Brass Balls and the Packers Defense

Frank Zombo

Frank Zombo is one Packers defender that could be on the chopping block.

If using almost all of his draft picks on defensive players wasn’t enough of a warning, Ted Thompson could re-enact Alec Baldwin’s brass balls speech from Glengarry Glen Ross on the first day of training camp if he feels the Packers defense hasn’t gotten the message.

Replace Cadillac with a spot on the roster. Replace steak knives with a spot on the end of the bench. Replace getting fired with getting cut.

Message received.

Of course, this message doesn’t need to be delivered to everyone on defense. Clay Matthews is probably the Alec Baldwin of the Packers D. He can point to his $975,000 watch and automatically command respect. Desmond Bishop and Charles Woodson can point to their own watches, which aren’t quite as big as Matthews’, but are impressive nonetheless.

Because of their ineptitude last season and infusion of new blood for the upcoming season, the following defenders who received regular playing time in 2011 could be on the chopping block. They’ll have to prove during training camp that they have the “brass balls” to play in the NFL.

Jarius Wynn
After a strong start, Wynn disappeared and became just another guy (who couldn’t get to the quarterback) on the defensive line.

C.J. Wilson
Did Wilson make any memorable plays last season? He’s another guy you can add to the just-another-guy list.

Charlie Peprah
When Peprah was paired with pro-bowler Nick Collins, he did what needed to be done at safety. Without Collins, Peprah couldn’t keep up in coverage and looked a step behind on most plays.

Frank Zombo
It seems like the Packers want to give Zombo a chance, but he can’t stay healthy. Of course, when he’s been healthy, he hasn’t exactly set the world afire.

Erik Walden
Walden was adequate last season before dropping off after being arrested. The Packers resigned him this offseason, which makes me think he’s got the inside edge in making the squad. Of course, I’m sure it’s a minimal deal and the Packers wouldn’t be hurt much if they cut him, but why go through the through the trouble of resigning a replacement-level player with legal issues if you don’t think he has a shot at getting better?



Robert Francois: 2011 Green Bay Packers Evaluation and Report Card

inside linebacker Robert Francois

Robert Francois

1) Introduction: In a little bit of trivia, Robert Francois has the ignoble distinction of being the player cut on the Minnesota Vikings roster in 2009 to make room for one Brett Lorenzo Favre (so the Packers won twice with that transaction it seems).  Other than that, Francois has been relatively quiet while being buried behind bigger names like AJ Hawk, Desmond Bishop, Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar.  But with Chillar and Barnett no longer on the team, Francois became a primary backup to AJ Hawk.

2) Profile:

Robert Francois

Position: ILB
Height: 6-2
Weight: 255 lbs.
AGE: 26
Career Stats


3) Expectations coming into the season for that player: Next to nothing; over his career with the Packers, Francois had started 1 game and recorded 3 tackles, all of which came on special teams.

4) Player’s highlights/low-lights: Highlights include stepping up during a 2-week stretch when AJ Hawk was hurt and managing to record an acrobatic interception in both of them as well as posting 13 tackles. Lowlights included pretty much any time Francois wasn’t the starter as he made only 2 special teams tackles and didn’t see any time on the field.

5) Player’s contribution to the overall team success: Moderate; considering what could have happened when both starting inside linebackers left the game, he and fellow backup DJ Smith filled in admirably and showed off the depth that the Packers still had at inside linebacker.  Perhaps even more stunning was that communication on the field remained a non-factor as the coaching staff were forced to signal in plays from the sidelines after both “green dot” helmets (worn by Hawk and Bishop) were on the sidelines.

6) Player’s contributions in the playoffs: Francois was a healthy scratch against the Giants during the playoffs and did not make the 45-man active roster.

(C) Level of expectations met during the season
(C) Contributions to team’s overall success
(N/A) Player’s contributions in the playoffs

Overall Grade for the year: C


Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.




Packers-Giants: Friday Injury Report

Clifton missed Friday's practice but will start at LT Sunday for the Packers.

With the Green Bay Packers’ Divisional Round matchup with the New York Giants just two days away, let’s take a quick look at each team’s official injury situation as of Friday:

Packers: Green Bay will come into this game as healthy as they’ve been all season. Chad Clifton did not participate Friday, but that’s been the typical plan for him—practice Wednesday and Thursday, take Friday off—during healthy weeks. Second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse took his snaps.

WR/KR Randall Cobb was also limited with a groin injury, but coach Mike McCarthy has said multiple times that he fully expects Cobb to play Sunday. At this point, it seems more an issue with soreness than anything, and he’ll have significant time between today and Sunday to rest the groin.

Both Clifton and Cobb are listed as probable, along with the rest of the Packers injury report save linebacker Robert Francois, who is a doubtful with a hamstring. Evan Dietrich-Smith missed Friday due to an illness.

Giants: New York officially ruled out rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich Friday, but the rest of the news on the injury front was optimistic. Both D.J. Ware and Aaron Ross practiced fully after dealing with respective concussions and are expected to play.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw was back as a full participant after missing the past two days with a foot and back issue. Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee), Corey Webster (hamstring) and Deon Grant (quad) were limited Friday but each is listed as probable.


Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.




McCarthy: Emotional but Healthy Packers Ready for Giants

You could hear it in his voice, you could see it in his face.

The emotion and heartbreak following the sudden death of Michael Philbin, son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, was on full display as Packers head coach Mike McCarthy addressed the media Wednesday afternoon.

McCarthy got choked up while trying to answer several questions about a tragedy that has visibly shaken the Packers family to its very roots.

“It gives everyone a punch in the heart of reality,” McCarthy said, attempting to hold off tears the best he could.

This was no act, mind you—the Packers typically unyiedling head coach is clearly feeling the weight of a tragedy that is hitting home in a big way.

And as you’d expect, emotion is going to play some kind of factor in the Packers Divisional Round matchup with the New York Giants on Sunday.

Asked if tragedy could result in a more focused team, McCarthy thought it could.

“I think it can,” McCarthy said. “It would be premature for me to comment on it, but the energy was outstanding today, the focus was outstanding.”

McCarthy continued, “It hits you hard how blessed we are to have this opportunity professionally.”

McCarthy was unsure if Philbin would be with the Packers on Sunday. He said he’ll return “when he’s ready.” Philbin was with his family on Wednesday away from the Packers practice facility.

At this point, it’s anyone’s guess if Philbin will return. No one would blame him if he can’t go Sunday.

The Packers’ roster, at the very least, should be the healthiest its been all season Sunday against the Giants. No player missed practice Wednesday, and the limited participants—Randall Cobb (groin), Chad Clifton (hamstring) and Robert Francois (knee)—were all close to being full.

“I feel very good about the health of our football team,” McCarthy said.

Running back James Starks (ankle) returned, and Greg Jennings (knee) was a full participant. Both are expected to play.

The Packers face the Giants this Sunday at 3:30 CT from Lambeau Field.


Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.



McCarthy: Status of James Starks, Josh Sitton in Doubt For Sunday Against Chiefs

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy didn’t sound too optimistic Wednesday that either running back James Starks or guard Josh Sitton would be available to play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

McCarthy said that Starks worked out hard on Tuesday, but the ensuing medical reports done today weren’t encouraging. He was a no-go at Packers’ practice on Wednesday.

Starks has dealt with a lingering ankle injury that forced him out of games against the Buccaneers and Lions in consecutive weeks. Starks then missed last week’s game with the Oakland Raiders after not being able to practice during the week because of the injury.

Regarding Sitton, McCarthy said that the Packers plan to have some patience with him this week as he continues to rehab a knee sprain suffered in Detroit three weeks ago. Sitton was a limited participant during Wednesday’s practice, which is an encouraging sign for his return. Team doctors didn’t sound optimistic on Sitton’s availability for this week, however.

The Packers have started Evan Dietrich-Smith in Sitton’s place the past two games with varying results.

Desmond Bishop (calf) was unable to participate today but McCarthy made it sound on Monday that Bishop would have a good chance at playing on Sunday. A.J. Hawk (calf) was a full participant. McCarthy praised both D.J. Smith and Robert Francois again on Wednesday.

Brandon Saine and Ryan Pickett, who both suffered concussions against the Raiders, were held out. Vic So’oto (back) was a full participant, and Chad Clifton (hamstring/back) was out.


Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.




A.J. Hawk vs D.J. Smith: The Brewing Battle at Inside Linebacker

When Packers fans take a break from criticizing Jermichael Finley, they usually direct their ire toward A.J. Hawk.

By now you know the drill:

  • Hawk bashers say he hasn’t come close to meeting the expectations of a No. 5 overall draft choice and that he’s undeserving of his five-year, $33.75 million contract.
  • Hawk supporters say the linebacker is a steady presence on a sometimes chaotic defense and that his value shouldn’t be judged by raw statistics or the number of SportsCenter highlight-worthy plays he makes.

Both Hawk and Desmond Bishop got hurt on Thanksgiving. D.J. Smith and Robert Francois have filled in admirably and the Packers remain undefeated. Smith has played so well that there has to be some discussions among the Packers coaching staff about Hawk’s role when he returns.

Hawk has 39 solo tackles in 11 games this season, about 3.5 per game. Since taking over for Hawk, Smith has 18 solo tackles in about three games, an average of six per game.

Smith was all over the field on Sunday against the Raiders. He picked off Carson Palmer and made the sort of tackles that get you noticed by the television cameras. In other words, Smith made plays and did things Hawk hasn’t been able to do (unless you consider flicking off your own bench getting noticed).

Smith’s play has fired up the Packers fan base — so much so that many are calling for Hawk’s role to be reduced (see the comments sections here and here).

So what’s the right answer? Should Hawk or Smith get the nod at inside linebacker down the stretch? Only Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers know.

I don’t mean to sit on the fence on this issue. I wish I saw things clearly enough to boldly proclaim that Smith should play, or that Hawk shouldn’t be relegated to backup duty quite yet. But I really think this is another instance where Packers fans need to trust McCarthy and Capers to read their team and do what’s right.

Ted Thompson gave Hawk a lot of money this offseason. The Packers don’t hand out huge contracts to just anybody. They clearly felt that Hawk could play and this defense needed him. I don’t think they’re ready to just replace him with a sixth-round draft pick during one of the most important stretches in franchise history.



Packers vs. Raiders: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 46-16 Win over Oakland

Photo courtesy of Green Bay Press-Gazette

Using five forced turnovers and a balanced offensive attack, the Green Bay Packers (13-0) raced out to a 34-0 lead over the Oakland Raiders (7-6) before finishing their 19th straight win overall, 46-16, Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Fast start

This game, which some thought could be the one where the Packers would fall for the first time in 2011, was over within the first 20 or so minutes. Following an interception from D.J. Smith on the Raiders’ initial possession, Ryan Grant took the Packers’ first play from scrimmage 47 yards for a touchdown. The vision in the hole and burst at the second level reminded some of the running back that racked up consecutive 1,200-yard seasons from 2008-09. The Packers would score on their next four possessions to go up 31-0 with 7:06 left in the first half. Game, set and match. The rest of the game was played on cruise control.

2. Ground game gets going

After a stretch of games where he was either ineffective or invisible, Ryan Grant had his best game of 2011 on Sunday with 85 yards rushing and two scores on just 10 carries. While the interior of the Packers’ line and the Raiders’ 28th ranked run defense were important factors, it has to be encouraging this late in the year that Green Bay’s offense can run the football with some success.

On his long touchdown to kick off the game, Grant set up middle linebacker Rolando McClain to the right in the hole, then burst past the secondary to get into the end zone. It was classic Ryan Grant in both areas. John Kuhn also added 46 yards as the Packers ran for a 136 yards, a number that ties their season-high (San Diego). As the weather turns more winter-like in Wisconsin, the run game will increase in importance. Sunday was a confidence-building effort from that unit.

3. Takin’ it away

While the Packers’ defense gave up north of 350 yards again, this was far from a poor defensive performance. The majority of the yards came when the Raiders were down by four or more scores. The defense again made their living by causing turnovers, which they did a season-high five times. Four more interceptions give the Packers an NFL-leading 27 this season, and a third quarter fumble recovery from Erik Walden resulted in another defensive touchdown. Say what you want about that side of the ball, but this is the winning formula the Packers defense has created for themselves in 2011.