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,