Can Bishop, Peprah and Shields Build on Their 2010 Seasons?
The Green Bay Packers allowed the second fewest points in the NFL last season mainly because Clay Matthews became one of the best pass rushers in the league, BJ Raji held down the middle of the line, Tramon Williams emerged as a high-end cornerback and players like Charles Woodson, Nick Collins and Cullen Jenkins were their usual outstanding selves.
But to go from good to great, a team needs more than just its most talented and proven players making big plays. It needs under-the-radar guys to step up and not only provide depth, but also chip in with a big play every now and then. The Packers defense got just that last season from Desmond Bishop, Charlie Peprah and Sam Shields.
Can they do it again in 2011?
2010 Expectations: Talented backup, but not quite good enough to start.
2010 Reality: Got his chance to start and proved he is more than capable.
2010 Highlight: Pick-six against Brett Favre in week seven.
Outlook: If there was a defensive player of the year award for the preseason, Bishop would probably have a few of them by now. Every preseason Bishop flies around the field and looks like the second-coming of Ray Lewis. Then the regular season starts andÂ he gets stuck in the linebacker logjam.
Last season that logjam broke up because of injuries and Bishop got his chance. While he probably wonâ€™t become the regular season version of Ray Lewis, I expect Bishop to officially establish himselfÂ as a good player instead of a talented wild card.
And the Packers are going to need him. Dom Capers likes to mix and matchÂ his personnell packages and Bishop will be needed to hold together many of them.
2010 Expectations: If Peprah is on the field, the Packers are either losing or winning by several touchdowns late in the game.
2010 Reality: Took over after Morgan Burnett went down and played better than a career backup should play.
2010 Highlight: Key interception against the Bears in season finale.
Outlook: Of the three players we are reviewing, Peprah is probably the one most people would select to regress. It wouldnâ€™t surprise me if Peprah goes back to being Peprah, but there are a few reasons why he might continue to surprise:
- Burnett will push him. Packers coaches like Burnett and will probably give him every opportunity to win his starting job back. Expect Peprah to put up a fight and give coaches a reason to keep him on the field.
- Peprah doesnâ€™t need to be a star. With Woodson, Williams, Collins and Shields, the Packers have plenty of playmakers in their secondary. Peprah doesnâ€™t need to be spectacular, just follow his assignments and make the plays a decent NFL safety should make.
- Lack of depth at safety. The Packers are not exactly overflowing with an abundance of talent at the safety position. Even if he loses the starting job to Burnett, Peprah likely will get another crack at some point during the season.
2010 Expectations: Unknown guy who could run really fast and started as the nickel backÂ by default.
2010 Reality: Occasionally stole the spotlight from his more established teammates in the secondary.
2010 Highlight: Game-clinching interception against the Bears in the NFC Championship.
Outlook: Iâ€™ve been trying to talk myself into tempering expectations for Shields, but itâ€™s tough. Itâ€™s obvious that heâ€™s super talented and you want to assume that with another season under Capers and alongside Woodson and company, heâ€™ll only get better.
Thatâ€™s the thing with this Packers team. So many players hadÂ impressive seasons in 2010 and most of them were young. Everyoneâ€™s hopes are sky high for 2011. People are expecting all of the Packers young talent to automatically get even better.
That very well may end up being the case. But it also might end up being the case that some young and talented players come back down to earth a bit. When training camp starts, we will get a better idea which players will continue their ascent and which may hit a bump in the road.
Iâ€™m trying to convince myself that Shields will hit one of those bumps, but I canâ€™t do it. Heâ€™s been too impressive thus far.
If Bishop, Peprah and Shields take another step in the right direction this season, and if players like Mike Neal and Frank Zombo ascend to surprising young playmaker status, this defense will be a treat to watch. Capers is probably sitting in his car just waiting for the lockout to officially end so he can speed to Green Bay and start scheming.
And the players are probably just as excited.â€”â€”â€”â€”â€”â€”