Post – Indy Thoughts on the State of the Packers

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Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews sacks the Colts' Curtis PainterAfter reading a few quick items in he sports pages this morning I’m not sure how much extra insight I’m going to bring to the table regarding the PACKERS win over the COLTS Friday night, but here goes…

What more can a coaching staff hope for in the Pre-Season than a game that goes right down to the wire and requires back-ups and rookies to secure a victory in the clutch? How psychologically rewarding is it for MASON CROSBY to redeem himself from an earlier FG miss with a clutch game-winning kick in the final minute?

I would say I saw two negatives that I am sure MIKE McCARTHY and his staff will be concentrating on in the next two weeks. The first team offense was plagued by some untimely (not that there is any such thing as timely) penalties that hampered several scoring drives. The OL was a bit less than stellar in protecting AARON RODGERS from the COLTS pass-rush… in particular DWIGHT FREENEY.

FREENEY, who is still at the top of his game, made CHAD CLIFTON look like an old man on multiple occasions. CLIFTON should be OK most weeks, since there are not many DEs in the league of FREENEY’s caliber. But I’ll just voice the opinion that for the long term DEREK SHERROD had better make a ton of progress during the 2011 campaign so that he can handle that LT position by the time the 2012 season rolls around.

Though not dominant by any means, I thought the PACKERS RBs looked good overall. RYAN GRANT showed flashes of his old self, and JAMES STARKS was monster as a receiver out of the backfield. ALEX GREEN continues to show some ability, and tons of potential, in limited time as the 3rd RB. BRANDON SAINE continues to show flashes both as a runner and a receiver, but there isn’t room on the roster for 4 RBs this year. Not with the quality logjam at TE. And don’t forget JOHN KUHN will be a FB/RB swing man once again this season.

Overall, the PACKERS OL would seem to be the unit most in need of improvement as camp winds down. This is not unexpected because of their youth and the team’s decision to let DARYN COLLEDGE leave town as a VFA, and hold open auditions for his replacement. My money is still on T.J. LANG, but he shows some of the same inconsistency that plagued COLLEDGE for years.

It is also clear that even though DEREK SHERROD has a world of potential he is not likely to provide a lot of help to the unit in 2011. CHAN GAILEY his coach in Mobile at the Senior Bowl was quick to point out at a January Presser that SHERROD was a work in progress, with definite NFL starting potential down the road.I think he has shown that assessment to be quite accurate with his work thus far in Camp. Let’s just say I hope he is not forced into a starting role this year like BULAGA was last season. He is not as pro ready as BULAGA at this stage of his career.

How about some quick thumbnails on youngsters who got my attention last night…

CHASTIN WEST/WR/RS

continues to show good things out on the grass. He shows flashes both as a receiver and a return man. I think if he could make some progress on coverage units the job of BRETT SWAIN could be in jeopardy. Actually it is already, but the battle continues between those two for the 6th WR slot, if there is one in September. WEST has a definitive edge in the straight-line speed category if he can just translate that into productivity on the field.

RYAN TAYLOR/TE/H-B/FB

As if the TE position group wasn’t crowded enough here comes the 7th Rounder with 3 clutch receptions in the fourth quarter last night including a TD and two-point conversion. He looks like a natural athlete and productive football player… as advertised. His potential and versatility make him a virtual lock for a team like the PACKERS. If he could serve as a TE, FB and H-B, as well as play effectively on Special Teams he could fill the final slot at multiple position groups and force the team to make room for him.

VICTOR SO’OTO/OLB

From the start of Camp this young man has been making plays and opening eyes. He’s strong and athletic and appears to be very versatile. He has begun to show well on Special Teams and is earning a reputation as a difference maker as a position player. He will struggle for a while in pass drops at OLB, but as a pass-rusher and a ball chaser he is the kind of aggressive, attacking player every Defense needs to force the action. He got into the pocket on several occasions last night and forced a fumble for his efforts. I think he has several vet OLBs fighting for their roster lives.

BRANDON SAINE/RB

Most of us thought SAINE was a nice addition to the training camp roster who would provide some depth and speed to the RB group and cover up for nicks and bruises amongst the core group. I’m not saying he’s winning a roster slot, but he is contributing more than was expected to date. He is a smooth runner with the most speed at the position on the current roster. He has also shown excellent hands, and awareness out in space. If he gets cut in the second group don’t be shocked, but I would presume that the PACKERS coaches sees him as someone they want to have on their Practice Squad.

D.J. WILLIAMS/TE

He made a couple of mistakes last night, including a rare dropped ball from HARRELL, but as PHIL SIMMS pointed out he always seems to be open somewhere on the field, having beaten coverage somehow. He has decent speed for his size, normally excellent hands and good run after the catch ability. He got open out in the medium right flank shortly after his drop and was badly overthrown by HARRELL. Some fans seem to be down on him, but I don’t think the staff is disappointed overall in his body of work to date. And like COBB, I think Coach MM goes to sleep some nights with visions of multiple ways to make use of this guy.

Just a quick positional group thought or two for you regarding the crowded TE position. I could see the team keeping 5 guys who currently are listed as TE.

JERMICHAEL FINLEY    The obvious starter and most talented, but a guy I could see them using as the 6th WR in some of their multiple receiver formations.

TOM CRABTREE        The most efficient in-line blocker of the TE corps. He can catch a little but he makes the team as a blocking TE for the Red Zone and running game in general.

ANDREW QUARLESS    Perhaps their best overall TE, who is a decent blocker who should be able to improve that facet of his game. He is a decent receiver who needs to be more consistent. Work habits & attitude will have a lot to do with his future.

RYAN TAYLOR         All the versatility and potential in the world as a virtual newcomer to the TE position. If he could back-up at FB, fill the H-B role and improve his TE skills he could merit a roster spot. CRABTREE beware long term, if this guy develops as a blocker.

D.J. WILLIAMS    He has a chance to fill multiple roles in MIKE McCARTHY’s multiple receiver sets. He could also help himself by improving as a Special Teamer. I can’t believe they want to let go of this player.

That’s a lot of guys to carry as a TE corps, but their ability to fill multiple roles could allow the team to short itself a bit at let’s say the FB and WR positions. This staff, under the TED THOMPSON plan, will work to keep the best 53 players they have as opposed to being slaves to specific position numbers. Heres a possible roster position breakdown:

QB          2

RB/FB    5

WR         5

TE          5

OL          9

ST           3

DL          6

LB          8

DB         10

Just thinking out loud a bit at this point. It is highly likely that over the next two weeks a couple of injuries will help sort through some roster position logjams, for better or worse.

Thanks to our friend Pigskin Paul for this post. Be sure to check his website for more of his Packers, NFL and College Football commentary and analysis.

  • Pete Kliman

    I think Lang will eventually improve because he hasn’t played guard that long. However,the poor protection Rogers has been getting is scary. Hopefully it’s the result of running the no huddle. I’m afraid we’re stuck with Bush because House has been injured.If we keep Harrell on the practice squad we’ll lose him,and that can’t happen because he’s found his niche in this offense. The storm just passed through and it wasn’t as bad as advertised .Hope the same for you.

    • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

      Yep – looks like the worst is over. Nothing too bad here – just a lot of rain. I’m sure some of the local streams will spill over tonight.

  • Andy

    I agree with most of your assessments. I was a bit in shock when TT took yet another tight end in the 7th round, but Ryan Taylor appears to be a steal. Of the 5 tight ends, if one had to go, who gets cut??? I also came away from the last game impressed with So’oto and hope he makes the team, especially if they IR Zombo.

    As for your final 53, the only thing I’d worry about is 9 OL it’ll be a miracle is Clifton plays 19 games (counting playoffs and Super Bowl victory). Also, if they cut Graham Harrell, he’ll get snatched up on the first day. I would also hate to lose Chastin West, but with how well Thompson drafts receivers, who knows who he’ll bring in next year. Some tough choices ahead for the Pack.

  • Ron LC

    It has now reached the point of need vs. want. As you point out, Al, the Oline is the area of greatest concern. I worry that Clifton will need, at the very best, regular periods where he would need to sit and recover for a while. Sherrod is the obvious player to fit that task. However, he spent too much time playing at the LG spot, and as a result, he is way behind in development. Philbin’s goal to reduce sacks to the low 20’s is a long shot at this point. 4 or 5 sacks in each pre-seaon game is not where they need to be. Next week won’t mean much, but I think they might want to consider keeping the #1 Oline unit on the field longer to get some extra reps. They need it. Also with questions gallore about the quality of depth they might want to watch the cuts of other teams next week.

    I’m thinking Taylor could pick up Crabtree’s role and make the 53.

    West is showing himself well as a ST contributor as well as a WR. He has good Football instincts. Keep him on the 53.

    The rest is a lot of plus/minus stuff for the coaches to figure out.

  • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

    Sorry folks, this was a post from Pigskin Paul. I initially neglected to set it up properly as his. That has been corrected.

    • Ron LC

      How’s the weather Al?

      • http://allgbp.com Jersey Al

        beautiful sunny day now. I’m about 15 miles inland from NYC. no major problems here.

  • Ron LC

    An additional tidbit Paul! Havner and Swain were released today. Also a R Tackle I don’t know. West and Taylor are looking like better bets.

  • aaronqb

    I’m not sure they have space on the roster for Crabtree. The other 4 TEs are more valuable. Taylor is a lock at this point – brings a lot to the table.

    No way Harrell is released. I think it’s more likely that Flynn is traded than it is that Harrell is released.

    Clifton’s backup will be Newhouse this year … not Sherrod. Sherrod’s goal should be to improve at LT and get activated a few times for the season. He will be fine, but not for 2011.

    I’m having trouble justifying Driver on the 53-man. He is at best the 4th receiver on the team (behind Jennings, Nelson, and Cobb) and does not play special teams. I’d rather the upside of West or Gurley at this point. And it seems like the team would be challenged to use 6 roster spots on wide receivers.

    • Tarynfor 12

      A high number of thumbs down is automatic when you say ANYTHING bad about DD.Too much emotion involved and fear of moving on from some.
      I wouldn’t cut DD but I sure as heck wouldn’t have in as a starting 3.He is a 3-5 yd possession guy and can’t get the YAC.The defensive argument will be the catch and run against SF last year,but one catch like that a year isn’t enough.

  • Jay

    Even if we kept 9 OL, wouldn’t that 9th guy usually be inactive? I’m just wondering if it wouldn’t be a better use of space to have 8 OL but have maybe 2 OL on the practice squad. To my mind if it comes down to Schlauderaff vs. West/Crabtree/ for the final spot, Schlauderaff loses even though he’s at a thinner position. If Schlauderaff (or someone else) is on the practice squad though, he could get called up for the next week should an injury happen. Just a thought.

  • PackEyedOptimist

    Chas. West only makes the 53 if they cut Driver, or Jennings, Nelson, Jones,or Cobb is lost to injury before the final cut. West still has PS available, and that’s where he’lll go. I think Gurley has a better shot at te 53 because he’s an experienced ST player who has been good at blocking punts. Those skills are more important than West’s “Cobb redundancy.” I think they will keep all 5 TEs and cut Q Johnson or PSquad Schlauderaff. Also: I don’t think Finley would be effective in a “6 WR set”… (No QB makes it a little weak…) ;-D

  • Ed Schoenfeld

    Thanks for a great article, Paul. There sure are some interesting choices ahead for the Pack!

    I have to agree with the posters who say we keep 3 QB — there is no way Harrell survives to get to the PS. So that really limits what we can do at the other positions. Seems like its the 5th TE (Crabtree) vs. the 2nd Fullback (Quinn Johnson) vs the 6th WR (West or Gurley) vs. the 10th OL (D-Smith or Schlauderaff — the other is the 9th guy), vs the 10th DB (Underwood, Pat Lee or Gordy — seems like 1 of those guys make it as the #9 as well). Good problems to have.

    On the OL I want to use this post to give prop to Marshall Newhouse. In a different thread, I doubted he would be any good, and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.

    • http://PigskinPaul.com Pigskin Paul

      I agree with the NEWHOUSE love. He slimmed down, muscled up and looks like the real deal at either Ot or OG. He could push for serious playing time if someone gets hurt.
      I am still leaning toward 2 QBs. It is tough to pick up a guy like HARRELL @ the last roster cut. All the PACK probably needs to do is pay him ore than the PS minimum and he’ll stick around this season to learn from McCARTHY.

  • Ron LC

    Leftwich (Steelers) and Pennington (Dolpins) out for the season. Packers will not be able to slide a QB to the pracice squad. Whoever they release will be gone.

  • homerunsimpson

    something that would make a lot of sense for the pack to do is keep the TEs, and then cut quinn johnson. if kuhn goes down, switch one of the TEs to fullback. got too much talent at that position to potentially lose someone on the ps. also if Quarless or Taylor improve at blocking, crabtree becomes expendable

  • Shavager

    I’m all for keeping Crabtree as a TE,FB, he can take Johnson’s FB spot. I see Lee, Underwood as possible casualties in next cut. Put Saine on PS, especially as an injury replacement if Grant, Starks goes down. Ryan Taylor looks like a keeper at TE, if blocking improves he becomes more valuable than Quarless or maybe Crabtree. Problem with losing Quarless is if Finley can’t be re-signed, Quarless becomes the potential starter. Packers may have to address D-line or O-line problems during season, means cut in roster unless a player or two is IR’ed.