6

April

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

Take a look at this NFL mock draft at Drafttek.com. There are three tight ends selected before a running back is chosen with the 50th overall pick.

Last year in the actual NFL draft there were two tight ends selected before the first running back was snatched off the board (Giovani Bernard at No. 37).

When I was growing up, running back was the glamour position. When we went out for recess to play football (this was back when you could still play tackle football at recess), everyone pretended to be Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, not some tight end. Most teams wouldn’t dream of taking a tight end over a promising running back in the draft.

Times have changed. Running back is a de-valued position in today’s NFL. That’s not breaking news. But has the de-valuing gone too far?

The top two teams in the NFC last season, Seattle and San Francisco, based their offense around bruising running games. The Packers turned to rookie Eddie Lacy to keep their heads above water after Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone. Even with Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots pounded the ball on the ground early in the season, outrushing opponents in three of the first four games and starting 4-0.

Even on pass-happy Denver, with Peyton Manning at quarterback and a stable of exceptional receivers and tight ends, running back Knowshon Moreno finished with almost 1,600 total yards from scrimmage.

For a while, the NFL also appeared to be de-valuing the safety position, but that might be changing.

Only three safeties were picked in the first round from 2008-11. In the last two drafts, four safeties have gone in the first. In the opening days of NFL free agency, the top safeties on the board flew off the shelf for big money.

I think a lot of teams are emphasizing the safety position again because they see the importance of versatility in today’s game. Safeties are often best suited to handle multiple tasks: provide coverage over the top, match up against a tight end, play the slot, stop the run, drill whoever has the ball, occasionally blitz, etc. Take a look at the Seahawks and 49ers again — both were strong at safety.

30

March

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers football.

At this point in the NFL offseason, what would you say is your biggest concern about the 2014 Packers?

For me, it’s the safety position. When Morgan Burnett is the best safety on the roster, there are issues. Yes, the draft is right around the corner, but you never know if a) the Packers will be in a position to draft a safety who can start right away or b) if whatever safety they draft will be any good.

But forget about your biggest concern for the time being. What do you see as potential concerns that few people are talking about?

Because those are probably the concerns that will come to fruition in 2014. With all the roster turnover and other unknowns from year-to-year in today’s NFL, it’s impossible to predict in March what an NFL team might be scrambling to try and fix in November.

At this time last year, we were all worried about the Packers not being big enough to stand toe-to-toe with physical teams like the 49ers or Seahawks. Then halfway through the season, we were worried about the Packers being too big to compete with teams like the 49ers and Seahawks.

I remember back before the 2010 season being worried about an undrafted rookie named Sam Shields serving as the Packers nickel cornerback. An undrafted rookie playing a key role on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. That’s insane!

Then Shields goes out and has a good season and picks off two passes in the NFC Championship to send the Packers to the Super Bowl.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Burnett is playing well once November comes around, a young safety is holding his own next to Burnett, and the Packers problems at safety are problems no more.

Teams can make grand plans to plug holes in March, and fans can do the same on blogs and social media, but once the season starts, all bets are off. A few key injuries or important players underperforming ruins the most thought-out plans.

My under-the-radar concern for the Packers is offensive tackle.

David Bakhtiari had a good rookie season, but what if he doesn’t take a step forward in 2014? Or what if the injury bug strikes him down in his second year like it did to Casey Hayward in his second season?

12

September

Packers Stock Report: Wide Receivers can also be Tough Guys Edition

Randall Cobb showed toughness by fighting for this touchdown.

When you think of tough football players — whether they play for the Packers or not — you probably think of Mike Singletary and his stare, Ray Nitschske and his scowl or Ronnie Lott lopping off part of his finger so he could keep playing.

You probably don’t think of too many wide receivers, especially modern-day receivers with their diva-like tendencies. There’s a couple of Packers wide receivers that are the exception to that rule, though, and should be on any list of tough guys in today’s NFL.

Read this week’s stock report to learn more:

Rising

Jordy Nelson
Randall Cobb
When we talk about the Packers being a tougher, more physical team, I think most of us probably mean that the defense needs to hit harder and the offensive line needs to start pushing people around to get the run game going. We probably don’t put wide receivers into the toughness equation, but we should. Both Nelson and Cobb are coming off injuries and absorbed some wicked hits on Sunday. The kept getting up for more. They completely sold out on every single play and did whatever they could possibly do to punch back at the 49ers defense — the big bully on the block. Cobb and Nelson might not play a position defined by toughness, but they both proved on Sunday that they’re two of the toughest players on the Packers roster.

Ryan Pickett
According to Pro Football Focus, Pickett has three stops on Sunday — solo tackles that resulted in an offensive failure. Frank Gore didn’t have the space he’s used to against the Packers and Big Grease is one of the reasons why. The soon-to-be 34 year old looked as good as he ever has, absorbing double teams, winning the battle when single-blocked, and causing chaos inside.

Steady

Tim Masthay
Ging matched all-world punter Andy Lee punt for punt and even took over kickoff duties. More importantly, Masthay is fearless! He made one tackle on a kick return and nearly had another. I wonder if he can play safety?

Mike Neal
I thought the Neal-as-outside linebacker experiment would be a massive failure, but so far, so good. He’s an anchor on the edge against the run and even got after Colin Kaepernick a few times in the pass rush. He’s nowhere near an adequate complement to Matthews yet, but if he keeps making progress, who knows…

7

July

Surviving Sunday: Packers News, Notes and Links for the Football Deprived

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Surviving Sundays with no Packers Football

Do you ever wonder if the marketing machines behind professional sports franchises make fans stupid? Or are professional sports fans already stupid, and the marketing machines give fans exactly what they’re asking for?

I was thinking about this while covering the Yankees beating the Twins (yet again) earlier this week at Target Field. Between almost every pitch, the Twins blasted some type of music over the stadium sound system or tried to entice a chant out of fans by playing some other type of sound effect. During every between-inning break, something silly like kiss-cam or a dance-off party played on the stadium video board.

It’s like the Twins didn’t think their fans had the mental capacity or attention span to pay money to attend a baseball game and actually, you know, watch the baseball game. Part of the beauty of baseball is the downtime between pitches and breaks between innings. You can follow and enjoy baseball while still chatting with friends or explaining the game to your 10-year-old son or daughter.

It’s hard to do any of that with yet another T-shirt toss (shiny objects!) going on or a song (wow, noise!) playing that tries to coax the audience into participating in some sort of generic sing-a-long.

I’m picking on the Twins, but the Packers haven’t been much better in this area the last couple of seasons. I haven’t been going to Packers games for very long, but even from when I first started (2007) to now, I’ve noticed a drastic change.

During the playoff win over the Vikings last season, I don’t think 10 seconds went by without the Lambeau PA announcer screaming at fans to get loud, or some type of gimmicky chant/song was played over the sound system to entice people to do…something, I guess.

It shouldn’t be this way. There are plenty of sports fans who are fans of the actual sport and the game being played on the field…right? Or am I naive and out of touch? Do the fans who attend today’s sporting events — even Packers fans — need all of these silly bells and whistles that have nothing to do with the actual game to keep them entertained?

28

February

2013 Packers Position Group Analysis: Safety

Morgan Burnett

Burnett returns as a leader of both the safety group as well as the Packers team as a whole in 2013

Packers Safeties:  One of the youngest groups on the current Green Bay Packers roster, this is a position that is expected to take a big step forward in 2013.  The team will be without long-time veteran Charles Woodson and will rely on Morgan Burnett to assume that leadership role.  Third-year player M.D. Jennings joins second-year player Jerron McMillian opposite Burnett with Sean Richardson likely in the fold as well.

For expanded coverage of this topic, listen to the podcast using the player below or download the podcast from the Packers Talk Radio Network on Itunes.

Where are we now:

Here are the current suspects:

Morgan Burnett (3rd round)

M.D. Jennings (UDFA)

Jerron McMillian (4th round)

Sean Richardson (UDFA)

Burnett was a steady rock for the Packers in 2012, playing in all 16 regular season games and both playoff games.  After missing most of his rookie season of 2010 and being hampered by a hand injury in 2011, Burnett showed that he can be counted on and durable enough to play a full season.  His play improved both in coverage and run support.  The assumption is that he will continue that trend in 2013 and become one of the defensive leaders on this team.

Jennings platooned with the rookie McMillian opposite Burnett after Woodson went down.  He doesn’t have blazing speed but he has a knack for sticking his nose into the play and is not afraid to get after the ball.  He scored the team’s first interception return for a touchdown and had seemingly sealed a tough road win at Seattle before. . well, we all know that story by now.  Jennings will certainly be a part of the team’s plans at safety in 2013 in one capacity or another.  He is also a contributor on special teams so I fully expect him on the 2013 roster.  For an undrafted free agent, Jennings has, at the very least, matched the expectations he had when he was brought in.  He is trending upward and should continue on the path to exceeding them if he can stay healthy.

24

June

Confidence Check: An Interview with Packers Safety Anthony Smith Reveals His Green Bay Plans

We’ve all known Green Bay Packers free agent safety Anthony Smith to be a guy that exudes confidence. After speaking with him on Wednesday, I can tell you that nothing has changed.

He’s still the same player who four years ago guaranteed a Steelers win in the week leading up to a key matchup with the 12-0 Patriots. Pittsburgh lost that game, partly due to a couple of touchdown passes Smith gave up, and even Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick took their respective shots at the then two-year safety.

The Patriots mild-mannered quarterback went face-to-face with Smith after one of his touchdowns, screaming who knows what at Smith, and post-game, the normally reserved Belichick said, “We’ve played against a lot better safeties than [Smith], I’ll tell you that.”

But that mishap hasn’t taken anything away from the sureness Smith still feels. Despite being an unrestricted free agent, Smith has plans to stay in Green Bay for next season, and he wants to make his mark on this group of Packers.

When asked about his free agent status on Wednesday, Smith was quick to respond that he has a tentative deal in place with the Packers for when the lockout ends. Smith couldn’t confirm any details, but he said he plans to “finish” his career with the team.

His reason for wanting to remain in Green Bay? Simple. He thinks this current collection of Packers could be in for a long ride of success.

“I want to stay because I think we could have a dynasty here if everyone has the same mindset,” Smith said. “If everyone believes in the same thing; it’s like (Charles) Woodson always says, ‘One mind, purpose, goal and heart equals championships.’”

It’s a far cry from his guarantee in Pittsburgh, but it’s clear that Smith believes that the Packers are in for more than just their one Super Bowl victory. And it’s also evident that Smith wants to be a bigger part of the next championship team. In fact, Smith went as far as saying he thinks he can start for this defense next season.

“I’ll help out on special teams, but I’ve put five years worth of time on that unit. The young boys have to prove themselves there. And it’s in every player’s thought process to start. Yeah, I plan on starting.”