2011 Preseason Packers Offense Preview
QB: If you want more proof of Ted Thompson’s genius, look no further than the team’s present QB situation. Aaron Rodgers is the reigning Super Bowl Champion/MVP and projected to be a top 10 overall fantasy player this season. Why is Thompson a genius? Because presently 14 quarterbacks in the league are getting paid more than Rodgers, and he’s signed through 2014. While a restructure is certainly due in the future, just revel in that magnificence for a moment.
Flynn’s contract is up at the end of this season and McCarthy is pushing hard to carry Graham Harrell on the active roster probably to keep the options for Flynn open.
While the team probably won’t win the Super Bowl with a hurt Rodgers, it’s evidently clear the team can still make the playoffs were he to suffer a season-ending injury with Flynn filling in under center. Think Matt Cassell and the Patriots going 11-5 in 2008 (yes, I know they didn’t make the postseason that year).
Flynn is better that probably 1/3 of the league’s starters as it is. Given his performance against New England, he could very likely command a decent contract in 2012 FA (probably a 4th-5th round compensatory draft pick for the Packers) or be traded before the deadline for no less than a 3rd round pick if Rodgers and the offensive line stay healthy. Remember, Flynn won a National Championship under center in college and was named the MVP of that game.
RB: James Starks will win the lion’s share of carries by the end of the year if he’s healthy. The proof is in the tape: he looks more explosive and shifty that Ryan Grant. Oh yeah, he’s also younger (25 vs 28) and slightly bigger. He was projected to be a 2-3rd round pick before getting hurt his senior year, and fell all the way to the 6th round. Even with the lockout, he’s already seen more practice time/reps than he did last season, which should only make him better. Also remember, when ready to come off the PUP list, the Packers gave HIM the roster spot over Al Harris. That decision has already paid off and is evidence that the team clearly sees a ton of potential in him.
The tandem in the backfield, if healthy, should make the offense downright deadly. Brandon Jackson’s contract with the Browns might net the Packers a late round compensatory pick and they won’t miss much with Alex Green filling in as the 3rd down back. He’s also bigger than Jackson and because Hawaii ran a spread offense, he’s essentially played the 3rd down role his entire college career.
FB: John Kuhn’s contract was easily the worst thing the Packers did this offseason. Why? Because they have the deepest offense in the entire league. Paying $7.5M over 3 years for a fucking fullback just so fans can howl “Kuuuuhn” in the stadium and successfully scare away the remaining four black residents in Green Bay? What the fuck?
This offense has two stellar RBs, a bonafide 3rd down back, arguably the league’s best TE backed up by three very talented role players and an offensive line that’s likely going to be starting 3 potential left tackles week 1. That’s like putting three short stops in the infield defensively.
One would logically think the Packers, of all offenses, could easily absorb the role Kuhn played with the talent they already have. Instead, a team normally dormant during free agency signed a FB to one of the highest contracts in the league at his position. Simply mind boggling.
OL: As stated earlier, the line is deep and good. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that Chad Clifton is not the lynchpin of this unit, however. Case and point: the NFC Championship. Clifton leaves with a stinger, Peppers eats Lang’s lunch on the field and delivers an almost career-ending blow to Rodgers’ head that clearly scrambled his brains and playing ability for the rest of that game. If Chad Clifton stays healthy and moderately effective, consider these guys one of the league’s best units.
Josh Sitton and My Morning Jacket's Jim James
If not, expect the offensive line to experience a milder version of the woes seen in the first seven games of 2009. Sitton is an All Pro, and along with Wells, their abilities and experience will hold down the line’s interior spots wonderfully. Bulaga struggled at times last year at right tackle, and they’ll piece in one of TJ Lang or Sherrod at the LG spot. Lang is more experienced and knowledgeable of the offense and Sherrod is clearly the better athlete. He’s bigger, faster and has a larger wingspan. He’s also pretty smart. Sherrod will probably get the starting LG job over Lang before long. Lang has been underwhelming to date in his game appearances, but isn’t a bad back-up to have starting behind an under-employed first round draft pick.
Pay attention to Marshall Newhouse in the preseason, he’s a talented, previously injury plagued guy who could find some playing time at tackle in the event of a Clifton/Bulaga injury. Nick McDonald and Caleb Schlauderhaff seem like great back-ups for the guards. Schlauderhaff started at LG for four years for Utah and scored a 28 on his Wonderlic after being drafted in this year’s 6th round.
TE: If I could guess, this year the Packers will give 4 roster spots to TEs and carry only 2 FBs. Finley, Quarless, DJ Williams and Crabtree will likely assume those spots, and obviously Kuhn and Johnson (the seemingly more healthy option) will be the two FBs. Remember they carried 3 of each on last year’s active roster, mainly for versatility and special teams purposes.
The Packers are clearly in “wait and see” mode with Finley. If Kuhn can command a deal just by being a fan favorite, imagine what Finley’s much-discussed potential coming to fruition could do for him. The Packers wisely aren’t jumping the gun on a contract, but likely will if Finley stays healthy and effective through the first 4-8 games of the season. They have the money to sign him, there’s simply no real need to do so just yet.
DJ Williams already seems better than Quarless with his great hands and route running ability. I’d imagine they’ll part ways with Quarless soon enough, but keep him on at least this year. Quarless has the shitty kind of character issues/attitude that will hinder his production, whereas DJ Williams has the feel-good, overlooked late draft pick vibe already. Yes, that’s a lot of unproven drivel, but DJ Williams was a First Team all American TE in the SEC. Crabtree is a special teams staple, he’ll stay and likely inhabit position #4 on the TE depth chart.
K: Mason Crosby just received a long, market value (a seemingly high 5 years, $3M per) contract to be a below average kicker with a strong leg. He’ll benefit kicking off from the 35 this year, but do with that what you will.
WR: The mere thought of this group replaces the necessity for Viagra for Wisconsinites. I gave him a lot of shit, but they signed James Jones to an absolute steal of a $3.2 M/year over 3 years deal. Jordy Nelson is quickly entering his prime, and will put the team in an awkward contract decision at the end of the year when he becomes a free agent. Clearly he’s good, they’ll just have to evaluate finances and whether he’s worth his market value over keeping Driver. Remember, he was the leading receiver for yardage in the Super Bowl.
Randall Cobb is too talented, versatile and smart to keep off the field despite this depth. Remember, he can be lined up in the backfield just to fuck with the more simplistic defenses the team faces. His special teams contributions will be tough to gauge because I have little faith that Slocum’s unit will be able to execute without committing penalties and stupid mistakes, but I think we’re all elated that our starting CB will no longer have to return punts. Nick Fairley also called him the toughest guy to tackle in college. He also set an SEC record for all-purpose yards in a single season.
The team will likely have a potentially ugly parting of ways with Donald Driver soon, but he’s still the most sure-handed gamer of the group. He was prone to injuries last year and his use will likely decrease greatly this year as a result, but I have no doubt he’ll thrive in a more limited slot role. Fewer snaps against nickel and dime backs ought to squeeze a year or two more out of him. Oh yeah, and the only problem Greg Jennings will present for the team is opening his mouth when he doesn’t get the ball thrown to him enough. That’s all the more I’ll say about a top 5 WR in the league last year.
To further put things in perspective, the Packers will be able to roll out a 4 WR set of Jennings (RD 2, 27), Nelson (RD 2, 26) Jones (RD 3, 27) and Cobb (RD 2, 20). Average age of 25, average draft RD of 2, and that’s with the club’s all-time leading receiver standing on the sidelines. Oh, and Jermichael Finley could be on the field at that same time. And the reigning Super Bowl MVP will be throwing to them.
Excuse me while I go rub one out.