Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Long time Packers President Bob Harlan is stepping down, and John Jones will take his place. Someone actually named their child John Jones? Does anybody believe that is his real name? Since the Packers are a corporation, it would seem likely that someone with an MBA or business background would be picked for a corporate President. Instead, Jones is a former sportswriter turned corporate executive. There is no reason why he won't do a good job, but there can't be too many Presidents with his background running large corporations.

4th round pick WR Cory Rodgers had a little run-in with the law. When Rodgers was drafted, I wrote that he seemed like an odd choice for the Packers because they were looking for bigger wide receivers for Mike McCarthy's offense, but Rodgers is about the same size as WR Donald Driver. The article said in minicamp, Rodgers was used primarily as a kick returner to replace WR Antonio Chatman. He was off to a good start with the team, before his arrest, but this doesn't seem like it will hurt the Packers or his chances with the team.

The Packers lost T Kevin Barry for the season with a quadriceps tear. McCarthy was excited about Barry's potential and outbid Detroit to keep Barry for 2006. The previous coaches were excited about Barry's potential too, once upon a time, but then reality set in and they realized he isn't very good. Losing Barry hurts their depth a little, but won't hurt on the field. Instead of wasting time trying to convert Barry or RT Mark Tauscher to right guard, the Packers can see if RG Will Whitticker has improved in his second season, or if OL Junius Coston is ready to take over.

Columnist Bob Wolfley wonders if CB Charles Woodson is going to be targeted by opponents next season. Yep. No one else in the NFL was willing to sign, or even discuss signing, Woodson as a starting cornerback. He is coming off injury and CB Al Harris is coming off the best season of his career. Woodson is going to have to prove he is healthy and can still play cornerback right away in 2006 because other the Packers' opponents are going to test him early and often. The only good news for Woodson is that the Packers don't play an opponent in 2006 that finished in the top half of passing DVOA in 2005 until Nov. 19th vs. New England. Philadelphia will be better with QB Donovan McNabb healthy so that should be Woodson's first big test in 2006.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Although extending WR Javon Walker's contract was unacceptable, extending WR Donald Driver's contract is apparently fine. Driver was scheduled to be underpaid next season, but the contract wasn't set to expire until 2007. Why was Walker told that they wouldn't even talk about an extension, while Driver got it? What did hurt to talk about an extension if Walker returns to full strength or not? I'm excited about LG Daryn Colledge and hope he can improve the offensive line in 2006, but it sucks to see another Pro Bowl player leave town in a dispute over the Packers' policy not to renegotiate contracts when they did it for Driver.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I have had a lot of criticism about the Packers front office this season, but at least it has not been anything like the complete meltdown in Minnesota. They did well in free agency, but trading QB Daunte Culpepper is good news for Packer fans. If all the negative things about Fran Foley are true, Minnesota did very well to get rid of him as soon as possible. Somehow this guy was able to take over their draft (under "near-mutinous conditions") although "the job never was intended to carry significant personnel authority." Minnesota did not have a well regarded draft and as of right now it looks like they reached on their first four picks, especially 2nd round QB Tarvaris Jackson. Now Foley's lawsuit will distract the team for a while longer. Although watching Minnesota struggle is always enjoyable, it's too bad that ex-Badgers Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell are starting out under stressful circumstances.
This is a great article about the Packers first minicamp, because it goes into fantastic detail at several positions. It is good to read that QB Aaron Rodgers is throwing the ball well, but there are a few more very interesting notes.

2nd round pick WR Greg Jennings was off to a good start, which is critical because the Packers depth at receiver is thin and inexperienced.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski gave a very concise definition of zone blocking: "If there's a guy on him, he's blocking him. If no one's on him, he's going to the linebacker. It's not that hard. It's hard to screw that up." The first team offensive line was LT Chad Clifton, 2nd round pick LG Daryn Colledge, C Scott Wells, RG Junius Coston, RT Mark Tauscher; this could very likely be the opening game offensive line. Former line coach Larry Beightol really liked Coston's development as a rookie last season, and Coston's size (316 lbs.) makes him a good fit at the right guard position because that position usually plays over the nose tackle. Ted Thompson traded WR Javon Walker to draft Colledge, so it is no surprise he will get a chance. Wells was solid last season after he replaced the awful LG Adrian Klemm. Clifton / Colledge / Wells / Coston / Tauscher is not 2003's line of Clifton / Wahle / Flanagan / Rivera / Tauscher, but it is probably as good as it will get for the Packers in 2006.

Since LB A.J. Hawk is over 240 lbs., it seemed natural that he would play strong side, but he is playing on the weak side. From that position he can use his speed to pursue and make the tackle. After having an average to small group of linebackers, the Packers would add size to that group by playing 240+ lbs. LBs Ben Taylor or Roy Manning at the strong size, and Hawk at the weak side. Whoever plays on the strong side, that player and Hawk will have to be good in coverage because the Packers linebackers have really struggled in coverage over the last two seasons.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It was a little surprising that the Packers released LB Robert Thomas. On last season's team, only LB Nick Barnett showed more speed than Thomas, and Thomas seemed like a good candidate for weak side linebacker. But the Packers have a lot of candidates competing to start alongside LB A.J. Hawk and Barnett (LB Abdul Hodge is a tentative front runner) so it doesn't hurt at all to release Thomas. At the bottom of the article, it mentions that the Packers saved salary cap room when they traded WR Javon Walker too. The Packers are padding their NFL lead for the most unused salary cap room.

The Packers also signed a few more undrafted free agents. None of them really fills a need and all appear to be signed to add depth during minicamps and training camps. Sometimes these guys stick with the team, such as LB Roy Manning did last season, but they are all longshots.

Monday, May 01, 2006

It looks like WR Donald Driver has no interest in demanding a trade. His comments in the AP article seem to end any speculation that Driver wants out. He is underpaid based on his production so it wasn't unbelievable that he would want a new contract.
Trading away Pro Bowl WR Javon Walker is the top story with the Packers 2006 draft. Teams do not improve when they let Pro Bowl talent leave in the prime of their career. Unless you draft a Pro Bowl performer with that 2nd round pick. The Packers have not improved themselves by letting Pro Bowl (plus alternates) CB Mike McKenzie, OG Mike Wahle, OG Marco Rivera, and FS Darren Sharper leave town.

You never know how players will turn out, but GM Ted Thompson did draft players at the positions that desperately needed help and depth. LBs Nick Barnett, Na'il Diggs, and Hannibal Navies were very good in 2003, but injuries in 2004 derailed Diggs and Navies' careers and the Packers started 6 different linebackers in 2005. 3 of those 6 linebackers are not available in 2006 (Diggs to Carolina, LB Paris Lenon to Detroit, and LB Brady Poppinga might not be available depending on his rehab from a knee injury). As a general rule, NFL teams should not expect their rookies to start, but 1st round pick LB A.J. Hawk is almost guaranteed a starting job and 3rd round pick LB Abdul Hodge could start by week 1 too. Hawk was almost universally regarded as the best linebacker in the draft. Hawk's talent, college accomplishments, and the Packers great need at the position made it almost impossible to pass him up. Hodge was very well regarded too, but he slipped from a projected 2nd round pick into the early 3rd round. If Hodge starts, it is likely that Hodge would play in the middle, with Hawk at the strong side over the tight end and Barnett at weak side. More likely the Packers will start Barnett in the middle, Hawk at strong side, and LB Robert Thomas at weak side.

With the loss of three starting offensive lineman in the last two years (C Mike Flanagan, Rivera, and Wahle) the Packers had to add more depth after Thompson's free agent replacements for Rivera and Wahle (OGs Adrian Klemm and Matt O'Dwyer) bombed in 2005. 2nd round pick OT Daryn Colledge appears to be type of offensive lineman that the Packers' new coaches want. ESPN's Mark Schlereth said Colledge was a great technician. Mel Kiper said Colledge was a great pass blocker, but he called him a project because he isn't a good run blocker. Depending on how well he plays in the first two minicamps, Colledge could easily be penciled in as the starting left guard. 3rd round G Jason Spitz is a little more surprising because it wouldn't seem likely that the Packers want big (313 lbs.) guards or centers for their new zone blocking scheme. Maybe Spitz is the ideal size the Packers want for a right guard over the nose tackle? Maybe neither Colledge or Spitz has a chance at starting in 2006 because 2nd year players G Junius Coston and C Chris White will step forward in minicamps and claim starting spots. T Tony Moll was drafted in the 5th round and sounds like an ideal sleeper candidate for a zone blocking team because he used to play tight end. Overall, the Packers really needed the depth at offensive line and drafting three offensive lineman really helps.

The Packers needed extra help at wide receiver with the ill-advised trade of Walker and the release of WR Terrence Murphy due to his career ending neck injury in 2005. Mel Kiper said 2nd round WR Greg Jennings was his mid-major sleeper pick. Unfortunately Jennings will not help QB Brett Favre in 2006 anywhere near as much as Walker or a healthy Murphy would have helped. Jennings was a surprising pick because he is only 5'11" and Mike McCarthy has stated his preference for taller wide receivers like resigned WR Rod Gardner and free agent WR Marc Boerigter. 4th round pick WR Cory Rodgers is only 6'0" and is about the same size as WR Donald Driver. The Packers needed depth at the position, but they didn't seem to draft players that the coaches prefer.

Although 6'0" is short or average for a NFL wide receiver, 4th round pick CB Will Blackmon is tall for a NFL cornerback at 6'0". Football Outsiders had a great article about when NFL starters are drafted. Positions like quarterback, defensive and offensive tackle, No. 1 wide receiver, running backs, and cornerbacks are usually drafted in the first three rounds. There aren't a lot (if any) cornerbacks starting in the NFL today that were drafted in the 4th round so there isn't a lot of promise that Blackmon will emerge as a starting cornerback either. However, Blackmon provides depth at a position that could need it in 2007. If CB Charles Woodson is only in Green Bay for one season to reestablish himself (his contract likely has few guarantees after 2006 and may only be intended for one season), then the Packers are looking at starting CBs Al Harris and Ahmad Carroll and a bunch of fringe players like CB Mike Hawkins behind them. If Blackmon can develop into a quality cornerback in time for 2007, he might will be needed next season.

There are only two quarterbacks on the roster so drafting 5th round QB Ingle Martin makes sense. The two most important factors in evaluating a college quarterback is how many games he started and his completion percentage. Martin started every game while he was at Furman and completed over 61% of his passes. Unfortunately he played against Division I-AA competition so it is hard to evaluate him. Martin was at Florida, but transferred to Furman after it became obvious he wouldn't start at Florida. As a bonus, Martin was a first team all Division I-AA punter and would be a unique challenger to disappointing P B.J. Sander.

The same article by Football Outsiders that charted the value of drafting a cornerback early if you want a starter said that there isn't much difference between a 6th or 7th round pick and an undrafted free agent. These players usually move around the league a lot and if they do catch fire and become a starter, it is just as likely they start for their 2nd or 3rd team as the team that originally drafted them. That being said, there shouldn't be great expectations that DT Johnny Jolly, S Tyrone Culver, or DE Dave Tollefson will become the next RT Mark Tauscher. All three players were drafted at positions where the Packers have some depth and it is possible all of them are released before the start of the season. I really expected the Packers to draft at least one kicker to challenge K Billy Cundiff in the 7th round, but there are already two other kickers on the roster to challenge Cundiff and apparently Thompson thinks that is enough.