The 2014 offseason was a busy time for the Packers, with 19 players going into free agency, some career ending injuries, and a few surprise free agent signings. Now that the offseason is over and training camp has begun, I will rank the top 10 offseason moves made by the Packers (and some they didn’t make).
(10) Not re-signing Marshall Newhouse-
Marshall Newhouse is a funny and nice guy, but those attributes don’t help block defensive ends – footwork and toughness do. Unfortunately, he has neither of those attributes. When he was on the field, it was basically like having four offensive linemen instead of five. Pro Football Focus graded him at -56.00 over his four year career in Green Bay. He never seemed to progress as a player and now the Bengals have him. Maybe their coaches can get something out of him, because the Packers coaches sure couldn’t.
(9) Re-signing Sam Shields-
I’m not the biggest fan of Sam Shields, because his footwork gets him into trouble sometimes, but he does have amazing recovery speed and you can’t teach that. Ted Thompson must have confidence that Shields can finally get the proper technique down or he would not have signed him to a multi-year contract extension. If Shields can master those fundamentals, he’ll have a real chance to develop into a true shutdown corner. With Tramon Williams looking like he’s back to his 2010 form and Casey Hayward coming back from a hamstring injury, the Packers cornerbacks will be in good shape for the 2014 season.
(8) Not tendering M.D. Jennings-
I don’t know what the Packers saw in M.D. Jennings for them to not draft a safety in the 2013 Draft. Throughout his career with the Packers, his play has been mediocre in both pass coverage and run support. He didn’t produce a single interception in 2013, had nine missed tackles, zero passes defended, and allowed five touchdowns. the Bears are welcome to have him.
(7) Getting smaller and faster on the defensive line-
Since the 2010 season, the Packers have had trouble getting pressure while rushing the quarterback with just four players. They had three 300-pound men on the defensive line being told to keep their blockers engaged so somebody else could make a play. Now they’re letting the defensive line loose and they’re athletic and fast now, not big and slow. The Packers had to resort to blitzing more, which opened up holes in the secondary and leaving them exposed week after week. With the emergence of Mike Daniels, Clay Mathews coming back from a thumb injury, the signing of Julius Peppers, and Datone Jones looking to make a big second year leap, they should have no problem getting to the quarterback with just four pass rushers.
(6) Drafting Davante Adams-
In 2013 the Packers were not very good in red zone efficiency. They only scored a touchdown 50% of the time from the red zone, 26th in the league rankings. In the 2012 season, they scored a touchdown just over 2/3’s of the time in the red zone, which ranked them 1st in the NFL in red zone efficiency.
To get back to that level, they desperately needed a receiver that can jump high and high point a ball in the end zone. That player is Davante Adams. He was a touchdown machine at Fresno State, amassing 38 touchdowns in just two seasons. Look for him to become the Packers’ “go to guy” in the red zone.
(5) Re-signing James Starks-
I like to call the duo of Eddie Lacy and James Starks “Thunder and Lightning”. Eddie Lacy brings the boom that hurts and breaks the will of the defense and James Starks brings the quick strikes that take advantage of a tired and battered defense. James Starks led the NFL in yards per carry with 5.5. Hopefully, Starks can stay healthy and continue the storm for at least two more seasons.
(4) Simplifying the defense-
The Packers defense is filled with very young and raw players, while also having one of the most complex defensive schemes in the NFL. Those don’t necessarily mix well together, so the defense is bound to run into problems. Nearly every game a coverage is blown and defensive players are pointing at each other with that “I thought you had him” look. In order to minimize the number of big plays from happening, the playbook needs to be shortened. By taking plays out of the playbook it minimizes the risk of mental errors, which means less big plays and points given up.
(3) Resigning B. J. Raji-
The 3-4 defense must have an anchor at the nose tackle position. Without it, the defense risks being exposed up the middle. The Packers paid Raji to stay one more year on a prove-it deal. Raji has been out of position at defensive end for the last two seasons and I think Raji will definitely improve to be the nose tackle he was in 2010.
(2) Signing Julius Peppers-
The outside linebacker position opposite of Clay Mathews has been a big question his entire career. The Packers finally thought they got drafted the answer in 2012 when they selected Nick Perry in the first round. Perry was a defensive end in college, but most “experts” believed he was best suited for a switch to the outside linebacker position in a 3-4 defense. Perry has shown flashes of amazing pass rush ability, but he keeps getting injured and can’t stay on the field long enough to prove that he is worthy of a first round pick.
Mike Neal is an interesting project; Neal was a defensive end during the 2012 season, and then lost a lot of weight to switch to outside linebacker for the 2013 season. He has talent but he’s not “The Guy” that the Packers thought Perry would be. Now the Packers have finally found “The Guy” to lineup opposite of Clay Mathews, and it is Julius Peppers. Peppers will bring experience and a veteran presence not yet seen in the Packers’ front seven during Clay’s tenure. Peppers will immediately take pressure off of Clay and could also free up Mike Daniels and Datone Jones, allowing them to possibly have monster big years. The opposing quarterback should have a difficult time staying upright in 2014.
(1)Moving Micah Hyde to safety-
The free safety position in Dom Capers’ defense is the most important position in the secondary. The free safety calls out signals and moves players around due to what the offense is showing. An inexperienced player at the free safety position will cause the defense to struggle, like it has for the last two seasons with M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian (who are not on the Packers anymore). Even though Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is a first round pick and was in Alabama’s pro-style defense, he’ll still need more than one offseason to understand the complicated defense. Having said that, Micah Hyde who is a very smart and instinctive player is perfect for the free safety position. Hyde is a great tackler, which the Packers have missed at the free safety positions for the last two seasons. Even as a rookie, Pro Football Focus graded Hyde as the Packers third best defender on defense. The Packers are making it clear that they are trying to put the best defenders on the field all at once by moving Hyde to safety.
Written by: Andy Burch