29

March

Cory’s Corner: Packers are undervaluing the center position

Frank Winters was Brett Favre's starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Frank Winters was Brett Favre’s starting center for 10 seasons and the two shared an inseparable bond.

Just how important is the quarterback-center battery in the NFL?

Apparently, it’s not that overly important to the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is about to embark on his fourth different starting center to begin the season.

Think about that for a second.

Rodgers is the best quarterback on the planet. Amazingly, he has been able to average 31 touchdowns a season with a 58-29 record in six seasons. And he’s done it despite playing with a revolving door at the leadership position of the offensive line.

In 16 years with the Packers, Brett Favre had five different centers start the majority of games. But that counts James Campen for one season in 1992 and the person nobody remembers — Grey Ruegamer in 2004.

Favre’s mainstay was Frank Winters. “Bag of Doughnuts” and Favre were teammates for 11 seasons and were able to grow up together and make each other better.

Rodgers hasn’t had that yet. Right when Rodgers and Scott Wells were beginning to form a cohesive bond, the Packers didn’t bring him back after four years of working as the quarterback-center battery and thus, the process started all over again.

The next person to come on down is JC Tretter. Last year’s fourth round draft pick hasn’t started a game in the NFL but the Packers are handing him a shot to ignite one of the most dynamic offenses in the league with each snap.

Centers aren’t exactly a glory position. No kid gazes into the mirror and dreams of one day making a perfect shotgun snap to his quarterback before quickly reasserting himself as a pass blocker. Heck, Tretter was a quarterback, running back and wideout in high school.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

JC Tretter is looking to become the fourth starting center to begin the season for the Packers since 2008.

But that doesn’t mean the job of a center should be understated. While left tackles get the money for protecting the quarterback’s blind side, it’s the center that makes the coverage adjustments. A center is the quarterback of the offensive line.

So when Rodgers comes back to camp not knowing much about his next center, he needs to spend time getting to know how things will work. If you’re Rodgers, you don’t want to learn in Week 3 that your center has a problem with a quick snap count or a pronounced loud bark in order to draw a defense offsides.

4

March

Cory’s Corner: Raji and Shields aren’t worth worrying over

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

B.J. Raji was not franchise or transition tagged by the Packers.

There is no reason to worry about the Packers not tagging anyone with a franchise or transition tag.

I can totally understand not tagging B.J. Raji. Here’s a guy that scoffed at $8 million and if the Packers applied the franchise tag it would’ve cost them $9.654 million and $8.061 million if they used the transition tag. The Packers aren’t going to spend that kind of cash on a guy that appeared disinterested last year — which happened to also be a contract year.

Raji, while only 27, will likely be paid a king’s ransom but will never live up to his 2010 season in which he had 6½ sacks and gave us his own rendition of twerking in the NFC Championship at Chicago.

The same goes for Shields. The Packers’ secondary has been in shambles ever since Charles Woodson lost his ability to cover at a premium level. That unit has made subpar passers like Colin Kaepernick look like Peyton Manning and has put more pressure on the front seven to generate a pass rush.

Shields would be owed $11.834 million if he were franchised and $10.081 if the fourth-year cornerback were transition tagged. Another twist in this whole equation is that Shields’ agent is Drew Rosenhaus, the antichrist for front office pro teams. Rosenhaus is the guy that tells his clients to hold out while asking for more money and a long-term deal.

The 26-year-old Shields has blossomed into a reliable corner. I wouldn’t say he’s the shutdown corner the Packers covet and need for a division loaded with guys like Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery but he is solid. ProFootballFocus.com has Shields as the 52nd best corner — 12 spots below teammate Micah Hyde.

The Packers have proven that they are unwilling to overpay just to keep a veteran. That was proven when the Packers let go of center Scott Wells in 2011 — which happened to be the same year he was named a Pro Bowler for the first time.

Many people see that the Packers have the sixth-most cap space with $34,197,930 and wonder why none of that is getting used. Ted Thompson knows that Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb must be taken care of after this season and he still may sign a defensive free agent.

21

June

Who’s Next on the Packers’ Chopping Block?

tramon-picksix-atlanta

Could Tramon Williams fall victim to Ted Thompson’s axe before next season?

Packers fans have seen a lot of big names and sentimental favorites either cut or allowed to sign elsewhere in free agency over the last two seasons.

The most recent casualty was Desmond Bishop. The inside linebacker’s exit came after guys like Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, Tom Crabtree and Scott Wells were given their walking papers or not resigned in the last two offseasons.

Of course, losing name players always gets a certain segment of Packers fans riled up. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of players cut or not resigned by Packers GM Ted Thompson have gone on to do very little once they’re picked up by another team. The initial shock of losing a player who fans have formed some type of connection with usually causes some sort of backlash.

So, who’s next? Which one of our beloved Packers will be axed by the evil Thompson or not resigned because Packers salary cap whiz Russ Ball says, “Screw the fans! This guy isn’t worthy half of what he’s asking!”

Here are some possible candidates (I tried to limit it to players that the fans generally like. Hence, Jermichael Finley was not included):

CB Tramon Williams
Throwing Williams’ name out there makes me feel like Skip Bayless, but consider: 1) Williams will be 31 next season; 2) He’s due to make $6.9 million in 2014; 3) He hasn’t been able to repeat the success he had in 2010; 4) The Packers have a lot of young talent in the secondary; 5) He’s been bothered by a bum shoulder going on two years now. Kind of sounds like a prime candidate to fall victim to Thompson’s axe, doesn’t it?

FB John Kuhn
If the Packers had any sort of confidence in the pass-blocking ability of the running backs currently on the roster, I think they would wave bye-bye to Kuhn and his $1.8 million salary today. Packers fans boo Kuhn whenever he touches the ball, anyway, so maybe they wouldn’t be too upset about this. Wait…oh, they’re saying “Kuuuuuuhn!” Never mind, fans would be pissed. But Kuhn isn’t going anywhere unless one of the young backs shows the immediate ability to read blitzes and be a shut-down pass blocker.

31

May

Predicting Packers Butt Height

“There’s two main components that a center needs to have, and it’s not quickness or agility or snapping or anything. It’s two things: One, he has to have a good height, and I’m talking about where his butt rests. It can’t be too low because I don’t wanna get deep in that stance and it can’t be too high so I feel like I’m standing up. It’s gotta be just right. He’s got that.  It’s a feel. My center in college was about my height and he’s real low in his stance. So it made me have to kinda duck down a little bit. It’s hard to get out of center. Scott Wells — my previous center — [and] Jeff Saturday: great height. Great butt height.  And the second is most important, and that’s sweating. How much do they sweat? The worst thing that you can have is third, fourth quarter on an October day where it’s 65, 70 degrees and he’s sweating through his pants. Because that is not a situation you wanna be in. You gotta change pants at halftime. Our backup center — great guy — Evan Dietrich-Smith, he has major sweat issues. And when you get that ball snapped up and there’s a lot of sweat that just splashes all over you and on your hands and the ball — it’s not a good situation. So he actually has changed at halftime before. So those are the two things you look for: butt height and sweating. Jeff’s doing really well in both categories. … Low sweat ratio and solid butt height.” – Aaron Rodgers

Ah, classic Aaron Rodgers; but ironically Rodgers’ observations about centers is one of the more in-depth analysis on what it really takes to be a center in the NFL out there right now.  Fans and the media typically don’t pay much attention to offensive linemen in general, but when they do they gravitate towards the all important left tackle position.  Right tackle and guard are gaining a little steam in terms of importance (just look at how many of them were drafted this year in the 1st round), but center still remains the forgotten position.  Outside of being able to snap a ball, what makes a good center?

27

December

Pro Bowl Rosters Set: Rodgers, Matthews, Saturday Will Represent Packers

Rodgers and Matthews at Super Bowl XLV

Rodgers and Matthews are becoming Pro Bowl perennials. Rodgers will start for the NFC

The NFL Pro Bowl rosters were announced on December 26th and among them were three Green Bay Packers who were voted in outright.  Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and center Jeff Saturday will represent the Packers at this year’s contest.  Here is a look at each and what got them here.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers

Aaron Rodgers is having yet another phenomenal season.  He is obviously the face of the team and their fate rests squarely on his shoulders.

A look at the numbers tells us all that we need to know about why Rodgers will be the NFC’s starting quarterback in this year’s Pro Bowl:  3930 yards, 67% completion percentage, 35 touchdowns (just eight interceptions) and a quarterback rating of 106.2.  And those are Rodgers’ average numbers over the course of his career as a starter.

Just when it seems that there has to be some sort of drop-off in Rodgers’ play, he comes out and puts up more great numbers and the Packers, again, find themselves strong contenders to reach another Super Bowl.  Despite the issues that the team has had with the offensive line and in pass protection, Rodgers has continued to find ways to make plays and win games for this team.  A very well deserved Pro Bowl start for #12.

Linebacker Clay Matthews III

Matthews is having another stellar season.  He has 12 sacks and needs just one and a half more to tie his career high set back in 2010.  After a bit of a dropoff last season, Matthews has re-emerged as the pass rushing threat that was so key in Green Bay’s success during their Super Bowl season.  That he has posted those numbers despite missing four games is even more noteworthy.

Matthews just continues to play with such a high motor and has elevated his run defending skills.  He is the epitome of what describes a true “difference maker”.  When he was out the Green Bay pass rush took a major step back and struggled at times.

He seems to be fully back and healthy from the hamstring injury that forced him out earlier this season and the Packers will need Matthews at 100% for the postseason push.

13

July

NFC North Sending Sending Three Teams to the Playoffs This Season?

The NFC North is set to be one of the NFL’s toughest divisions during the 2012-13 season, despite being home to the lonely Minnesota Vikings. The Packers are the reigning kings, but the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are certainly formidable foes.

With so much talent in the division, there is a good chance the North could see three playoffs with the Packers, Bears and Lions continuing their season past the first weekend in January.

Green Bay Packers
The Packers aren’t only favorites to win the division, but likely the conference and possibly even the Super Bowl. Dominating their way through the regular season last year, minus a Kansas City hiccup, the Packers were able to bring back the majority to key contributors.

The team lost center Scott Wells via free agency and cut Chad Clifton due to financial reasons, but replaced Wells with veteran Jeff Saturday. Clifton had fallen out of rotation due to his back troubles.

The Packers didn’t lose much in terms of personnel and added reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball via free agency and the draft. Key draft picks Nick Perry, Jerel Worthy and Casey Hayward as well as free agent signing Anthony Hargrove (after his suspension) and many others will have opportunities to not only make the team but improve the defense.

After finishing 15-1 and sweeping the division last season, the Packers should be even better in 2012.

Detroit Lions
Following their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, the Lions will look to get back into the postseason rather than start a new streak of missing out. The Lions are filled with talent on both sides of the ball.

Wide receiver Titus Young is a player to watch while defensives focus their attention on stopping Calvin Johnson. With good health, Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best could provide more stability for the Lions offense in terms of a running game. With strong cores on both sides of the ball and even more young talent, the Lions are in good shape.

This offseason, the biggest and most frequent news out of Detroit has been the legal issues hanging over the team’s players. Leshoure and Nick Fairley have seen their names pop up in legal mess. In addition to the off-field issues Ndamukong Suh has had his separate issues on field.

13

April

Packers 2012 Offensive Line Scenarios

Packers offensive tackle Derek Sherrod

2012 is a big season for Packers T Derek Sherrod

Injuries to Chad Clifton, Josh Sitton and Bryan Bulaga meant that the Packers offensive line never really gelled last season. Guys like Marshall Newhouse and Evan Dietrich-Smith did a decent enough job filling in, but the line never got rolling like I thought it would.

This might be a little tricky to attempt before the draft, but let’s take a look at several offensive line scenarios for the 2012 season. If/when injuries hit, what are the Packers options and potential lineups up front?

Scenario 1
LT Chad Clifton, LG T.J. Lang, C Jeff Saturday, RG Josh Sitton, RT Bryan Bulaga.

This is the ideal scenario. In a perfect world, Clifton comes back, he’s healthy and productive, and the Packers trot out the same five guys every week. We can dream, right?

Scenario 2
LT Derek Sherrod, LG Lang, C Saturday, RG Sitton, RT Bulaga

Maybe Clifton gets cut or goes down early in the season and the Packers have to once again fill a hole at left tackle. If that happens, the ideal situation is for Sherrod to come back from his broken leg and step right in, showing improvement from his rookie season and becoming the left tackle of the future. Bulaga would stay at right tackle and the future would bright. If only it was that easy…

Scenario 3
LT Bulaga, LG Lang, C Saturday, RG Sitton, RT Newhouse

Clifton is cut or hurt and Sherrod isn’t ready to start. That makes Bulaga the major chess piece in this scenario. Do you move him from the right side over to Aaron Rodgers’ blind side on the left? I would. Newhouse was adequate on the left side in 2011, but I’m confident that Bulaga would have no trouble adjusting and would be much better than adequate. On a team with Super Bowl aspirations, adequate just isn’t good enough.

Scenario 4
LT Newhouse/Sherrod, LG Lang, C Saturday, RG Sitton, RT Bulaga

If Clifton makes the team, but gets hurt during the season, I’d be fine with keeping Bulaga on the right side. There’s no need to start playing musical chairs during the season unless absolutely necessary. But what if it is absolutely necessary?

Scenario 5
LT Lang LG Evan Dietrich-Smith/Ray Dominguez/??? C Saturday RG Sitton RT Bulaga