26

January

Bittersweet Super Bowl for Some Green Bay Packers Players

Nick Barnett
NOTE:
This article was written before the recent controversy surrounding Nick Barnett, Jermichael Finley, and the Super Bowl team photo. It is not meant as a commentary on that issue, simply as a reflection of all those players on IR not being able to play in Super Bowl XLV.


“Bitter sweet bitter sweet.”

That was the tweet from Nick Barnett on Monday after the NFC Championship Game, and it very succinctly described how some of the Green Bay Packers players on injured reserve must be feeling right now.

Barnett was a first round draft selection (29th pick) for the Packers in 2003, and has started for them at inside linebacker ever since. Though he has never played in a Pro Bowl, he was named an alternate for the game in each of his first five seasons. He made himself into a staple of the Green Bay defense and was a part of the 2007 team that was close to winning the NFC Championship.

So you can understand why this trip to Super Bowl XLV brings some mixed emotions.

For the man who made a fad (and pseudo-business) of the “XLV or Die” mantra, he will still only get to watch – and not play – with his team when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers in Dallas.

Jermichael Finley, star tight end for the Green Bay Packers, is another man among the 15 injured reserve players who was calling for this to be a special season. His “YOTTO” (Year Of The Take Over) battle cry was a popular hashtag on Twitter around game time, even after his injury.

But while Finley has plenty of time (and potential) in his career to make a return trip to the Super Bowl, other injured players may not be so lucky.

Barnett is in his eighth year with the Packers and will be turning 30 years old this May. His replacement, Desmond Bishop, has done admirably this season, and even earned himself a contract extension in January. The suddenly-crowded inside linebacker position has people wondering if Barnett will even make it back to the roster next year.

Veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher, however, has even less hope for getting back to, and playing in, the Super Bowl.

19

January

Have Injuries Possibly Made the Green Bay Packers Better?

As heretical as it may sound, the sheer amount of injuries that have devastated the Packers this season might have just made them a more dangerous team. The Packers of today are essentially an entirely different team than the one that took the field 5 months ago and that has caused confusion for other teams.

One of the most important pre-game preparations is watching game film on team’s and player’s tendencies. The tricky part about playing a team with a new or relatively new players is that there simply isn’t much tape on them.  Couple that with a smart coach who plays to his player’s strengths and the whole team can operate differently.

For instance, the 49ers obviously were at a disadvantage since they had no way of knowing that James Starks was going to be the “hot” running back in week 13 nor did the Bears pay much attention to Erik Walden in the days leading up to the week 17 game.

On the offense, the 3 most significant injuries were to starting running back Ryan Grant, starting tight end Jermichael Finley and starting right tackle Mark Tauscher. Losing Mark Tauscher was perhaps the easiest to cope with; after a disastrous season for the offensive line in 2009, the Packers chose tackle Bryan Bulaga with their first pick and while he has gone through the ups and downs typical of a rookie, he has graded out as the best linemen in terms of pass protection.

While he may not be a finished product just yet, he surely isn’t a liability and in the long run the experience he gains now will probably help him as he becomes the left tackle of the future.

Losing Ryan Grant was a big blow for the offense, in particular in the beginning of the season. While Grant was never the explosive big name running back, he fit particularly well in the Packers offensive scheme and always seemed to be able to get at least a couple yards, regardless of the situation.

Without him, the Packers were left with Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn. While neither was able to fill Grant’s shoes entirely, Kuhn has evolved into a very good short distance runner and with the emergence of rookie James Starks, the Packers have perhaps a slightly upgraded version of Ryan Grant for the future.