2

July

What Packers Fans Should Know About Neck Injuries

NFL, Green Bay Packers, Ted Thompson, Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, Packer People, Packers players, Johnny Jolly, Packers character, Packers off the fieldAt this point, Packers fans are all too aware of neck/cervical injuries and the effects and repercussions of returning to play after an injury and surgery.  At this point, Ted Thompson has had likely six neck injuries and four surgeries, all with various results, some positive but mostly negative. The latest was defensive linemen Johnny Jolly, who after battling a prescription drug addiction was a surprising addition to the Packers roster last year.  News recently came out that Jolly has been cleared by his doctors to return to play and now the question is whether or not the Packers will take him up on that offer.  However, many fans don’t really know the diagnosis, treatment or outcome of neck injuries and surgeries and it’s important to really understand the injury before deciding whether or not Jolly should or could return to the Packers.  As a matter of disclosure, I am not a doctor but an immunologist, so while I do have plenty of experience in the medical field I am not qualified to present a medical opinion; below is research I have done from a variety of medical journals and other sources.

Packer players who suffered a neck injury under the Ted Thompson regime

1. Terrance Murphy: Murphy suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit by Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on a fumble recovery off of a return and was later discovered to have spinal stenosis, which ultimately ended his career.

2. Jeremy Thompson: Thompson suffered a neck injury during a practice after sustaining a collision with running back Kregg Lumpkin, who from reports suffered temporary paralysis on the field, necessitating the need for an ambulance and an overnight stay at Bellin Hospital.  Thompson subsequently also announced his retirement after the injury.  On a completely unrelated note, Thompson is now a medical student at the University of North Carolina, so the stereotype of football players being dumb jocks isn’t always true.

3. Nick Collins: Perhaps the most famous Packer to suffer a neck injury, Collins collided with Carolina running back Johnathan Stewart from above and suffered temporary paralysis. Collins spent the night at a hospital in Carolina before rejoining the team on IR.  Collins then had single fusion neck surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebrae together.  Collins was subsequently released by the Packers and while he hasn’t officially retired, no team has been willing to even try him out, which indicates the severity of the injury.

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6

May

Xs and Os: The Single-High Safety Defense (Cover 1)

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

In the 2014 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers will most likely target a free safety to help out strong safety Morgan Burnett.

Selecting a starting-caliber free safety is paramount because defensive coordinator Dom Capers relies heavily on a safety to play single-high coverage (cover 1) in many of his defensive alignments. No one will argue that safety play was suspect, at best, during the 2013-2014 season.

Many draft pundits believe that selecting a free safety will help strong safety Morgan Burnett play a more comfortable and natural role within the defense, which is closer to the line of scrimmage. The new free safety can patrol deep center field. Doing so will greatly improve the overall defense.

This article breaks down the basics of the cover 1 defense. In a nutshell, it combines aspects of zone and man-to-man coverage. You can get refresher about man-to-man coverage here and zone coverage here.

Cover 1 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense typically divides the field vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half extends 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

In the single-high (cover 1), the free safety plays zone coverage, guarding the deep half all to himself. He is responsible for any receiver that enters the zone. He must make a play on the ball as it enters the zone. The GIF below demonstrates his assignment.

Cover1 Fig1

No matter where the free safety lines up at the snap of the ball, if the play is a pass, he must backpedal to the landmark, which is usually between the hashmarks about 15-17 yards deep. Typically, he lines up on the open side (away from the tight end). The whole time his eyes are looking forward at the play. He isresponsible for the deep half, which includes assisting someone else cover a receiver entering the area or guarding anyone who is potentially uncovered. See the GIF below.

Cover1 Fig2

The underneath half may be man-to-man, zone, or a combination of both.

Why Play Cover 1?

The single-high safety defense is an aggressive defense. Generally, it allows for more defenders near the line of scrimmage that can attack the offense.

6

May

Cory’s Corner: Ted Thompson averages a draft whiff a year

Packers general manager Ted Thompson selected future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his first pick as the Green Bay GM.

Packers general manager Ted Thompson selected future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his first pick as the Green Bay GM.

This will be Ted Thompson’s 10th NFL Draft as the Packers general manager. He has been arguably the biggest lightning rod for criticism over the years.

There is inherent value in every round of the draft, but the most consistent value lies in rounds 1-3, which is where I also focus my attention.

Thompson did a masterful job early on. When you land a guy like Aaron Rodgers as your first pick to begin your new job, things are looking pretty good. He added safety Nick Collins and wide receiver Terrence Murphy, who were both forced to leave pro football early after suffering neck injuries.

The next year, Thompson did another excellent job by adding fifth overall pick in linebacker A.J. Hawk, second rounders in guard Daryn Colledge and wide receiver Greg Jennings and third round guard Jason Spitz. The only guy that was a question mark was third round linebacker Abdul Hodge because injuries forced him to only start one game in four NFL seasons.

But after hitting so many home runs in his first two seasons, Thompson was due for some whiffs. And that’s exactly what happened in 2007. Justin Harrell, arguably the worst pick of Thompson’s career, started just two of 14 games in his three-year career. It was a little head scratching that the Packers even used a first round pick on Harrell, who entered the league hurt after tearing his biceps at Tennessee.

Brandon Jackson is another strikeout. The former Nebraska track star/football player was able to play bit roles but is now looking for a job. James Jones gave the Packers a good return on its third-round investment. He proved he could start but was never capable of winning the top receiver job. The final whiff of 2007 is Aaron Rouse. The safety played just three seasons before signing with the now-defunct United Football League.

The following year, there were two more whiffs sandwiched in between a couple of home runs. Obviously, second rounder Jordy Nelson has carved out a pretty nice career as one of Rodgers’ go-to targets. However, second rounder Brian Brohm, after not being able to get comfortable with the speed of the NFL game, is now playing quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the CFL. The other miss was second round cornerback Patrick Lee, who only started one game in his Green Bay career. The other great get that Thompson secured was third rounder Jermichael Finley. Although his mouth got in the way early on, Finley was one of the most athletic tight ends in the game when healthy.

2

April

What Do Packers Injuries and Winning Have In Common? Packing the Stats…

Packing the StatsA lot has been made about the Packers misfortune when it comes to injuries; injuries was the major hurdle that the Packers overcame to get to the playoffs and ultimately win the Super Bowl in 2010 and injuries again were the major obstacle in 2013 with Aaron Rodgers, Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb, Clay Matthews and Bryan Bulaga all missing significant time due to their respective injuries.

I have always argued that the nature of injuries is in large part random; football is a vicious sport and there are so many different ways to get injured that are largely out of the control of the player, the coaching staff or the front office.  Not many would argue that the tackle that Nick Collins ended his career was unusual nor was the hit that Jermichael Finley took against Cleveland anything out of the norm.  Rodgers breaking his clavicle and Matthews breaking his thumb all occurred on mundane plays that both players have been involved in countless times before in their careers.

In 2013 alone, I would argue that the only two injuries likely could have been avoided were Brandon Merriweather spearing Eddie Lacy and maybe Randall Cobb breaking his leg against Baltimore (but in the defense of Matt Elam, going low is now encouraged to defenders with so many fines being levied to helmet to helmet contact).

Data 1

However, it’s pretty undeniable that the Packers as a franchise have either had consistent terrible luck or something else is at play.  The Packers have had one of the worst strings of injuries over the last 4 years and it’s 99.9% significant compared to the rest of the league.  Fingers have been pointed at pretty much every remote possibility; plenty have blamed Ted Thompson and the front office for drafting players who are injury prone (i.e. Justin Harrell), some have blamed the coaching staff for not teaching proper form while others have blamed the strength and conditioning coaches (there was some ridiculous rumor that floated around that the 49ers had a secret stretching routine that made them impervious to injuries; keep in mind free agency does happen and more importantly players stretch out on the field for everyone to see).

6

February

Former and Current Free Agent Packers Want To Return

Jermichael Finley

Finley seems determined to return to football and prove that he is back to full strength

The NFL season has been over for a measly three days now but the Green Bay Packers season has been over for nearly a month.  Things obviously slow down when teams aren’t preparing for games each week and the constant news hits dwindle.

Still, this has been a busy week for some Packers chatter and I thought I’d offer a break in between our player evaluation and reports cards here at allgbp.com and highlight a few of the stories that have been most widely discussed.

“Discussed” and “news” are two different things, but if nothing else, there are at least a few debate topics here.

The first was a story by NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling about tight end Jermichael Finley.  Finley is currently a free agent after having spent the first six years of his NFL career with the Packers.  Finley’s agent has gone on record as saying that J-Mike, as he is frequently called, would love nothing more than to finish his career in Green Bay.  Whether that will happen is another thing.

Finley was seriously injured early in the 2013 season on a play in which he took a shot to his neck by Cleveland Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.  Finley was placed on season-ending injured reserve and needed surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebrae in his neck.  Many question swirled about whether Finley would play football again, let alone return to the Packers.

Finley stated earlier this week that he expects his doctors to clear him to resume football activity, most notably contact, within the next month or so.  Gaining medical clearance from a doctor is one thing.  Gaining that clearance from a NFL team doctor is another.

While Finley and his agent have expressed a preference to remain in Green Bay and get a new contract worked out, Finley has also stated that he does not plan to discount his services.  With 19 total players set to hit free agency next month, the Packers are going to have some decisions to make as far as who to keep and at what price.

Finley certainly represents a risk, even if cleared to return to football.  There can be no guarantee that he won’t re-injure his neck and such an occurrence would have major implications not only for Finley the football player, but also Finley the man, husband and father.  It’s hard to say which direction Finley’s return and potential negotiations with interested teams will go.

11

January

Cory’s Corner: Criticize Mike McCarthy not Dom Capers

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Mike McCarthy turned up the conservative calls when Aaron Rodgers went down in Week 9.

Now that you’ve all had some time to thaw out after watching Phil Dawson put this season’s hopes and dreams on ice, it’s time to reflect on what just happened.

First of all, Mike McCarthy needs to get the lion’s share of criticism. He is under contract through the 2015 season at roughly $5 million per year. If any season was a good example of how much he needed to prove his coaching mettle, this was the one. He lost his star quarterback in Week 9 and magically backed into the playoffs thanks to the combined efforts of said quarterback’s right arm and the inept Bears’ defense.

He was also dealt the second-most important injury on the team in Jermichael Finley. Without him eating up the middle of the field, receivers had more work to do to get separation and move the chains.

Granted, he was blessed with the Offensive Rookie of the Year in my opinion in Eddie Lacy but McCarthy didn’t exactly utilize him very well. Too often when backups Seneca Wallace, Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn were under center he was more apt to call the predictable running plays on first and second down which usually set up the usual 3rd-and-7. That’s a tall task for an NFL starter let alone a backup.

As soon as the Packers lost Aaron Rodgers they lost who they were. And the head coach, who is also known as a quarterback guru, cannot let that happen. I’m not saying McCarthy should expect left rollouts thrown on a dime by his backups, but he shouldn’t pare the playbook down to the JV level either. The best example is that fateful game when Rodgers suffered that left collarbone injury.

With the Bears beating the Packers 24-20 very early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy dialed up a Lacy run on 2nd-and-7 from the 50. The run around the left end generated two yards setting up a tough third down which ultimately failed. And that came on the heels of the Packers throwing for 29 yards on back-to-back plays that took place on second and first down.

There’s a time and place to be conservative. I realize that coaches’ jobs have been lost due to knee-jerk risky decisions but when your team is losing in the fourth quarter, it’s at least a good time to start contemplating moves against the grain.

11

May

Three-year comparison: Morgan Burnett vs. Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

Morgan Burnett and Nick Collins

When the Packers were forced to release Nick Collins prior to the 2012 season, they were left with a gaping hole at the most important position in the secondary.

Collins, a three-time Pro Bowler, was among the best safeties in football at the time he suffered a career-threatening neck injury in 2011, while his counterpart, Morgan Burnett, was coming off a season-ending injury of his own in his second NFL season.

Burnett’s rookie year (2010) ended in week four, and Collins’ 2011 season–and possibly career–ended in week two. Those six games comprised the entirety of the Collins/Burnett Era at safety for the Packers.

In 2010, the Packers selected Burnett with the 71st overall pick in the third round. Three years later and entering the final year of his rookie contract, Burnett may be poised to fill Collins’ shoes as the team’s key defensive playmaker.

Athletically, Burnett compares favorably to the former second-team All-Pro safety.

At the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine, Burnett put up impressive numbers in the tests that best measure a player’s range at the safety position. He clocked a 6.87 in the three-cone drill, leaped 11 feet-8 inches in the broad jump, posted a 39.5-inch vertical jump and rushed out to a 1.57 10-yard split.

Burnett tested better than Collins in nearly every category, but Collins, a college cornerback, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, which trumped Burnett’s 4.51.

Obviously, athletic ability doesn’t necessarily determine a player’s on-field ability. If it did, Bengals safety and workout warrior Taylor Mays would be one of the best in the league–and he’s not even close.

As a rookie for the 4-12 Packers, Collins started all 16 games and showed flashes of his seemingly limitless potential. But those glimpses were rare, as Collins slowly made the transformation from a little-known defensive back from Bethune-Cookman to a starting safety for the Green Bay Packers.

It wasn’t until his fourth NFL season that Collins put it all together and made his first of three Pro Bowls. His first three seasons were relatively modest, as he started 45 of a potential 48 games, racking up four interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Nick Collins: First 3 NFL seasons

Burnett, coming from Georgia Tech, didn’t face the same transition that Collins did entering the NFL from a small school. But regardless, holding a starting spot at a position that requires sound communication can be a rough wake-up call for a 21-year-old player.