Can Williams, Shields and Raji Repeat their 2010 Season for the Packers?

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Can Williams become a franchise cornerstone?

If the NFL ever gets around to playing football again, it seems like most followers of the Green Bay Packers will be concerned with two things: The Packers lack of established depth on the defensive line (assuming Cullen Jenkins leaves) and the absence of another outside pass rusher to complement Clay Matthews.

I’m not too worried about either of these things. Ted Thompson has proven he’s capable of finding depth if needed. And adding a second outside pass-rusher seems like more of a luxury than a need. How many teams have two big-time outside pass rushers? Not many. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get another one if you can, but the Packers should be fine with Matthews on one side and a healthy competition to win the job on the other side.

The main thing I’m worried about are guys like Tramon Williams, Sam Shields and BJ Raji coming back down to earth. All three of these guys played out of their minds last season. All three also are very talented. It’s not a total surprise that this trio played as well as it did, but it is fair to say not many expected  them to shine like they did.

There’s no quantitative analysis or any obvious signs that any of these players will regress. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if all three got even better. But when people ask what concerns me about the Packers in 2011, I always come back to the regression angle. A lot of players — a lot of previously unproven players — had great seasons in 2010. Can we expect a repeat in 2011?

Is it reasonable to expect Williams to turn in another pro-bowl caliber season? Is it realistic to expect Shields to again be one of the most underrated third cornerbacks in the league? Can we count on Raji to again anchor the interior defensive line with minimal help?

These are young players. And even though they grew up a lot last year, it’s not a given that they will continue to progress or maintain their high level of play established in the breakout seasons.

Obviously, to win the Super Bowl a team needs a lot of talent. It also needs a fair share of good fortune. Having three young players like Williams, Shields and Raji put together standout seasons at the same time is a testament to the Packers coaching staff and Thompson’s eye for talent. It’s also a sign that the football gods were rewarding the Packers with a little bit of good fortune (it’s only fair after the same god’s punished the Packers with all those early injuries).

Next season will tell us a lot about Williams, Shields, Raji and the future of the Packers. Players like Matthews, Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings, Josh Sitton and Ryan Pickett have put together multiple good seasons and proven themselves as players you can build a team around.

If Williams, Shields and Raji progress and also establish themselves as franchise cornerstones, the Packers will be dangerous for a very long time. They will be scary good. If they come back to earth a bit, the Packers will still be good, but probably not scary good.

When the NFL decides to leave the courtroom and return to the playing field, I’d much rather have the Packers be scary good.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • Taryn

    By all accounts and evidence being shown and seen in Williams time in GB,I cannot help but feel he knew he was a talent and would succeed and his unselfish signing of a new contract for far less than he would get now and still play great(yes great)leads me to believe that barring the unforeseen injury,he will continue his huge efforts but we should also expect the occasional misstep.Although the possible holdout option is always in play after his performance last year,but that may become more real after another season as last years.

    Shields is still a learning curve and having a good year,he needs to play with the same endeavor to honestly,create a more absolute to getting a good contract and secure a spot of his own.

    Raji IMO,can’t help but play equal to or better than previously.Given his progress and command,he is self made and will not allow himself to fail.If he were to fall or fail,it would be more of an scheme-coaching point,than from inside him or his ability.

    With that said,if the amount of injuries were to re-occur,I will not be one of those to expect a similar outcome as a whole or individually.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      My impression is that Tramon is good a person (son, husband, father) as he is a player. No evidence so far of ego gone wild.

      Shields – I still can’t really process what he accomplished at the professional level with so little experience.

      Raji will continue his ascent to best nose tackle in the league.

      • Taryn

        No ego gone wild is true Al,but if his play dictates the money of Revis,Asomag… one can’t blame him if forced too.

        • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

          I have no problem with a player who deserves it trying to get all he can. The game destroys a lot of these guys physically, so they need to get whatever they can whenever they can.

  • Oppy

    Williams and Raji are both demonstrating an upward trend in their playing prowess. I have no worries with either of them, particularly Williams, who has been climbing the ladder for many seasons now.

    Only Shields would worry me, as we’ve only had one season to observe his play. That said, Shields should have a higher ceiling at this point relative to last year’s play than either Raji or Williams, from the standpoint that he’s new to the position he plays. I also think having Devon House to help push Shields further is nothing but a good thing.

    I think Williams is just starting to peak, Raji just gave us a glimpse of what’s to come (get his snap count down to 55-60% and he’ll be all-pro), and Shields hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.

    I’m more worried about fall-off from the vets than the occasional hiccup or back pedal from out young guys at this point. The more I think about the state of the team, the more I think the window of opportunity is there for 3-5 years of outright dominance. Scary.

    • Bearmeat

      Oppy how in the world will Trgovac get Raji’s snaps down to 60%? The depth at DL is going to be on par at best with what we had last year. (Assuming Cullen is gone). I’d say possibly worse. Pick/Green are a year older. Wilson and Guy/Wynn will be a year better, and Neal should get better too if he stays healthy….

      Again, I’m worried about teams running all over us next year.

      • Oppy

        CJ Wilson is improving, and could very well be able to step in at DE on a more regular basis, if not start if need be.. Mike Neal should be a starting DE next season.

        Either of these situations helps free up Ryan Pickett and Howard Green. Both of these gentlemen are more than capable of playing NT- Remember, Pickett did so full time in 2009, and at a high level to boot.

        That equals getting Raji a breather when needed.

        No reason to think that Lawrence Guy won’t get at least as many snaps as CJ Wilson did last year. I expect to see him used as an occasional body in base to sub a DE, and a bit more frequently as an interior rusher when we play 4 down nickle packages. Probably later in the year, mind you- much like CJ Wilson last season.

        Don’t forget there’s the chance that Jay Ross gets promoted to the active roster if he develops or the need arises, as well.

        DEs: Pickett/Neal/Wilson/Green, Perhaps mid to late season Guy, Harrell, Ross… and Jenkins isn’t gone yet.

        NTs: Raji/Pickett/Green all fit the bill, with Pickett able to be a full time, starting caliber NT if need arises.

        Players capable of playing interior DT in sub: Neal/Guy/Wilson/Green/Pickett, Wynn as a interior pass rush specialist.

        I think the lack of D-line depth is being crazy over-blown by Pack fans.

        The loss of Jolly isn’t new; we lost him last year. We didn’t have anywhere near a full season of Jenkins last season, he missed games, played limited snaps in others, and in other games was average due to his clubbed hand.

        Nobody wants to lose Cullen Jenkins and the flexibility he offers Capers (I think Guy could eventually offer some of that flexibility down the road, for the record) . But people are freaking out about our D-line depth on a scale that doesn’t quite align with the reality, IMO.

        I think a alot of Packers fans haven’t quite made the switch in their heads that we’re a multiple front/ 3-4 base defense, not the Bates match scheme 4-3 front of old anymore.

        • Bearmeat

          What you are saying makes some sense – but I’m a believer in “the more quality bigs you have the better.” Including Pick and Green at both DE and NT isn’t depth – that’s multitasking. IF one were to go down we’re in trouble.

  • chris k

    I don’t see much falloff for any players other than the first year guys. We can easily pick up where we left off kind of deal if the NFL is late to agree and and a shortened seasoned occurs. In fact, one would argue the Packers may be one of the most prepared teams for this with 85- 90% of their Roster returning and so many learning first hand last year with all of our injuries..
    With that said, I do believe the Rookies going into their second year like CB-Shields, OLB-Zombo, OLB-Walden, DE-Wilson, RT-Baluga, LT-Newhouse, C-McDonald, TE-Quarless, and TE-Crabtree will take a hit in their learning curve for the simple fact there’s no way they were installed into/learned 100% of the offense and defense in one season and OTA’s & Training Camp is the way that this gets taught. But lets not forget that every other team in the league has this same exact issue as we do. Those players will mature and better their craft but their roles will not expand greatly.
    The one’s to whom this is really unfair to is the New Rookies that we just drafted… They’re going to have an extremely tough time adjusting to a system they’ve never been in with almost no time to prepare. I don’t believe this year will be like last b/c I can’t see any rookies starting this upcoming year for us other than Cobb on K&P returning duties, there’s just not enough cram time for learning the postion. I’m very thankful that we have such a deep roster(Ted) but I don’t see a situation where any of our 6th & 7th rounders make the squad this year other than maybe DE-L.Guy who is at a position thats not strong. The rest are gonna be practice squad guys. It’ll definetely be interesting to see how McCarthy schedules our installs&training camp b/c there will be changes…

    Another interesting fact that I’m sure you’re aware of is Superbowl teams often have a tough road returning to the playoffs the next year. There’s many reasons but some of the bigger being: A HUGE target on their backs by every opposing team (and dont kid yourself that does make teams prepare harder) & becoming complacent and not remembering what habits got you there. I think that this team is very different though as the backups want to play and did last year! There sure is alot of talent on this 2011 team, I cannot remember such a young team that has had so much talent, it’s got me hyped about next season!!!

    GO PACK GO!!! I see a 13-3 season with homefield advantage throughout and Arod the league MVP!!! And Clay will not be runner-up but WILL get Def. MVP baby!!!

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Love your enthusiasm. I also love the idea of home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Packers fans and the city of Green Bay deserve some home playoff games.

  • Michalske

    Tramon Williams is 28 and has 5 years in the league. Last season was most likely a career year for him, one he will not match statistically. That said, there is no particular reason for him to decline very much, he plays a position where learned skills can compensate for physical decline into his 30’s. His bigger problem statistically will be that opponents will avoid throwing to his man, but that is OK from a team perspective. Bishop, Hawk, Collins, Jennings and Nelson are all in a similar situation.

    Raji and Shields are still on the upswing and should peak in the next year or two. So are Matthews, Finley, Sitton, and Rodgers.

    It’s true that the draft picks and last season’s rookies will be set back a little by missing the off season, but notice that many of the positions involved (OT, returner, RB, 3-4 DL) are ones where the right college players often step into the pros without missing a beat.

    The entire rest of the NFL should be very afraid, and I will be exceedingly POd if the season fails due to this labor garbage. This edition of the Packers peaks over the next two seasons, and if Rodgers stays healthy will compete for championships another 4-5 years beyond that.

    This is a GREAT time to be a Packer fan.

    • Lucas

      But who will opposing teams target? Shields? Woodson? We know they better do it quickly with the Raji, Neal, and…well somebody will step up. Maybe Matthews will finally come into his own and teams will start double and triple teaming him (sarcasm). The beauty of Dom’s D. is how it all works together. My bigger concern is the run D. Teams will be reluctant to throw. Perhaps a season starting with Bishop and Hawk will deter them from doing anything.

  • Curley2808

    I’m not too worried how anyone will play this year. Last season showed that with rare exception NO one is irreplaceable (I’m sure even A-rod took notice of how well Flynn played.) Plus, I’m sure they all know Packers, Inc. won’t hesitate to trim the more troublesome or less skillful of them just as they’re not afraid to reward the better ones. The roster is crowded with impact players that would have no problem getting picked up by other teams, the “tough” part of TT/MM’s job will be having to let talent go. The harder that job gets, the better the Packers become. The coaching, scouting, and personnel departments of the GBP’s are to be envied. As long as we’re in the hands of the people who currently built this team we’ll be top level contenders (scary good.) Thank you Bob Harlan.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Thank you Bob Harlan is right…

  • Deek

    The problem I see for the continuity of the 2011
    Packers, is Finley. To me he’s a square plug trying to fit into a round hole. He’s very good but I see him as too full of himself.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      there’s a long list of great NFL players that are too full of themselves. Does that mean you wouldn’t take them on your team? Of course not.

  • BubbaOne

    Two players who were arguably the Defensive Co-MVP’s of SB 45 should be included in this conversation; Charlie Peprah and Desmond Bishop. After having breakout seasons how will they respond this year.
    Peprah’s chief competition is a rookie coming off major knee surgery (Morgan Burnett), followed by Anthony Smith and Jarrett Bush. If Nick Barnett (salary, attitude) and Brandon Chillar (3 shoulder surgeries) are let go, I don’t even know who Bishop’s backup is…Francois?

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Excellent point, Bubba. Especially Bishop. Peprah I believe will be the prime sub at both safety positions.

      • Adam Czech

        Completely forgot about Bishop. He got paid, he likely has the starting job, now he needs to establish himself.

  • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

    I don’t quite understand all the concern about Jermichael Finley’s “attitude.” Is he getting busted for drug posession? Is he getting arrested with hookers? Is he getting DUIs? Is he in jail for gun possession? So he says what’s on his mind? Is that so bad?

    • Curley2808

      I think he’s a slightly squeaky wheel is all. Packer players don’t usually talk about how good they are, and he does. As long as he can stay on the field to back that attitude up without knocking anyone else, great. He should be able to do his thing this year and we’ll see how it goes. The veteran leadership will keep his ego within the boundary’s of whats acceptable (I hope.)

      • Adam Czech

        Finley is fine. If he played in NY, Chicago or a larger media market, nobody would question his “attitude.”

    • BubbaOne

      J-AL, it seems Packer fans (and it’s probably true w/ every team) aren’t happy unless they have a whipping boy. Barnett and Finley seem to be “dueling” it out to be Bush’s replacement, now that Bush is playing at a ST Pro Bowl level and wasn’t a total liability when called on to play D. Fans didn’t have a problem w/ Barnett when he was leading the team in tackles or w/ Finley when he was producing on the field.
      Maybe they have to use it to justify in their minds if we don’t retain either of them. I’ll now take down my psychologist shingle.

      On the topic of Peprah: Yes, it’s reported the S job is Burnett’s to lose. BUT between his injury, inexperience, and Collins being banged up last season, Peprah needs to continue the strides he made last year.