team in such a hostile environment.

Boy was I wrong.

Part of the concern for most fans and even beat writers was the list of match-up problems playing against the Packers. The Lion’s infamous front four would be squaring off against an offensive line that had been giving up some pressure in recent games. And Matthew Stafford with his corps of receivers (led by Calvin “Megatron” Johnson) was more than capable of putting up yards against a Packers secondary who found most of their success in turnovers rather than consistent stops.

At face value, it seemed like such a perfect recipe for Green Bay’s first potential loss of the season. The Detroit Lions apparently had the fire and wild energy to disrupt the cool focus of Aaron Rodgers and his teammates.

Fortunately, there was one thing we seemed to be glossing over. One thing that can turn match-up problems into mostly non-issues. One thing that can mean the difference between a hard-fought victory and a heart-breaking loss.

And that thing is teamwork.

Now, I’m not talking about just the players, because this level of teamwork extends all the way up to the coaches and even the front office.

In reality, the Detroit Lions showed that they are largely the antithesis of what the Green Bay Packers have become. What used to be the Minnesota Vikings’ role as the characteristic foil of the Packers has now been bequeathed to the Lions. They have become the “yin” to Green Bay’s “yang.”

For starters, the injuries sustained by both sides on Thursday were handled in bright contrast.

When the Packers lost both of their inside linebackers (and the ability to communicate to the defense by radio), back-up players D.J. Smith and Robert Francois made their presence known with some big plays. Smith landed a number of big tackles, while Francois snatched a game-changing interception out of the air. It’s also hard to ignore the efforts of Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brandon Saine on the offensive side of the ball.