Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Ted Thompson save the offseason?

Greetings, G-Force.

I write with frustration. I write with disappointment. I write with confusion. Over the past three days, the Packers & Ted Thompson have agreed to deals with the likes of Jarrett Bush, Michael Montgomery, and Jason Hunter. Good ol' Teddy is bringing us back to the days of 1988. Teddy, this is like resigning Tiger Greene, Alphonso Carreker, and Robert Brown. All hard workers. All will leave everything they have on the playing field. All have extreme deficiencies.

Montgomery & Hunter showed that they are absolutely incapable. Neither can stop the run and unless they are playing the porous Bears or Lions OL's, neither can get to the QB. If they are expected to make contributions and see playing time in '09, Dom Capers will fail. Clearly, this would not be Capers' fault. As for J-Bush, read Stack's comment to the previous post. I need not say more.

Consider this - over the last 6 games of the '08 season, the Packers gave up an average of 28 points a game. The Packers went 1-5 during that span. In an effort to improve the defense, Thompson has signed Anthony Smith and resigned three absolute failures. Additionally, the Packers appear to have shown zero interest in what it would take to obtain Peppers. This brings me to the 2009 NFL Draft, which is the ONLY way Ted Thompson can save the 2009 offseason.

The current state of flux on the defensive side of the ball has me sitting in confusion as to how I would prepare a mock draft. I am excited about the move to a 3-4. I am ecstatic to witness the movement toward a more physically intense defensive system. But, again, as I overwhelmingly have pointed out in previous takes -> when you change defensive systems, you need to change the players to fit into that system as well. Normally, the 2 OLB's are the most versatile, feared players on the defense. Presently, I don't believe the Packers have anyone on the defense that can both rush the QB and turn and drop into zone coverage to defense the pass against a RB, TE, or slot WR. Any way, here goes my attempt at bringing the Packers back to the playoffs and building through the draft (as always, I do not draft OL because I simply do not know enough about the players).

As I seem to document each and every year, I always like at least 4 picks in the first 3 rounds. We already have that. With our defensive transition and our crippled OL, this year I want 7 picks in the first 4 rounds. For example, trading down in the first round...sliding about 12-15 spots...grabbing another 3 & a 4. Additionally, trading Rasta Al for a 2. Or trading AK-74 for a 2nd round pick. Shaking his hand. Slapping his back. Letting him know that he'll be a Packer HOF'er. A "we appreciate his service type of thing." Hell, if Jerry Rice can be a Seahawk, Favre a Jet, Montana a Chief, Lott a Jett, Emmitt a Cardinal, Deion a Raven, Sapp a Raider, Seau a Patriot, Dawkins a Bronco, and now Derrick Brooks might wear another helmet? Well, I'm OK with AK-74 wearing another uniform as well if it betters the franchise. Got me? But, that's all included in a Fantasy mock draft in the coming weeks. For now, I'm still sticking with the basics.

Round 1: After watching numerous college games during the regular season, a large majority of Bowl games, a heavy dose of the Senior Bowl practices, the Senior Bowl itself, and nearly every second of televised combine coverage, I'm beginning to feel qualified to make an educated statement on a majority of the top NFL prospects. The last mock draft I wrote - I listed Michael Johnson as my pick. I still believe that he'd be a great fit in our defense. But, it seems that he can be had much lower in the draft. I listed BJ Raji as my #2 choice. If we stay at #9, he's probably jumped to the top. But, really, the Packers should trade down. We still need to accumulate picks. We have needs at OT, TE, and we need to dramatically improve our talent on defense. If you ask my brother, Chad, he'll tell you the Packers need to upgrade the FB position. I agree with him. We might be in a perfect trading partner position with the 49ers needing a QB and the Packers being one spot above them in the draft. (Sorry, I can't get it out of my system!)

Nonetheless, assuming the Packers stay steady at #9, Raji is my pick. First and foremost, it's been well discussed that Raji would LIKE to play in Green Bay! That holds value! He's been dominant at the college level. He can rush the passer. He can stop the run. If he can stay healthy, he could be the anchor of the 3-4 for years to come.

The second option would be Malcolm Jenkins. He grew up in zone coverage at OSU. The Packers are moving towards zone coverage schemes. He can stop the run. Nothing intimidates him. He's a Midwestern guy. He'd make sense and he'd adore playing with Chuckie! Plus, in college, he wore #2.

In Round 2, I'm looking at Connor Barwin. He's the guy that made a play every game. Your Mike Vrabel kind of guy. Won't be the MVP. Always makes a difference. Great hands. Great mind. Tough guy. Knows how to play football. A Ted Thompson kind of mentality. He could come in and start at one of the OLB positions. Barwin is also a spectacular special teams player. If you drafted Johnson in the first and Barwin in the 2nd, you'd have your two OLB's for the next decade. Barwin beats out Clint Sintim for my choice by a hair.

Man, I would love Sean Smith at this spot as well. Just doubt he'll be available. If he is though, I'd pair him with Nick Collins and be set at S for the foreseeable future.

Round 3: Asher Allen. Assuming we don't draft Jenkins in Round 1, I'm going with Ahser Allen. He's a pimp. With a limp. He, too, wore #2 in college. He's confident. He's comfortable with himself. Despite his size, he'll take on anyone in the open field.

My apologies go to Mike Mickens, but after he did not participate in the combine, I have serious questions about his health.

Round 3b: Zach Follett. If this guy had 10 more pounds, he'd be a 1st rounder. If you've been reading, you know my thoughts on this guy. He'll be a 3-4 LB in this league.

Round 4: Myron Pryor. I'm committed to building a DL with new players. Whether young or old, it does not matter. Give Montgomery & Hunter competition and they should not make the team. Pryor impresses me. Quick off the ball. Thinks about the strip when making a tackle. Again, if you've been reading, you know my thoughts.

Round 5: Bear Pascoe. Write it in ink. Bear Pascoe - Green Bay Packers. They go together. He's growing on me. Hell, well, I read he is a 5th-6th rounder, I'd take him in Round 4 if I felt it necessary. The man is HUGE. He can block. He'd help our run game. He'd compliment J-Mike. He's a reliable target for Rodgers. I am a product of my youth. I spent my childhood trying to cover a bigger guy in the front yard. I learned how difficult it can be. Chmura provided further evidence. I WANT THE BEAR!

Round 6: Brannan Southerland. I'll buy into my older brother's advice and draft the only FB that I feel comfortable with in this year's draft. Guy had major injuries as a Senior, but was a big time performer as a Junior. He never found his stride as Senior. Was rusty. Lethargic, at times. But, he's mean. He's physical. He's a Georgia boy who enjoys contact. He'll catch it and run after the catch. He'd bring an added dimension to the offense.

Round 6b: Brandon Tate. Put him on the field. Get him the ball. He'll do something with it. I've been watching him for years. You've been reading about him for years. He was the NCAA's all time leader in kick return yards. Then he tore his ACL. He can also get deep via the pass. He can run the short route. Really - at this stage - it's a no brainer. Plus, what's a draft without a WR?

Round 7: Tim Jamison. Michigan boys have found success in Green & Gold. See Chuckie. See Desmond. See John Anderson. Jamison is loaded with talent, but he can't stay healthy. Not sure that he has the size to play in the NFL, but at this point he's worth a shot. So are Terrill Byrd and Nick Reed. Both produced at major levels against big time competition.

Save The Season,

Talkin' S-Mac.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mucho Gusto, 2009!

Greetings, G-Force.

Oh, what a beautiful buzz. The 2009 NFL Season has begun. 2009 will mark the year in which UNO-DOS! makes his first Pro Bowl. Greg Jennings also makes his first Pro Bowl. Chuckie Woodson takes another step closer to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame - I imagine he's approximately 20 interceptions short of a potential trip to Canton. And 2009, could potentially determine the long term fate of both Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson. While I believe that they are guaranteed at least the 2010 season, I also feel that without a minimum of 9 wins this year, you can expect intense media pressure. Either way - the honeymoon period is over for me.

When we see something succeed in life, often times, we try to mimic them. Such is the case with the Packers move to a 3-4 defense. In recent history, the Steelers and Patriots have been Super, in large part, due to a fierce, complicated 3-4 defense. Whenever you switch defensive schemes, ti takes time to get the appropriate players to fit that scheme. This should not take any longer than 2 years to accomplish. But, you've got to be committed to this initiative. Thus far, the Packers have not been aggressive. This is disappointing - to say the least.

In order to find evidence of this philosophy, one needs to look no further than when the Packers franchise last reached the pinnacle. I was reminded of it as I turned on "Favre's First Comeback" on the NFL Network. Each time I watch the replay, I grow more enchanted with the notion of seeing the Green & Gold in a 3-4 defense. Remember the days of Tony Bennett, Bryce Paup, Brian Noble and Johnny Holland at LB? All were solid 3-4 defenders, however none of them were 4-3 defenders. In fact, remember that the Packers let go of Paup when we transferred to a 4-3 and he eventually went on to win a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Nonetheless, Ron Wolf was committed to the 4-3 scheme. Thus, he brought in the likes of Reggie, Dotson, Jones, and the Grave Digger. For as good as Wolf was on draft day, it should be noted that all 4 of them were signed as FA's! Ted Thompson, are you listening?

Prior to this year, I have given TT a pass. I let the Favre thing go with relative ease. I did not harp on the Randy Moss nor the Tony Gonzales deals. I'm not even sure that I discussed the non-deal with the Browns which we could have traded down when Cleveland wanted to trade up for Brady Quinn. In each case, I thought we handled the situation poorly. This year, TT must earn his paycheck. McCarthy showed his desires by putting together a solid proven defensive staff. Now they need talent.

Same players. New scheme. Chancers are that we fail. Does AK-74 become Matt Roth with a move to the 3-4? I would not be surprised if this were the case. I have major concerns. I feel like I'm being played for a fool. If 6 out of the front 7 are AK-74, Jenkins, Jolly, Pickett, Hawk and Barnett, how much different will the results be? Conceptually, the scheme might appear differently, but I have a hard time imaging a drastic improvement in production. Plus, for the most part, these guys have never played the 3-4 before. We need to bring people in to mentor them in the 3-4. We need to bring in "system guys."

The OLB position is a top priority in the 3-4 defense. Normally, these are the fiercest, most intimidating players on your defense. Athletically gifted. Able to both rush the passer and drop into a zone coverage to make a play on a back, TE, or slot WR. Think James Harrison running back an interception 100 yards for a TD AND adding numerous pressures on the QB. Do we have anyone on our roster that could have accomplished such a feat? I think not. But, Terrell Suggs, D-Ware, Joey Porter, Merriman, and S. Phillips are names of guys that instantly come to mind as others who could have done the same exact thing. My fear is this: As a DE, AK-74 is among the best in the business. As an OLB, AK-74 might become average. We'll see. I hope I'm wrong. Either way - for the record - if I were TT, I'd call the Panthers and offer a #3 and AK-74 for Peppers. It'd be a starting point. Peppers wants the 3-4. We know AK-74 dominates in the 4-3.

Naturally, it's wise to bring in veterans who can teach the youth the ropes and aid in development. Again, think back to '96. LeRoy Butler grew as a player when partnered with the likes of Eugene Robinson and Mike Prior. Ron Cox helped Brian Williams with football maturity. Edgar Bennett learned the professional ropes from Harry Sydney and then passed those lessons to Dorsey Levens.

Think about our young players who have advanced. Do you think UNO-DOS! grew by watching and learning from #4? Do you think Greg Jennings has benefited from having Donald Driver leading the WR's? Has anyone else noticed Nick Collins growth since he befriended Chuckie Woodson this past offseason? This is no coincidence. Our 3 youthful pillars have had veterans perform and hold there hand to show them the ropes. I'd suggest that the Packers bring in a veteran LB to help AJ, but I think Kevin Greene will be able to play that role much in the same way that Ryan Grant has Edgar Bennett.

But, I do want some help on the DL. I'd bring in 2 guys. Veterans. Near the end of their career. I'd consider Kevin Carter and Vonnie Holliday as solutions. Both would be great examples for Johnny Jolly who needs a role model. Both would be able to show Jolly the ropes of the DE position in the 3-4. Sure, at this stage of their careers, both would be limited as far as snap availability, but both have played a number of years in the 3-4, they've experienced successes in it, and they've played under Capers before as well.

A quick look at our DL depth chart shows the following names: Kampman, J. Thompson, Jenkins, Jolly, Pickett, Malone, Kenny Pettway, Montgomery, Harrell, Anthony Toribio and Hunter. In a 3-4 system, J. Thompson and Kampman become OLB's. Pettway, Malone, Montgomery, Hunter, and Toribio should not be back on the roster. This leaves us with Jenkins, Jolly, Pickett, and the unreliable Harrell. Even in a 3-4, you still keep 7-8 DL. We need depth! And while, I want to add depth in the draft, a couple of veterans with positive attitudes, work ethic, and leadership skills would be absolutely valuable.

Cautiously, I'm somewhat excited about the Anthony Smith. I liked Smith coming out of Syracuse. I liked him a lot. I thought he was brash, confident, cocky, a baller. I thought he could flat out find the football. Both against the run and through the air. I thought the Steelers had another defensive playmaker in Smith. He never panned out. I just hope that the Steelers trash does not become our problem. Either way - I doubt that we gave him any significant $$$. The last I saw was that the terms were not yet disclosed.

No matter how you look at it - this is the year Thompson has to shine. He needs to get Jennings & Collins signed to long term deals. He's drafted them. Now, he has to sign them. He has $30 million to make some waves and build a winner in '09. Anything less than a winning season is a waste of a year. The pieces need to fall into place before the MM/TT project starts being viewed as a failure.

The next mock draft is close to completion, but not yet finalized. I hope to post by Monday.

Better Late Than Never,

Talkin' S-Mac.